Author Archives: Dan Woog

Roundup: Bus Accident, Sundance, Itzhak Perlman …

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There’s a “For Lease” sign outside the old Post Road West building, near Wright Street.

But, Frank Rosen notes, the building is in disrepair. Paint is peeling; shingles are askew. It will take a lot more than a new tenant to bring back some of the beauty to this once-handsome mansion-turned-office.

Demolition by neglect?

(Photo/Frank Rosen)

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There was a school bus accident yesterday, on Easton Road near Bayberry Lane. In the photo below, a small car was wedged under the far side of the bus.

Sandy Rothenberg says: “I have traveled this intersection for the past 35 years. It has become increasingly dangerous. The sight lines are very limited, and cars fly around the curve on Easton Road towards Westport. A very small sign indicates ‘slow curve.’ I hope this brings needed attention and improvements to this road.”

(Photo/Sandy Rothenberg)

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Sundance has opened on Main Street — by appointment only, anyway.

A sign on the former Anny Taylor store instructs shoppers to scan a QR code, for a link to an email.

No word yet on when the physical doors will open.

(Photo/Amy Schneider)

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Don’t miss Itzhak Perlman in Westport!

Tickets are still available for the Westport Library’s “Booked for the Evening” event this Thursday (May 13, 7 p.m.).

This year’s livestreamed “Booked” fundraiser will include videos, live musical tributes, and a conversation with Perlman that is just for this audience. No recording will be made of the program.

Click here for tickets, and more information.

Itzhak Perlman

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Speaking of the Library: One of the “star attractions” of the transformed space is Verso Studios. The state-of-the-art audio and broadcast studios can help anyone become a music, podcast, video or audiobook star.

Yesterday, the library launched a new Verso Studios website. Click here to watch and listen to a wide variety of recordings, podcasts and videos — and to find out how to use the studios yourself.

Part of the Westport Library’s Verso Studios.

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In March, “06880” reported on a proposal by Abilis to turn 136 Riverside Avenue into a home for special needs affordable housing.

The Planning & Zoning Commission has granted a permit for a second floor addition, interior and exterior renovations, and site work for apartments for 4 special needs people, and another unit for an income-eligible staff member.

More approvals are needed. But this is good news for special needs individuals and their families. And it’s 5 more important affordable housing units for our town.

136 Riverside Avenue.

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Dr. Anthony Fauci and former 2nd Selectman/Board of Finance chair Avi Kaner shared a stage last night.

The New York Board of Rabbis honored both men with Humanitarian Awards , for their work during the pandemic.

Dr. Fauci’s contributions are well known. Kaner’s may be less famous. But the co-owner of Morton Williams Supermarkets was cited for the work his family-owned business did during the pandemic.

Morton Williams stores never closed. Employees kept working; senior executives ensured that the supply chain continued.

The company became a lifeline to New York. They worked with the CDC to adjust trucking regulations so that truckers would be comfortable making deliveries. They were among the first in the nation to set aside special hours for seniors and immunocompromised customers; they lobbied aggressively for mask use, and ensured that supermarket workers were included in phase 1B of the state’s vaccinations.

Click below for a clip of the introduction:

Click below for Kaner’s speech:

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Thomas Quealy spotted this on North Compo Road.

“Time to update our signs,” he says.

(Photo/Thomas Quealy)

He’s right. The Westport Arts Center moved over a year ago from Riverside Avenue to Newtown Turnpike.

In fact, it no longer exists. It’s now called MoCA Westport.

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Staples High School Class of 2019 graduate Anthony Salgado met Pierce Slutzky years ago, at Camp Laurel. Anthony says:

“Pierce was an amazing kid who was taken from us at age 17. He was diagnosed with brain cancer at age 14, and tirelessly fought medulloblastoma for 3 years.

“Pierce did not complain. He continued in high school, achieving an A average and making National Honor Society and Foreign Language Society.

“It is my honor to ask people to join in a CT Challenge bike ride to keep Pierce’s fight alive forever. I want to help those who are currently diagnosed, and those who may be diagnosed in the future.” Click here for the link.

Pierce Slutzky

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Today’s “Westport … Naturally” shot comes from Roseann Spengler. She spotted this cute couple by the Saugatuck River:

(Photo/Roseann Spengler)

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And finally … Lloyd Price died last week in New Rochelle, from complications of diabetes. He was 88.

He had “Personality.” He had many other hits, including “Stagger Lee” and “Lawdy Miss Clawdy.” He’s a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee. He led quite a life inside and outside of music. Click here for a full obituary.

 

Greens Farms Book Gifts: The Sequel

Yesterday, “06880” reported on Greens Farms Elementary School’s great project. Students solicited pledges by reading books. Funds raised went to “Read For Change” — a program organized by parents Leigh Cataudo and Liz Leary to purchase books for students at Bridgeport’s Luis Muñoz Marin School. Every student could select 2 new books of their own, at a Scholastic fair.

On Friday, Leigh and Liz watched with smiles as 7th and 8th graders chose their books.

Yesterday, it was younger students’ turn.

“I wish we could have bottled up the excitement appreciation and pure joy of these kindergartners, 1st and 2nd graders to share with our students,” Leigh says.

“It was nothing short of magical. This was the first time in over a year most students were able to physically interact with books. The school library was closed due to COVID, and any classroom library that would be accessible is still ‘packed up.'”

Leigh and Liz received countless hugs of thanks, which they were asked to pass along to GFS families.

They plan for a second “Read For Change” next year. And they’d like to bring some Greens Farms students with them, to share in the magic.

(Photos/Leigh Cataudo)

Double L Market: Seeds Of Survival

For over 30 years, Lloyd Allen has served Westporters.

First at actual farm stands, now in a Post Road store next to Calise’s, he offers the freshest fruits, vegetables, eggs, bread, meat, fish, baked goods, soups, salads and flowers.

For the past 14 months though, he’s actually had to serve his customers.

COVID dealt a death blow to many small businesses. Food services were particularly hard hit.

Lloyd Allen, outside his Double L Market on the Post Road.

But Lloyd knows his onions. As soon as the pandemic shut his doors last March, he pivoted. His Double L Market pivoted immediately to curbside.

“We didn’t dither,” Lloyd says. “We transformed completely into a warehouse.”

Unlike many markets, he did not create a website for customers to order from.

Double L Market is always in season (Photo/Ed Simek)

Working with Apple (the company, not the fruit), he devised a text-based ordering system. Rather than clicking items into a virtual “shopping cart,” Double L developed a friendly, interactive conversation-style experience.

Customers texted what they wanted. Armed with iPhones and iPads, employees filled orders. If they had a question — “What kind of berries exactly?” or “We’re out of those potatoes; what would you like instead?” — they texted immediately.

Employees texted again when the order was ready for pickup.

At first, customers simply sent lists: “2 blueberries, 1 strawberry, 3 broccoli crowns, 4 honey crisps, 2 little gems, 1 cauliflower white, 1 baby bok choy.”

Soon, they started adding messages: “2 raspberries, 2 chicken empanadas, 1 piece of salmon. You rock!”

One customer asked Lloyd to recommend items. “Peaches?” he asked. “Sure! 4 is good!” came the reply.

“It felt like texting a friend,” Lloyd says. That makes sense. Most of his customers already were friends.

Vendors got into texting mode quickly too:

Last weekend — for the first time since March 2020 — Lloyd opened Double L Market’s doors back up.

Many customers were grateful. Perhaps 20%, he estimates, had never been inside before. They’re new arrivals to town, who know his store only through curbside.

They are thrilled to finally roam the aisles.

Customers who knew Double L from before were impressed too. The long shutdown proved to be a good time to paint and freshen up the interior.

But other people like the convenience of texting and pickup. They want to keep shopping that way. So Lloyd will continue offering the option.

He’ll also still deliver to local customerx who for any reason cannot come to him.

Back in business — indoors.

Lloyd’s quick pivot enabled him to keep all his employees, throughout the entire 14 months. He did not even need a PPP loan to keep going.

In fact, he says, he even hired out-of-work restaurant employees to help.

Lloyd left nothing to chance. During the darkest times, he divided his crews into 2. Each worked separate days. That way, if one was diagnosed with COVID, only half of his staff would have to quarantine.

The “time off” — Lloyd was on only one crew — offered him time to start a blog. He writes deftly about food, in all its forms: what’s at the market, how it got there, and much more.

As he spoke about the past 14 months, Lloyd grew emotional. He’s proud of what he and his employees accomplished, gratified at the loyalty and trust his customers showed, and happy to be back.

All his life he’s watched farmers sow, nurture and reap.

Now it’s his turn.

Pic Of The Day #1484

Downtown reflections (Photo/Wendy Levy)

Remembering Dmitri (Doug) Belser

The city of Berkeley is mourning the loss of Dmitri Belser. He died April 22, 3 months after being diagnosed with cancer. He was 63.

Belser — who was known as Doug Belser when he grew up in Westport — was legally blind, due to macular degeneration. A leader in the disability rights movement, he helped create the Ed Roberts Campus. It includes offices for independent living organizations, accessible meeting rooms, a computer/media resource center, fitness center, café and child development center. Belser served 2 terms as ERC president.

For more than 20 years, he was also was executive director of the Center for Accessible Technology.

Dmitri (Doug) Belser (Photo credit Tom White)

Previously he worked as a sign language interpreter and coordinator of deaf student services at San  Francisco State University, and manager of Pacific Bell’s Deaf and Disabled Service Center.

Belser and his husband, Tom White, renovated 10 century-old houses in Berkeley. They saved several from demolition.

Belser was a member of Berkeley’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, and chair of the Commission on Disabilities.

He also restored cars, including a 1939 and ’50 DeSoto, ’57 and ’67 Volkswagens, and a ’63 VW van.

Belser always loved cars. After graduating a semester early from Staples High School — in January of 1976 — he and fellow grad Diane Stapkowski drove a VW Bug he had rebuilt to San Francisco.

The vehicle was named Gerry — in honor of Staples English teacher Gerry Kuroghlian.

After that adventure, Belser went to Hampshire College. He met White there.

In 1985 the couple adopted a baby girl, Talia. Open adoption was rare at the time, reports Berkeleyside. Belser, White and the girl’s birth mother remained friends until his death.

Four years later, Belser and White adopted 5-month-0ld Sebastian.

The partners had a civil union in Vermont in 2001, a marriage ceremony in Vancouver, Canada in 2005, and a legal US marriage in Oakland in 2008.

Describing his vision loss (he called himself “hard of seeing”), Belser said:

I’m used to who I am and the kind of vision I have. [Without vision difficulties] I wouldn’t be me. The experience I’ve had being an outsider, living a different kind of life, has helped make me the person I am now. What I’ve gotten from having vision loss is, I think, bigger than what I’ve lost by it.

Two days before he died, a Berkeley City Council proclamation expressed “our sincere appreciation for his many contributions to the city and its residents.”

Staples Class of 1976 graduate Tim Garvin remembers Belser as “a wonderful, inventive, creative person.”

In addition to his husband and children, he is survived by his mother Charlotte (who was active in planning and zoning affairs in Westport); sisters Stephanie and Ann; brother Mark; 3 nephews and 1 niece.

Contributions in his name can be made to CforAT, with “EBSHC” in the memo line, and sent to EBSHC, c/o  Center for Accessible Technology, 3075 Adeline Street, Suite 220, Berkeley, CA 94703.

(Click here for the full Berkeleyside obituary. Hat tip: Barbara Sherburne)

Roundup: CPR & EMT Classes, Great Horned Owls, I-95 …

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Non-COVID health emergencies don’t take a break during a pandemic. Unfortunately, Westport Volunteer Emergency Medical Services had to.

Not responding quickly, professionally and compassionately, of course. Their service never wavered. But they did have to pause their public education.

Now, with threats lessening, WVEMS is cleared to resume reduced-capacity classes at their Police headquarters facility. CPR/First Aid and Stop the Bleed courses begin this month. EMT certification is set for the fall.

All classes have limited capacity. For more information, click here.

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“Who” did Tina Green see at Longshore yesterday?

Not one but three great horned owls. They look properly wise.

(Photo/Tina Green)

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Construction of the I-95 overpass at Beachside Avenue is cruising along. (As opposed to, say, the Kings Highway Bridge replacement near Canal Street — a far less complicated project).

Here’s yesterday’s view:

(Photo/Tom Lowrie)

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And finally … today is Donovan’s 75th birthday. The Scottish singer-songwriter was often compared — unfairly — to Bob Dylan.

He had his share of pretentious clunkers (just like Dylan!). But much of his music stands the test of time.

GFS Gives The Gift Of Reading

Years ago, Leigh Cataudo taught at a Greenwich middle school. She and a colleague ran a read-a-thon, with students raising funds to buy books for an underserved school.

She calls the project — which included her students helping elementary school children choose books, and read with them — “the most rewarding thing I have ever been part of.”

Leigh is now a realtor with William Pitt Sotheby’s. She’s also a Greens Farms Elementary School parent. She’s just brought the “Read for Change” program to her school — and the Luis Muñoz Marin K-8 School in Bridgeport.

(“Change” refers to becoming better readers, earning “change” by reading, and changing the lives of others.)

The project began last fall, as the pandemic raged. Her 3 children started the school year with many challenges — but, Leigh knew, they had the laptops, internet access, paper, markers and (most importantly) books they needed to do okay.

She was wary of putting too much on teachers’ already overloaded plates. But principal Kevin Cazzetta loved the idea, and invited her to help make it happen. Leigh reached out to her friend and football team co-manager Liz Leary. “Read for Change” was underway.

Greens Farms Elementary School got into the “Read for Change” project in a big way. (Photo/Seth Schachter)

Students requested pledges from parents and relatives. To make it fun, non-intimidating and all-inclusive, Leigh and Liz let students decide how to ask. For example, newer readers could get pledges for the number of books they read, while more advanced readers could earn money for time spent reading.

Classes already kept daily reading records, so there was no additional work for teachers. There was a small prize each week for the class with the most participation, and a bingo board with another prize. Students were engaged and excited.

The excitement grew when the month was over. Leigh and Liz were speechless.

Their goal was to buy 1 book for each of the 800 Luiz Muñoz Marin students. Starting this past Friday, and through Tuesday, GFS is sponsoring a Scholastic book fair. Each child can choose 2 books.

Friends checking out books at the Luis Munoz Marin School …

“Friday was incredible,” Leigh reports. “The students and staff of Marin were amazed, and so very appreciative.

“We are so proud to be part of such an incredible school community, and to have the ability to offer the gift of books to so many students in our neighboring community.”

… and a girl gets engrossed in one of them.

Pic Of The Day #1483

Happy Mother’s Day! (Photo/Ellen Wentworth)

Cross Street, Hiawatha Projects Settlements Near

Two of Westport’s longest-running — and thorniest — housing issues may soon come to conclusions.

RTM member and Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce executive director Matthew Mandell has been following the sagas of Lincoln/Cross Streets and Hiawatha Lane Extension for years. He writes:

Two major projects, both 8-30g*, have come to a negotiated resolution: Lincoln / Cross Street as well as Hiawatha.

Both will be presented to the public by the Planning & Zoning Commission this  Wednesday (May 12, 7 p.m., Zoom). There will be an outline of what each will be, and the public will be allowed to comment. It is anticipated that P&Z will then vote on each.

How did we get here? 

P&Z denied the Lincoln multi-story 80+ unit project, and was then sued by the developer. The judge ruled in favor of the developer. 8-30g cases are exceedingly hard to defend. Even though there were severe safety issues, the judge said the need for affordable housing essentially outweighed them.

The P&Z then worked with the neighbors and the developer to make the project more palatable. I was not in any of the meetings, so I too am waiting to see what has come out of it.

The settlement may lessens the impact on Lincoln Street, just south of Cross Street.

As for Hiawatha: P&Z, the Board of Selectmen, the Department of Housing and everyone else who ever said boo about this project was sued over this one. There were actually 7 lawsuits still pending after this 16-year battle.

With this negotiated settlement, all of them go away. Their ancillary issues, some of which could have been detrimental long-term to the entire town, will be gone as well.

While some of the suits might have been won, I am not sure all 7 would have. This was always an egregious project of 5 buildings with 187 units, where 10 naturally occurring affordable homes exist in the middle of an affordable neighborhood.

Homes on Hiawatha Lane.

This one is going to hurt. I can’t say more on the issue, but we will all see it when it comes public. I am very sad about this outcome, and really feel for the neighborhood. We all fought for 16 years against a developer and lawyer who only saw opportunity and not people.

In the end, it is the town that gets sued. It’s the town that negotiates for itself, and they make the call in these cases. A silver lining may be, with both of these projects the town would probably get another 4 year moratorium from 8-30g projects.

The Planning & Zoning Commission welcomes public comment at Wednesday’s 7 p.m. meeting. Click here for the Zoom link. The meeting ID is 816 5841 6015. The passcode is 221876.

*8-30 g is a Connecticut statute. It says that that unless 10 percent of a town’s housing stock is “affordable” — according to state definition — a developer planning to include affordable units can challenge a town’s denial of a proposal.

Roundup: Shore Birds, Sundance, Swimsuits …

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An American oystercatcher is nesting at Compo Beach.

Parks & Rec is on the case.

Department staff has strung rope around the site, keeping people away from the fragile bird and her eggs. A sign offers information about her habits.

Another sign describes other threatened shorebirds. It’s fascinating to read.

And heed.

The oystercatcher sign …

… and another, describing piping plovers and least terns. (Photos/Dinkin Fotografik)

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An excited “06880” reader writes:

I’ll admit I got a little breathless when I received a Sundance email headlined, “Visit Our New Store in Westport.”

Westport?! This catalog has served as my retail therapy vision board for years; the source of countless subtle, dog-eared “tips” I’ve left for my spouse re birthday and holiday gifts.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Robert Redford-stamped brand, think Millie Rae’s meets Anthropologie — high-end, carefully curated, bohemian-Southwest-y silver and gold jewelry, as well as clothes, shoes and housewares.

I can’t wait to see how they deck out their brick-and-mortar store on Main Street (the former Ann Taylor — it’s only their 18th retail location). Am I excited enough about it to get the free gift for booking an “early access appointment”?

Why yes, actually, I might be. If they do this right, I think it’s about as perfect a fit for Westport as any catalogue-come-to-life could be.

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Last year, during the darkest days of the pandemic, the Westport Garden Club’s “Friday Flowers” project brightened up our town. Once a week, members placed beautiful bouquets at very visible spots.

The Garden Club has picked up again this year. The first Friday Flowers of 2021 was delivered to Saugatuck Congregational Church.

Keep your eyes open every week. And if you see a Westport Garden Club member: thank her!

Friday Flowers at the church entrance. (Photo/Pat Nave)

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Speaking of Saugatuck Church: Boy Scout Troop 36 — which they sponsor, and provide meeting space for — helped make yesterday’s mattress recycling drive a huge success.

The Scouts picked up 34 mattresses and box springs throughout town. Then they headed to Earthplace, and helped load the items into a truck.

The Scouts’ efforts doubled the number of items received during Sustainable Westport’s project

Troop 36 Scouts also volunteered at Earthplace, filling containers with free compost for residents.

Boy Scout Troop 36 members, with mattresses and the recycling truck.

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Tracy Rosen offers a shout-out for a local business.

The other afternoon, she and a friend went to Shearwater for coffee. But they close at 4 p.m.

They decided instead to have a glass of wine next door, at Ignazio’s Pizza.

“They couldn’t have been nicer!” Tracy says.

“They set up a table for us outside, and lit a wood-burning fire pit. They were so hospitable,  just letting us sit there with our wine, never pushing us to order anything else. But their pizza smells amazing!”

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Westport PAL’s motto is “It’s all about the kids.”

And kids of all ages love car shows.

The PAL is sponsoring one on June 20 (10 a.m. to 2 p.m., railroad station parking lot near Railroad Place and Franklin Street). In addition to cool cars, there’s food and raffle prizes.

Tickets are $15 each. But kids — that is, anyone under 12 — are free. Of course.

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The other day, “06880” highlighted the Connecticut Preservation Award for 70 Turkey Hill South.

An award ceremony was held last week, via Zoom. Here’s a video of all 10 awards. The Westport one begins at 16;13. (Hat tip: Bob Weingarten)

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There’s always something new at George Billis Gallery.

An opening reception this Friday (May 14, 4 to 7 p.m.) showcases “A Glimpse Ahead.” The figurative exhibit focuses on summer, with artwork that includes swimmers, surfers, pool scenes and waterscapes. The aim is to create a sense of peace, relaxation and joy.

Among the artists: Westporter Dale Najarian. She contributes abstracted waterscapes on canvas and wood panel.

The exhibit runs through June 13.

“Jewel Landscape,” oil on canvas (Dale Najarian)

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And finally … Happy Mother’s Day, to every “06880” mother out there.

None of us would be here without you. We love you, moms!