The Hamlet At Saugatuck: Hotel, Retail Plan Ties Rail, River Together

A decade ago, the Saugatuck Center project brought new stores, restaurants and apartments to the banks of the river. It also brought new life and vibrancy to one of the oldest neighborhoods in town.

An even more ambitious and innovative plan may now do the same, a few yards south.

The Hamlet at Saugatuck” reimagines the relationship of the river and railroad to the area. Designed to feel like an extension of the community, it’s envisioned as an economic engine for residents and visitors; a gateway to the rest of the town, and a chance to build something inexplicably missing everywhere else in Westport: a hotel.

A view from the Saugatuck River. These buildings would be on Riverside Avenue, from Railroad Place (left) to Charles Street (right). The railroad tracks are on the left.

Invested in and spearheaded by area residents – including Westport-based ROAN Ventures and Pete Romano’s LandTech environmental engineering firm, with world-renowned architect Bill Bensley – the project is making its way through the long approval process.

Yesterday, ROAN submitted an application to amend the text of Planning & Zoning Department regulations, creating a new zone called General Business District/Saugatuck Marina.

Plans encompass the rectangle between Riverside Avenue, Railroad Place, Franklin Street and Charles Street, plus land on Riverside Avenue from Tutti’s to Railroad Place, and the private parking lot above Luciano Park now used for boat storage.

A gourmet market would be built on land that is now a private parking lot. This is the view from Luciano Park.

It would not include the Black Duck, the office building on Riverside Avenue in front of All Seasons Marina, or Railroad Place between Steam Coffee and the alley by the train station. Current Railroad Place tenants will remain, and The Hamlet aims to help those local businesses thrive.

But what it will include is quite exciting:

  • A boutique hotel with approximately 55 rooms, 35 condo-type residences, pools, and underground parking.
  • New shops and restaurants, featuring local artisans.
  • Gardens, space to stroll and socialize, fire pits in the winter – and a spa.

The boutique hotel, including condo-type residences, and ground-floor shops.

  • A year-round gourmet market on the now-private railroad parking lot, with local vendors (think New York’s Eataly, but with an area twist).
  • A marina with at least 22 slips, giving the community safe and enjoyable access to the waterfront.
  • Water taxis taking guests to Longshore, Compo Beach and downtown.

Another view, with the railroad on the left, the I-95 bridge on the right.

  • A boardwalk along the river, similar to Bartaco’s, with the goal of Connecticut Saugatuck and Westport via waterway.
  • Re-skinning and beautification of the 21 Charles Street office building. Bringing it more in line with local architecture and aesthetics.

Affordable housing would also be included.

The Hamlet is envisioned as a place where year-round visitors – including those arriving by rail – would stay, play, shop and dine, then use as a base as they explore the rest of Westport.

ROAN also plans to implement cultural, wellness and family-focused programming, designed for the community at large.

There is plenty of work to be done. The current dry cleaners, near what was once a car dealership, needs heavy remediation. ROAN is ready to do that.

Redevelopment of this area has been discussed for years. This winter, state legislators considered a bill to designate areas near train stations for dense development. It stalled in committee, but similar proposals are expected again.

It took several years, and two stages, for the Saugatuck Center project to be completed a decade ago. The Hamlet is in the early stages of the permitting process. ROAN is targeting a 2026 opening.

So it’s too early to book a hotel room, or a water taxi ride.

But it sounds like it will be well worth the wait.

43 responses to “The Hamlet At Saugatuck: Hotel, Retail Plan Ties Rail, River Together

  1. Edward Bonaham

    Well, the once quaint Saugatuck is being slated for high density stacked overdevelopment by people who left the city for Westport’s historical and aesthetically pleasing small town charm. The strip of businesses Including Harvest, Romanacci, Positano, all seasons marine, Tuttis, Back Duck…leave it alone. All the history, all of what was given to us by the little Italy that once existed there is now going to be ripped up for profit and greed by developers.

  2. John Karrel

    It sounds ominous … at best.

  3. Bill Kutik

    Yup, progress! Make Westport more like Battery Park City and the North Cove Yacht Harbor on the Hudson River. Lose the historic waterfront. Is there a separation here between recent arrivals (25 years ago for me) and the native born? I would hope not, since they seem to complain the loudest about the Westport they knew slipping through their fingers. Me, too.

    • Heather Williams

      I dont get the Disney-esque development in Westport as progress. If people are so concerned with what’s right for the enviroment and peoples access, create access. Not condos and hotels on waterfront.

  4. What a shitty, destructive concept, clothed as the sheep and the gift horse.

  5. Nell Mednick

    Another ugly building with all these unnecessary roof peaks !

  6. Kristan Hamlin

    Do I count correctly– 5 or 6 stories high in some spots of this proposed development? What’s next– skyscrapers at the waterfront?

    We should have nothing higher than 3 stories on our waterfront to maintain a village feel. This is a town; not a city.

    P&Z–do your job: preserve our waterfront by enforcing aesthetic standards.

  7. Debbie Katz

    Very exciting! I’ve always wondered why Southport had the Delamar (lovely property, great restaurant and hotel) and we didn’t have anything comparable. Something interesting in a perfect area for residents and visitors alike to enjoy (similar to what was done with the condos further down Riverside Avenue, the development that gave us the Whelk and Saugatuck Sweets to name a few). Sounds like this plan makes the waterfront even MORE useable, maintains the feel of Westport AND still keeping landmark businesses like the Duck. Looking forward to seeing how this progresses.

  8. Gianni Lorenzato

    I thought PP&Z was there to protect the interests of current Westport residents. Clearly not.

    We don’t need a tourist attraction, more traffic, more outsiders using the beach (via water taxi – how cool) and an ugly large complex with the customary sprinkling of affordable housing.

  9. Sandy Rothenberg

    Darien & Noroton have developed areas around the train stations but look a lot better than what’s proposed here!!

  10. Richard Johnson

    Wonderful! So exciting to see what could become of an area that’s currently run-down and underutilized, a terrible welcome to Westport when you get off 17. It’s such a pain to tell out-of-town guests there’s nowhere to stay in Westport (and even when the Westport Inn existed, nowhere good to stay). And the tax revenue! For those who want more sidewalks, traffic enforcement, etc – here’s a way to pay for it.

    I’m all for keeping what is actually historic and charming about Westport in place, although I never here commenters here advocating for solutions that would actually do that (such as mandatory historic house protections). But there’s nothing here to preserve. This is slated to replace a series of dilapidated buildings wedged between the railroad and a 95 overpass with no aesthetic or historic value. You gotta love the commenters saying nothing over three stories should be built, when the area is already filled with multi-story office buildings from the 1970s and 80s. I’m sure the same people reflexively moaning about how awful having a hotel in town would be were also whining about Saugatuck Center, which is indisputably one of the best things to happen to Westport lately, adding so much vibrancy and excitement to town. The development isn’t my preference aesthetically, but so much of this is fabulous.

  11. Richard Rogers

    Wonderful project in a wonderful setting! Please clean up that dump now!

  12. Nancie Rinaldi

    The traffic near and at the train station is already overly congested. This area doesn’t have the infrastructure to support this kind of high density development and the traffic that will come with it. Parking is already stretched and if commuting returns to pre-Covid levels taking away the private lot will only make it tougher for those without a RR parking sticker to find parking. Is anyone thinking about that?

    • I believe there will be quite a bit of underground parking.

    • joshua stein

      Agree, the traffic cannot be supported in this area. Make commuters lives more of a nightmare – Excellent! Similar to Summit who is trying to cram hundreds more vehicles into a neighborhood that is already maxed out, where trucks and schools buses have a hard time turning, and there are countless close call accidents. Those buildings are too big, too high, will commercialize the area even further, and ruin its charm.

  13. Claudia Bradley

    Growing up on Franklin Street, I remember my mother saying some day someone would build a hotel there, being so close to the Turnpike (I-95). I am just surprised it took this long.

  14. Cathryn Morrison

    Another proposed assult on the environment to further enrich predatory builders.

  15. Erin Andrews

    World class amenities for for a town that sorely needs this activation in a railroad station that can only be described as ‘abandoned’. I am sure all the crazies who opposed Saugatuck Center and the new YMCA and now frequent them daily will come up with ways to wax poetic about some past Westport that never existed. This is top-notch!

  16. Jane Dally

    Westport is being over developed. Keep the small town feel , please. It’s why most of the people moved here in the first place. We don’t want to be a mini New York. The Inn at National Hall was a gorgeous boutique hotel back in 2000. Bring it back.

  17. Michael Nayor

    Putting aside aesthetics for a moment (which are always fine tuned) this project in principle is creative and productive. It checks a multitude of boxes, will boost Saugatuck’s economy, serve the community’s residents well, utilize and beautify the riverfront which now is shabby at best (with a few exceptions) and revitalize dilapidated and frankly crummy looking lots and buildings. it also plans for affordable housing near a transportation hub and nearby services. It apparently salvages many of the “quaint” points of Saugatuck. Let’s put the whining aside until the project is explained in full and the project is fleshed out.

  18. don bergmann

    This project appears to have many deficiencies, building heights, density and of course the traffic issues. Most of us had been waiting for a proposal by the owners of the private properties that include the dry cleaners, the large internal parking area and other structures. This does not appear to address that, possibly because the private owners continue to be unable to agree on a plan. I am very concerned that the rather pro development P&Z Commission will look upon this project with favor. Our District One RTM members, e.g. Matt Mandell, Liz Milwe, Chris Tait and Kristin Purcell, need to weigh in promptly.

  19. jeffbullwinkel

    I grew up in Westport back in the 70s and, after several decades away, am delighted to be part of the community once again. Like many who have commented here, there’s much I miss about the town as it was then. I miss having a ‘real’ main street, something I fear we may not be able to recreate. In Saugatuck, I miss Peter’s Bridge Market, where I stocked groceries as a teenager. I miss Mario’s, Porky Manero’s and, most of all, the Arrow and the beloved Nistico family. But I always felt this stretch of the Saugatuck was sadly underutilized, dominated by the sight and sounds of the I-95 overpass and enjoyed mainly by people lucky enough to own a boat or riverfront property. So, like others on this thread, I was excited to read about this project and love the core concepts – opening up the waterfront so more people can enjoy it; using one of Westport’s greatest assets, the water, to connect different parts of town; creating public spaces where we can gather as a community. Looking forward to seeing how this progresses.

  20. Diane Johnson

    This is very exciting and a much needed overhaul of an underutilized and, frankly, unattractive area. I’m confident our town’s vetting process will ensure impacts on environment, traffic and safety will be addressed and assuming all copacetic, this seems like a win-win for the economics, aesthetics and much needed amenities.

  21. Who is behind “ROAN Ventures?” I went to the website, and it is mysterious. In terms of people critiquing the development, I suggest they wait for more details. From these fuzzy drawings, it’s very hard to visualize what the developers have in mind.

  22. Werner Liepolt

    Sort of like Wall Drug Store?

  23. Valerie Ann Leff

    Sounds great–I’m all for walkable spaces in Westport, a more lively community, and affordable housing.

  24. David J. Loffredo

    Please stop bemoaning historic Westport, the town dump used to be where the library is now.

    I suggest you go to Google Earth. This area tucked between I-95 and an Amtrak train line. Legit the busiest transit corridor in the US. It’s mostly a brownfield of parking lots, abandoned buildings, and significantly underutilized space.

    As a 10+ year Westport Little League Commissioner who worked with Steve Axthelm to refurbish Luciano Park, I’m happy it survives, and think it should be used more frequently for both instructional softball and tee-ball. It’s like Wrigley Field!

    I was hoping for a movie theater, so maybe as part of the P&Z process that gets introduced.

    This area is in desperate need of re-development, it has been ripe for decades. With the departure of Mystic Market (clearly because the landlord knew of this plan) Charles Street aside from Tarry Lodge, has been abandoned.

    I look forward to the evolution of the plan as it moves through the process, and hope to see a new vibrant community in place of some pretty sad spaces someday.

  25. The specific land in question is currently unattractive and underutilized – shameful for being on the river and so close to the train and the rest of Saugatuck. Doubtful the rendering in Dan’s article would be built “as is” but a hotel and retail space and improved access to the river for boats and especially pedestrians would be a welcome addition to our town. I’ve lived in Westport for 15+ years now. Great town. But let’s not freeze time and resist change. Instead, let’s welcome change & improvement and make the overall town a more desirable destination for all.

  26. Jack J Whittle

    Looks rather breathtaking – I certainly appreciate the developer’s financial commitment to Saugatuck and the vision they have for this area; perhaps this proposal can be shaped into something that is more in keeping with building heights and density more appropriate for this neighborhood, and our Town. For those who say “wait and see what they are proposing” most of us can count stories and appreciate the proportion of building coverage involved here.

    As always, the battle will be won (or lost) at the Text Amendment stage.

    • Heather Williams

      I agree with you. Every building looks too high, contrived, too close to the water, too much coverage. If the town really cares about access and beautification of riverfront, then make it open green space planted with appropriate plants. But no one will make money on that so in comes the big development and density.

  27. John Kelley

    I’m intrigued by the water taxi to downtown and Sherwood Island, but unless you want out-of-towners using Como Beach don’t know why you would want one going there. A water taxi to downtown could be promoted by downtown merchants (perhaps by ads in the train cars) but you would have to have something to offer that out-of-towners couldn’t readily get in their own towns–otherwise its a lot of extra effort I don’t see people making. Even then, its probably a lot easier to drive directly to the stores, plus you can store things in your car.The Sherwood Island route makes sense if you want to encourage New Yorkers to avail themselves of Sherwood Island, but does Sherwood Island lack for patrons?

    Of course if the idea is that people in the development won’t be owning cars, it will be a different story, but living in Westport without a car is very limiting.

  28. Michael Elliot

    I get progress. I get development, I get there are eyesores and properties that will be developed in Saugatuck. If the hundred something condominium project in the vicinity of Hiawatha Lane is approved (which I believe it has) Saugatuck will become a snarled unbearable traffic jamb. There will be more and more pressure to replace the Cribari bridge due to overwhelming traffic, which would be another huge loss.

  29. Sam Febbraio

    It will be amusing to review the traffic study. I’ll go out on a limb here and predict that it will contain the standard “no significant impact” assessment.

    • Bill Strittmatter

      I would imagine that will be the conclusion. And, if so, I would imagine that it would be correct. The (non-professionally) predicted grave traffic disasters of the Y at Mahackeno and the various apartment complexes on the Post Road have largely proven to be a non event. And, presumably, this makes Saugatuck more walkable for residents.

      The unpredicted traffic issues due to line ups outside of various schools (and, perhaps, Starbucks), on the other hand…. But those are behavioral choices rather than the result of development (except maybe Starbucks).

  30. Kelly Arciola

    While the traffic is already an issue and will definitely increase, I’m happy to see progress on what the plans are for the future in Saugatuck. Gault did such a beautiful job with the buildings they built. I can only imagine how nice it would be to see this rendition in Saugatuck that is such an eyesore. I appreciate the vision and the development they have planned for this area. Best of luck to Peter Romano and his team on creating a wonderful development.

  31. Trisha Jumper

    All I see is an even worse traffic nightmare! And another developer making millions on our dime- and time! I agree that this area will be next to impossible to handle the traffic flow with a project like this. Traffic off of Exit 17 and commuters leaving the train station, already has traffic backed up for miles on a Friday evening. Why not clean up this area with a large park and river walks, maybe a few stores/restaurants. But a Hotel and water taxi? Lets make Compo Beach public! Yay!! I cannot even imagine how busy it would make Westport with tourists. It will become like all new England seaside towns in the summer- the tax paying residents leave town and don’t get to enjoy their own community. And I’m sure this new development will help lower residents taxes too! Haha!!

  32. Is Dan an investor or on the receiving end of this deal in some way? This article is a shilling sales brochure- quite partisan. Smells rotten.

    • No, Dan is not an investor or on the receiving end of “this deal” in any way. Feel free to address your question to me directly. And next time, please follow the rules and use your full, real name.

      You can also add any specific objections you like to the proposal. as others have done.

    • Tom Prince

      Just checking my notes…. I think Dan is currently allowed to express his opinion on a blog that he writes and publishes. But I could be wrong. Was there a new Supreme Court ruling today?

  33. Ciara Webster

    The traffic in this area is torture.
    I live on riverside avenue directly across from the amazing and large park.
    Now, regularly when I leave my house almost any time of the day to get over to the post road I’m faced with a dilemma. If I drive down and try to take the bridge by the rowing club it sometimes takes 7 or 8 changes of traffic lights to get there.
    It is a disaster. Quite literally walking would be faster.
    If I go by Parker Harding I’m sometimes backed up to almost the Sunoco.
    Either way it’s a 30 minute stop and go s… show.
    What used even pre covid take 5-10 minutes is now a 40 minute endeavor.
    It’s partly WAZE, which I wish we had a way of blocking but that’s not going to happen.
    I agree with all who have said nothing built should be allowed to be over 3 stories and a parking place provided for each and every office and condo tenant.
    That means a 2 bedroom condo needs 2-4 spaces to park.
    Everybody drives and it has to be assumed in plans this is going to be the case. Underground parking is genius but can they possibly find space underground for the hundreds of cars.
    Herein lies the problem for the developers, there’s no profit in it unless they go tall, and ignore parking.
    And how do we fit even more cars on the roads in this area. It’s impossible.
    Haiwatha is just going to be disastrous on every level.
    I’m not in any way against attractive development and I’d love more folks to be able to afford to live in Westport but at some point it becomes unacceptable to be expected to live in this traffic gridlock.
    And back to parking …. The formula used now is seriously flawed.
    I do not know a single person who doesn’t own a car. Not one !
    So back to a 1 bed condo if it assumes a couple needs 2 parking spots.
    A 2 bed might need 2-4 spots.
    The hotel cannot assume all guests will arrive by train so that’s at least 55 parking spots needed. When people come to a town they like to have a car to explore. If that is they can even get around with the traffic.
    The 35 condos depending on their occupancy need 100-200 more spaces.
    That’s before office tenants parking and that I presume is another 100 spots plus.
    So this development needs 400 parking spots.
    I’m afraid there’s simply not the infrastructure in this area for this kind of development.
    Let’s find a way to try and solve the traffic issues first and wait for haiwatha to be finished and if traffic is no longer a problem then sure, a pretty and low 3 story development tastefully built would be great.

  34. Todd M Freeman

    As a Saugatuck resident, I’d like to see more measured, incremental development and not another large scale project. As others have mentioned, Hiawatha Lane is getting 157 units – why don’t we take the time to see the real impact of that outsized development first before we launch into another large one in the area. There is a real risk that this area just can’t accommodate the associated traffic – the traffic light backups at Charles and Riverside, Bridge and Riverside, and Saugatuck and Riverside are already a source of frustration.

  35. Diane Johnson

    A very reasonable suggestion, Todd Freeman and I agree we should temper our enthusiasm until more is known. I do wish this “Hamlet” project to improve the waterfront and railroad area had surfaced earlier instead of the enormous Hiawatha project, which will surely create a massive traffic bottleneck and which has displaced numerous homeowners in relatively moderately-priced homes.

    • Wendy Griffiths

      This looks like rows and rows of new builds – I’d be so disappointed if we lost all of our views of the river. Already I’ve lost my daily view because of the new condos near bartaco, I love the idea of a market and hotel – but what I’m seeing here is a mini city. I truly hope the scale is smaller, but no one seems to have any control once the land is purchased. It’s amazing that we jump through hoops to get a pool or shed but someone can build a mall or condo complex with little difficulty.