Hiawatha Lane Neighbors File Lawsuit

A Representative Town Meeting vote in June seemed to be the final word. After a decades-long controversy, 157 housing units could be built on Hiawatha Lane.

But the bulldozers may have to wait.

A group of neighbors on the road, off Saugatuck Avenue near I-95 Exit 17, has filed suit in Bridgeport Superior Court.

The plaintiffs ask the court for a “temporary and permanent injunction enjoining the Defendant from constructing greater than a one-family house on any of the lots owned by the Defendant in the Subdivision in violation of the One-Family House Restriction.”

The neighbors claim that a covenant on the property restricts all development on land owned by the defendant — Summit Saugatuck — to one-family houses only.

The plaintiffs also cite health and safety concerns related to increased traffic, along with runoff and flood issues.

The redevelopment plan for Hiawatha Lane. Click to enlarge.

22 responses to “Hiawatha Lane Neighbors File Lawsuit

  1. Kudos! Fight the good fight!

  2. “Save Old Saugatuck” The mouse that roared!

  3. Chip Stephens SHS 73

    In the late 1800s, train tracks for the New York-New Haven and Hartford Rail Road were built in place for Westport as of 1890, and have operated since.
    Soon after completion of the rail line, many of these same railroad builders, trackmen, and other related laborers settled close to those tracks in the Saugatuck community, the “Little Italy” neighborhood of Westport. A community filled with Italian pride and an abundance of hard-working individuals with large families. This community went on to build churches, stores, a vital small business economy, and on to securing their own homes…many of which today would be called “affordable”.
    Families with the names of: Vento, Stroffilino, Cribari, Nistico, Anastasia, Luciano, Sarno, Caruso, Fabbraio, Pascarella, Penna, Giunta, Valiante, (and so many more) settled the Saugatuck area. Today, many of these first families still have their namesakes living in the Saugatuck community three and four generations later. They continued to build Westport as builders, barbers, stone masons, restaurateurs, store owners, carpenters, Town employees, and yes… many to serve as first-responder Police and Fire personnel in Westport over the years.
    Fast forward to the mid-1900s, when the great Interstate highway system was plowing through Westport and other Connecticut coast-line towns and cities…. I-95 was here. Saugatuck took it hard on the chin.
    Churches, stores, meeting places, roads, and many homes were sacrificed, destroyed and lost to the great I-95. Westport’s Italian community was by far the most affected population as their Saugatuck neighborhood was bisected once again and a community was destroyed in exchange for “progress.”
    Thankfully, at the time there were some good-hearted persons of wealth who saw the human tragedy of Saugatuck and did the philanthropic thing. The area that is situated between the rail tracks and I-95 highway, today known as Hiawatha Lane/ Davenport / Indian Hill / Hiawatha Lane Extension was subdivided into parcels that were deeded to many of the displaced Saugatuck families for a small financial consideration. (many for $1).
    Julia Bradley, of Westport’s Bradley family, was the person most recognized for these acts of philanthropy and she was the one who deeded most of those properties, which still stand today. The Bradley family sought to make their planning efforts on behalf of homeowners on Hiawatha and Hiawatha Lane a legacy, by putting a SPECIFIC DEED RESTRICTION ON EACH DEED, which stated that each of the houses owned should remain in perpetuity as one single-family house on each plot. This was to the benefit everyone living there. And through the years since, the neighborhood in that area has remained Westport/Saugatuck’s one unique place providing affordable, low-cost home ownership in 06880.
    This is what your neighbors on Hiawatha and Gillette are fighting for, a legal deeded right to a single family-owned neighborhood.

  4. The deed restriction is clear. It is not something the town could have used as it is a civil matter. This is exactly what is needed to be done to stop this over aggressive and unacceptable development. This project will destroy this small naturally affordable neighborhood and bring enormous traffic problems to that part of Westport.

    It will take money to give this suit legs. Save Old Saugatuck is taking donations. Please chip in. Contact Carolanne or me and I will give you information on how to donate.

    This is not a NIMBY issue this one affects the entire local area with impacts across the town. This can still be won. Help make it happen.

  5. Please provide a contact phone number, email address, etc. Thanks

  6. Way to go, Hiawatha.
    So sorry the town sold you down the river.

    • I say bravo to these neighbors As they say “it ain’t over until it’s over.”Fight on.These neighbors are real heros and I applaud their efforts

  7. The one entry and exit point for this development is opposite the train station parking lot, and next to the ramps for 95. Dropping 300 or more cars directly onto the most vital traffic intersections in Westport will impact commuters more than anyone has admitted. The area being developed is a wetland. Small houses positioned on the highest edges of land on each lot have survived. They were not prime for development back then, in the fifties, and they are not now, except in that Summit developers see the owners as vulnerable. Large buildings are going to sink into that swampy land, and massive amounts of paving and foundation reinforcements will add to the already massive flooding that occurs with each storm. The road will flood and the residents will be isolated. The sewers will flood. Emergency services will not be able to get in and out quickly.

    Once Westport does this, allows this, it will not be able to undo it.

    Allowing ingress/egress through Summit development’s contiguous Avalon property on the old Norden site may be what they have had in mind all along, with the idea that they could push that change through once the buildings were in place and the impact on westport train station area traffic was realized.

  8. It’s a wonderful hidden part of Westport not a lot of folks know about. I lived on Dr. Gillette when first coming to Westport; rented from David Hale (RIP).

  9. Patricia McMahon

    Bravo Bravo!!!

  10. Its absolutely crazy that this developer can even possibly get away with what he is attempting to do. I have written many times about how that intersection is already so tight and has so many problems. I can only imagine what it will be like with construction trucks, and then eventually hundreds of new residents, when its already a mess (school busses and fire trucks can’t even make the turn safely). But before that, there are the facts that Chip raised, that this neighborhood has been torn apart before, and there are deed restrictions in-place that are supposed to keep it from happening again. I think people need to think long and hard about 830g. Its really a gift to developers. It needs to be done away with and reimagined. And towns need to be credited with all existing affordable housing stock, not just from some arbitrary date onward.

  11. Congratulations to the Hiawatha neighbors .
    .
    By asking the court to enforce the single family deed restrictions directly benefits all of Saugatuck Shores, Covelee, Eno Lane, the Hiawatha neighborhood and East Norwalk,. However, all of Westport will benefit without the addition of 600 cars a day being added to our roads.

    Please help your neighbors fight the fight for Westport by sending a contribution to either:

    Facebook: Save Old Saugatuck has a link to PayPal

    Or you my send funds directly to Attorney Joel Green, Green and Gross PC, 1087Broad Street #401, Bridgeport CT 06604

  12. Bill Strittmatter

    Well, this could certainly get interesting if unrelated intervenors or maybe even a crusading US Attorney looking for a land use test case decide to get involved. Certainly Westport would be a more interesting place to strike down restrictive single family zoning/covenants than even Woodbury, particularly since the litigants here are presumably less deep pocketed than an entire town.

    By the time Hiawatha Lane was developed, overt racially based zoning and restrictive covenants in deeds had been struck down by the Supreme Court. The clever response by city planners and developers was single family zoning and deed restrictions which had the same practical effect of excluding Black people.

    On the surface, preserving property values and neighborhood character (the purported reason for single family zoning/covenants) seemed reasonable to the masses but, for those in the know, were code words for keeping out Black people who, it was assumed, would destroy property values and bring crime if they were allowed in. Indeed, many people cite the nominally reasonable “property values” and “neighborhood/town character” in protest of 8-30g, probably not appreciating the racist roots of those phrases.

    Anyway, because single family zoning was a equal opportunity barrier to all less economically advantaged folks (i.e. nominally, poor white people were excluded in addition to 99.999% of people of color), it generally passed Court muster except in some cases where adoption was accompanied by a paper trail that made it clear who was really being targeted. More clever people did not leave a paper trail but most land use planners and attorneys knew exactly what it meant. With Westport being no stranger to race based deed covenants (as previously reported on by Dan, I believe) reasonable chance that the attorneys that drafted the Hiawatha covenants knew exactly what they were doing.

    With more Court consideration of practical implications and disparate impacts, one would think single family covenants (and zoning) would be at risk, particularly as Courts increasingly consider “equity”.

    • Bill Strittmatter

      Sorry, that should have been Woodbridge, not Woodbury.

    • Screw Loose?

    • No one is stopping people of color and international decent from living in westport, while you wrote a long winded post, you have no idea what you are talking about. Hiawatha lane is a naturally affordable neighborhood, where many minorities al ready live. When the CT mirror (i belive) wrote a story calling us all racists they put a pic of a $3.4 million dollar mansion in the paper. This would assume that all of westport is that way, no one put a pic of an old cape or ranch that presently exists in the most affordable neighborhood in town where people of all colors and races can afford to start their families. Do a little more research before making such a rediculous post. Furthermore if statistically minorites are less fortunate and earn less then look to the racist job market and fix that. Its not Westport fault.

      • Bill Strittmatter

        I am sympathetic that Hiawatha Lane and it’s residents appear to be disproportionately bearing the burden of 8-30g for the rest of Westport. Development of affordable housing really should be shared more equitably across Westport and not simply displace one of the few affordable areas in town. Frankly, that might be the result if intervenors show up, though it might be too late for a Hiawatha Lane.

        As for my screed, it is worth reading about the history of single family zoning in the United States. While there may be debate around the edges, it seems widely accepted that single family zoning (or covenants) followed closely on the heels of racial covenants being struck down by the courts. That single family zoning would also tend to keep poor/working class white people out of a town or neighborhood was a bonus. I don’t know the specific history, but it is probably lucky that Saugatuck was settled before they figured that out.

        More broadly, I’m really curious how Westport(ers), where the vast majority of people seem to self-identify as “woke”, cope with the cognitive dissonance of one week demonstrating on the Ruth Steinkraus bridge against actions of various “deplorables“ but, the next week, advocating for “maintaining town character” and fighting affordable housing which might allow more less affluent families (and perhaps more people of color) move into town. Or proudly displaying Hate Has No Home Here and/or BLM signs but standing by silently when solutions to the equity issues they purportedly embrace might actually have an impact on the town they live in or, perhaps, them personally.

        The Hiawatha Lane development may have been avoidable if the town had been more aggressive in dealing with the issue. Certainly the town owns enough land to do more if it wanted to. Or Westport could open up zoning to, say, allow duplexes on all 1/2+ acre zoned lots. Or even allow smaller lots – even if you don’t want to expand the sewer system, you don’t need 1+ acres to support a modern septic system.

        Not that I would suggest it of course, but I wonder if the Hiawatha Lane neighborhood has considered co-opting the third parties to sue the town rather than (or in addition to) the developers? Of course, tossing a proverbial grenade into the mix would be a high risk strategy.

        • As far as your “History lesson” about zoning, your talking about the way things were 70+ years ago, before MLK jr, when the vast majority (if not all) of the minorities wouldn’t be hired because of the color of their skin. Just because that was how people thought back then has no connection to whats going on with 8-30G now or with hiawatha lane. And you have no basis to say that “maintaining town character” is code for keep out people of color. Now i’m not saying racism doesn’t still exist in certain workplaces but it is nowhere near what it used to be back in the 40’s 50’s etc. Like I said in my last post that is something that is wrong and should be dealt with, but thats not why people are against this monstrocity from being dropped on the most affordable neighborhood in town. Now hold on to your seat for this piece of info.
          This is easily the most culturaly diverse neighborhood in town, and there are people of other ethnicities that own here, because (wait for it) NOWADAYS MINORITIES CAN LIVE IN SINGLE FAMILY HOUSING. To say that they can’t and that why we need large oversized apartment building to cram them in, to me seems in and of itself racist. Don’t minorities deserve and quiet street and backyard as well?

          There are plenty of newer condos/apartment all down the post road that offer affordable housing. There are also other lots that could’ve been developed with ease by the developer but he chose not to, he focused on the poorest neighborhood in town. why? because it was the cheapest land to acquire and then he said on westport now.com that this “wasn’t a greed driven endeavor”. Then why didn’t he just go to one of the many lots down the post road that woudn’t disrupt an already established neighborhood? Look at all the progress Westport has made with affordable housing in the time summits been trying to cram this development down everyones throat.

  13. Sheila Vesciglio

    Not sure the developer would go through the expense of obtaining this property w/o this deed issue being resolved already…

  14. I was looking for the case file but couldnt get it…anyone have the docket number?

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