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Solving Our Traffic Light Woes

Everyone in Westport has a pet stoplight/stop sign peeve.

You know — the place where, every time you sit there, you think to yourself, This makes no sense! 

For me, it’s the light at the Kings Highway North/Wilton Road intersection. With Fort Apache on your right, there are 2 lanes. One — always with less traffic — is for left turns only. The other is for people heading straight on Kings Highway, or right onto Wilton Road.

If the car in front is turning right, they can turn on red. There’s a bonus: A left turn arrow for drivers heading south on Wilton Road allows even more right-hand turns onto Wilton Road, thanks to the delay in oncoming Wilton Road traffic from the left.

But if the car in front is going straight, you’re out of luck. No right turn on red.

The car in front is not turning on right. A backup ensues.

The solution is obvious: The left lane on Kings Highway should be for drivers turning left or going straight. The right lane should be for right turns only.

Traffic often backs up on Kings Highway (sometimes blocking the medical center entrance/exit). That simple change would help a lot.

My second pet peeve: Without getting into too much detail — because everyone knows how bad it is — here’s my suggestion for the deadly Compo Shopping Center/Compo Acres light: Alternate them.

In other words, show green for 10-15 seconds only for cars exiting from the CVS lot. Then have green for another 10-15 only for cars leaving Trader Joe’s.

It’s not perfect. But it’s 10,000% better than what we’ve got now.

This is the light in question. Note — just for grins — not one but TWO cars entering the CVS lot the wrong way.

Those are my pet traffic signal peeves. What are yours? Click “Comments” below — and don’t just complain. Suggest a solution too!

Despite Denials, Hiawatha Lane Housing Proposal Still Lives

Folklore says that cats have 9 lives.

The proposed Hiawatha Lane housing development has been rejected 8 times by town officials.

Its developer is betting the 9th time’s the charm.

In June, Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission struck down Summit Saugatuck’s plan for 187 units on the narrow road nestled between Saugatuck Avenue and I-95 exit 17. Board members cited concerns about access by firefighters and first responders, as well as traffic and pedestrian concerns.

Applications for sewer connections were denied earlier, by the P&Z and/or Board of Selectmen, in July and September 2007; January 2015; July 2016, and February 2017.

A text amendment and zone change were voted down in November 2016. The text amendment, map amendment and zoning amendment request defeated this past June was the 8th request.

Every denial was unanimous.

Summit Saugatuck’s plan for Hiawatha Lane.

But Summit Saugatuck principal Felix Charney will be back again. Because the proposal is submitted as an 8-30g application — meaning it falls under the state’s “affordable housing” regulation — it’s been re-submitted. A public hearing is set for September 12.

The plan would include 130 market-rate units, and 57 deemed “affordable.” Hiawatha Lane already includes many homes that are among the most affordable in Westport.

The 8-30g statute mandates that 10% of a town’s housing stock be “affordable,” under a state formula. Westport is currently at 4%.

However, only units constructed after 1990, and those that are deed-restricted for 40 years, are considered. Most Westport units serving lower-income groups do not fall into either category.

In March, Westport received a “Certificate of Affordable Housing Completion” from the state Department of Housing. The result was a 4-year moratorium on 8-30g.

The moratorium was granted “based upon the significant progress Westport has made in supplying affordable housing,” 1st Selectman Jim Marpe. Yet the moratorium does not preclude more submissions, like the one Summit Saugatuck is proposing.

Summit Saugatuck and Garden Homes — another developer whose proposal to build on untenable land was denied by the town — tried to get the state to vacate the moratorium. Their petition was denied on Monday by Connecticut’s Department of Housing.

1177 Post Road East helped Westport earn a 4-year moratorium on 8-30g proposals.

The town has received “moratorium points” for these units:

  • Rotary Centennial House, 10 West End Avenue (6 out of 6 total units)
  • Bradley Commons, Bradley Lane (4 of 20)
  • Saugatuck Center, Riverside Avenue (5 of 27)
  • Bedford Square, Church Lane (5 of 26)
  • 20 Cross Street (3 of 10; a portion of all others also earn points)
  • Coastal Point, 1135 Post Road East (2 of 12)
  • 1177 Greens Farms, 1177 Post Road East (29 of 94; a portion of all others also earn points )
  • Sasco Creek, 1655 Post Road East (31 of 54)
  • Hidden Brook, 1655 Post Road East (4 of 39)
  • Hales Court (38 of 78).

As noted earlier, that does not count any affordable housing built before 1990.

(Hat tip: Carolanne Curry)

Remembering Kathryn Blumhardt

Kathryn “Kay” Blumhardt — a highly demanding but extremely well respected Staples High School English teacher from 1967 to 1995 — died last week, of ovarian cancer. She was 83 years old.

Tributes poured in on Facebook. Erin Buff Madden Collins — who was inspired to become an English teacher by her Staples instructors — calls her “tough as nails, very challenging, (and) a gift to all her students.”

Ann Belser says she became an English major because of Blumhardt, and an English teacher because of her colleague Joy Walker. And Audrey Wauchope became a writer thanks to Blumhardt, and the rest of the Staples English department.

Steven Uydess became a teacher too. He says:

Her office was in the book surplus closet, and she met with every student to talk about the kinds of books they enjoyed. After a few minutes of thoughtful listening, she pulled from the myriad boxes a half dozen books that she thought we might enjoy and gave them to us. I got “The Maltese Falcon,” “Last of the Mohicans” and “Catch-22,” among others.

I recall finding her so odd in some ways: her dramatic affect, her love for Walt Whitman (true love!), the way she could cut you down to size with but a meaningful stare. But she also taught me that to be an effective teacher you need passion, and that being your authentic self is how you connect with your students. Rest In Peace, and say hi to Walt for us!

Michelangelo Sosnowitz notes, “She scared the hell out of me. She was a tough and strict teacher but she was great. She also loved Marlon Brando, so I have to give her extra credit there.”

Kay Blumhardt, in the 1977 Staples High School yearbook …

Ian Atlas says, “We butted heads, memorably over whether I could sell chocolates for band before class (I may have been sent to the office over that one), but I learned to love Shakespeare in her classroom.”

Scott Cussimano calls her “tough but passionate.” He remembers a favorite saying of hers: “I’ll do anything for my students.”

Beth Wilson Matteson echoes those thoughts. She writes: “I loved her. I did my junior research paper on JS Bach. When I told her my church choir would be singing a Bach anthem, she drove to my church to hear me sing.”

Ursa Heilbron Mooney says, “She was tough, but we bonded over a mutual love for Sherlock Holmes (both the stories and the BBC production with Jeremy Brett). I had her freshman year, and her in-depth coverage of ‘The Odyssey’ was spectacular. And the eyebrows – the legendary eyebrows. She was great.”

… and in 1989.

Peter Danbury writes, “her enthusiasm for her subject could be intense. I loved the TV schedules she passed out every week, noting all the interesting things we might avail ourselves of amidst all the trash. She was so keen on us honoring with our attention what was valuable in the culture at large, and not wasting our time on the insipid and it was kind of wonderful. I‘m glad I ran into her in the late ’90s and could tell her how much I loved her Myth & Bible class.”

Ted Howes adds, “She was instrumental in my care for words. She loved Melville. She was tough, but I appreciate her a lot more now.”

Susan Huppi praises, “She definitely prepared us for college. I respect the work she put in. She helped me understand that teaching students is a tough but wonderful job. She expected we would always do our best.”

Former teacher Tod Kalif writes, “Kay Blumhardt was the ultimate old school English teacher. She earned the respect of every one of her colleagues, and demanded excellence from every one of her students.”

Jason Tillotson remembers her “clear as day: tough in class, a mysteriously stern exterior which kept you on your toes. But one-on-one in her cozy office closet she was warm, connective, and inspired curiosity by asking just the right questions. She introduced me to George Bernard Shaw beyond his work as a playwright, and into his life as a whole. It was a learning experience I won’t forget. I even saved the paper!”

And — in honor of one of the habits her teacher imparted — Mary Palmieri Gai says she read the Facebook post twice.

Photo Challenge #238

At first glance, last week’s Photo Challenge was impossible.

Molly Alger’s shot showed some beautiful wineberries. They looked delicious — and it seemed they could be anywhere.

Lurking in the background, though, was a small part of a building.

It was easy to miss. But Andrew Colabella saw it — and recognized it as part of Golden Shadows, Baron Walter Langer von Langendorff’s 1950s-era “mansion.”

Today, we’d call it a “house.” It’s still there, on the now-town-owned property called Baron’s South.

Click here to see the photo. To see it in real life, use the South Compo Road entrance (or walk through from Imperial Avenue). Most people don’t know, but the park is open from dawn till dusk.

Here’s this week’s Photo Challenge. If you know where in Westport you’d see this, fire away!

(Photo/Lee Scharfstein)

Repair Work Underway In Downtown Church

Last October, a chunk of plaster fell from the Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church ceiling, to the sanctuary.

Thank God no one was in the pews. But it it worried clergy and administrators.

Engineers gave the bad news: The plaster had dried out.

Not all of it. The prominent building on the corner of Myrtle Avenue and Church Lane — finished in 1863 — was heavily damaged by a 1951 fire. The part of the ceiling repaired then was in bad shape. The original ceiling itself was fine.

There was more bad news: The lead holding the handsome stained glass windows together had bowed and deteriorated. Several windows needed to be replaced too.

One of the stained glass windows.

Finally, the organ — installed in 1933 — was also found to need repairs.

The project costs $2.5 million. Half has been raised by parishioners so far, under the direction of Kemp Lewis.

If funds remain at the end, they’ll help fix the bell. It used to ring every 15 minutes. It broke over a year ago, and has been silent — unless rung manually, during services — ever since.

Architect, parishioner and property chair Deirdre O’Farrelly with the bell.

Plaster work began in early June. It will be completed by October 5 — God willing — in time for a long-scheduled wedding.

While the sanctuary is filled with heavy equipment, scaffolding and tarps, services are held in Branson Hall. Completed in 2012, that was the church’s previous big project.

Work continues in the sanctuary.

This is not an easy job. Workers from John Tiedemann Inc. of New Jersey — one of the nation’s top church restoration firms — work 50 feet high, in the hot attic.

The Christ & Holy Trinity space is beautiful. Congregants and clergy have admired and appreciated it for more than a century and a half.

Each star on the ceiling represents a family that donated for repairs after the 1951 fire.

The church shares many resources with the town. They’re doing all they can to keep it beautiful, and safe, for the next 150 years.

Downstairs in Branson Hall, an exhibit by Randy Herbertson includes stars with the names of contributors to the 2019 campaign.

A BIT OF HISTORY: Christ Church was consecrated in 1835, at the northeast corner of Ludlow Road and Post Road West. The original church is depicted on Westport’s town seal.

The building later became the Compo Inn, then the home of the restaurant Tony’s of 52nd Street.

In 1855 New York financier Richard Henry Winslow retired to Westport, and joined Christ Church. He owned the vast Compo Road properties that are now Winslow Park and Baron’s South.

He became a member of the vestry, and in 1859 offered an expensive organ to the church. He wanted to take the organ back,  however, “should certain contingencies arise.”

Some parishioners objected to the newcomer from New York making such demands. They also believed Episcopalians should not enjoy music during worship.

Winslow left the church. So did 50 other members — and the rector. The breakaway parish was organized in 1860. Winslow selected the current downtown site — back then, the Wakeman Inn — for Holy Trinity Church. In colonial times it had been the Disbrow Tavern. George Washington dined there with the Marquis de Lafayette and Count de Rochambeau.

The cornerstone was laid in 1860. Winslow died 5 months later, age 60. A new church replaced the original in 1885.

During World War II — when fuel and gas rationing caused difficulties — Holy Trinity Church asked Christ Church to worship with them. The merger was completed in 1944.

Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church today.

(To donate to the restoration fund, click here. A coloring book about the stained glass windows is available at the church office.)

Elvira Mae’s Is Open!

The work is done! The CO has been issued.

Elvira Mae’s is open – until “at least” 10 tonight

The first customers love it. Smiles all around. Stop in and say hi!

New owners Hal and Betsy Kravitz, at Elvira’s.

Hair It Is: Scott Sharkey Adds Lice Treatment For Kids

Scott Sharkey was itching for a new opportunity.

Last summer at a retreat for his franchisees, the owner of Sharkey’s Cuts for Kids — the Westport-based, very successful, always fun childrens’ salon franchise — talked about his desire to find complementary businesses.

Someone casually mentioned lice removal.

Over the years, Sharkey had been contacted by lice removal companies. But nothing stuck.

Focus groups confirmed that having employees pick nits out of kids’ hair next door to their friends who were getting styled was not a bang-up business model.

Sharkey’s is about kids’ haircuts. Would lice removal undermine the business model?

But Sharkey’s interest was piqued.

One of the people who approached him earlier was Allyson Greifenberger. A 27-year Westporter, she and Westonite Kristy Gordon were owners of the Hair Genies in Norwalk.

Sharkey called. He said he was thinking about getting into the lice trade. Would she be interested in selling?

Yes!

Last November, Sharkey’s Cuts for Kids acquired Hair Genie. Sharkey moved the Norwalk location to the Post Road — between Calise’s Market and the Citgo gas station.

Hair Genies — aka Lice Treatment Institute — on the Post Road, next to Calise’s Market.

It’s close to his salon, opposite the Westport Inn. But it’s far enough away not to worry that lice will be transmitted to anyone having a haircut.

In fact, Sharkey says, that’s one of the myths about lice. They don’t fly or jump. They spread only through head-to-head contact. That’s why they afflict kids — at sleepovers, school and camp.

They feed off blood in the head. They live for only 24 hours in a bed.

Sharkey rattles off info like that as if he’s discussing the common cold.

Aha! “The common cold takes longer to cure than lice,” he notes. “This is a completely solvable problem.”

It’s also, he stresses, not an embarrassing one. At least, it shouldn’t be. “Your kid got lice from someone else,” he notes.

Scott Sharkey and Allyson Greifenberger, at Hair Genies.

Hair Genies is designed as a kids-friendly, mom-stressless place. The chairs are comfortable. There are TVs and other distractions. A waiting room upstairs is a great place for siblings to chill (TV, free food) or do homework. (There’s also discreet parking in the back, if that’s an issue.)

During treatment, parents can use a discount coupon for Fred’s Car Wash, down the street in Southport.

That’s not as random as it sounds. A thorough interior cleaning can remove any lice eggs left behind.

The clean, inviting Hair Genies treatment room.

Sharkey says that Hair Genies fills a need.

“What usually happens is a kid feels itchy. His mom thinks it’s dandruff, sand or bugs. They go to a pediatrician or dermatologist. It takes time.

“Now they can come here. We can tell within 10 minutes if it’s lice.”

If it is, treatment begins immediately. Technicians remove all lice — strand by strand.

The combing is thorough — and chemical-free. “It’s a very natural, manual process,” Sharkey says.

“One and done. After one treatment, you’re lice-free.”

Treatment also includes checking every member of the family. The goal is to make sure the house is lice-free too.

Kids come back 3 to 5 days later for a free head check. That’s in case nits remained in the house or car.

Hair Genies also sells preventive products. Won’t that be bad for business?

Not at all, Sharkey says. “We’re all about being helpful.”

Since opening in early June, Hair Genies has been busy. Sharkey advertised a bit on Facebook, but most business comes from referrals. He told pediatricians and school nurses that he’s here, and of course parents tell each other.

“We want to spread the word,” he jokes. “Not the lice.”

The other day, 24 new Sharkey’s Cuts for Kids franchisees came to Westport for training. Along the way, he showed them Hair Genies.

Suddenly, haircuts and lice treatment don’t sound like strange bedfellows at all.

(Hair Genies is open 7 days a week, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., at 748 Post Road East. Click here for the website; appointments are available online.)

[OPINION] Bike Lane Needed On Riverside Avenue

Alert “06880” reader Jennifer Johnson loves to ride her bike around town.

She’d love it a lot more if there were more bike lanes — especially on roads where there is enough room. She writes:

If anyone is interested in making Westport safer for biking, please come to Town Hall tonight (Monday, June 24, 7 pm ) for the “Main to Train” study meeting. 

The current draft recommendations of the Main to Train study (click here) do not include a bike lane for Riverside Avenue.

Riverside Avenue yesterday (Sunday) morning …

This is important. Without this key recommendation, Westport will have a much harder time securing state and federal grants for bike enhancements on this important road.   

You may have noticed the new and very well-marked shoulder lines on Riverside Avenue south of the Post Road. These shoulders could easily be dedicated for biking. 

Instead, cars increasingly use these wider shoulders to park. Riverside is a state road (Route 33). Parking is not allowed on other state roads in town, including most of the Post Road and  Compo Road (Route 136). 

… and this (Monday) morning.

Because Riverside is a key artery to the train station, and one of the key purposes of the Main to Train study is to “promote non-motorized modes of transportation,” the final report should include a recommendation that the wide shoulder be reserved for biking.

A stretch of Riverside Avenue with no parking (except for church services) …

Currently, the draft report shows a schematic where bikes must travel in the same lane as cars.  This is arguably an even more dangerous scenario than what currently exists.

Historically, some businesses have used Riverside/Route 33 for parking. That may have worked in the past. But it is no longer a viable solution for our traffic-plagued town. 

… and one where cars always park. (Photos/Jennifer Johnson)

If we are serious about addressing congestion, then the town should use every opportunity to make town roads more friendly for pedestrians and cyclists. The last thing our elected leaders and town employees should be doing is making it easier for people to park and harder for people to bike, especially to the train.

Please show up today. For additional information, click here for the Main to Train study website.

Lindsay Dry: Peace, Love And Posters

Lindsay Dry was born more than 30 years after Woodstock.

Lindsay Dry

But she sure gets the “peace, love and happiness” vibe that (kind of) filled Max Yasgur’s farm that historic August weekend in 1969.

So when Lindsay — a Staples High School senior in Carla Eichler’s graphic design class — heard about a “Peace, Love and Posters” national contest commemorating the original bird-on-guitar logo (“and visually expressing values of kindness, community and aspirations for the next 50 years”), she went to work.

And what a work she created! Lindsay won 1st place — and $500 — in the 18-and-under category.

Lindsay Dry’s award-winning poster …

The other day, she was honored at a ceremony by the sponsor, Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. The 800-acre campus — located on the actual Woodstock site — focuses on community and educational programming. The goal is to keep the issues and lessons of the ’60s alive, while inspiring a new generation to contribute positively to the world.

Far out!

… and the original.

World Record Duck Needs A House

Last month, Westport entered the record books.

Dozens of Maker Faire-goers joined in a globally crowd-sourced art and tech project. They created the world’s largest 3D printed duck.

Now they’re figuring out what to do with it.

The world record bird will appear at the Great Duck Race this Saturday (June 1, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Parker Harding Plaza). He/she/it will cheer on much smaller plastic ducks, as they bob along the Saugatuck River.

But then what?

Maker Faire maestro Mark Mathias has put out an APB/SOS. The duck needs a home.

It must be indoors — in a place at least 6 feet tall. (Or 8 feet, if you want to keep the top hat.) Add another 5 inches, if you hang onto the wooden platform too.

Mathias’ best hope is that it go to someone who can display it for others. Wherever that is, it must stay there. Unlike actual ducks, this was not designed to move much.

It could promote something: creativity, art, even a business, Mathias suggests.

He hopes to deliver it to its new home immediately after the Duck Race. The person who loaned the trailer needs it back STAT.

If you’d like the world record duck, contact Mathias ASAP: mark@remarkablesteam.org; 203-226-1791.

Yours for the taking!