Category Archives: Downtown

Downtown Affordable Housing To Be Demolished Soon

Westport is about to lose 14 more very affordable housing units.

And downtown is set to lose 2 more pieces of its history.

Applications have been filed to demolish 2 buildings: #7 and #15 Belden Place. That’s the tiny, seldom-noticed piece of Main Street property just past Avery Place, opposite Veterans Green and Town Hall.

Supposedly, a developer plans to expand 201 Main Street — the former Nappa screen repair shop — and level the Belden Place rentals behind it, to create the required parking spots.

15 Belden place sits right on the Saugatuck River.

15 Belden place sits right on the Saugatuck River.

#15 is listed in the Westport Historic District Commission inventory. It sits on the bank of the Saugatuck River (with quite a view!).

Though the HDC says #15 was built around 1930, that may be the date it arrived here. It might have been moved from New Hampshire in pieces in the ’30s by Alfred G. Violet. It has long been said that the houses on Violet Lane — not far away, off Myrtle Avenue — which he built in 1928 also came from New Hampshire.

#7 was built in 1920.

Both Belden Place buildings are in disrepair. For years, however, they provided hidden-in-plain-sight, much-needed rental units for local restaurateurs, artists, teachers, hippies and whatnot.

7 Belden Place is behind 201 Main Street (formerly Nappa Doors and Windows), and in front of 15 Belden Place.

7 Belden Place is behind 201 Main Street (formerly Nappa Doors and Windows), and in front of 15 Belden Place.

As Westport prepares to lose more affordable housing units, it should be noted that because these 14 were built before 1990, they do not count toward our 8-30g requirements. So losing them will not hurt us as we try to comply with the state affordable housing mandate.

But losing them will certainly hurt the Westporters who lived there, up until recently when they were told to go.

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

(Hat tips: Morley Boyd and Wendy Crowther)

 

Funeral Arrangements Set For Tina Wessel

A funeral service for Tina Wessel is set for 1 p.m. on Friday, December 9 at Christ & Holy Trinity Church. She’s the well-known local homeless woman whose recent death unleashed powerful emotions among those who helped her, tried to reach out, or were hesitant to interact with her.

Church staff are donating their time and talents. Tina spent time there during her life, and was welcome to use its facilities.

The public is invited to attend Tina’s service.

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Remembering Tina

Tina died today. Or maybe yesterday, or the day before.

I don’t know Tina’s last name. I never really talked to her — once or twice, at the Y when it was downtown.

You may not think you knew Tina. But if you live in Westport, you did.

She was the homeless woman with the limp.

We saw her everywhere. Tina was at the library. Gold’s. Oscar’s, before it closed.

And of course, we saw her limping all around town.

A Weston native, Tina was an independent spirit. She didn’t care for rules. She lived life her own way.

Sometimes she panhandled — downtown, or in front of CVS. Some Westporters gave her money. Others didn’t. They thought she’d spend it on alcohol or drugs.

Tina didn’t drink or do drugs. Mostly, she spent what she had on food for her cat.

helping-hands

She ate meals, occasionally, at the Gillespie Center. Volunteers there got to know her, as best they could. Tina was not an easy person to know.

Many people — and organizations — did what they could to help. Homes With Hope tried. Human Services tried. The police tried. Sometimes they succeeded. Sometimes not. But they never stopped trying.

They always treated her with dignity and respect.

Tina got through winters her own way. She lived in a shed downtown.

That’s where she died. Someone who had not seen her in a while went looking for her. He found here there, in the shed.

She’d had a bad leg wound recently. She may not have taken care of it. That was the way she lived, and it may have been the way she died.

Tina’s mother died, not too long ago. Her brothers are also gone.

But Tina may have a funeral. Rev. Pete Powell — a founder of Interfaith Housing (now Homes With Hope) — often leads services for homeless people.

If there is one, I’m sure Westporters will attend. They’ll try to do what they can in death for Tina — the woman with the limp — just as they did in her life.

Downtown Merchants Kick It Up A Notch

You may have noticed the signage downtown. Perhaps you saw the hanging baskets, the holiday snowflakes or the Christmas tree near Starbucks.

westport-dmaAll are part of recent initiatives by the Westport Downtown Merchants Association. Since welcoming new president Randy Herbertson this summer — and installing a fresh team including a marketing manager and events coordinator — the sometimes active, occasionally moribund, often ill-defined group has worked hard to make its mark on Main Street and nearby.

“We’re here to be the merchants’ advocate,” Herbertson — whose fulltime gig is running a Church Street multimidia design and promotion firm, The Visual Brand — says.

“We’re taking ourselves up a notch.”

The WDMA has addressed nagging issues like the Parker Harding dumpster — long a pig sty — with new enclosures and daily maintenance.

The organization has spoken with the Public Works and Parks & Recreation departments to ensure clear lines of responsibility for downtown upkeep.

Merchants are responsible for keeping their sidewalks clean. The WMDA is making sure they do it well.

Merchants are responsible for keeping their sidewalks clean. The WMDA is making sure they do it well.

Some of that sounds mundane. But small stuff pays off big time, in areas like public perception.

The WDMA has vowed to protect the new sidewalks. Each merchant is in charge of keeping them clean, but “everyone has different standards,” Herbertson notes. His group is working on a collaborative plan.

The Downtown Merchants Association may be best known for event sponsorship. Moving forward, Herbertson says, “We’ll try to focus on what matters most to merchants.”

The popular carriage rides, Santa visits and singing groups will continue this holiday season, for example. But the WMDA will offer gift wrapping and craft activities for children.

Plus this: valet parking.

It began on Friday, and continues every Saturday and Sunday through Christmas (plus Friday, December 23). The valet station is at the corner of Main and Elm Streets. Cost is $5 per car (plus optional tip).

Last year, horse-drawn carriages clomped throughout downtown.

Last year, horse-drawn carriages clomped throughout downtown.

The Fine Arts Festival may be relocated. The Blues, Views & BBQ Fest will be “better than ever,” Herbertson says.

A Fashion and Beauty Week is in the works. 80% of downtown merchants are involved in those fields, he explains.

The WMDA has just launched a new website. It offers more information on stores promotions and hours, along with a robust calendar.

Meanwhile, the merchants’ group is already looking ahead to next year. In 2017, Herbertson promises, the new trees on and around Main Street will be mature enough to decorate.

Black Thursday

This was the scene last night on Main Street:

(Photo/Andrew Colabella)

(Photo/Andrew Colabella)

Today is “Black Friday.” Downtown should be bustling.

Merchants hope to see much more action every day between now and Christmas.

Every evening, too.

O Christmas Tree!

Once upon a time, Christmas trees lined the Parker Harding Plaza riverbank.

It’s been decades since that happened.

But here’s a start:

parker-harding-christmas-tree

1 Parker Harding Problem Solved. 999 To Go.

Our long national nightmare is over.

Okay, maybe not. But at least Parker Harder Plaza’s dumpster problem has been solved.

For several years, the big green receptacles near Starbucks have spilled garbage, attracted rodents, and sent this message to downtown visitors: “Blech!

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No more!

Recently the Westport Downtown Merchants Association added a cleanup crew, initiated pest control, helped store owners review protocol and “addressed regular abusers.”

Ta da!

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Work is not finished. Still ahead: installation of upgraded and “significantly more attractive” enclosures.

We won’t hold our breath.

But at least while we don’t, we won’t hold our noses when we want some fresh food at Freshii.

Fantastic Fall Foliage

Click on or hover over to enlarge. (Photo/John Videler)

Click on or hover over to enlarge. (Photo/John Videler)

Imperial Avenue and Gault Park is in the foreground. Downtown is in the background.

And the wonders of Westport are well on display.

Friday Flashback #14

Today is Veterans Day. Westporters — those who served our country, and those who simply wished to honor them — gathered in the Town Hall auditorium, for an 11 a.m. 11/11 ceremony.

Back in the day — the World Wars I and  II, Korean and Vietnam Wars day — Town Hall was located on the Post Road. It was a small, handsome building next to what was then the Fine Arts Theater.

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Today the old Town Hall is next door to Restoration Hardware — and it’s where you’ll find the Rothbard Ale + Larder restaurant.

There’s another reason it’s appropriate to run this photo today. Stevan Dohanos’ December 1943 Saturday Evening Post cover showed our town’s Honor Roll. It celebrated all our citizens serving in the armed forces that year — quite a while after the above photo was taken.

This was the 1st of Dohanos’ 136 covers for the magazine.

stevan-dohanos-veterans-cover

Today the Honor Roll is part of Veterans Green, opposite the current Town Hall on Myrtle Avenue.

Of course, there are many more names now than when Dohanos made Westport’s Town Hall famous, nationwide.

Vespa Is Very, Very Open!

I screwed up.

A reliable source told me yesterday evening that Vespa — the popular Italian and Mediterranean restaurant that has helped revitalize the National Hall neighborhood — was closed.

I called. I got a recording. It said the restaurant was closed Monday and Tuesday. But this was Wednesday.

I posted a story.

Vespa — I learned quickly — is quite open. I took down the story.

Vespa is warm and inviting. This view is toward the Post Road, where it meets Riverside Avenue.

Vespa is warm and inviting. This view is toward the Post Road, where it meets Riverside Avenue.

But damage had been done. Owner Bobby Werhane — one of the real good guys — fielded calls from guests who’d booked dinner and holiday events. He and his staff reassured everyone that they are indeed open for business.

My too-hasty post may have impacted not only all of Vespa’s many fans, but its over 40 employees.

So, to repeat: Vespa is alive and well.

Go there. Eat there.

Tell Bobby I sent you.