[OPINION] Group Pleads: Save Eloise A. Ray Park

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 saveeloise@gmail.com.

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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25 responses to “[OPINION] Group Pleads: Save Eloise A. Ray Park

  1. Charlie Haberstroh

    This parcel went through the process a number of years ago, and at that time the Parks and Rec Department opposed the development. This is a tiny parcel, which which would need to have the Town approve many variances to make the project viable. I urge the Town through the Parks and Rec Department to again oppose the development. The best use for that parcel is to donate it to the town so we can expand the park.

  2. Vita design group, the same group that was permitted to do a renovation and on a historic building and tore everything down? The same group also behind the 233 Hillspoint Road project?


    Oppose this.

  3. John D McCarthy

    The application that the Flood and Erosion Control Board will be considering can be found here https://www.westportct.gov/government/appointed-boards-a-z/flood-and-erosion-control-board/pending-flood-erosion-control-board-applications

  4. Clark Thiemann

    Agree this should be opposed. The property would also be much nicer if the church had not basically walled off a much larger parcel on the other side of the park with tall hedges and uninviting signs.

    • Bill Strittmatter

      I would imagine there are liability/insurance/adverse possession concerns from people wandering onto the church’s property assuming it was a continuation of the park. Seems like a valid concern given the neighbors’ apparent belief that 79 Riverside was also town property and part of the park.

  5. Does the e-mail address work for other people?; it bounced back for me.

  6. They should not be allowed to touch as much as a leaf or blade of grass on that park… if I do construction at my home I am not allowed to trash my neighbors yard in the process… why should this be any different ! Disgraceful put up a large fence on the boundary line and do not go near the park. They have no right to touch it.

  7. Beth Berkowitz

    Typically, when someone does construction on land, whether they are remodeling an existing home or building a new home or knocking one down, the construction crew is required to put up a silt fence (black, thick mesh) between property lines and set backs and setbacks from River to house construction to protect the environment and neighbors. They will be required to protect the park and not allowed to park machinery on the park property. There isn’t much you can do about the sight next door though.

  8. The previous administration took a pass on buying this parcel via our Open Space Fund. The reasoning at the time, as I recall, was that it was such a small lot no builder would buy it. Thus, it was defacto open space. Sadly, it would appear that this was a miscalculation.

    • Well I know for a fact it was in the region of 300-310 because I was the under bidder. I was going to buy it as a spot to just sit and enjoy the water with my children as I live down the road, and did not want it to be destroyed.
      So with that per se $300k in mind yes the town should either allow absolutely nothing to be built on what has been vacant land for years… unless the rules are followed.
      While I understand everyday the zba is sympathetic to some appeals. This just does not seem like a worthy one.
      Plus without somewhere to put equipment it would seem impossible regardless.
      And yes VITA are ruthless.. they buy for a dollar and want to sell for 10….. utter greed !
      Ciara Webster

  9. The new owner of the property should allow the town to purchase it, for a $1.00 more than he paid for it….and use the open space fund to purchase this import resource.

  10. Michael Calise

    This saga has been going on for more than a decade. Unfortunately, our open space fund and the committee controlling it are nowhere to be found. Sad to say the least.

  11. Dermot Meuchner

    Vita builds the ugliest homes with no regard for neighbors or environmental impact. Westport is being sold off lot by lot.

  12. Thanks Dan for calling this to our attention. I have some recollection of the history and thought the property was safe. We all have to work to make sure this site remains untouched and pristine.

  13. Kevin McCaffrey

    The folks at Vita Design should be ashamed. I am told the lot was recently purchased for several hundred thousand dollars, but now they won’t sell it back to the Town for less than a million. The epitome of bad neighbors and unscrupulous professional conduct. I find it curious that their website touts their commitment to “leave a lighter footprint on the environment.” I urge the Town and the community to spare no expense in fighting this project.

  14. Bill Strittmatter

    Why are you upset with Vita? Probably should be mad at the town of Westport. As best I can tell, the property has been on the market off and on for at least the past 5 years. The town and/or neighbors seemingly had ample opportunity to purchase it if they wanted to preserve the open space instead of assuming that no one could/would want to try to develop it. As Morley noted above, that appears to have been a miscalculation. After what happened across from Fort Apache, probably noth8ng should be seen undevelopable.

    Notwithstanding the purported $1MM price tag, I’m guessing a $500,000 or $600,000 offer from the town or neighbors to permanently deed it as open space would take it off the market.

    • Bill why would the town offer vita 500 or 600. ? For what a non conforming lot, an understatement ! They paid 300
      A lot you can’t build anything on … without looking for 100 variances , and then once that fence goes up even if you got permission you cannot work the space without trashing public park property or causing gridlock on riverside ave… no thanks..
      I’ve taken that for the team for long enough… no more whipping us on riverside… we owe nobody anything..
      Hmmm I think bye bye vita. They should donate it to the town.
      For zero dollars. That’s where trying to be a smart ass gets you.
      They certainly do not get to benefit over a dollar from their very suspect speculation… I wonder how they thought they could circumvent the law here…
      What a shady idea.
      Ciara Webster
      Incidentally bill do you live on riverside avenue ?
      No doubt you DO NOT

      • Bill Strittmatter

        Please note Michael Calise’s comment below. Seems like unlike the previous owners, Vita may have designed something within legal parameters and do not need variances. If that is the case, doesn’t seem unreasonable that they might expect some profit from their investment rather than giving it away to free riders who had ample opportunity buy the property.

        As for living on Riverside Ave? No, I don’t. But I have lived adjacent to and near various undeveloped properties. While I may have preferred they remained undeveloped, I recognized that the only way to ensure that from happening would have been to buy the properties to control development rather than demand the owner leave them undeveloped for my benefit.

  15. Neighbors and the Westport Parks & Recreation Department opposed the previous owner’s plan to build on this small parcel (.09 acres). The Zoning Board of Appeals voted 5-0 to DENY on March 22, 2016. The new buyer was aware of this information. We will oppose it again.

    Louis M. Mall
    RTM D2

    • Thanks for the history Lou. Westport residents deserve to hear from their elected officials here on 06880.

    • Fantastic Lou. Excited to know this was heard before and resoundingly given the PFA. It should remain a lovely park forever… and VITA, thank you for your unbeknown to you gift to the town ! Maybe you should not have speculated !

  16. Michael Calise

    For all to know……..
    I have reviewed the Vita application and since it is a nonconforming lot it has different design parameters which appear to be met in the current design, accordingly an appearance before the ZBA does not appear to be necessary.

    • Kevin McCaffrey

      Mr. Calise I’m afraid you seem to have missed the point entirely. The question isn’t whether Vita Design is capable of submitting plans which appear (I stress the word “appear”) to conform to land use regulations. Any competent developer (or even Vita) can typically manage that. The question is whether they should be permitted to permanently damage and alter public space, destroy waterfront wildlife habitat, and create a traffic jam on Riverside Ave for a year. One can only hope that our elected officials find this construction project as offensive as most voters obviously do.