P&Z Candidates: We’ll Look At Every Long Lots/Gardens Solution

“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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12 responses to “P&Z Candidates: We’ll Look At Every Long Lots/Gardens Solution

  1. Robert Harrington

    Congratulations to the League of Women Voters – last night was a great discussion on many issues.

  2. This statement “Long Lots is in serious disrepair” has become code for “the only solution is a new building or tear it down to the walls renovation”. That conclusion is not obvious from the detailed engineering reports done as part of the LLSBC work. ‘repair and properly maintain’ looks like an option at a <$10MM cost. I encourage everyone to read the MEP and Envelope reports on the LLSBC page.

    • Keeping things in perspective… This is not a war. How lucky we are to live where we do.

      I do hope we have the institutional will to keep the Westport Community Gardens and Long Lots Preserve intact while we build a beautiful new school.

      The gardens and preserve are not just a pretty place. They are decades worth of community building. They provide critical passive recreation for seniors. They are a model of environmental stewardship on a planet that seems to be falling apart at the seams. They can provide hands-on opportunities for our school district.

      Please keep in mind that the proposed ballfield that would cover the gardens and preserve has nothing to do with serving the needs of the Long Lots School community. It is an add-on that will serve others.

      We have more than 20 ballfields in town. I’m hoping that we have the institutional will to save our one nationally recognized, award-winning community garden and surrounding model of environmental open space rehabilitation.

      Thank you to the League of Women Voters and those who participate in these debates for keeping democracy alive.
      How fortunate are we? Very.

  3. “They can provide hands-on opportunities for our school district.” Key word I notice here is “can.”

    I’m curious, and ask with an open mind: has the garden served as a resource for the district in its lifetime? How so and when?

    Thank you

    • Good question Mark. Thank you.

      Since it’s inception, the community gardens has offered gardening space to Long Lots Elementary School. For whatever reason, the opportunity has not been taken advantage of. We reached out again when the current principal took over at Long Lots and had a really good discussion. Unfortunately, that yielded no fruit. I don’t blame anyone for this. Teachers and administrators are incredibly busy.

      Recently, I was contacted by science teachers/coordinators at both Long Lots and Greens Farms Elementary. We discussed, and are moving forward with, plans to have a 400 square-foot plot at the gardens for the schools and begin field trips to the gardens and preserve surrounding the gardens.

      We have wanted this since we began in 2003. It is exciting and has real potential for all types of hands-on education moving forward.

      • GVI works with farms in Bridgeport as well as gardens at a number of the schools. I have helped chaperone field trips that the children attend and they are wonderful on so many levels. I would look forward to seeing this happen here in Westport as well – it can be part of Science, Nutrition, Nature and probably numerous other curricula.

      • So the short answer is, no and nothing to date.

  4. Thank you LWV for what you do to enlighten voters on important matters and the associated views of candidates who wish to serve. This is Democracy in action.

    To the P&Z candidates and standing members… and every elected official in Westport (including state reps) :

    Regarding the Community Gardens, please keep in mind this is not a “school versus gardens” issue!

    Rather, the heart of the matter is: at what price do we need a state-of-the-art ball field that does not serve the elementary school. Not a calculation of dollars and numbers but rather quality of life.

    A ball field serves a small, very narrow demographic. A ball field IS NOT in the stated mission of the LLSBC committee, nor in the BOE’s specifications for a school. A ball field can be built elsewhere (lease vacated land owned by the YMCA?).

    A ball field is a separate matter altogether and should not be entangled in a decision to build a school. Why are these two distinct town assets ensnared in such an untenable and politically exploitative manner?

    There is also a technical matter of installing a compacted clay slab that will produce bothersome water runoff, noise, traffic, and possible light pollution for residential neighbors… A compact slab that erases the productive, absorbent “old forest floor” of cultivated organic gardens and native habitat preserve. As if we have an abundance of green space in our beloved town.

    Please do not define the “greater good” of Westport in some narrow definition that really means a narrow demographic versus a very diverse community of people who grow things. Not every town resident has large sunny 2-acre property for the “hobby” of growing food and otherwise saving Mother Earth.

    Please continue to examine ..and stand … on your oath to serve, and your moral compass.

    Thank you for your service.

  5. John D McCarthy

    So what happens if the P&Z turns down the plan as proposed? What if the BOF rejects it? Or the RTM? Does the LLSBC go back to the literal drawing board? Will we have wasted up to 2 years only to have to go through the entire process again? There has to be a more efficient way to get things done in town government than presenting part-time volunteer elected officials with highly controversial and emotionally charged Yes/No decisions.

  6. Robert M Gerrity

    Has anyone noticed that there’s a RAINBOW in the middle of Karen Mather’s photo? If’n I was ye olde New Englander, I’d be saying that’s a SIGN! O ye wonder!!

  7. John Kelley (Long Lots 1960-62).

    Why is Long Lots in serious disrepair? If that school has been allowed to fall into disrepair, is there any reason Westport’s other schools aren’t following the same path?

    For those claiming Long Lots is inappropriate for an elementary school because it was a junior high should remember Kings Highway Elementary School was once Bedford Junior High School and Bedfords core is about 25 years older than the original structure of Long Lots.

  8. I am pleased that the P&Z candidates appear to be likely to seriously consider a denial of a positive 8-24 Report for a proposal that seeks both a new Long Lots and the destruction of the Community Gardens The process needs to be separated in that all bodies, P&Z, BoS or Jen Tooker, the BoE, the BoF and the RTM will be presented with a choice of voting in favor of a new school, while also be able to vote in favor of the preservation of the Community. That appears to be a very easy approach to adopt and would eliminate the pressure on Town bodies, especially the BoF and the RTM, to be forced to vote on only one funding proposal, one that destroys the Gardens. I believe most want to preserve the Gardens. Those most should be allowed to vote for that outcome, while supporting or not supporting a new Long Lots.

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