Category Archives: Downtown

“Main To Train Study” Wants You

If you’re a normal Westporter, you’re probably all meeting-ed out.

So I’m presenting this without editorial comment.

The town of Westport hosts a public information meeting next Monday (March 25, 7:30 p.m., Town Hall room 201). The subject is the “Westport Main to Train Study.”

That’s the project to identify improvements to vehicle, bike and pedestrian safety and circulation on the Post Road and Riverside Avenue. The idea is to create better connections between downtown and the train station, and “promote non-motorized transportation choices.”

The meeting — the 3rd of 5 planned during the study — is open to residents, business owners, commuters and “other local stakeholders who are concerned about transportation in Westport.”

For more information the Westport Main to Train Study, click here.

Post Road East and Riverside Avenue. The “Main to Train” study includes the often-gridlocked intersection.

[OPINION] Larry Weisman: Westport Needs Form Based Zoning

Larry Weisman, his wife (author/journalist Mary-Lou) and their children moved to Westport in 1966. A partner in the Bridgeport law firm of Cohen & Wolf, he’d just finished a stint with the Lawyers Constitutional Defense Committee, defending SNCC workers in Louisiana and Mississippi.

In 1969, Weisman and Manny Margolis won a First Amendment case in the US Supreme Court. They represented Westporter Timothy Breen, a Staples High School graduate who had lost his student deferment after protesting the Vietnam War.

Larry Weisman

In 1979 Weisman moved his practice to Westport, concentrating on zoning law. He has represented the Gorham Island developer, the Gault Saugatuck project, the Westport Library, Aspetuck Town Trust, Compo Beach playground effort, and many other significant projects. 

He is a member of the Coalition for Westport. Most recently, he co-chaired the board of Fairfield County Hospice House, which recently opened a county-wide facility.

Weisman has watched with interest — and alarm — as Westport has grappled with a host of zoning issues. In his mind, the entire foundation of our zoning regulations is wrong. Here’s his solution.

Form Based Codes (FBCs) are an innovative way to manage growth and shape development in a way that reflects a specific idea of what a town should look like. They are intended to promote a mix of uses tailored to the needs and desires of a community.

FBCs are not intended to change existing residential neighborhoods, but to bring new life to business and commercial areas and town centers.

Rather than simply regulating development and density as we do now, Form Based Codes concentrate on relationships between public and private spaces, and the way streets and buildings interact in form and scale to create attractive neighborhoods.

Form Based Zoning is more concerned with the appearance of buildings and their relationship to public spaces and surrounding streets than with the uses of those buildings. The intent of this approach is to improve the appearance of buildings and streetscapes, and avoid the unintended consequences of haphazard development by providing a coherent vision which takes variety and appearance into account.

Many Main Street stores share a common setback.

For example: I can imagine Main Street populated by a mixture of apartments and smaller stores serving residents’ needs, with varying setbacks along both sides of the street to create a more interesting streetscape. I would add cafes and a movie theater to create activity in the evenings and contribute to a sense of community. I imagine the westerly side of Parking Harding Plaza as a park with a playground and other amenities.

Your notion of what Main Street should be may differ from mine. But somewhere from the welter of ideas a consensus will emerge, and an FBC would facilitate its translation into reality.

FBCs have been used to good effect in Manchester, Connecticut, to revitalize an outmoded highway commercial center in the Broad Street area, and on Cape Cod’s Buzzards Bay and Eastham, to create village centers after being bypassed or divided by new highway construction.

An FBC requires a comprehensive plan for the area in question. It lays out streets and public spaces, and suggests a variety of building forms and how they relate to those spaces, promoting a mix of uses and emphasizing the over-all appearance and “character” of the area.

Although we talk endlessly about the “character” of Westport, it is abundantly clear that there is no agreement as to what that “character” is.

For those of us who have lived here for many years it may mean a longing for the past, while for newer arrivals it may mean what Westport looked like when they got here. But most of us recognize “character” when we see it, and we value it in places like Provincetown, Nantucket, the fishing villages of Maine, and the islands of the Caribbean where we vacation. “Character” is more a matter of appearance than anything else.

A summer evening in Provincetown.

But no matter how you define “character,” most of us would agree that our current way of doing things — by strict application and enforcement of an ever-expanding set of restrictive regulations — has produced some undesirable and unattractive results that adversely affect our quality of life.

An FBC requires that we reach consensus as to what we mean by the “character” of Westport, so we can create a comprehensive plan which designates different building forms based on that consensus about the desired appearance and physical character of each part of town. This requires a series of public meetings and surveys with widespread citizen participation. It’s a heavy lift to be sure, but I am confident that done properly, a widely held vision for the future will emerge from the welter of ideas on the subject.

The next step is to work toward the desired result by enacting regulations which are not based on uses or density considerations alone, and which do not value uniformity, but emphasize design considerations, massing of structures, and how they relate to and interact with surrounding streets and public spaces.

For example, in an FBC frontage requirements on the same street might differ for buildings devoted to similar uses to add interest and variety and to avoid the monotony of a wall of boutiques, as on Main Street at present.

There are any number of things that we could do to make the streetscape and the pedestrian experience more interesting, attractive, and interactive, but first we need to discard old notions of zoning by division into districts and strictly regulating use and density, and understand that zoning regulations should be used not only to impose limitations and restrictions, but as effective planning tools with built-in design parameters.

The plaza between Saugatuck Sweets and The Whelk is an excellent example of an innovative use of space.

We need to acknowledge that there is real value in encouraging creativity by relaxing restrictions and providing guidelines and incentives to build in accordance with the community’s vision of what a given area should look like and how it should function.

Westport has suffered too long from lack of planning and lack of a coherent vision for areas such as Main Street and Saugatuck Center. The P&Z, overburdened as it is by new applications and enforcement responsibilities, has demonstrated a disinclination to engage in meaningful long-term planning, as witness the wholly unimaginative and inadequate 2018 Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD), as well as the costly studies gathering dust on shelves in the Town Hall.

At the same time, our zoning regulations are sorely in need of comprehensive revision. They are a mix of restrictions on development — some necessary and some, such as parking requirements for medical uses, excessive — and ad hoc reactions to individual cases that have only limited application. They can be difficult to understand and are susceptible to differing interpretations, which leads to inconsistent application. It is my hope that we will one day undertake revision of the zoning regulations, and that when we do, that we give serious consideration to the merits of an FBC.

This is the right time to rethink our priorities, to reform our practices, and to create a coherent vision for our most important neighborhoods, preserving what is worth preserving, planning for orderly, attractive and livable growth and instilling “character” into our most visible and important neighborhoods. A Form Based approach will go a long way toward achieving those goals.

Photo Challenge #220

I thought last week’s Photo Challenge was one of those hiding-in-plain-sight views.

But plenty of people instantly knew: J.P. Vellotti’s image showed the sculpture on the front of 210 Post Road East.

That’s the building on the corner of Imperial Avenue that houses Harding Funeral Home.

More importantly — for this story, anyway — it’s also the home of Masonic Temple Lodge #65.

Westport’s Masons have been around since 1824 — more than a decade before Westport was incorporated. The Post Road building has been their headquarters since 1911 — before anyone currently living here was born.

But the sculpture — actually, the Masons’ symbol — was not affixed to the building until last November. It hasn’t escaped the notice of Westporters, apparently.

The symbol (click here for the photo) depicts the square and compass used by stonemasons. (The Freemasons trace their origins to 14th century stonemasons.) The “G” — sometimes used in the symbol, sometimes not — refers to either “geometry” or “Great Architect of the Universe” (God).

You can read all about the sculpture, and its placement on the Westport building, here (hat tip: Elaine Marino). And click here for my 2015 story on my visit to the Lodge.

Congratulations to Fred Cantor, John L. Krause, Michael Calise, Andrew Colabella, Jonathan McClure, Michael A. Vitelli, Elaine Marino, Rich Stein, Bobbie Herman, Alan Goldberg, Diane Silfen, Dianne Ford, Molly Alger and James Leonard — alert “06880” readers all, who knew exactly where to find last week’s Photo Challenge.

Here’s this week’s Challenge. If you know where in Westport you’d find this, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Chip Stephens)

 

Run Over To Fleet Feet

A new store has opened in Sconset Square. You can drive to its grand opening tomorrow.

Better yet, you can run.

Fleet Feet is family owned and operated — part of a network of specialty running, walking and fitness stores across the country. Owners Dave and Lynn Wright have been (duh) runners for decades. She is recreational; he’s more competitive, running every distance up to marathons (including Boston, New York and Chicago).

Lynn and Dave Wright

They have 2 grown children, and 4 grandchildren — some of whom already run.

Dave worked in retail technology his entire career. After earning his MBA 5 years ago, he began looking for his own business. Everyone always says “do what you love,” so…

From their base in western Massachusetts, they began exploring options. Fleet Feet — which had a store in Longmeadow, where they lived — seemed like a perfect fit.

Two years ago the Wrights began looking for markets in this area with a similar feel to Longmeadow.

But the place had to be more than a good business location. It had to feel like home.

“No cookie-cutter shopping centers,” Dave says. “We wanted a place that felt local and connected to the community.”

After spending a day at Compo Beach in August, they rode their bikes around town. Then they walked Main Street.

Till then, they’d only driven through here, on I-95 or the Merritt. Suddenly, Westport was on their short list.

They discovered Sconset Square accidentally, after searching online for smaller retail spaces. They came down on a beautiful late summer day, and instantly knew it was right.

The small, funky shopping center was just starting a face-lift project. It was affordable, and large enough for the Wrights’ plans.

They loved the landlord. The lease negotiation was short and easy.

Four months later, they opened. Runners have embraced them — even during the coldest days of winter.

“We are excited to see how many people we can help through walking, running and living a healthy lifestyle,” Wright says.

Tomorrow’s grand opening “runs” from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. There’s music, and a fun run/walk (3- or 5-mile routes) at 9 a.m.

Check out the running footwear, apparel and accessories. Learn about injury prevention products, and walk/run programs for every ability.

Oh, yeah: Jr. Deli’s food truck will be there. Whether you’ve run a few miles or driven over, there will be plenty to eat.

Fleet Feet is filled with running gear, and accessories.

Jeera Thai: Thanking A Gem

The other day, I stopped in to Jeera Thai.

That’s the tiny but wonderful restaurant tucked next to Finalmente, across from Design Within Reach, just down from Westport Pizzeria and the great new Field Trip jerky shop.

In a town filled with very good restaurants — and new ones coming (and going) all the time — Jeera Thai is at the top of any list.

This is the real deal. The menu is authentic — not watered down for American palates. Chicken, lamb, noodles, soups, stir-fry, curry — it’s all there, flavorful, zesty and real.

Herbs and spices are “correct” — imported from Thailand. Other ingredients come from New York, where there is a robust Thai dining scene.

Clockwise from top: Su Kho Thai, a very spicy noodle soup; curry puffs (chicken with cucumber sauce); Bangkok Stir Fry, another spicy and wonderful dish.

I had a salmon, red curry and coconut dish that was truly out of this world. Or at least, halfway around it.

Here’s the interesting thing: As I chatted with owner Jeeranunn Atiportunyapong — you can call her “Luna,” and I sure do — several other diners offered totally unsolicited praise.

“I’m very well traveled,” one said. “I study Asian culture. This is as spot-on as it gets. The food is so fresh. It’s real cooking. You can’t fake flavors. There’s a perfect balance between pungent and spicy. It can be ecstatically amazing.”

But she wasn’t finished. She added, “This place is a refuge for me. I come here 3 or 4 days a week.”

Luna, in her Jeera Thai restaurant.

Overhearing us talking, another customer chimed in.

“I’ve been to Thailand. This is so authentic. The pad kaprow and drunken noodles with beef — you can’t beat that anywhere. You should write a story about it!”

I don’t usually do that. But those customers — and all of Luna’s many others — are right. It’s a true Westport gem, hidden right in the middle of downtown.

So here’s that story. And (thank you, Google Translate!) here are my thanks to Luna, for Jeera Thai’s wonderful food and beautiful spirit:

ขอขอบคุณและขอให้โชคดี

Jeera Thai, nestled in a small space off the Post Road.

Library Transformation Nearly Complete

June 23: Book it!

That’s the Sunday — just 3 1/2 months from now — when the Westport Library unveils its finished Transformation Project.

It’s on time. On budget. And on track to revolutionize not only the library itself, but Jesup Green, Taylor Place, and probably the rest of downtown.

The other day — as workers pounded nails, laid tiles and ran wires — library director Bill Harmer took “06880” photographer Lynn Untermeyer Miller and me on a tour.

A few months ago, we previewed the lower level. Yet with all due respect to the stacks and reading nooks, the upper level is where all the action will be.

The “Great Hall” gets a lot greater. Gone is the “battleship” circulation desk, clunky kiosks and scores of stacks.

Now, Harmer says, the library has “liberated” nearly 11,000 square feet of space.

The main floor becomes a grand space for working, collaborating, watching concerts and performances, and hanging out. It can be reconfigured for an art show, fashion runway — if you imagine it, the library staff will do it.

“You can even have a wedding here,” Harmer says. I don’t think he’s joking.

The centerpiece of the “Forum” — its new name — is a tiered grandstand. It faces 2 directions — one of which is a new performing (and extendable) stage. Behind it is a giant video wall that Harmer calls “unlike anything anywhere in the state.” Theater-quality lighting hangs above.

The grandstand, looking toward Jesup Green…

… and the view from the top of the grandstand, toward the stage (rear).

A close-up of the grandstand. Mechanicals fit underneath; the exterior will be used for periodicals.

The entryway —  now accessible from Jesup Green, as well as the Levitt Pavilion parking lot — will include a “Hub.” That’s where you’ll find popular, new material, and a very user-friendly service desk.

That new entrance is huge. With a heated landing and steps, and a sidewalk linking it to the police station parking lot, it overlooks a natural amphitheater by Jesup Green.

Harmer envisions programs taking place on the landing, and the green.

Library director Bill Harmer outside the new entrance. Jesup Green and Taylor Place are close by.

Suddenly, that part of downtown seems part of the library. We’ll be encouraged to walk more; to linger on the green; to see the library as part of — rather than apart from — downtown.

A path now leads from Taylor Place to the police station parking lot. A new library entrance is along the path.

The connection continues inside. Dozens of windows have been added on the northern side. Natural light will flood in.

Plenty of windows let in lots of light.

There are many new rooms. Each serves more than one purpose. A hangout for teenagers in the afternoon becomes a lecture room at night, for example. A production facility turns into a green room for featured performers.

The new MakerSpace has 24/7 access from outside. Creativity strikes at any time, so users can come and go even when the rest of the library is closed.

The Library Cafe has been expanded enormously. A view of the bathroom has been replaced by one of the river. There’s outdoor seating — and a “BakerSpace” for demonstrations and nutrition talks. (Yes, that’s a play on “MakerSpace.”)

Upstairs, the hallway has been widened by 5 feet. That makes a huge difference. Seven large conference rooms will be open to the public (along with 2 on the riverwalk level).

There’s more room to walk on the 2nd floor.

But the star of the top floor is the children’s library. Though the same size as before, but it feels much larger.

The renovated children’s library.

The ceiling has been raised, revealing a large skylight that no one knew was there.

A peek through the porthole, at the newly discovered skylight.

Kids can peer through portholes at the Great Hall below — or they and their parents can enjoy wonderful river views on the opposite side. Mobile stacks will make this one of the most exciting parts of the entire building.

Library director Bill Harmer, in front of one of the new portholes. Children will gaze out, at all the action below.

The view from the children’s library is not too shabby.

The Transformation Project is truly a 21st-century design. Power outlets are everywhere. That’s one thing no library can have too much of.

Architects also thought to raise the floor. Finally, you’re high enough to actually see out of the windows.

Seeing, as we all know, is believing. Mark your calendars for June 23. You’ll see a library you could never have imagined.

Its transformation will be wondrous. And complete.

(For more information on the Westport Library’s Transformation Project, click here.)

Even the light fixtures are dramatic. (All photos and video/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Dovecote Closes One Door

First it was The Brownstone. Then Lester’s. Now one more popular store is closing.

But at least Dovecote is not going away entirely.

Last night, Sarah Kaplan — owner of the popular, eclectic home and jewelry store, on Post Road East underneath Toquet Hall — posted this news on social media:

Dear Friends,

Seventeen years after starting Dovecote, I’ve decided to take it in a new, smaller direction.

Many factors have led to this decision. The most important being a mother to my two sons, Henry and Samuel. Raising them is the main priority in my life.

Over the past few years, I have struggled to find a balance and I realized that something had to give. I need to realign my life so my work life is smaller, less stressful, and hopefully more fulfilling.

I love Dovecote and its spirit will continue, but in a smaller way so I have more time to spend with my family, friends, and doing other things that bring me happiness.

This has been the hardest decision of my “business” life but I know it’s the right one. It is bittersweet to say the least. The main Dovecote “home” store will close this month. Dovecote Jewelry will remain open and will evolve into something new and exciting.

I want to thank all of Dovecote’s customers. So many of you have been with us since we opened in September 2002. I also want to thank the incredible Dovecote store team, who are both friends and co-workers.

Finally, I am grateful to all of our amazing vendors and would like to especially thank our landlord, Rand Real Estate. Every business owner should be so lucky to have a landlord as supportive as they have been.

Now for the details…

Dovecote will run a store-wide closing sale starting Wednesday March 6 at 10 a.m. All merchandise will be 50% off.

Please come by! We have lots of great furniture, lighting, accessories, art, gifts, books, jewelry, and more.

And just to be clear, Dovecote Jewelry will remain open, as small and as beautiful as ever.

Thank you!

(Hat tip: Marcy Sansolo)

Some of the intriguing finds inside Dovecote.

Parker Harding Garbage Dump Continues

A few merchants have promised to crack down on employees’ misuse of the Parker Harding dumpsters.

Not enough, apparently.

This was the scene this afternoon, a few feet from the beautiful river in what is supposed to be a proud part of our downtown retail experience.

(Photo/Mary Ann Mayo)

(Photo/Chip Stephens)

Note the sticker warning of a fine on the dumpster in the closeup above.

I’m as  tired of posting photos like these as you are of seeing them.

So here’s a challenge to “06880” readers: Stake out the place. Take a photo of any asshats you see tossing garbage next to the dumpster. Follow them to their place of business. Take another photo. Then send the photo to dwoog@optonline.net.

We can’t let this garbage continue.

Pic Of The Day #676

Westport Woman’s Club gazebo (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Pic Of The Day #673

Downtown by drone (By John Videler/Videler Photography)