[OPINION] Hiawatha Project: An Unexpected Next Step?

Gloria Gouveia is a longtime Westporter. Since 1984 she has worked as a land use consultant, specializing in planning and zoning permit and subdivision applications, Zoning Board of Appeals applications, neighborhood opposition advocacy and Historic District compliance.

In the wake of Wednesday’s 5-0 Planning & Zoning Commission vote to accept a settlement with Summit Partners — allowing a 157-unit project to proceed on Hiawatha Lane, with modifications from the original plan — she writes:

Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” Although he was referring to a baseball game, the same can be said for the proposed 157-unit Summit development approved by the Planning & Zoning Commission Wednesday night.

Although a neighbor’s recourse in circumstances like these is usually limited to an expensive court appeal, the Summit matter is different. Along with approvals for construction and site development, the P&Z also approved a change of a zoning boundary.

Thanks to our early lawmakers, organizations like Save Old Saugatuck and Save Westport Now, as well as the many residents who opposed Summit’s plans, may have another opportunity to challenge the developer in a public forum: the RTM.

According to the Town of Westport Charter: “The Representative Town Meeting shall have the power to review any action by the Planning and Zoning Commission adopting, amending or repealing any zoning regulation or fixing or changing the boundary of any zoning district…”

To start the process, a petition endorsed by 2 RTM members or 20 electors of our town must be submitted to the town clerk. When transmitted to the RTM it will be scheduled for hearing, where all may be heard.

So to all of the disenfranchised residents of the Hiawatha Lane neighborhood, and all of those good citizens of Westport who oppose this Brobdingnagian development: Let us join together and rally once more to ask the RTM to reverse the Planning & Zoning Commission’s decision, and save old Saugatuck.

I reached out to town attorney Ira Bloom. He responded this afternoon:

“That is correct. A petition must be filed within 7 days following the public notice of a P&Z decision.” That notice was filed yesterday (Thursday, May 13).

Bloom added, “I will certainly look carefully at any petition that is submitted.”

I spoke with Planning & Zoning director Mary Young too. She noted that the full text of the Town Charter (quoted above) says: “Any action by the Planning and Zoning Commission adopting, amending or repealing any zoning regulation or fixing or changing the boundary of any zoning district, or a negative 8-24 report by the Commission [italics mine] shall be subject to review by the Representative Town Meeting.”

Young said that the P&Z decision Wednesday night was a positive report — not a negative one.

The zoning plan for Hiawatha Lane.

A few minutes ago, Gouveia added this information:

“Summit’s project will have to be reviewed by the Connecticut Department of Transportation.

“According to my reading of their permitting requirements, Summit is classified as a major traffic generator. Any project with 200 or more parking spaces meets that definition. Although housing projects with 100 cars or less are exempt, that is not the case with Summit. I can’t believe DOT is happy with any development likely to result in more backups on the exit ramps and onto I-95.”

“Also, the Planning Director may contact DOT about Summit’s approval. The DOT will immediately start the review process.”

Artist’s rendering of one of the buildings at the Hiawatha Lane development.

26 responses to “[OPINION] Hiawatha Project: An Unexpected Next Step?

  1. John McCarthy

    This is a big deal for the town and a full review by the RTM seems in order. What 2 RTM members will get this on the agenda?

  2. Susan Iseman

    Great reporting – I sense many folks here will support what’s best for Westport!

  3. Philip Bosco

    I would suspect Save Saugatuck to bring a petition to the RTM.

  4. Michael Calise

    Great research Gloria. Assuming you are correct lets all move forward!

  5. David A. Cleveland

    This will create a major disruption to gaults business not to mention current owners and tenants. Nitemare traffic jams

  6. Donald Bergmann

    Great work Gloria. I ask that those RTM members who will prepare and sign the required filing provide their names and move this ahead. I am also rather confident the wonderful Carolanne Curry and her Save Saugatuck organization can easily get 20 and more signatures. I will be pleased to sign. This needs to be filed first thing next week. I add that it would not surprise me if the Applicant asserts that this provision of our Town Charter is negated in some way by 8-30g. Let the battle begin.
    Don Bergmann

  7. Ross Burkhardt

    Re: Hiawatha Lane Decision

    The Planning and Zoning Commission has done the right thing. It has approved a project that is in more right than it is wrong.

    While hardly ideal, this is a Smart Growth project. As we contend with mitigating and even reversing climate change we will need to plan for walkable, mixed income (affordable,) diverse communities where people can have easy access to public transit, retail and other services. Even with electric cars we will likely be living with fewer of them in neighborhoods with a mixture of housing and commercial density.

    Hiawatha Lane points to a more realistic future. Lets embace it not fight it.

    • Michael Calise

      Walk the neighborhood Ross, starting at the West Ferry intersection with Saugatuck Avenue to the proposed project and imagine what it will be like with the proposed density. I know you want to stay focused on one dream but try and look at the bigger picture it may surprise you. There is nothing smart about cramming people together for anything other than a celebration or event. Its been proven over and over.

  8. Ann Chernow

    Westporters can imagine what this town will look like 50 years from now if eyesores likeHiawatha continue to be allowed.

    • Marc Randall

      See my comments below, If you don’t like hiawatha lane no one asked you to go there.

      • Wendy Cusick

        Marc please see my comment below. You really misunderstood Ann’s comment. She speaking of the future not current situation

  9. I guess my questions are: What actually is “affordable” in terms of rent? Next is: How many of the “affordable ” units ,so far built under 8-30g are let to that group of people.?
    As an aside , this State statute is the worst!! But please be careful. The legislature is working on allowing the State to become the P&Z last word.

  10. I want to compliment Gloria on her managing to find a use for the word, Brobdingnagian; Gulliver never thought it would be used outside of his Trevels.

  11. MaryAnn Meyer

    Meanwhile, along Post Road East, developers continue to add to the number of apartments/condo. From Bulkley to Hillspoint, there are a little over 600 units with more under construction or proposed. The former Roger’s Septic site is now close to completion as the former Men’s Warehouse makes its way through Town approvals for apartments and a second story addition. Negotiations continue with the State DOT and the Town to acquire 4 acres of land at the State garage site at West Parish and Post Road to build affordable town houses.
    With several vacant parcels,(AJ’s Farmers Market and former Subway site) further housing developments maybe in the future. It’s critical that density and traffic issues be addressed before Post Road East becomes a parking lot.

  12. Larry Weisman

    Great work by Gloria. Those opposed to this project might also want to consider the feasibility of a declaratory judgment action to enforce the deed restrictions which appear to prohibit uses other than single family homes on lots in the Hiawatha Lane subdivision.

  13. Bobbi Essagof

    In case people haven’t noticed, route 33 leading from Saugatuck shores to I-95 and then to thePost Rd is at times a parking lot already. 45 minutes to get from the light at Ferry Lane to Main St on a Thursday evening is already way too congested for me. I’m all for Affordable housing and diversifying our town but lets think about ways to avoid these issues rather than having to clean them up afterwords.
    Speaking of traffic jams, a toll to get off Exit 18 for the purpose of getting back on at Exit 17 might stop the ridiculous nightmare that has become Greens Farms Rd and the Cribari Bridge, thank you WAZE!
    We could always consider alternate transportation method to get across town 🚠???

  14. Marc Levey

    I am totally supportive of this effort and will help in any way. I also think we need to seek the counsel of prominent litigation counsel who can assess risks and a real way forward if litigation is to follow. This third party view is important both in getting an unbiased view as well as a legal view to challenge the overreacting statute that is in play

  15. Marc Randall

    Hiawatha lane is the last middle class neighborhood in westport, this project is displacing those who can not afford anywhere else in town. 8-30G is wrecking middle class neighborhoods all over the state, because they are the easiest to buy because they are cheap. Meanwhile the reality is you are displacing one class for another, some of those renters have children in the schools and now they will have to be pulled and get a lesser education. Communities need neighborhoods like hiawatha lane and there should be a state statute protecting these neighborhoods. To Ann Chernow, thats nice that you consider our neighborhood an eyesore, no one asked you to go there. If you believe in affordable housing so much why don’t you sell YOUR home to a developer. Maybe the lower income bracket deserves to be in the more affluent neighborhoods in westport. How would your neighbors feel about that?

    • Wendy Cusick

      To Marc Randall you misunderstood Ann Chernow’s comment. She was NOT referring to the CURRENT Hiawatha Lane neighborhood which is a charming little neighborhood.
      Ann was referring to IF this new Hiawatha Lane multi building complex is built imagine what Westport will look like in 50 years with monstrous multi story buildings crammed into small areas around town.I

      • Marc Randall

        After rereading her comment, yes I did misunderstand, sorry for the mix up

  16. Ciara Webster

    8-30g is an absolute disgrace.. traffic already sucks here.. schools are at overflowing capacity..
    sorry to the haters but it’s facts !
    No room at the inn
    Move on to the next town
    Not only that no room for tractor trailers to even navigate that turn..
    Who is going to fix that ? I for one don’t want to sit in any worse traffic.
    I live on riverside and cannot get onto 95n after 7.35 am because of the cluster f$&@ . I just take bridge street but that’s not a solution.
    I’m sorry but not good enough !
    Town should buy red barn property by eminent domain and throw up 500 project condos.
    Fulfill our obligation in one fell swoop in fact make all 500 affordable and be done.

  17. Ciara Webster

    By the way all. Sal Liccione was glorias first rtm endorsement. Good man sal ! You rock. Well done.

  18. Ciara Webster

    What’s more sal should ensure a roll call vote on this so we all know who voted which way and where our votes came from and what rtm members voted for. a little transparency around this place would go a long way.
    No need to hide.
    Put your vote where your mouth is

  19. Jimmy Izzo

    Over the past 10 years, besides Tony Hwang who else has been outspoken against 8-30g? Sure a State Representative can say “I’m against 8-30g or I have problems with it.” What actually has our local Representatives done to garner support from other legislators in the House and Senate in Hartford for modification of 8-30g?
    The developers originally went in for 20 units over 13 years ago…today they have been awarded 150 plus in a “settlement.”
    Think about this and think about a system that is fixed in Hartford and does zero to help affordable housing within the framework of local zoning.
    Our Legislature should should be ashamed of themselves for not modifying 8-30g as the “intent” of this legislation was not for developers to profit and ruin neighborhoods with loopholes in the law.
    I am afraid this type of hijacking of local zoning laws will only get worse with progressives like Sara Bronan and Will Haskell leading the charge to put the state of CT in charge of local zoning laws.
    These folks are pro density at any cost to local zoning laws or local property owners….Westport residents need to wake up when they go to the polls…residents need to forget the Blue and Red crap and go the polls and vote with one thing in mind- WESTPORT

  20. James Waldron

    Poor Will Haskell. Once a Westport/SHS grad this blog would tout. Now a symbol of how Westport eats their own. Stay on them Will, you have our support.

  21. Jimmy Izzo

    No one wants to eat Will Haskell. Will is a good person and very smart. However, Will does need to wake up and stand up for the people who voted overwhelmingly for him to REPRESENT Westport and the INTERESTS of his constituents.
    Yes, affordable housing is necessary in Westport and we are getting there. Hartford should not have the right to walk away from the flaws of 8-30g.
    The developer originally comes in for 20 units. Developer gets denied and denied on other other applications. The attorney from Shipman and Goodwin at the time, Tim Hollister takes over the case for the developer. Mr. Hollister happens to be one of the “authors” of 8-30g.
    From 20 units denied to 157 units settled????
    This obviously stinks of political corruption up in Hartford…We need our Representatives like Will to stand up and stand out..with his political clout ..yes he has it…and speak up with the cameras, media and demand modification to the law so the “intent” is being used for the greater good NOT THE GREEDY.