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RTM: Town Hall May Open Soon. But …

Town Hall may soon be open again.

That’s the result of this month’s Representative Town Meeting session, held Tuesday.

Here is Peter Gold’s report. He is an RTM member writing for himself, not in an official capacity.

The only item on the November agenda was a $200,000 request for renovations to Town Hall, to enable it to open to the public during the pandemic.

The appropriation was approved by a vote of 33 in favor, 2 against. There was 1 abstention.

The front of Town Hall … (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Currently, members of the public meet with Town Hall employees in a tent in back of the building.  As the weather gets colder this will become impractical.

Going forward, all visitors will enter by the front door. They’ll have their temperature checked with touchless sensors, and be greeted by a receptionist who makes sure they’re wearing masks.

People expecting short visits will meet with employees in the entrance lobby.  Longer visits or those requiring more privacy will be conducted in Room 201/201A.

This minimizes the areas needing to be sanitized, and allows for contact tracing should employees or visitors contract COVID.

Additional UV filters will be installed on the air handlers for the lobby and Room 201/201A, to accommodate increased public access.

At the monthly RTM meeting, concerns were raised about the difficulty visitors — especially those with disabilities — may have walking from the back parking lot to the front entrance, particularly in inclement weather.

In response, it was noted that there is no feasible way to provide access through the rear entrance while still maintaining access security and contract tracing. There are also handicap parking spaces by the handicapped access ramp.

… the rear. (Photo/Pippa Bell Ader)

A significant portion of the cost of renovations is for items that may not be strictly necessary to deal with COVID, including new front doors, new office door handles compatible with the Americans With Disabilities Act, and electric locks for office doors.

Some items are necessary and would be done eventually (for example the front doors are old and do not close properly). Doing them now helps make Town Hall more secure and safer.

However, objections were raised about the need for electric locks (approximately 12% of the overall project cost), since visitors would be escorted to and from their meetings. Several members expressed a desire to have access to Town Hall — “the people’s house” — return to the way it was pre-pandemic when visitors could enter freely, visit various departments and meet with town employees without needing to make an appointment or otherwise get permission to enter locked offices.

First Selectman Jim Marpe said the level of post-pandemic visitor access to Town Hall is a policy decision that will be made with input from the RTM and the public on how they want Town Hall to be used.

Yet  several RTM members felt that locks and the appropriate level of Town Hall security was a significant enough issue to have been the subject of a separate debate, rather than rolled into the appropriation for COVID renovations.

In other news, Nicole Klein returns to the RTM. She replaced District 5 representative Greg Kraut, who resigned.

Jeff Pegues Talks Politics And Sports

If you’ve never been to one of Jeff Pegues’ “Newsmakers” events at (or, virtually, via) the Westport Library, you’ve missed something special.

Last January the CBS News justice and homeland security correspondent, author — and 1988 Staples High School graduate — kicked off the series by interviewing (live) Mo Rocca, fellow CBS News correspondent, podcaster and TV personality.

In June (via cyberspace) Pegues chatted with billionaire businessman, hedge fund manager, major Democratic Party donor, Milwaukee Bucks co-owner (and Westport resident) Marc Lasry.

Up next: a pair of conversations about 2 American obsessions: politics and sports.

Both are virtually free. By that I mean: they are online (virtual), and there is absolutely no charge.

Tomorrow (Wednesday, November 11, 7:30 p.m.), Pegues hosts a intriguing conversation with Major Garrett and Nancy Cordes. (Click here to register.)

Major Garrett and Nancy Cordes

They’re 2 of America’s most insightful political reporters. And they just got through covering one of the most compelling, challenging and consequential elections in history.

What was it like in the newsroom this past week? Pegues will help them tell you.

Cordes is CBS News’ chief congressional correspondent. Based in Washington, she contributes to all of the network’s broadcasts and platforms.

Garrett is White House correspondent for CBS News, and  a contributor to National Journal. He previously served as chief White House correspondent for Fox News.

Next month (Tuesday, December 1, 7 p.m.). Pegues will be joined by Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, Los Angeles Sparks Forward Candace Parker, and former NBA star Charles Smith. (Click here to register.)

This is not just jock talk. Topics include how George Floyd’s death sparked a social justice movement in sports, and the ways in which athletes are using their power and influence to mobilize fans.

Jeff Pegues

Since joining CBS News, Pegues has led coverage of some of the biggest stories of the last decade. He reported on the conflict between the Black community and police, and wrote a book: “Black and Blue: Inside the Divide Between Police and the Black Community.”

Pegues has received 3 Emmy Awards, the Sigma Delta Chi Award from the Society of Professional Journalists, and in 2017 was part of the CBS News team that earned an Edward R. Murrow Award.

And he know sports as well as politics. At Staples, he was an All-State sprinter, and an All-FCIAC football running back.

Winfield is one of 7 players in MLB history with over 3,000 hits and 450 home runs. The 12-time All-Star was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001 — his first year of eligibility.

Smith is a retired NBA power forward in the NBA. The Philadelphia 76ers selected him as the 3rd overall pick in the 1988 NBA draft. He was named to the All-Rookie first team, and played nearly 10 years in the league.

Parker is one of the most decorated female basketball players ever. The first overall pick in the 2008 WNBA Draft, she is a league champion, 2-time MVP, and Rookie of the Year. She is now a broadcaster, and role model for young athletes.

State Rolls Back To COVID Phase 2.1

First Selectman Jim Marpe says:

Due to increasing rates of COVID-19 in Connecticut, the state will roll back from Phase 3 to Phase 2.1 effective tomorrow (Friday, November 6).

Phase 2.1 is a slightly modified version of the previously enacted Phase 2 rules. Changes under Phase 2.1 include:

  • Restaurants will return to or remain at 50 percent capacity, with a maximum of 8 people per table
  • Restaurants and entertainment venues will be required to close by 9:30 p.m. except for food takeout and delivery services, which may continue after 9:30 p.m.
  • Personal services, such as hair salons and barber shops, will remain at 75 percent capacity
  • Event venues will be limited to 25 people indoor, 50 people outdoor
  • Performing arts venues and movie theaters will have a capacity of 100 people
  • Religious gatherings will be limited to 50 percent capacity or 100 people maximun
  • Residents are urged to remain indoors between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., unless for essential activities.

Westport businesses will remain open. I encourage those who can to continue patronizing local restaurants and businesses.

Since the beginning of this pandemic, Westport has promoted local and small businesses. A great idea for eating out and staying safe — BYOB (“Bring Your Own Blanket”) comes from the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce.

The Westport Weston Health District says that a significant portion of Westport’s COVID cases are related to youth travel sports. These programs are regional, span several states and fall outside of local authority. Updated state Department of Public Health guidance for youth and interscholastic sports is forthcoming.

Town officials are also aware that some very large gatherings of both young people and adults occurred over Halloween weekend. We continue to stress that everyone be sensitive to neighbors, and aware of the risks imposed on those with pre-existing conditions and the elderly.

Unsung Heroes #162

It seemed like an audacious plan: In the midst of a pandemic, create a drive-in movie.

The challenges were many: Find a suitable location. Find a screen. Find a movie. Find an audience.

As much as everyone in Westport was itching to get out of lockdown in June, the concept was — well, different. Most folks under the age of 40 or 50 had never been to a drive-in. Would they leave the comfort of their couch to see something they could easily stream — for a lot less money — on Netflix?

Neighbors worried about the noise. They were mollified when they learned the sound is delivered through car radios.

Yet as they (sort of) said in “Field of Dreams,” “If you build it, they will come.”

Come they did. From opening night, Westporters flocked to the Remarkable Theater. Families with kids, teenagers with friends, empty nesters who may have started their families at a drive-in — all enjoyed a wide range of films.

Comedies, dramas, action, classics — all packed the Imperial Avenue parking lot, all summer long. It was an inspired choice for a site: big, accessible, and not far from the long-ago 4 theaters downtown.

… at an old-fashioned drive-in.

The Remarkable Theater did something else besides entertain and enliven Westport. It provided jobs for a number of teenagers and adults with disabilities.

They set up, directed traffic and cleaned up. They enjoyed themselves as much as the filmgoers. Which is really saying something.

The Remarkable Theater’s season ends this month. Before the final (hopefully, just for this year) curtain closes, let’s honor the remarkable Remarkable Theater crew who made this happen.

To the board of directions (president Marina Derman, vice president and secretary Stacie Curran, vice president and creative director Doug Tirola, vice presidents Joanna Borner and Jonathan Steinberg, plus Marjorie Jacobson, Diane Kwong-Shah. Jeffrey Peterson and Yvette Waldman), along with technology manager Sharuna Mahesh: thank you!

You are our Unsung Heroes of the Week. If not the entire summer and fall.


RTM Condemns Racism

This is the first of Peter Gold’s regular reports on the Representative Town Meeting’s monthly sessions. He is an RTM member writing for himself, not in an official capacity.

October’s RTM meeting was one of the longest on record. It began at 7:30 p.m. yesterday, and ended at 2 a.m. this morning.

Six of the 7 agenda items were disposed of quickly. The last item — a 2-page sense of the meeting resolution declaring racism a public health crisis, and asking the town to help combat it — led to 5 hours of debate.

The final version was adopted unanimously (28-0). It says:

The Westport RTM condemns racism in all its forms and hereby commits to actively working toward combating racism and valuing all people as deserving of equitable treatment. We see the world around us and recognize racism as a crisis, having negative effects on the public health, welfare and lives of Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC). Racism diminishes us all. Therefore, we ask the Town of Westport to commit to continue work already begun, and we ask the Town of Westport to develop means to evaluate our community’s progress in the areas of racial equity and justice.

All RTM members spoke out against racism, while acknowledging it exists in Westport.

A primary area of discussion focused on whether or not the resolution should be limited to condemning racism, or if it should be expanded to condemn sexism and all other forms of discrimination as well.

While many RTM members felt that expanding the resolution diluted its impact by taking the focus off racism, many others felt that all forms of discrimination, including sexism, anti-Semitism and discrimination against LGBT people are equally reprehensible, and should be condemned too.

Other areas of concern involved the appropriateness and accuracy of several of the “whereas” clauses in the original resolution; whether or not the original resolution was too “partisan,” “political,” or otherwise beyond the scope of the RTM’s powers; and the feeling that the original wording was a one-size-fits-all resolution adopted by many other towns, instead of being tailored to Westport and expressing Westport’s values and concerns.

Many RTM members spoke eloquently and passionately on both sides of these and other issues. The full debate will be posted on the town website.

The other votes were also unanimous, and straightforward:

  • Ratification of the Conservation Commission’s approval of bridge replacements for the Cavalry Road and Bayberry Lane Extension bridges over the Saugatuck River (work begins in the spring, and will last 6-8 months).
  • Approval of $310,000 for new lights at the Greens Farms Elementary School softball field; replacement of the 30-year-old lights with new LED lights will save the town approximately $185,000 over the next 25 years in electricity and maintenance costs.
  • Approval of $150,000 for an uninterruptable power supply for Town Hall and the Parks and Recreation Department. Town Hall had 3 major power failures leading to IT problems in the last 5 years — most recently during Isaias. The new power supply will provide “clean” power.
  • Approval of $349,000 for several Public Works Department requests, including designing a replacement for underground fuel and storage tanks with above-ground tanks to address environmental concerns and meet state requirements; replacing garage doors at the Public Works Center and old, non-functional doors at the transfer station to improve safety and security, meet state requirements, reduce maintenance expenses and improve efficiency in storms; upgrading the waste oil storage shed to meet state spill standards, and replacing an aging truck and excavators.

Coming soon: An uninterrupted power supply at Town Hall.

Neighbors & Newcomers: New President, New Ways To Build Community

Elizabeth Haynes jokes that with all the new arrivals from New York, Westport should be called “the 6th borough.”

She’s not one of them. A Michigan native, she came east after high school “3 or 4 lifetimes ago,” and moved here from New Jersey’s Bergen County with her 2 girls in 2018.

But — after living up and down the East Coast all her adult life — Elizabeth feels “very much at home” in Westport.

Now — as the new president of Neighbors & Newcomers — it’s her job to help recent residents bond with more established  ones, so that all feel a sense of community.

Elizabeth Haynes

Elizabeth joined N&N as soon as she moved in. She appreciated that it was not just a welcome wagon, for newcomers only. “It spoke to the character of Westport,” she says. “People here have strong roots, but they embrace new people. There’s an eagerness to grow.”

Informal events had an “organic feel,” she notes. “There are lots of ‘Events’ — with a capital ‘E’ — in Westport. I loved Neighbors & Newcomers’ coffees, wine get-togethers, cooking lessons at someone’s house. It was very neighborly.”

COVID-19 put a halt to gatherings like those. As she takes over from president Jenifer Gilbert — who moved to Texas — Elizabeth must lead a social group at a time when social distancing is crucial. Most in-person meetings have been suspended, or dramatically curtailed.

Yet, she notes, “if there was ever a time we needed community, it’s now. It’s poignant and painful to try to build community in a way we’re not used to, or want to. I feel a big responsibility to Westport.”

But, she says confidently, “We’re up to it.”

Elizabeth points to wine-and-cheese tastings. “Maybe we can partner with local businesses to have wine and cheese delivered to homes, or picked up. We might have a small gathering somewhere, with everyone else on Zoom.”

In 2015, Neighbors & Newcomers enjoyed wine and fun at Painting With a Twist …

Two informal bring-your-own coffees are planned for this week, near the brick pavilion at Compo Beach. One is today (Tuesday, September 15, 9:30 a.m.). The other is Thursday (September 17, 1 p.m.). The morning and afternoon times follow the bifurcated school schedule. Social distancing and masks will be enforced (and a beach sticker is needed to park).

“We’ll take advantage of the nice weather as long as we can,” Elizabeth says. “When it gets colder, we’ll come up with creative ideas. We’re open to anything.”

The Book Club, Kayaking Club and Walking Club will all continue, with adjustments as needed. The end-of-the-year holiday party — a great event — “may look different,” Elizabeth acknowledges. “But we won’t cancel it. We’ll figure something out.”

… and a hike in the woods.

As for all those “6th borough” newcomers: Elizabeth is excited to have them join neighbors who have been here longer: whether 2 years like her, or much longer.

“My impression is the families arriving from New York, with younger kids, are exceptionally friendly, outgoing, and eager to make connections and put down roots,” Elizabeth says.

“Right now, we’ve got an incredible opportunity for all of us to really enrich this great community.”

“Neighbors & Newcomers wants to support not only residents, but local merchants and restaurants as much as possible. If anyone has a great idea or wants to brainstorm, let us know!” Email, or click on the website or Facebook page.

Peter Bryniczka: Carrying On A Long Legal Tradition

One semester before graduating from law school in his native Poland, Peter Bryniczka’s grandfather joined the military. He became an officer, and fought General Rommel in North Africa.

Later, posted to England as a bomber attached to the RAF, he met an American nurse from Maryland. She too was helping the British war effort.

They married, and moved to the States. Peter’s grandfather worked for the Polish Embassy, then for the newly established United Nations in Lake Success, just over the Throgs Neck Bridge.

He commuted from Teaneck, New Jersey, so the Bryniczkas looked for some place closer. They had friends in New Canaan, and talked to a realtor there.

“With a last name like yours, you might be more comfortable in Westport,” she said.

The Bryniczkas bought a house on Greens Farms Road, near Sasco Creek. It was very quiet; I-95 had not yet been completed.

Their son Jan walked to Long Lots Junior High through cornfields. He graduated from Staples High School in 1963, then the University of Connecticut Law School. He was hired by Wake, See & Dimes — one of Westport’s most prestigious firms — and practiced at the 27 Imperial Avenue office for decades. His name too was added, as a partner.

27 Imperial Avenue, longtime home of Wake See Dimes & Bryniczka.

Wake, See, Dimes & Bryniczka merged with the Milford firm Berchem Moses. They opened a Westport office on the Post Road, across from Fortuna’s.

Jan’s son Peter grew up in Westport. He also went to Staples, where he played hockey and baseball, and joined the orchestra. After graduating in 1997, he headed to Wesleyan University. Then — following his father’s footsteps — he went to UConn Law School.

Peter’s interviewed a boutique Cos Cob firm: Schoonmaker, George, Colin & Blomberg. They specialized in divorce law, which Bryniczka thought “sounds horrible.”

Peter Bryniczka

But “they were the first lawyers interested in me and my background, not the classes I took,” Bryniczka says. “They were like a little family.”

He appreciated the opportunity to work with people go through difficult life circumstances. The work was never dull. He joined them after passing the bar. He thinks he is the only person from his law school class who — 16 years later — is still with the same firm.

Bryniczka was made a partner in 2013. Last January — just as his father’s had been — his name was added to the firm.

He and his wife Erica have a son (almost 7), and daughter (5). They live less than a mile from Peter’s grandfather’s house. As of this month, Bryniczka no longer commutes every day to Greenwich.

Schoonmaker, George, Colin, Blomberg, Bryniczka & Welsh just opened a Westport office. The idea makes sense: Many clients live in Westport, and nearby towns.

Bryniczka’s new digs are on the 2nd floor of 180 Post Road East. From his window he sees his father’s old office, on Imperial Avenue.

Peter Bryniczka’s new office.

Across Bay Street is Design Within Reach. For decades, that building was the Westport post office. Bryniczka accompanied his father every Saturday to the law firm, then up the short hill to pick up mail. He still remembers the PO Box number: 777.

Peter Bryniczka has many growing-up memories in Westport: buying his first baseball glove at Schaefer’s. The model trains every Christmas in Swezey’s Jewelers Main Street window. Slices at Westport Pizzeria.

Now — in a new era — he is back working a few steps from there. He knows that no one ever wants to hire a family or divorce lawyer, but he is proud to offer those services in his home town.

And who knows? When his children visit him at his office, they too might be inspired to become attorneys.

Decades from now, they may be the third generations of Bryniczkas practicing here. They have a proud tradition to live up to.

And — despite what a New Canaan realtor thought, back in the 1950s — a great name.

Friday Flashback #207

At the start of the beach season, our Friday Flashback featured Chubby Lane’s — the long-time, much loved Compo Beach concession located where the volleyball courts are now.

It drew (of course) dozens of comments.

But Chubby’s was hardly the first food service at the beach.

Jim Gray made a collage of concession stand postcards that predate Chubby’s by decades.

They were way before my time. I don’t know the back story for any of them. The buildings changed over the years — but you can tell it’s the same spot, by the distinctive small turret at the top of each one.

(Photo collage courtesy of Jim Gray)

If you have any information on any of these iterations, click “Comments” below.

Mike McCreesh Zooms Toward An Ironman

Mike McCreesh is a runner. He started doing it for hockey practice in high school, and soon enjoyed it almost as much as playing.

He never stopped running, through marathon experiences that include a New York snowstorm, and Boston nor’easter, heat wave and bombing.

When his and his wife Dana’s toddler Brent was undergoing cancer treatment at Boston Children’s Hospital, Mike was quarantined due to his son’s immuno-suppression. Mike ran up and down the hospital stairs to burn off stress.

Mike McCreesh

Dana signed him up for the Pan Mass Challenge, a 192-mile bike ride fundraiser across Masssachusetts. He had not ridden since he had a paper route, and spent the next few years learning proper techniques.

For the next decade Mike ran and biked, while cheering his daughters on in their swim meets for the Westport Y Water Rats.

Mike and his eldest daughter Madi dabbled in Sprint triathlons (a .46 mile swim, 12.4 mile bike and 3.1 mile run) at Compo Beach. Mike suffered through the swims, but had a great time otherwise.

His youngest daughter Kira joined in. Team McCreesh placed 2nd in the relay division of Tri Ridgefield.

Mike set goals: Olympic triathlons (.93 mile swim, 24.8 mile bike, 6.2 mile run), then a half Ironman (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run), ending with the ultimate prize, a full Ironman (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run).

To do it though, he had to learn how to really swim.

Mike McCreesh, ready to swim.

Ellen Johnston was just the person. She had taught all 3 of his children how to swim in the Fairfield County Hunt Club pool, and as director of competitive swimming for the Westport Weston Family Y and Water Rat head coach.

Ellen was named YMCA National Coach of the Year in 2015, and Connecticut Coach of the Year several times.

Still, Mike wondered: Could she teach someone so set in his ways?

After just one lesson, Mike radically altered his stroke from childhood choppiness to a one with proper breaths.

With plenty of practice, Mike eventually almost passed for a slower version of one of Ellen’s Water Rats.

Mike — whose fulltime gig is president of Battea Class Action Services — continued with triathlon coaching at Sherpa Fitness. In 2016 he completed the Florida Ironman; 2 years later, he did one in Maryland. He was getting ready for another Ironman this October in 2020, but the pandemic ended that dream.

Mike’s dedication to triathlons extends to reading. Dana gives him books on the subject for holidays. One of his favorites is Will McGough’s Swim, Bike, Bonk: Confessions of a Reluctant Triathlete.

Dana read it too, and related to its insights about how Ironman training impacts a family’s quality of life.

Dana’s interest in the book transcended triathlons. She helps the Pequot Library with their “Meet the Author” series. She thought McGough would be a great, funny speaker. Unfortunately, he’s a travel writer who split his time between Colorado and Hawaii.

But the coronavirus that canceled Mike’s Barcelona triathlon gives him a chance to help the Southport library.

Next Tuesday (August 25, 4 p.m.), Mike will interview Will McGough via Zoom. They’ll chat about Mike’s training for an Ironman (which Will covers like an exotic foreign country). “It will be lighthearted and fun,” Mike promises.

Which running 26.2 miles, biking 112 miles and swimming 2.4 miles — even with the right form — definitely is not.

(The Zoom interview is free, but pre-registration is required. Click here to register, and for more information.) 

Mike and Dana McCreesh, after one of his races.

Unsung Hero #156

Lawrence Weisman writes:

I want to pay tribute to the generosity of Bernie Izzo, of Izzo & Son Country Gardens.

For the past 2 years Bernie has contributed truckloads of plantings and design services to create gardens at The Fairfield County House in Stamford, a non-profit facility providing compassionate end-of-life care to Fairfield County residents.

Bernie Izzo

Without expectation of publicity or compensation, Bernie has unhesitatingly donated and delivered material, and the services of his staff, to create several gardens on the property.

This year a landscape architect specified an extensive list of plants, grasses and flowers. Bernie sourced it all. He bought, stored and cared for the material until he had everything that was specified, Then he had it loaded onto 2 trucks and taken to the house, where it was planted in designated locations.

Earlier, when the house first opened, Bernie designed and supplied the original landscaping and foundation plantings and installed it — all without charge.

The Fairfield County House would not be where it is without Bernie Izzo.