“The Long Lots School Building Committee justifies. We decide.”
That statement by Paul Lebowitz — and similar remarks by 4 other candidates for the Planning & Zoning Commission — signaled last night that the decision to place a baseball field on the site of the current Community Gardens is not yet a done deal.
The candidates — speaking for 2 minutes each at a Town Hall debate — all said, essentially: We know the importance of the gardens. We know the importance of a new school. We will look at every solution. We will think outside the box. That is the job of the P&Z.
The League of Women Voters event was less a “debate” than a series of responses to questions submitted earlier by residents. Candidates included current members Lebowitz, a Democrat; Republican members Amie Tesler and Patrizia Zucaro; Republican alternate John Bolton, and Republican challenger Michael Calise.
Coalition for Westport candidate Joseph Strickland was absent, due to COVID.
Planning & Zoning Commission candidates (from right to left): Michael Calise, Amie Tesler, Paul Lebowitz, Patrizia Zucaro and John Bolton. An LWV representative (far left) read an opening statement from Joseph Strickland, who has COVID. (Photo/Dan Woog)
“Everything with zoning is about competing interests,” Bolton said regarding the gardens controversy. He noted that he and the other incumbents could speak only generally, because the issue will come before them — though it has not yet — and they are obligated to keep open minds.
“Patrizia, Amie and I took a tour (of the gardens),” Bolton continued. “It was eye-opening. I learned a lot. It’s an asset to this town.
“(The P&Z) is the trustee for citizens. They trust us to do what is right. We have to think outside the box.”
Calise said, “We haven’t seen the final site plan. I’m partial toward retaining the gardens. But we have to wait to see all the facts.”
Tesler cited her youth in Mystic, on 2 acres and with her “hands in the dirt” at her school’s garden.
However, she added, “It’s a tough issue. We want to save Mother Earth, and also educate our next generation. We have to consider all solutions. There may be other solutions on the table. I’m open to anything.”
Lebowitz said, “The 1st Selectwoman will give us justification for her decision. Like any applicant, she must show facts and figures: why a garden or a ballfield should go somewhere. We deal with issues like parking and drainage. You justify; we decide.”
Zucaro added, “The town is in a no-win situation. The garden is absolutely beautiful, amazing — everyone should see it.
“But Long Lots is in serious disrepair. The Building Committee was tasked with finding a solution. I hope they did their job, and evaluated all their options. I look forward to hearing from them.”
Westport Community Gardens (Photo/Karen Mather)
Asked to cite the 3 most critical issues facing the P&Z, Tesler said “8-30g, traffic, and over-development.” Lebowitz named “traffic, affordable housing, and protecting open space.” Zucaro offered “cohesive town planning, over-development and affordable housing.” Bolton said “affordable housing, quality of life, and preserving the tax base.” Calise said “aquifers, housing stock, and planning for the future.”
Other questions included weaknesses in the town’s current regulations, and the impact of the environment on P&Z decisions.
The League of Women Voters’ Candidates’ Debates continue tonight (Thursday) in the Town Hall auditorium, with the Board of Education at 7 p.m., and the Board of Finance at 8:15 p.m. The event will be livestreamed on www.westportct.gov, and televised on Optimum Channel 79.
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