Seeking Westport’s Vision: The Sequel

Clarence Hayes’ “Opinion” piece — posted this morning on “06880,” urging Westport’s politicians and residents to adopt a “vision” for the future — has already generated 26 comments.

Some of them noted that Westport already has such a plan. It’s state-mandated, developed with input from a broad array of stakeholders, and updated regularly. 

Clarence asked me to add this clarification. He writes:

Numerous engaged Westport citizens have pointed out to me that I am not up to speed with work already well advanced around many of the points in my original comments. Mea culpa!

In regards to taking control of the affordable housing issue, a plan was recently adopted by the Planning & Zoning Commission under Danielle Dobin’s leadership, which hits all the points I was hoping would be addressed.  Click here to see.

Screenshot: Westport’s Affordable Housing Plan.

Additionally, as Dick Lowenstein pointed out, Westport has a “10 year Conservation and Development Plan” — in compliance with state law — the last one of which was adopted in 2017. Click here to see.

So I’m learning. Thank you.

I did nor intend to criticize good work which has been accomplished, but rather to suggest even more ambition to do even better.

I maintain my “call to action”: to have a permanent forum for town engagement which:

  • Programmatically links the town’s various volunteer associations to the relevant town board/committee
  • Is structured for input/debate to maintain a long-term plan that touches all town assets, and is regularly amended
  • Establishes concrete goals that reach to 20+ years out — generational levels of development effort
  • Allows for annual measurement of progress
  • Includes results that are visible, front and center, on, providing effectively a  detailed, easily accessed, ‘who we are’ statement which is more than general aspirations.

Thanks to Mr. Woog for his tireless work providing a Westport “town square!”

25 responses to “Seeking Westport’s Vision: The Sequel

  1. When I read Mr. Hayes piece I had to check my calendar to see if it was April 1…but to my dismay it’s September.

    Only a 6 year resident, and already the determination to change the Town towards “a more perfect vision” that he has strong opinions about. A bit scary.

    Like Valerie, I found it intentionally opaque to have not mentioned his intention to be seated on the RTM this November alongside his $225 million budget management and banking/technology credentials. That more pertinent omission is the opposite of transparency. However I applaud his willingness to serve our Town IF his candidacy is not another attempt to attain power in order to recreate Westport into a new entity. Unfortunately, his words a “new brand” appears the goal. Perhaps I’m overly suspicious of newcomers considering Westport an incomplete canvas upon which to fingerprint their artistic style…but that suspicion has foundation.

    But words like “progress”, “improvement”, and “better” make me cringe because they too often mean “let’s change the small Town character and ambiance” that makes Westport so attractive, and differentiated us from Greenwich, Darien, and New Canaan INTENTIONALLY..

    Not long ago I wrote an opinion piece asserting that Westport had an ever increasing identity crisis. Our quaint SOUTHERN NEW ENGLAND TOWN has been under assault to convert into a suburb of NYC and Westchester, adding a sprinkle of Long Island into the visionary benchmark. A steady influx of cement and asphalt, green-space and trees giving way to proliferating McMansions replacing modest structures deepening the lack of affordable homes, and inexpensive family eateries supplanted by the $20 cocktail and $50+ entree have accompanied its demographic growth. You tell me: Betterment? Improvement? Progress?

    The concern was not that the demise of our Town would be abrupt; rather it would die by a thousand cuts – some small, others large but in totality consequential. Mr. Hayes articulates this on steroids and his personal “improvement” sounds like a euphemism for “destruction” – destruction of character, charm, history, values – identity. Perhaps emblematic, and prophetic, was Town leadership replacement of our unique and iconic Minuteman with a nebulous meaningless W as the face of our historic community – WITHOUT resident approval I might add.

    In his initial piece Mr. Hayes already declared HIS perspective of Westport: Westport is “a SUBURB”. He offered his vision for downtown: “a MALL” albeit more attractive than SONO or Trumbull???? G-d forbid. Fortunately, Mr. Hayes’ perspective of and vision for Westport has long ago been discarded.

    I get it: Someone’s “vision” means their “perspective” fashioned from their personal experiences – in turn fabricated by cultural, environmental and generational differences. It’s natural for people assimilating into new communities to seek their historical “comfort zones”. I understand the impetus to redefine one’s surroundings into their image under the rubric of “improvement” and “progress”. And before I hear “Move over old man” and be accused of “being adverse to change” understand we are not talking about the desire to introduce indoor plumbing.

    I admit that like all communities Westport has its challenges, but contrary to Mr. Hayes own words, we DO NOT require a “brand”; its historical identity (i.e. “brand”) has served us just fine for a very very long time – and is NOT up for grabs. If Mr. Hayes requires a clearer sense of that, I refer him to Claudia Cusani’s recently articulated inspiration for Cusani Westport parfum.

    Mr. Hayes had incorrectly presumed that Westport sits idle, devoid of any consideration of its future. As Morley has stated, visionary planning documents currently exist – they just require Town Hall’s desire to implement. But as he is apparently guaranteed an RTM seat, I’m comforted that Mr. Hayes has at least stated his intention to “catch up” on Westport’s planning efforts and will now read Westport’s POCD. Personally, I believe it would have been prudent for that to have preceded any “coming out” essay – but what do I know. His now “mea culpa” is noted.

    This second bite at the 06880 apple suggests that Mr. Hayes seems to be endorsing more governmental transparency and resident involvement in Town important decisions – something many of us have requested for quite some time…as well as the means for Town Hall accountability other than at the ballot box. Great.

    And Mr. Hayes’ enthusiasm is noted.

    However as he is concerned about improving life in Westport (and our “brand”) may I suggest the following that we can do as a beginning:
    Stop replacing our supply of modest housing with McMansions.
    Stop the clear cutting of Westport’s trees.
    Stop already with the pristinely manicured lawns with their destructive pesticides & herbicides.
    Stop using huge vehicles to bring home a bag of groceries.
    Limit the private transport of children to school.
    Minimize, and then eliminate use of the god awful unhealthy gas powered lawn equipment.
    Stop speeding, stop rolling through stop signs, and stop with the distracted/impaired driving.
    Stop driving everywhere! Prioritize walking, biking, using scooters, public transit – it works in many other places.
    MAINTAIN the property that the Town already owns – and for God’s sake begin with finally rehabilitating Baron’s South as the public has demanded for almost a decade.

    Dr J

    • Jay
      My email is, let’s get together and talk.
      You sound informed and have a long history here. And boy that’s a lot of assumptions about who I am and what I think interpreted out of a a few paragraphs! And largely the exact opposite of my own vision – which is to prevent a Greenwich evolution.
      The immediate impetus behind my comments, personally, is that I find walking around Westport could be greatly improved. My wife and I talk about it as we regularly walk almost everything south of the Post Road: missing sidewalks, unsafe crossings, much of the river/estuary access blocked by parking/office buildings. So as one voice I would be an advocate in a long term plan to progressively recover public access to river/estuary and create over time a series of safe and attractive ‘walks’ which differentiates us from our neighbors, which my grandkids will enjoy.

    • Not to pile in poor Mr. Hayes – whose execution was unfortunate but who, I think, is genuinely concerned – I would like to expand on just one of Dr. J’s excellent points. Before excavating ancient, pie in the sky ideas – such as seizing private waterfront property for a Greenway, would it be too much to ask that we maybe have a conversation about the pie we already paid for? Westport has a long history of mis/under/non maintenance of its public realms. Yes, everyone knows that Barons South is so bad it’s been abandoned and the Parks Supervisor has been ordered to stay out and let it burn. But take a look at something more ordinary, for instance, the (formerly) managed landscaping around the upper lot of the Library. Waist high Mugwort has been allowed to overrun it all. Large invasive Ailanthus? Oh yeah. I recently asked the Park Supervisor what the heck was going on. For the record, he couldn’t have been nicer or more professional. The short answer to my question: not enough money to maintain that which was designed to be maintained. So he plays a horicultural version of Sophie’s Choice. Mr. Hayes, since you will soon be in a position to examine and approve budgets, you may want to make room for the idea that it’s easy to build shiny stuff. Sustaining it is another story – and it’s one that plays out in many parts of our public realm.

  2. Greenwich can’t be Westport, I agree. We could never match your ubiquitous pizza restaurants and drab Main Street.

    • That’s funny Mr. Stewart, I guess your feelings or ego were hurt.
      No Greenwich cannot be Westport because Greenwich sold out years ago, and what is interesting is lots of Greenwich residents come to Westport, to shop and dine, but I cannot say the same for westporters going to Greenwich.
      Your comment gave me a good chuckle.
      My sympathy. We will try our best to never become Greenwich.

      • Keep pumping the pizza capital of FFC Ciara. You would kill to have your restaurant on the Avenue.

        • Mr. Stewart….not sure why you are so interested in Westport when you live in the bastion of “posh”.
          FYI….I lived in Greenwich, went to Brunswick and have several family members who currently live there….Nothing wrong with it….but in my opinion it has nothing over Westport other than an increased level of entitlement. Obvious from your snarky remarks.

  3. Bill Strittmatter

    The one thing that strikes me as interesting in the back and forth over Mr Hayes’ comments was that it was one of the few times I’ve heard an RTM candidate’s views on much of anything before the election. Perhaps there is a lot out there that I’m not aware of but no need to say much, and certainly nothing controversial, when one is running uncontested.

    There is a lot to be said for Westport’s non-partisan RTM. Not having to “toe the party line” is one of those things. Fairfield is a pretty good example of how swimmingly that plays out.

    However, competitive races where the views of the candidates on matters of import to the town (or at least readers or commenters on Dan’s blog) are at all transparent, unfortunately, is not one of those things.

    That the same people are elected over and over without contest and even open seats generally aren’t contested while at the same time folks are bitching and complaining about town government and the RTM here is interesting though. Most* of the people regularly complaining about various issues and/or the lack of RTM response on Dan’s blog don’t seem to have an interest in running (or recruiting like minded individuals to run) so perhaps the saying “you get the government you deserve” is applicable here. Of course, readers and commenters on Dan’s blog may not be representative of the general electorate so there is that.

    Anyway, one can say what they want about Mr. Hayes’ views but at least he cared enough about his views that he got himself on the ballot.

    * Some do, and good for them.

    • Interesting comment, Bill. I have found that commenters on “06880” tend to skew older than the general readership. There are many readers in their 30s and 40s, but they hardly ever comment.

      One theory: older readers have more time to comment. I’m sure there are other theories.

      • This relates to my comment on the previous post. Nobody can know for sure, but I don’t think the most prolific commenters on this blog or in RTM meetings are reflective of general sentiment in Westport as a whole. That can make it tricky to decide how to vote on issues when you’re an elected official.

        I think it’s great that Mr. Hayes voiced his opinion and has volunteered to serve. In my opinion, his views are shared by more Westporters than the comments here reflect.

        • Christine, devoid of other reliable avenues, 06880 & recently the Westport Journal have provided the only space for resident commentary. So it is ironically notable that when “loud voices” are in “opposition” they are chronicled as “not being reflective of general sentiment as a whole”, however when limited resident voices are “supportive” it’s always referenced as being a guiding mandate. A catch-22 for dissenting voices, isn’t it?

          It is disingenuous and downright insulting to assert that “the loudest voices on ANY Town issue emanate from residents who do not want change”. You have no basis to make that absurd broad-brush claim. Perhaps the truth is that those residents, for valid reasons, are simply opposed to THAT specific proposed change.

          You also invoke agism in your comment that younger residents (with kids, still working, etc.) are “more progressive” (as if being traditionalist and Town-character protective is limited to older residents) and simultaneously cast aspersion upon those who simply do not agree with some of the so called “progressive” agenda you vaguely allude to – and those who prefer to maintain and protect the ambiance and character of our Town that attracted residents here in the first place. RTM candidates should have that protection as a foundational aspiration.

          Instead of your ambiguity, what exact “loudest voices simply do not want change” issues, and who are you referring to in your comment?
          Vocal opposition to the destruction of the Community Gardens?

          Vocal opposition to the Parker Harding debacle as initially presented (including the cut-through road closure)?

          Vocal opposition to unelected appointees determining policy without resident participation and guidance?

          Vocal opposition to the Town’s lack of property maintenance?

          Vocal opposition to the disastrous deterioration of Baron’s South?

          Vocal opposition to conversion of Golden Shadows to an ECF?

          Vocal opposition to the proposed McHamlet at Saugatuck?

          Vocal opposition to the assault on our DOSRD spaces?

          Vocal opposition to the Town’s continued use of gas powered equipment?

          Vocal opposition to the lack of transparency, responsiveness and accountability of Town governance?

          Vocal opposition to the desire to overturn the DOSRD active recreation restrictions at Baron’s South, and the construction of a regulation polo swim pool at taxpayer expense to benefit a handful of kids (including yours I believe)?

          Vocal opposition to the cell Tower on Greens Farms Road?

          Vocal opposition to the North Avenue water towers PRIOR TO residents being given involvement opportunity?

          How about the vocal opposition to the proposed Cockenoe Island power plant?

          Exactly which of these vocal oppositions are you denigrating as being “out of step” and “just do not want change”, and which residents are you referring to?

          At least you admit (“Nobody can know for sure”) that you often did not actually know how to represent your constituents (“…lack of knowledge made it tricky to decide how to vote on issues”). Hopefully with more proactive resident engagement and Town transparency, this lack of actionable information will change.

          • Jay, my experience as an RTM member is my basis for what I wrote, which is not absurd. Like you, I would love to see more resident engagement from a representative cross section of our community. And I proactively engaged with my constituents. I think you’re forgetting that I started a detailed blog with the express purpose of increasing resident engagement with the RTM. Over and over again, I found that – no matter what information you put out there – the majority of people are wrapped up in their own lives and not paying attention to town government. Over and over again, the people who would comment at meetings or through emails, were either retired or only made aware of a change because it directly and negatively impacted them. We were left to puzzle out the view of the community as a whole. I’m not being insulting or ageist, I’m recounting what occurred.

            • I hope you’re doing well, by the way, and as always I appreciate your engagement.

              • Chris,
                Your attempt at engaging the public via social media is noted, and I’ve agreed with you regarding resident complacency until it negatively impacts them directly. I’ve also agreed with you on the reasons for this, why so many who are engaged are older, as well as the reason why often there are the same resident faces at meetings.

                But I disagree with your implication that our older demographic is holding back Westport’s “progress” and that the most vocal are primarily naysayers who refuse to accept ANY change. THAT broad-brush is simply untrue, unfounded, and insulting to those who take the time to comment, or have the courage to voice opposition or unpopular views at public meetings. If you believe that some residents simply “don’t want any change”, then I guess their comments aren’t taken as seriously as they should be.

                If the RTM truly wants a better gauge of how residents feel on hot button issues, we need to devise a means that will proactively engage while taking into consideration the impediments to that engagement. Perhaps regularly scheduled public forums at the Library would be impactful. Utilizing public referendums more frequently (like for the Community Gardens and Parker Harding situation) would be appropriate. Perhaps regular informational sessions held at the library, or taking advantage of the cable TV station, would become effective in disseminating information and engendering dialogue.

                I’ve seen little impetus from Town officials to proactively engage the public, or desire to. Lack of transparency, private communications (by phone, “staff meetings”, etc.), non-responsiveness, document withholds, etc., all point in the opposite direction. The RTM is supposed to be the “voice of the people” so we need to better ensure that is what it is doing. By your own admission, right now that’s far from certain. In my opinion, contrary to Jeff Wieser’s desire, the RTM needs to become more involved proactively, BEFORE certain controversial issues get injected into the approval pipeline. For the reasons I’ve outlined prior, the whole “individual Silo” approval process does not always work to our collective advantage – as I’ve outlined in my other 06880 posting, far too often that approval pipeline becomes a rubber stamp charade that the RTM is always reticent to overturn.

                The RTM should be weighing in on the Community Gardens issue right now, PRIOR TO any LLSBC recommendation getting injected into that approval pipeline because once that occurs it will be too late.

                Where do you stand on the Community Gardens being sacrificed for another ball field? On the PRD and PRC refusing to respond to requests for pertinent information? On the LLSBC inserting the new ball field into the BOE request?

                Residents would be appreciative to know.

                Best wishes as well. Shana Tova.

                • I don’t think our oldest demographic is holding back progress. Westport has the best and brightest of all ages with all different opinions. That’s what makes it so sad that most people aren’t engaged. But, as a generalization, it was my experience that most commenters at meeting were either people of an older demographic and/or people directly affected, most of whom did not want any change. They’re separate but sometimes overlapping buckets.

                  It’s interesting that you mention regularly scheduled public forums at the library. Here is where I think we also run into some generational issues. As a generality, my contemporaries would rather engage online at a time that works for them. To figure out how to best engage people younger than me, you’d have to ask someone in that demographic. Communication has changed a lot and continues to evolve.

                  I had to resign from the RTM for family reasons last spring, so my views on the gardens, etc. aren’t as impactful as they once were. I do favor moving the gardens and installing the sports fields, for what that is worth.

                  • What’s more Christine, you are definitely in the massive minority wanting the gardens moved for yet another damn ball field.
                    Enough !
                    We have plenty ball fields. 18 I believe. We do not want any more.
                    Gardens cannot be moved and you know it.
                    2 decades plus of work on them. To tear them down and build another ball field.
                    Should be ashamed of yourself.

        • Christine they are most certainly not representative of the majority of westporters. Westporters have been very loud and clear on where they stand. And it’s clearly not on your side.

  4. Mr. Hayes, if you are running for the RTM surely you are AWARE of the utter shock the merchants and residents expressed when they realized the extent of the ludicrous plan for Parker Harding being foisted on them by dpic( tooker appointed) and the downtown association, almost exclusively landlords, who in no way represent the vision of merchants. In fact the landlords and merchants are at loggerheads.
    Yet your vision for Westport of river walks and etc appears the vision of someone who is either choosing to ignore the OUTCRY of residents and merchants. Or you just don’t care.
    A bit confusing.
    I guess you are lucky you are not running in district 9 because I can assure you, your election bid would fail.

    Residents in westport are sick of being told what is good for us as though it is a faite accompl, without as much as a grain of thought going into how those plans will effect residents in that area, and merchants in the downtown. . No resident in district 9 wants cars double parked outside their homes, because we’ve replaced parking downtown with trees.
    No resident wants the extra traffic coming from roads which have been shut down for vanity projects.
    It is very unfortunate that office buildings populate riverside avenue, but they do.
    I suppose if the owners of said buildings wished to sell them the town could buy them knock them down and make parks. Ha ! We all know that will never happen.
    And Until that happens, we have office blocks.
    Parker Harding.. our most used parking lot in town sits on the river…
    It’s unfortunate, wish it weren’t the case but IT IS !
    And it’s never going to change.
    We would all love more green space, if it was practical.
    It’s NOT.
    Now if the town would only maintain the bit we have there’s something you might get elected on.
    But what we need more than anything in this town is a pro business administration, who supports the views of merchants not landlords, and who listens to us. The EXPERTS.
    Not an ANTI business lobby looking to replace our retail and restaurants parking spaces with green space.
    No room at the inn I’m afraid.

    • Let me comment as a District 9 voter that I want an administration that prioritizes green space downtown over parking. I think that our downtown wastes an opportunity to be welcoming to all residents by putting a parking lot against the river and kowtowing to landlords and mostly uninteresting clothing stores who demand town residents subsidize overly convenient, free parking for their customers at the cost of others in town. If the stores want their own parking lots, there are plenty of retail properties with parking attached to the store!

      • Well thankfully Clark according to the D9 outcry over Parker Harding you are in a very very minuscule group with that opinion.
        Merchants in general do not object to some kind of convenient app where parking is potentially free for a couple hours and then a phone app where added hours can be paid for.
        Parking was established on the water front 50 years ago.
        It was built by landfill for parking. That is why it exists.
        If it had not been for the parking need in order to “have” a downtown” then you would be rowing a boat through a swamp that is now a parking area.
        Check your facts before you speak out of context.
        Over the years the majority of residents have gone on dans blog lamenting the demise of the downtown shopping areas, citing high rents and lack of parking as the reason. The death of mom and pop stores etc.
        As soon as leases on buildings which were empty for years became filled residents of Westport were delighted.
        We have a vibrant downtown 12 months a year now.
        We have excellent merchant stores and while you arrogantly call them uninteresting, I am sure most disagree with you.
        Maybe you should look at towns further north which have a downtown with 3 stores, and consider moving there.
        Then you can shop on Amazon while having to drive 30 minutes to buy your groceries or eat out.
        Incidentally for your misguided information many merchants ARE residents.

    • I confess that I am not intimately aware of the merchant vs landlord friction you describe. I am a latecomer to this debate.
      I did however read all the comments submitted over the Parker Harding plan which were collected recently. And I noted in my original post that there is a stark difference of opinion regarding amount and convenience of parking spots.
      My, perhaps naive, suggestion was that perhaps if we looked at downtown overall, some well placed multi-story parking facilities could ‘square the circle’ and both free up space which could make downtown more attractive, and also provide sufficient convenient parking – a win for merchants and all residents. But that is a much more substantial investment and ought to be done in the context of a larger long term plan.
      I am very aware that downtown merchants depend on available and convenient parking – and that can not be wished away. That’s their life blood and the town overall benefits from a vibrant downtown.

    • Jay please read Mr Hayes comments over and over again. Until you realize that Westport does not need or want to be a suburb of NYC and not like Greenwich

      • Peter,
        In his opening comments Mr. Hayes already specifically referred to Westport as being a “Suburb” – a suburb of which major city he did not state; however given its demographic I doubt that he meant Bridgeport.

        And while HIS agenda might might be to transform Westport’s historic Southern New England character and charm into more of the NYC/Westchester/Long Island-ish vibe, many others have been doing precisely that – perhaps without realizing that it will be the outcome.

        The procession of modest homes being demolished, replaced by McMansions, is perhaps the most visible representation of this transformation. Sometimes I wonder if these residents actually wished they lived in Darien or Greenwich but found the “entry fee” to Westport was just more affordable.

        Many seem to move to Westport and immediately think: “You know what Westport needs _____” without due consideration to the impact upon traditional character and historic values. Perhaps many are not even aware of Westport’s unique history and do not understand that sometimes the lack of “what Westport needs” is intentional. For example, the lack of a large department store complex was intentionally averted by our purchase of the Baron’s property & absence of tiered parking lots is not an oversight.

        It takes specific intention and continuous effort to prevent that from occurring, even if that means a degree of “inconvenience”, “untidiness”, “imperfection” associated with communities found in Eastern CT, Nantucket or Cape Cod. Perhaps some find the quaint shoreline ambiance and lifestyle charming – but only for a week or a month when they long to return to their “pristinely manicured comfort zone civilization”. Prioritizing Westport’s historic character, and maintaining what we have, has not been a priority for some time now.

        Fortunately recent stewards of Westport’s P&Z (eg. Cathy Walsh, Chip Stephens, Al Gratrix) frequently prioritized Westport’s historic character and valued/preserved green open space thereby gifting residents the DOSRD (designated open space & recreation districts) that are continually under attacks. The current P&Z has been mindful as well in their attempts to navigate the treachery of private developers and State mandates. Residents who value Westport’s unique character should be very mindful of who they elect onto the P&Z.

        I’m not suggesting that Mr. Hayes falls into this category; I am only responding to his words. As I said, I admire his energy, willingness to serve, and his willingness to state his views on the record – and given his invitation, I look forward to speaking with him personally.

  5. You are also Mr. Hayes surely aware of the Westport community garden debacle going on. Outrageous is the only word that fits there.
    I’d love to know what your views are on these all important matters so folks can vote accordingly.
    That is a question every single rtm running should have to answer before we vote for them in November.

  6. As Ciara Webster notes, candidates for office should have reasonably clear positions on many active issues. I am about to write all candidates requesting their views on the Community Gardens and the Preserve and a new Long Lots School. Every candidate should have a view and be willing to express it in public. We shall see what happens after I have written all.

What do you think? Please comment! Remember: All commenters must use full, real names!