[OPINION] “The Garden Makes Me A New Person. Who Is Talking For Us?”

Toni Simonetti — a Westport resident for 23 years — is a transplant from Detroit, by way of New York City. She and her husband Jeff Neville live near downtown with their goldendoodle Max.

She loves spending time with town elders, playing bridge, and gardening. That last passion led her to Town Hall Monday night, for the Parks & Recreation Commission meeting about Long Lots Elementary School and the future of the Westport Community Gardens. 

She writes:

Westport has about 27,000 residents, and 52% are over the age of 45 years. A quarter of our town’s population is over the age of 60, while children ages 5-15 account for about 13% of the town’s residents.

Yet some fuzzy math used by the town declared that there are 11,000 “participants” who use the town’s athletic fields.

Fuzzy math notwithstanding, you cannot deny the town’s demographic. We have a lot of “old people.”

So what, you say?

Alfred Gwilliam has gardened at Plot 29 in the Westport Community Gardens for as many years as I can remember. I walk past him every time I go to the garden; mine is just a few plots down. He is always there, tending flowers, gooseberries and blackberries.

Irmgard and Alfred Gwilliam, at the Community Gardens. (Photo/Toni Simonetti)

Earlier this year, he said it was becoming difficult to tend the entire 10’ x 40’ plot. He is, after all, 90 years old, and he had just had a pacemaker implanted.

But he was not willing to give up gardening, so he worked the plot as best he could. As one of the garden co-chairs of membership, I suggested he reduce his plot size by half, which might make it more manageable.

“I can do that?” he asked.  “I don’t want to give it up, but I didn’t know I could keep just half.”

One quick phone call to my partner in membership, Laura Riguzzi, and it was settled.

On Monday evening, October 30, Alfred and his wife of 58 years, Irmgard, found their way to Westport Town Hall. They were there to support the gardens, and to hear if the Parks & Recreation Commission would really vote to destroy them.

As the meeting swelled with this baseball dad, that soccer mom, other young mothers and fathers of school age children, and town staff describing the difficulty they have scheduling all those games, the Gwilliams took it in.

“We need more soccer fields. We need the baseball field. We have children. They need sports. The children need the fields. The children need a school. The children need our help. This is a family town, and we are all about the children.”

Other gardeners were there too, giving their usual raft of reasons why the town is making misguided decisions to bury the gardens. The usual cadre of abutting neighbors were there again, still worried about water, lights, noise and traffic in their quiet neighborhood.

Some speakers at the Parks & Recreation Commission meeting talked about issues with nearby Muddy Brook. (Photo/Peter J. Swift0

The matter was being pushed through the artifice of a public meeting, with an appointed body that has no authority whatsoever on building a school or approving land use requests.

German-born Irmgard is not a public speaker. She was there “because I love the garden.” She told me of the difficult year she has had with caregiving her beloved sister who has dementia, and worrying about Alfred and his health issues. Her daughter succumbed to cancer recently.

“With all of this on my plate, the garden is where I go to find peace and beauty … ever since I was a child in Bavaria. I wasn’t there to speak,” she told me later.

“I knew the decision had already been made, but I couldn’t help it.

“I saw this beautiful young woman, talking about her 3 sons and how they need the field. How much they needed it,” she said.

“It was too much for me. I need the garden. My husband needs the garden. The weight of it all — I had to say something.”

She raised her hand to speak, then made her way to the podium. Immaculately dressed and coifed with bright pink lipstick, she silenced the room with her smile.

Her well-spoken English was flavored with a German accent; her voice, delicate and fragile.

“Thank you for an interesting and incredible meeting. It is amazing. It is my first time here. I have lived here 53 years and raised 2 children here,” she began.

“It is amazing what is being said. What I have to say is just a footnote.

“But no one knows the pleasure, the mental health that I get from the garden.  When I am ‘out of it’ I go to the garden, and I am a new person.

The Westport Community Gardens are a sanctuary for many. (Photo/Karen Mather)

“We are talking tonight about the children, and yes, yes, the children need everything.

“But who is talking for us; who is talking for us and for our garden?” She repeated the word children several times, with some trepidation.

“These are big, big issues. My husband, he is born an Englishman, American now, and he is very ill. He goes to the garden every day. It makes him live. So, who is talking about us; who is talking about the old people and the pleasure we get from the garden?”

I was literally in tears.

The chair of the committee thanked her for her comments. Shortly thereafter he read his prepared statement about how this is a town for children.

Tears welled up again.  I got up and left the meeting.

On my way out, as the chair droned on about how great the Parks & Rec facilities are, I rushed passed Jen Tooker. She sat in the dark, in the back of the auditorium, as is her habit.

She glanced at me. I glanced back.  I hoped she was listening.

But I worried she was not.

42 responses to “[OPINION] “The Garden Makes Me A New Person. Who Is Talking For Us?”

  1. Jesus, Ms. Tooker, wake up! Is there ANY need in town that could justify your decimation of that Garden?

    • Dan, Write her an e-mail to Ms Tooker and join the “Rodney Dangerfield Club” I just joined last month.

  2. Toni and Dan, thank you for this beautifully written story. My mom has been good friends with Mrs. Gwiliam for almost 50 years. And I know both she and Irmgard are hoping Jen Tooker was listening and will do the right thing.

    1 Community Garden. Over 20 sports fields. Who decided the Garden is less important than another sports field? Surely we as a town won’t forget those who have paid taxes, supported the schools, etc. for over 50 years. If we do abandon these seniors, our town will show to the world that it is a heartless and brutal place. Not the Westport I know.

    • When I was a kid, Westport was a small farm town! I remember as a kid, my father and I would stop over old man Wakeman’s house. They’d chat for a bit. My grandfather farmed on at least 40 acres. Westport was a small rural farm town!

  3. This is a most beautiful post. My parents moved here when I was 1–my siblings and I grew up using those athletic fields and schools. I went to Long Lots for one year when Coleytown
    Junior High was being built. Now I am in my 70s. Toni reminds me that Westport must be a FULL LIFE town. Many of my classmates are still here. Once athletes, now gardners. The senior center is great and just one place for those of us who have aged out of soccer. The Garden is one of the few Westport resources that provides recreation for our part of the lifecycle. The quotation “who speaks for us?” Brought tears to my eyes. Time to realize that what makes Westport special is our multigenerational population. Keeping the garden is one of must be expanding attention to ALL of us. Still here at 71 and thriving. Westport is for all.

  4. I have a school-aged child. He is now a senior at Staples and over the years has participated in many of the town’s sports programs, both Park & Rec led as well as school led. He currently participates in sports at Staples. I very well understand the many benefits of a healthy sports program for children and am grateful my son had them at his disposal.

    To anyone who has a say in this, please keep the garden.

    Let’s show our children how good it feels to share our town’s riches for the benefit of all.

  5. The debate continues: ball fields vs Gardens…but it’s the WRONG debate as highlighted in Joseph Vallone’s 11/1 posting here. No choice (between Gardens and ball fields) is required. Both can be accommodated along with the proposed new school where the architects sited it. Two site plan options that illustrate that have been documented and submitted. Think about that….documented and submitted. Is there a reading problem at Town Hall?

    Why does the Administration insist on destroying the Community Gardens when they can have BOTH at the Long Lots location?

  6. Marjorie Donalds

    Thank you, Toni, for a beautifully written piece. It’s offensive to keep hearing that Westport “is for young families.” What about the people who have lived here all their lives? What about the empty nesters, the retirees and the seniors? Is Westport not also for them?

  7. Toni, You have a real talent as a writer. This is truly one of your best. You tell the Gwilliam’s story so beautifully. Thank you for this story and all that you are doing not just on behalf of the Gardens but on the whole town’s behalf – because whether people understand it or not (And especially if they don’t yet understand.) – All of Westport needs the gardens and the gardeners!!


    John F. Suggs

  8. Robert Harrington (Board of Education)

    Toni – thanks for your beautiful piece today.

    Who is listening to you Toni? That is your direct and blunt question. I actually think there are more elected representatives listening than you might think.

    Will they do anything about it? That is another matter.

    As an elected representative on the Board of Education I am sometimes told what my lane is. I know. But I also strongly believe in the power of the Board of Education’s voice. We decided not to use that voice in a formal vote. There will be other opportunities for us to do so. Dorie Hordon and I were very clear and will keep using our voice (and vote). A majority of the BOE said personally they would like to keep the gardens in their current location.

    The Parks & Recs Commission was ALWAYS going to rubber stamp Jen Tooker’s plan. It was their request to Jen Tooker last year. Don’t be surprised or disappointed by their vote. They have never properly represented the Community Gardens. They never will. They don’t understand it. Their role is to check you are not a security risk. It stops there. We need to change that going forward.

    Jen Tooker has listened and she is proceeding with her Ball Field. It was Jen’s plan in 2022 so it would be strange if they didn’t move ahead with their own plan. Maybe we should name it the “Selectwoman’s Ball Field”. It’s going to be big and prominent (bigger than the footprint of the new school) so it deserves a names. It will make a great 1st day photo opportunity. (Maybe that is too uncivil).

    But also let’s be clear. There was no Selectwomen’s office vote on this plan. The plan that is currently moving through the various boards and commissions is Jen Tooker’s plan and decision alone. There was no vote on the Board of Selectwomen. Why? I’m not sure it’s even fair to refer to is as something from the Board of Selectwomen or the Selectwoman’s office.

    So Toni – the people on the Board of Selectwomen may have been listening – but only one got to decide.

    Several people on the BOF are very supportive. Many people currently on the RMT and running for the RTM are too. There are too many to mention but the list is LONG.

    The P&Z can’t say anything directly in public. Read what the Republican slate running put out yesterday. They went as close as they could. I fully respect that. I personally don’t think the P&Z will accept the land-use change from a garden. It doesn’t look like anyone that made this recommendation even thought about that – or what plan B would be (Hint: It would be keeping the gardens in place and not asking for a land-use change on that part of the property = guaranteed no delay – at least due to planning related issues).

    Finally – As a BoE member of course my priority is the students and kids. I always will prioritize them. By supporting a brand new school (without any delay) we are prioritizing them. But I am also a town resident and I feel on too many occasions we are need to be be more thoughtful about other members of our community. There is a wide cross section of families and individuals that use the Community Gardens. Many are older, and of course some don’t have kids in the schools any more. I think it is patronizing and wrong to just say, “we can move this group to Barons South”, or “move them somewhere else for the greater good”.

    We can’t always put groups like this at the back of the line.

  9. Toni, I too was in tears, had a lump in my throat and left early to avoid the heart-breaking, cold responses back from the Building Committee and the known Parks & Rec. vote. When I passed Jen Tooker, she was busy tapping away on her phone, one step closer to her vision set out in September 2022.

    Destroying a thing of beauty and twenty-year source of life for the many inhabitants inside the Garden is cruel. Destroying our ONE and only Garden that costs the town nothing, benefits our environment and offers meaning, respite, joy and exercise to a diversified population is cruel. Using the Garden as a ransom payment for a new school is cruel. Not including stakeholders at the table or engaging with them throughout this process (sorry – three minutes of ignored public comment doesn’t count) is cruel. Using ‘the children’ to get a Babe Ruth Baseball Field, plopped on top of the national-award-winning Garden, and used by a sliver of teenage athletes is cruel.

    We all love children. Since mine have flown the nest, I volunteer twice a week at a tutoring service in Bridgeport for elementary aged children. I love them too. The Gardeners are not trying to stop the children from getting a new/refurbished school. We are trying to protect something we deeply love and have nurtured for over twenty years and cannot be ‘relocated’, unlike a sports field. As stated several times, there are ‘win-win’ alternatives where both can be accommodated while keeping the Garden/Preserves in place and allowing for the neighbors to reside in peace.

    In 2018, my 83-year old Dad walked through the Garden and was beaming as he identified every flower, vegetable and fruit. He grew up on a farm and he and all my Italian relatives had vegetable gardens in their yards. The gladiolus in my plot, which my Dad used to harvest, were planted in his honor. I feel close to my Father in this Garden. I’m afraid that in this current fast-paced, loud, busy, succeed at all costs world, we are losing this important, often spiritual connection to our earth. It will be so sad if this next generation is severed from a source of much joy and peace.

  10. Thanks again Toni. It is incredibly cruel and insensitive that the town entities, lead by Jen Tooker, are pitting kids against seniors. This is a town for everyone. With a little more effort, both can win. Since WCG have never been given a seat at the table as stakeholders, my family, friends and I will be using our democratic power at the voting booth next week. I hope it is not too little too late, but our voices will be heard there at least.

  11. Tired of those framing this decision as garden vs baseball. Perhaps that “either or” choice makes it easier for people to internalize and makes for good click-bait. This entire decision starts and ends with a true education strategy. How many elementary schools do we need, how to zone, type of facility, etc. So many involved have stated “a new school was the goal” – really? THAT assumption started the domino effect of the garden getting sacrificed. No one has yet made a logic, fact-based argument for why a $100M+ investment fits into a broader town plan. Let’s start there. Plenty of “fuzzy math” to resolve I’m sure!

  12. A simple comment to thank Toni for her beautiful effort and to Mrs. Gwilliam for her words and presence that so inspire Toni, indeed all of us.

  13. Believe it or not, Westport isn’t a bedroom community nor is it primarily a town of people with school-age children. There are more people commuting into town than out of it. There are more households with 1 or 2 members than 4 members. The average age here is notably higher than other suburban towns like Darien and New Canaan. Why? Because this community has so much more to offer beyond “good schools.” It’s a place people want to live in retirement, not pick up and leave as soon as their kids graduate (a very real phenomenon in those towns). And it’s a place that is still vibrant and fun for younger people and those who choose not to have families.

    I understand that young families who moved here for the schools may see things differently, but they are one just one constituency in the big, diverse group of people who choose to live here. Our town is far stronger for that diversity, because it means that we will be more resilient than our neighbors when housing trends and the economy inevitably shift. Our town government needs to recognize that too.

  14. In regard to the mechanics, decisions and policies of local town officials both elected and appointed, in our family’s close to 30 years residency in Westport, I’ve been appreciative but certainly at times befuddled. Never, however, have I been ashamed. In the matter of the bulldozing the Community Gardens I am ashamed. Save the Gardens.

  15. Vote her out of office!

  16. Spent my formative years in Westport and their fine schools and teachers. Miss Huck, Bedford El, Mrs Sheets, Saugatuck El. My first conscious life was Westport as we moved there when I was 3. And the Library on Post Road. Major force in my family’s life. My father was a teacher at Long Lots Jr. High.

    Toni’s post made me cry this morning. i never thought I would comment as I don’t live in Westport anymore. As we follow Dan’s amazing blog lately, the emotions we feel run the gamut of sadness to fierce opinions forming in our hearts. Stuff like this is happening everywhere. Division. And local government many times is at the center of these divisions. Ms. Took? Idk.

    Toni, Ciara and John McCarthy are the heros here in my view, and I wonder what this teaches our children? That your elders aren’t as important? The younger generations always stand on the shoulderss of their elders in any good community. That should be taught and honored. Children are a valuable part of any community but not more important than the elders who paved the way for them to live the life they are enjoying.

    The gardens are beautiful! May they continue to stand!

  17. Pardon me…Ms. Tooker.

    • BJ, What years did your father teach at Long Lots? I was there from 1959-1961.

      • Hey Jack, I believe…my dad taught at Long Lots Jr High from about 62 or 63 thru 66? Thay is my best recollection as I was quite young. My father passed some years ago so I can’t ask him. Then he moved over to Norwalk School system to run their closed circuit educational tv station for a few years until we moved to outside of Phiily. I remember spending nights there at the tv station while they finished production on the weekly shows. And I got to do some simple production tasks.

  18. Me again. I have lived here since 1969 and have never been more infuriated by or ashamed of our town leadership.

    We are all taxpayers and Westport should be ‘for all of us’. If we only went with the majority interests there would be no paddle tennis or boaters dockspace. ‘Win win’ would be to ONLY move one entity that MUST be moved because of the location of the wonderful and much needed new school (the baseball/soccer field) and save the expense of ALSO moving the gardens. Those costs can be appled to or saved when creating the new sports fields elsewhere. Let’s move ahead with building the new school without delay and work harder and with more support to find the best new home for the improved fields. Many creative and intriguing new suggestions have been made but rejected/ignored because of apparent pressure and prior agreements by the current administration to destroy the gardens for the fields. It seems very apparent that the LL school committee was never asked to give serious consideration to any alternative options.

  19. Thank you BJ Magnes, I am flattered you named me along with John McCarthy and Toni who I deeply admire.
    And Julie, brings up such valid and relevant points. I agree with them all.
    We can have all of these, the school, the field, the gardens. All are important, vitally important, as is everyone’s reason for wanting them.

    I think residents just feel like their voices are not only, not being heard, but, in fact deliberately ignored.
    This entire process has been massively flawed from the start, and while the administration like to say it was transparent, it was anything but.

    The latest RTM vote on the ability of petitioners to have their matters matter, and be placed on the RTM scheduled agenda is just another sign that there are those in power with enough influence over 29 members of the RTM to silence the general public, AKA, we the residents.

    We have to live with the consequences of the “matters” as they play out, whether we like them or not, we, as tax payers, have to pay for them, and we basically now, cannot even bring them forward for an RTM discussion, as the last 2 petitions, both massively important to so many, who wanted them heard were denied by the RTM moderator.

    The RTM29 have severely damaged our ability to voice our concerns, and have them heard by our elected RTM body.

    I hope when residents vote on 7th November, that careful thought will be given to who has their back and who does not.
    As such I know little about all the other districts candidates views.
    In district 9, the team to vote for if you would like the gardens to remain where they are, if you still want to have a financially viable downtown, and if you’d like to be able to park in our downtown , and most important, if you feel like you should be able to bring by petition your matter to the RTM, then it is a no brainer, vote for

    Thank you

  20. Can someone help me out by explaining the mathematics of our new “Tooker Elementary School?”

    The reason I ask is the garden community has been assailed as “selfish” over the past few weeks in public meetings, despite their wanting to defend a Westport gem, their universal support of building a new school asap and their own cost to the town of $0 – the space is maintained by the gardeners themselves – PRC isn’t interested.

    By contrast Tooker Elementary will cost $100m (assuming no cost overruns, inflation or change orders etc.) The existing school presently serves 566 students (let’s be conservative and say 600) and will eventually have another 50 Stepping Stones students – for a total of 650.

    So there will be some folks who have multiple children attending one or other school and some who children in both, so let’s go ahead and divide 650 by the replacement of 2.2 children per couple and we see that about three hundred families are affected directly at any one time – A little over twice the size of the garden community.

    One BOF member recently estimated that this will add 3.6% plus the cost of debt service to everyone in Westport’s property taxes It will also double the town’s debt. As an aside I gather Tooker Elementary’s feeder school CMS is next up to bat as well as improvement to Westport’s Emergency Services HQ all of which will put a serious hole in the town’s finances. I’ve heard numbers as high as $400m in town debt recently but that seems like crazy talk to me. If you are a resident and you aren’t budgeting a 10% increase in your taxes in the next few years, plus whatever else comes along as other budgets increase, remember that hope is not a strategy.

    And yet the gardn community supports the construction of the new school as presented anyway, and want it built asap – they just don’t want their peaceful garden turned into a steel staging area and eventually into “First Selectwoman’s Field” when both could be built elsewhere, whatever the unelected Chairmen of the LLSBC and PRC try to convince you of, just because Jen wants her name on the door.

    So I just ask that the next time you come to public comment and make strident comments about the “selfish gardeners,” please remember who your friends are, and what the whole town is doing for you. The more this drags on and “win-win” solutions are willfully ignored, the longer the process will take with referendums, litigation from neighbors etc. etc.

    If you are frustrated I understand but please make sure to direct that frustration to the right place – namely present and prior Town Administrations who have prevaricated (when market rates of interest were as low as they have been in generations) and have not dealt in good faith with all their stakeholders. For instance – PRC dragged everyone down to Town Hall recently for a special hearing on a school night – they listened without taking questions and then read from “Prepared Statements” then rubber stamped their proposal. Does that sound like good faith to you?

  21. I could not agree more with James Mather. The entirety of the town is a stakeholder in all these matters. That’s 28,000 of us.

    All our opinions matter, as after all we will all be footing the bill for, a new or renovated ( much needed) school, along with a new elaborate baseball/soccer field, and whatever happens downtown at Parker Harding.

    It might be time to think about the budget, and put anything but maintenance on hold at town parking lots, revisiting it when we have less expensive projects on our plate, like the immediate need for a new or improved school.
    Also leaving the gardens where they are is a substantial saving, not to mention the right thing to do.

    Is there even a budget anymore ? Or are we just in profligate spending mode with no list of priorities.
    Because as one of the 28,000 stakeholders I’m not sure our town can afford all this spending.

  22. Excellent comment, James. Now, you know young people have a term “ghosted.” Ghosted means someone ignores someone else on social media. I propose the young people change that name to “Tookered.” I was “tookered.” That could spread like wild fire around town!

    • Emily, 1) I have a good sense of humor, and 2) at 76 my life is extremely boring! 06880, Starbucks, Wegman’s and visiting my grandkids make up 99% of my life! I used to be neutral when it came to Ms Tooker until ————.

      • Emily, It wasn’t always boring. Lived in Jamaica, lived in Spain, been to Puerto Rico 45 times, been to Cuba…and that’s just a start.

        • You are a rude coward, “Emily.” Is that even your name?

          • How many baseball fields and/ or soccer fields are there in Westport now? (Also, I need to correct James on something. If there will be a Tooker Elementary School 100 million would be an insult! Try 350 million at a minimum with 11 soccer fields.)

          • Glad to see you are paying attention. Is this high school debate? Lets’s go.

  23. No, Westport does not seem to care about seniors at all.

    Just view the RTM meeting video from last March. The RTM was to vote on a very large appropriation for sewer main installation in the Evergreen-Gorham-Compo area which would result in an ‘estimated’ $33000 assessment for each affected homeowner. Because of a letter I wrote, one RTM member brought up the potential impact of this massive assessment on seniors in the affected area. The representative of the ‘Water Pollution Control Authority’ callously said, “The senior could always move.” Jaws dropped everywhere in the room at that comment. Yet, the motion passed unanimously. And, was rubber stamped by the first selectwoman 11 hours later, at 9:30am the very next morning.

    Several months ago, the first selectwoman stated that the town’s debt is expected to go from about $100million to $350million by 2030. That seems like a heckuva lot of debt per town resident, especially impacting seniors on fixed incomes, because our taxes will have to go up to service the debt.

    Last, everyone reading this should be aware that at the November 14th meeting, the RTM will be voting to give the first selectwoman a mid-cycle cost of living increase (item #6 on the agenda).

  24. Claudia Sherwood

    I was surprised to hear that the Westport Community Gardens might be taken away after many years of Westport residents making the land biodiverse, which helps the ecosystem.

    Respecting and supporting elders is part of my life philosophy of a civilized society. Studies show that elders that garden — live longer through social purpose and experience a better quality of life.

    Of course children are our greatest resource! My daughter, when she was young, was also a priority for me and I certainly wanted her to be playing outdoors. Nature was always an important part of her education. She volunteered and learned in community gardens.

    This may be a tough decision, but I cannot imagine taking away this resource of joy and purpose from our elders, youth and others who volunteer in such a forward thinking community. Gardening is a regenerative source of wisdom that should be cultivated and cherished.

    Westport Community Gardens has been years in the making and offers donations of fresh grown food to community and community organizations in need. I’m all for it!

    —Claudia Sherwood-Servidio

  25. Dermot Meuchner

    A society is judged by how it takes care of its elderly, young and disabled citizens. We seem to fail miserably.

    • You left out animals, Dermot…a society’s humanity is judged by how it treats its animals and the least of its living occupants.

  26. So much for equity, diversity and inclusion.
    I now can see the way our various town committees, boards, and select people have become outright bullies. What does our DEI think of the treatment of seniors, gardeners, neighbors and merchants? It is not ok to silence our voices, keep us in the dark then bully when we rightfully protest. What happened to fair representation?
    The once esteemed RTM ran to the hills and put the nail
    in the coffin. How can anyone with a conscience vote to re elect
    a current Board of Ed member who blindly rubber stamped Plan C or any RTM members who voted to silence our voices?
    Please be vigilant and judicious in your vote.
    Also please be aware the RTM has now put Parker Harding
    redesign on their December Calendar per email I just received. Perhaps the plan has not in reality been pulled? How convenient so soon
    after Election Day. How convenient none of the candidates
    except a mere heroic few have illuminated their thoughts on
    the 3 hot topics facing us- Long Lots, Parker Harding and Longshore.
    When all is said and done will all Committee and relevant
    Board members recuse them selves from the ultimate decision making process if they have children who are soccer or baseball
    players just as they would expect the gardeners and perhaps merchants to do if that were the case as this would pose a legitimate conflict of interest in the various submitted plans.
    For the redesign of Long Lots in particular will anyone who
    is both a LL Redo Committee member and also a RTM or other Board member be required to recuse themselves due to implicit bias if it comes to that?
    And finally when can we expect honesty and clarification regarding the supposed above mentioned 11,000 kids using our playing fields
    especially Babe Ruth and costly travel soccer teams when that age of population is a fraction of that? Also honesty about the involvement of the WSA in the new field build?
    How are we to believe anything now and why does our administration consider concerned citizens seeking truth and fairness the bad guys? As for our town government “who are those guys”? We have been hijacked.

    • Chris, agree with everything you wrote. But particularly love the Paul Newman quote from Butch Cassidy: “Who are those guys?”

  27. Spot on Chris. Brilliant comment.

    The craziest thing is that just when you think you’ve seen enough crazy to last 4 years, it just keeps getting crazier.
    You wake up and read gardeners, young and older generation, merchants, residents, moms and dads begging for their voices to be heard on these important topics some of which are likely to literally devastate lives, Mr and
    Mrs. Gwiliam amongst many others, and nothing changes.

    When we don’t go to meetings it is said, oh nobody cares, there were only 2 people there. When we write letters they are ignored, when we all attend meetings we are scolded and warned to be civil.

    And the meetings happen, and unless a commission such as last week, our elected P&Z commissioners had the common sense and integrity to take into account the many comments from residents and merchants, and the financial devastation and ruin of our downtown businesses which is assured should any shadow of this plan ever be passed. Only then does a plan get halted in its tracks. Otherwise it’s all a predetermined outcome.

    Even when the PH plan was amended to include the imperative cut through road, closer examination finds hardly a blade of the green space proposed changed.
    We just saw 35 of the small spot spaces morph into 85. So we now have 85 useless perpendicular parking spots instead of 35. So the cut through was put back in and the parking lot was made even shittier the plan it replaced.


    Same with the gardens fiasco, we could come up with 20 suitable spots to put the new soccer/baseball field that emerged to surprise us all almost a year into the “talks”, and they might be perfect, but I have a sense that over a year ago all that was decided, kept quiet, in the hopes it would make it over all the hurdles , when the stick we are now getting beaten with, in order to cause maximum division, has became rhetoric like gardeners are selfish and don’t care about the children. How could we ?

    Merchants and residents are selfish for demanding the massively used and necessary cut through road stays. Are Merchants selfish for surviving the devastating effects covid had, and new ones for opening very popular new spots residents were crying out for.
    Are we selfish because we are asking and begging and pointing out the necessity for parking to be maintained as is, or we will all close down and have to move else where. And there will be no downtown centre.

    Well thankfully our P&Z commission made it very clear on that zoom meeting that the plan would be a death knell for Westports vibrant town centre.

    I realize the application for 8-24 was pulled because they had zero confidence it would pass. Oh and in the hopes the commission might look different after Nov 7th.

    Yet again, as other commenters have said, clearly the administration is banking on a second bash at it, once the election is over.

    Scurrilous to say the least.

    We are all waiting nervously to see what the next changes are to this DPIC plan,
    Hopefully the DPIC was listening to all the commissioners, since they have never listened to a single word the merchants said.
    I believe it was recorded if they need to recap.
    District 9.

  28. Sorry to say Jen Tooker may be listening but she’s not hearing. She had made up her mind a long time ago and is not moved at all by your wishes as a senior Westporter.And since when does Parks and Rec have any authority in this matter. To leave such matters up to Jen Fava and the P&R committee is way beyond their capabilities.

  29. Janette Kinnally

    After reading all side of this debate, and having grown up here and raising my two boys, I do think the community gardens should stay and long Lots building be renovated – $100 million for a new building that will raise our taxes and disrupt everyone does not look like a logical and $$ money conscious government. our leadership needs to hear the whole community – the ones who elected them.
    Toni – your article was so moving (I choked up and cried) and it reminded me of when my mom was dying of Alzheimer’s (she passed away last year) and she would go for a walk every day at the local beaches and at the gardens in town. I looked it up and we have a population of over 35% of Westport’s demographic over 50. The gardens help the older generation teach the younger generation about food sources and being out in nature together (the kids are on their smartphones and laptops most of the time these days). this is a place they can come together with different generations and enjoy together. I think there needs to be a vote by the people or we should not do this project if many voice a differing view to their elected officials. We need to have leaders listen to the community

  30. Toni, thank you for your beautifully well-written comment on the Town’s desire to build a professional-sized base ball field on top of the Westport Community Gardens. I have so many questions, as we all probably do. Here are two: (1) What are we teaching those children in the amazing Westport school system? They already know that our planet is suffering from too much carbon and that its existence will continue to get worse unless we take steps to stop it. And, since we have such good schools, these students also know that trees and plants and soil and the bugs beneath the soil are an important antidote to climate change and what it causes. (A 12-year-old Westport middle schooler recently told me that!) (2) Do Westporters know that building the Babe Ruth field will cost an additional (approximated via internet) $1.1 million? (The Community Garden appears to cost the town $0.00.) If the field is built with the artificial turf that it has expressed a desire for, that will be another approximately $650,000 in 8 to 10 years, when the artificial turf wears out.

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