The Westport Community Gardens and Long Lots Preserve team write:
Dear Town of Westport elected officials and residents:
Tonight (Thursday, October 19, Town Hall Room 201), we expect the Long Lots School Building Committee to announce the decision of First Selectwoman Jennifer Tooker, with respect to the future of the Long Lots Elementary School building project.
We know that her decision supports the LLSBC’s option to build a new school while simultaneously eliminating the 20-year-old Westport Community Gardens, and at least part of the newly created Long Lots Preserve.
This does not have to happen. A much-needed new school can be built without destroying the gardens and preserve.
Westport Community Gardens. They’re surrounded on 3 sides by the Long Lots Preserve.
The Westport Community Gardens have been, and continue to be, a nationally recognized, award-winning first-in-class standard of community building, environmental stewardship and unlimited educational opportunity.
The Long Lots Preserve is a volunteer-built model of suburban open space environmental rehabilitation. We believe that any other town in America would celebrate, promote and protect what we have created there.
The Board of Education specifications for a new Long Lots school have nothing to do with putting a ballfield over the Westport Community Gardens. The proposed ballfield is not for the educational and recreational needs of the students at Long Lots Elementary School. From what little we have been told, this appears to be an effort by the Parks & Recreation Department to replace the Garden with a new ballfield under the guise of a new school build.
We continue to be dismayed by the town’s march towards eliminating these 2 town assets when there are options to save them.
There are 120 plots in the Westport Community Gardens. Gardeners range in age from elementary school to 90s.
The LLSBC’s recommendation to put a large ballfield with dugouts and a scoreboard, and perhaps artificial turf and lights, flies in the face of the chair of the LLSBC’s statement that what is displaced needs to be replaced.
This decision by First Selectwoman Tooker breaks up a 20-year-old community of over 300 Westport friends and neighbors, hurts our seniors and devastates the environment.
Our seniors love this place. There are many of us, and this is one of the best passive recreational opportunities the town offers.
In a world that seems to be falling apart at the seams environmentally, Westport Community Gardens and Long Lots Preserve are teeming with life.
Hundreds of trees and shrubs and wildflowers have been planted, at no cost to the town. The American chestnut tree has been reestablished. Dozens of resident and migratory birds use this because of the habitat and great food sources provided there. Thousands upon thousands of native bees and honeybees gather nectar, pollen and live on site.
Night hawks, swallows and bats fly above the gardens at dusk because the place is teaming with insects, their critical food source. Red squirrel, grey squirrel, garter snake, ground hog, fox, toad, all inhabit this space. The gardens and preserve an ecological treasure. This administration is looking to cover it with a ballfield.
Wildlife abounds in and around the Community Gardens. (Photo collage/Lou Weinberg)
Meanwhile, in the same neighborhood as the gardens and the preserve, there is rampant development, trees are being cut down and more residential units are being built. These new residents are going to be looking for outdoor planting space. We provide that.
The new proposed school is being built over a small, underutilized baseball field and a soccer field; not the Westport Community Gardens and Long Lots Preserve. We have over 20 fields in town, and 1 community gardens.
Athletics and field use is critical, and this administration should find equitable resources elsewhere in town rather than placing them on this environmental community gem. With some creativity, the ballfields lost during construction can be placed back on the property when the old school is torn down.
This administration’s decision also hurts the neighbors who did not sign up for a ballfield immediately adjacent to their homes that will bring noise, flooding and most likely, lights.
The road to this decision occurred without ever consulting the gardeners, the preserve team, or the neighbors.
Evening at the Community Gardens. (Photo/Lou Weinberg)
The road to this decision included dangling an option to keep the gardens in place, destroying the gardens and starting them over again on another space near Long Lots School, and then, at the last minute, eliminating the gardens and restarting them at Baron’s South because the gardens will be “destroyed anyway” during construction. We were notified of the latter decision on Monday.
Thus far we have yet to see a peer review of the decisions that have been made by a few people on this approximately $100 million expenditure, the single largest capital project in Westport’s history.
We believe that scenarios are out there that can be attained where everyone wins. Unfortunately, there has been no institutional will on the part of the Tooker administration to get that done.
We should not allow a small group of politically appointed people to make decisions that affect so many of us. Doing business this way breeds distrust, dismay, ill will, and ultimately disengagement.
Where there is a will, there is a way. We firmly believe that including more people in this discussion can, and should get everybody a win. These discussions should have happened already. Why didn’t they?
Jennifer Tooker: Be the hero.