Among Westport’s many perks: parks.
There are big ones like Longshore, Winslow and Baron’s South, and smaller but equally loved parks like Grace Salmon and the Sherwood Mill Pond Preserve.
Some are old, like Luciano; others, like Riverside, are much newer.
Then there are tiny parks, like Eloise A. Ray.
Named for a noted landscape architect, it’s a small spot on Riverside Avenue, at the foot of Lincoln Street.
Like Pasacreta Park — its neighbor to the south — it provides a welcome respite from nearby downtown.
But, a group of neighbors warns, it may be in danger. They write:
What makes Eloise A. Ray Park special is that it sits on the west bank of the Saugatuck, and offers breathtaking views up and down the river.
It is used every day by people walking to and from the center of town, and also those who come specifically to sit on a bench to watch the daily river activity: the ducks and swans, the rowers, and the occasional small boat with a fishing line in the water.
Eloise A. Ray Park
Owing to its location and impressive views, the park is also used for family gatherings and special occasions. It’s a wonderful place.
Unfortunately, a developer – Vita Design Group — has somehow been able to purchase what many believed was public land immediately adjacent to the park, and has submitted plans to build a multi-level luxury home which will change the park forever.
This land – designated 79 Riverside Avenue – borders the park immediately to the north. It has a number of old trees, and also offers prime habitat for wildlife. For this reason among others, it has been a perfect neighbor to the park for many years.
The view from Eloise A. Ray Park in summer …
But all that will change – along with the character of the park itself – if the town allows the development to proceed. In particular, we can expect the following:
- The park itself will effectively be unusable for long periods of time while construction is ongoing, and will be used in part as a staging area for construction equipment.
- The park will be damaged by construction equipment.
- Once construction is complete, the park will be forever altered by having a multi-level house, driveway, patio and walls encroaching upon it.
- Construction will also require razing the land at 79 Riverside, cutting down a number of old trees and eliminating wildlife habitat,
- Construction will also seriously impact traffic on Riverside Avenue — already very busy – because heavy equipment will need to use the roadway on a regular basis.
In sum, there will undoubtedly be a loss or permanent alteration of public waterfront space, of which there is very little these days. And while the developer will no doubt downplay these concerns, as they always do, those of us familiar with the reality of new development projects know better.
A hearing is set for September 6, before the Flood & Erosion Control Board. There is another hearing on September 13 before the full Conservation Commission. Further hearings will follow.
… and fall.
While a number of us plan to attend and voice our concerns, we believe there is broader support for our cause. We would like to alert the community at large to the situation.
We strongly encourage others to:
- Attend the hearings and voice their concerns;
- Write to Town Hall opposing the development; and
- Encourage the town to buy the lot and incorporate it into the park.
Our group – Friends of Eloise A. Ray Park – is also raising funds toward preserving the park. They will go toward the legal effort to fight the development: retaining experts (soil and erosion, planning and zoning, wildlife, traffic safety, etc.); retaining legal counsel to assist in presenting evidence before the town, and, in the event of approval, carrying on the fight in the courts.
We are in this for the long haul, and hope others are too. Anyone interested in lending support or assistance, or who would like more information, can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
John Keats said, “The poetry of the earth is never dead.” This may be true, but there is less of it every time we turn a blind eye to unnecessary development.
There are fewer places like Eloise A. Ray Park every day. Each loss is a loss for all of us. Any help that the community can offer is greatly appreciated.
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