RTM Subcommittee Upholds P&Z On Hiawatha Lane

The Representative Town Meeting Planning and Zoning Subcommittee voted decisively yesterday to uphold the P&Z’s agreement with Summit Saugatuck, to build 157 units of housing — some of it deemed “affordable” — on Hiawatha Lane, near I-95 Exit 17.

The vote was 5 to 1 to uphold the P&Z decision,, with one abstention. Member Matthew Mandell recused himself.

The meeting was required by law, following a petition by more than 60 electors in the wake of the P&Z vote earlier this month. The matter now moves to the full RTM, early in June.

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

20 responses to “RTM Subcommittee Upholds P&Z On Hiawatha Lane

  1. Bill Strittmatter

    Curious why they reached that conclusion. Someone had a rational discussion of low probability of ultimately winning versus high cost to Westport taxpayers of fighting in court? Or committee decided to walk the talk about inclusiveness by allowing more affordable housing?

  2. Cheryl McKenna

    Curious who voted against it. This should go in front of a reasonable judge in Hartford . We as a town have met these requirements before they asked us . Canal park and area by beach ( forgot name again ) were done pre 830-g requirements. A reasonable judge would see that Weston or New Cannon or Wilton are far behind us . Where is the fairness and equitable treatment? A judge needs to hear this case . Ira Bloom do your job and fight for this town!!!
    RTM has a plan I hope … next vote ?

  3. Michael Isaacs

    The correct decision. I drove by that area for the first time recently. Not exactly the heart of Westport. If the builder owns the property why shouldn’t he be allowed to construct an apartment complex? To say that 100 more cars there will clog the roads or I-95 ramp is dumb, like they will all be driving the precise same time. And isn’t having many more residents good for the local economy? I bet the businesses around the railroad station and Saugatuck would be delighted. The rendering looks nice. All the moaning and groaning about Westport losing its charm because of these type developments is nonsense.

    • C’mon Michael, while everything you mentioned is accurate, moaning and groaning is par for the course when it comes to topics such as this…Get with the program Hahaha!

      • Larry Weisman

        Although I have been a long-time opponent of this project, I think the Committee came to the right conclusion. The Town Attorney and P&Z Chair did a fine job of explaining the reasons why the settlement was necessary and their rationale was persuasive. It’s not at all a good result but under the circumstances as they unfolded, it was probably the best thing to do.
        I think the lesson to be learned from this experience is the importance of planning. Westport was victimized by 8-30g because it failed to prepare to work within it, whereas other towns – New Canaan for example – recognized the threat posed by that flawed statute and found ways to neutralize it. Let’s not make that mistake again. There’s a reason why it’s called Planning & Zoning and not just Zoning.

      • Eric Buchroeder SHS ‘70

        One thing that has always been and probably always will be in suburban Fairfield County: NIMBY

  4. Joshua Stein

    As someone who passes the light at the intersection next to Gault every day I can tell you that existing traffic struggles making that turn. Trucks have to turn wide traffic gets held up even with light traffic conditions. Today a school bus had trouble navigating that turn and basically got stuck and held up traffic when there’s no traffic to begin with causing a major traffic jam. How can a fire truck or other emergency vehicles make that turn safely? This is truly a disaster brewing.

    • Bill Strittmatter

      If true, shocking that any development was ever allowed in that neighborhood and that the problem remained hidden until now. Shame on whoever allowed that to happen. For the safety of all the current residents, obviously the town needs to condemn their houses and turn it into open space preserve.

      • Josh Stein

        The bad thing is when trucks and cars swing out, it nearly causes head on collisions. I proceed with caution at all times at this intersection as its already unsafe. I cannot imagine what it might be like with hundreds of new residents. I am curious how many accidents have actually happened and whether we can look that up somehow.

  5. Priscilla Hawk

    Please read what Josh Stein is telling you all. What he describes is correct. You’ve had your warning. Doesn’t anyone care about what you are permitting to happen?Many of us hope there is still time to prevent this mayhem.

  6. Cheryl McKenna

    So what pray tell did New Cannon do ? I agree with Mr.Wiesman planning was needed but that’s exactly what Westport did . Build affordable housing for our teachers and fireman etc .. we are punished for being a kind and welcoming community before being forced to by the State! I say let’s fight it . Judges are willing to our arguments and should be reasonable when he/she knows our whole story . We seem to waste a lot of money on commissions for this snd that but are not willing to fight in order to save a real affordable community that now needs our help.

    • Bill Strittmatter

      Like Westport, they already had town owned affordable housing but New Canaan chose to build more low income and affordable housing to hit the moratorium targets before 8-30g developers could force the issue.

      Do I recall correctly that the Westport Housing Authority tried to do the same with one of the earlier Hiawatha Lane proposals only to be smacked down by the town?

      • Cathy Walsh

        Hey Bill- tough language without knowing the facts. Westport made a conscious decision around 2010 to enact the IHZ zone which would allow multi family and mandated 20% affordable. The thinking at the time was that we wanted to be inclusive and not segregate people according to their ability to pay. We passed every project that made it to P&Z with the exception of Hiawatha, Lincoln st and 122 Wilton road. These projects were all turned down because of poor location, lack of proper fire protection and other very legitimate reasons. We went to court on all 3 multiple times and finally got much better projects for the town and neighbers on 2 of 3. (all still 20 or 30% affordable)

        122 Wilton road is now19 units down from 48. Lincoln Street is in final settlement talks. It will most likely be much smaller than the original proposal and will be 30% affordable.

        Hiawatha is a different story. It will always remain a dangerous project for all the people who live there . It should never be built. It just too big for the neighborhood. However, the attorneys and money behind the project don’t give a damn about this neighborhood and the people who live there. The lead opposition attorney wrote 8 30 G and has made a lot of money fighting towns like ours. This came out again loud and clear last night when he spoke.

        the iteration of the Hiawatha project you referred to was even worse than the current proposal. It was larger and it included a segregated building for lower income people.

        Every commission since 1990 tried to do the right thing to provide both housing and dignity . it will never be good enough for the crew in Hartford and the attorneys who have made millions attacking us. Ask Sarah Bronin where her money comes from. Ask all the reporters who routinely rip us apart where their grant money comes from.

        These are the facts my friend. I spent 13 years in the trenches living though all this and fighting these battles along with many dedicated commissioners . It’s only about the money and not the people.

        • Bill Strittmatter

          Of course it’s about the money. Was there ever any confusion about that? 8-30g was passed to provide economic incentives for developers to build affordable housing in towns like Westport – given the land cost in towns like Westport, affordable housing is pretty much uneconomic absent being able to bust restrictive zoning.

          The other point of 8-30g was to give towns a kick in the ass to affirmatively address the issue themselves before their hands were forced by money grubbing developers. Some towns did, others chose fight. Short term, fighting may have worked to drive compromises but, in reality, probably drove developers to start with outrageous positions only to be beaten back to what they probably would have accepted to begin with. That’s what people/negotiators often do. It’s chapter 3 of the developer playbook.

          As for Westport, while it certainly did a number of admirable things (partly thanks to your fine efforts by the way), in retrospect it arguably didn’t do enough to preclude a “dangerous project” like Hiawatha Lane, did it? Certainly Westport could have chosen to get ahead of the game and build or facilitated more low income or affordable housing on its own. But, instead, Westport fought, restricted development of Baron’s South and concluded a giant dog toilet was more valuable than providing affordable housing. But now there have been enough court decisions it is clearer that fighting is ultimately a loser. Different decisions may have precluded what the town faces now, including potentially even more extreme measures from Hartford.

          8-30g has been around for a long time. It’s not like it snuck up on anyone. Heck, even the town’s state representative is on record telling recalcitrant towns to suck it up and build several years ago. As best I can tell, aside from Tony Hwang, Westport’s current state delegation is on board with that program – and more. Apparently even Staple’s High School kids are writing editorials in agreement.

          Maybe Westport is better off, maybe not. Only time will tell who was “on the wrong side of history”.

        • Jeffrey Wieser

          Wouldn’t you add Baron’s South to this list of denials? That project would have added a number of affordable units which would, for better or worse, provide relief in this current environment?

  7. Judy Starr

    As I recall, the development this zoning change enables was denied, in various iterations but with the same principles of intense density and increased height, 5 (five) times by the P&Z. In January of 2019 the Architectural Review Board unanimously recommended denial.

    Just because the site is not visible from the road does not that serious and negative side effects would not happen. The potential for traffic congestion where the single entry and exit from the neighborhood exists (Ferry Lane West) would be enormous. We are talking about an intersection, which already has a light, situated right next Exit 17 of I-95. We already know what it’s like there during rush hours and also at the times when traffic spills onto Westport roads during the unpredictable but frequent delays on I-95.

    At what point in time will the town stand up to its responsibilities to guard its residential neighborhoods and the desirability to maintain a modicum of control over the rising flood of traffic that overflows its roads?

    It is to be hoped that the full RTM studies and comprehends what is at stake here, and why they are looking at something worth the effort to defend.

  8. Morley Boyd

    My opinion of the RTM member who recused himself just keeps on slipping. Not exactly a profile in courage.

  9. Despite background factors such as 8-30g, it is the ramifications of the specific development this zoning change enables that are on the table.

    Context or location has always been central in considering an application. What is so different about Hiawatha Lane with its bottleneck entry/exit road that intersects Route 136 one short block west of I-95?. Just because you may not SEE the neighborhood, or you do not drive past that intersection on a regular basis, does that mean that the effects of nearly tripling the number of housing units in that “bottle” will not be felt not only within but also beyond
    the area in question?

    it’s not merely “nimby”, it’s also about effects beyond those bounds. It’s about maintaining sanity over local development and also traffic patterns and flow.

    How about taking a field trip to the proposed development site? Driving up Charles Street in the late afternoon or even rush hour, or during an I-95 traffic spillover? That may deepen understanding of what is on this table and why, between two boards, the proposed development in every iteration was denied — at least six times. .

  10. Elaine Marino

    From what I can see from Westport’s GIS, 180 Saugatuck Ave is owned by Saugatuck Holding LLC and the .25 acre property directly behind it (currently a paved parking lot) is owned by Town of Westport. These two properties are separated from the Exit 17 exit ramp by a small swath of land presumably owned by the State of CT. Would it be possible to add an exit lane (using the State-owned land), which would be accessed only by Hiawatha Lane residents? An automatic entry gate (I.e., with an arm that goes up and down) could be used to allow authorized residents with a key card to pass through the town-owned parking lot and then turn right on to Ferry Lane East.

    This idea requires sufficient signage indicating that the lane is for Hiawatha Lane residents only, to prevent unauthorized drivers from trying to use it. Is this idea feasible in any way?

    • Josh Stein

      Ferry Lane East is on the other side of the river… I also dont see how adding a lane or doing any of that will ease traffic. Simply put, more vehicles = more traffic. Designing a special traffic pattern for a developer already screams this is not for Westport.