Private property is not the only place where trees are being cut in Westport.
Earlier today, Eversource and Metro-North took down trees in the right-of-way at the railroad station.
Matthew Mandell — an RTM member for the district, and director of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce — called it “a great loss to the community. A number of these trees are beautiful in summer. They also obscure part of the tall electric gantry.”
Martin Luther King Day was Monday. CNBC’s Shepard Smith celebrated with a fascinating story about Martin Luther King’s summers in Connecticut.
As a 15-year-old freshman at Morehouse College, he spent the summer of 1944 working as a farmhand at the Cullman Brothers shade tobacco farm in Simsbury. It was part of a program to raise funds for tuition. He returned in 1947.
The summers were eye-opening. Foro the first time, King saw a world beyond the segregated South. He and his fellow students dined in restaurants with white patrons, and tasted freedoms they’d never experienced.
Smith’s report details those years — and the efforts by Simsbury High School students to delve deeply into King’s summers in their town. They helped lead a successful drive to preserve those 280 acres as a historic site.
What makes that event — and the CNBC story — even more compelling is the Westport connection. Cullman Brothers was a holding company owned by the uncles of current Westport residents Bob Jacobs and Joel Treisman. It was started by Bob’s grandfather, and Joel’s great-grandfather.
The last of 3 “Stars on Stage from Westport Country Playhouse” shows airs this Friday (January 21). It’s 9 p.m. on New York’s Channel 13; check local listings for other PBS stations. The New York Times put it on their “What to Watch This Week” list.
Dixon — whose credits include Harpo in “Color Me Purple,” Eubie Blake in “Shuffle Along,” Barry Gordon in “Motown: The Musical,” and of course Aaron Burr in “Hamilton” — taped 2 shows at the Playhouse in September, with a live audience.
The first 2 “Stars on Stage” shows — produced by Westporter Andrew Wilk — starred Gavin Creel and hoshana Bean
And finally … Edgar Allan Poe was born on this day in 1809. He died just 40 years later, under circumstances that remain mysterious. Many of his works endure more than 2 centuries later. Phil Ochs — who also died young — adapted this beautiful poem, and made it his own.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned writing “06880,” it’s that every voice deserves to be heard.
I heard Joe Feinleib’s this weekend. I wanted to learn more about his company — Coastal Construction — in light of the controversy over the home he’s building for himself on Prospect Road.
Joe and Coastal have been in Westport for 18 years. He’s got a design degree, and says that he starts every project with aesthetics in mind — not economics.
He wanted to change the look of homes being built here: “the same box Colonial, almost totally devoid of character.” He says that out of over 100 homes built in Westport, none are duplicates.
Joe is responsible too for the building at the southeast corner of Morningside North and the Post Road (First County Bank and the Coastal Point apartments). He used a combination of native grasses and, in the rear — after collaborating with neighbors — slow-growing spruces.
Coastal’s Morningside development, with rosebud trees.
He’s also behind the restoration of the mill building on Richmondville Avenue. Rather than knocking it down to put up 5 or 6 new homes, he is restoring the historic structure as a condo complex, with extensive amenities.
Sycamore tree saved at The Mill at Richmondville.
Many of the trees have been retained, including a 150-year-old sycamore. At Oak Ridge off Imperial Avenue, Joe saved a stand of majestic white oaks.
Oak Ridge oaks.
“They posed no hazard to the family that will live there, or on the neighboring property,” he says. With more than one of the Prospect Road trees rotted in the center, and 2 of the larger trees canted more than 20%, he cites safety as the reason for cutting those down.
Joe says he looks forward to working with the Planning & Zoning Commission to review ways to preserve town trees. When that’s not possible, he advocates a sustainable plan that helps property owners move forward in an environmentally sound way.
Though unsuccessful, his fight drew townwide attention.
Mark Donovan — dressed as Santa Claus — attempted to stop the demolition of oak trees on Prospect Road.
Now his effort has gone national.
Donovan — a 1985 Staples High School graduate, who now lives in his childhood home with his mother, wife and daughter — was the featured guest on this week’s episode of Chutzpod! This podcast — whose tagline is “Ancient texts for modern times,” and is hosted by activist and actor Josh Malina — covered the futile attempt, and Donovan’s subsequent desire to change local town tree ordinances.
Not for nothing, Chutzpod! is the #1 listened to podcast covering issues around Judaism in North America (according to Apple). On Friday it was #33 in the Religion & Spirituality category.
Donovan’s episode is timely. Tu Bishvat — the Jewish “New Year of the Trees” — begins tonight, and runs through tomorrow.
In “Bring Me a Shrubbery” — which includes a brief appearance by actor and Westport resident Scott Foley — Donovan says, “We live in a community. The community is not one individual or even two individuals. Just because something is legal and you have the right to do something, doesn’t mean that it actually makes it right to do it.” Some things “clearly affect everyone in the community.”
He adds his disappointment that people watching cheered as the trees were chopped down.
“It was not only embarrassing, but just confounding…it was shameful, really…it’s almost like the same victory lap that people take when they kill a dear with a shotgun.”
Donovan’s fight continues. Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission is drafting legislation to address tree cutting on private property.
(Click here to listen to Mark Donovan’s “Bring Me a Shrubbery” Chutzpod! episode. It is also available on many other platforms.)
On January 11, Christy Colsaurdo and a team of volunteers launched “A Kidney for Cathy.” The goal was to find a donor for the well-respected Westporter. She’d spent 5 years in declining health. The avid swimmer gardener, environmentalist, traveler, reader and cook could barely get out of bed, much less work in her gardens, walk her golden retriever or whip up dinner with her husband Tom.
After many visits to medical specialists, Cathy had been diagnosed with a rare form of sarcoidosis. The debilitating autoimmune disease ravaged her organs. In stage 4 kidney failure, she required a live donor transplant as quickly as possible.
She knew tons of people through her work with Wakeman Town Farm, Earthplace. Sherwood Island State Park and the RTM. But finding a kidney was difficult.
Family members were tested, but none were a match.
Cathy’s name was on donation lists around the country. Yet it can take years before a kidney becomes available.
So Cathy’s many friends went to work. Somewhere in the world, they knew, a life-saving donor was waiting. They also knew that two-thirds of all live kidney donors come from marketing campaigns on social media. They hoped a creative approach could help.
The year was an emotional roller coaster. Many generous people — including several from Westport — stepped up to be screened, to assess their chances of becoming a viable kidney donor.
Nearly all were disqualified, for one reason or another.
But at 4 a.m. Wednesday — 1 year and 1 day from the start of “A Kidney for Cathy” — she got a call from Yale New Haven Transplant Center.
A deceased donor kidney had become available. Could she come right in for a transplant?
Five hours later — minutes before being wheeled into the operating room — she shared the great news with Christy and others. She asked them to pass along her appreciation for all the kind people who supported her — and of course to the donor and the donor’s family.
The transplant procedure lasted 3 hours. Cathy is doing well in recovery. Her doctors say she’ll return to Westport soon.
With her new kidney, Cathy can resume most of the activities she enjoyed most before falling gravely ill. She’ll swim, hike, travel — and contribute immeasurably to the life of our town..
Christy says, “Many pieces had to fall into place for this transplant to become a reality. Over 90,000 Americans are awaiting kidney donors, so this ending is nothing short of a miracle.
“Credit it to the incredibly selfless people in town who came forward to form Cathy’s ‘village.’ Everyone who sent a card, dropped off a meal, called to check in or underwent testing to become a donor, truly made a difference.”
Congratulations, Cathy! Best wishes for a speedy recovery.
To learn more about donating a kidney, click here. For information on registering as an organ donor through the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles, click here.
An extensive search river and land search was conducted yesterday by the Westport Department and Fire Dive team, after a 22-year-old woman disappeared from a canoe near the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge.
After 5 hours, the woman was seen on a surveillance tape at a local business. The search was suspended.
Early this morning she was located in Norwalk, and reunited with her family. Chief Foti Koskinas thanked all who aided in the search.
Based on Emily Dickinson’s poem of the same name — and spurred partly by the darkening political climate — the noted Westport artist asked 30 Westporters to participate.
Old and young; Black, white and Asian — all learned one word or phrase in American Sign Language. Through Miggs’ unique lenticular photography, each sign shows the beauty of that form of communication. It’s also a “visual chorus of our community, expressing the need for compassion in the world.”
Nearly 5 years later — thanks to the generosity of Westporter Melissa Ceriale — the 30 portraits have been permanently acquired by Burke Rehabilitation Hospital in White Plains. They were installed on Wednesday.
COVID has delayed a formal unveiling. But the hospital has a robust social media presence, and they’re showing off their new acquisition to the world.
As Miggs notes, his piece lives on, “in a place dedicated to compassion and healing.”
Miggs Burroughs’ “Signs of Compassion,” at Burke Rehabilitation Hospital. And yes, that’s me in the top row, 2nd from left.
Looking for some great reading this holiday weekend?
Click here for the “Westport Progress Report on Floodplain Management.”
As you probably know, the report is prepared annually to enable residents to receive a 10% reduction in flood insurance. That insurance is offered by FEMA, to communities participating in the Community Rating System.
Municipalities are ranked from 1 to 10. A ranking of 1 offers the highest reduction in flood insurance rates. Actions taken by the Planning & Zoning Commission over the years have brought Westport’s ranking from 10 to 8. More efforts are planned.
Insurance is important to homeowners in flood-prone areas like Compo Cove.
Nicholas Marsan has been promoted to deputy chief of the Westport Fire Department, while Theodore Crawford has risen to lieutenant. They — and new Fire Chief Michael Kronick — were sworn in yesterday at Town Hall.
The promotions fill vacancies created by the retirement of Chief Robert Yost on January 1.
Marsan became a Westport firefighter in 2007. He then served as fire inspector and lieutenant.
He is a veteran of the US Army and the CT Army National Guard. In 2010 he was deployed overseas. He received the Army Commendation Medal for Valor during operations in Afghanistan, and is a 2-time recipient of Westport Rotary Public Protection & Safety Awards, and 2 unit citations.
Marsan was also president of the Westport Uniformed Firefighters Association, Local 1081. He earned a master’s degree in history from Western Connecticut State University. He is now completing a master’s in public administration and emergency management at Sacred Heart University.
Crawford joined the department in 2011. He is an EMT, and president of the Westport Uniformed Firefighters Charitable Foundation.
He is also a rescue diver on the Westport Police/Fire dive team, and a hazardous materials technician on the Fairfield County Hazmat Team. He received a Westport Rotary Public Protection & Safety Award, the Firefighter Dominic Zeoli Award, and 2 Unit Citations.
Crawford is a graduate of Clarkson University, majoring in civil engineering.
From left: Theodore Crawford, Nicholas Marsan, 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker, Fire Chief Michael Kronick.
Audiences across the country look forward to tonight’s “Stars on Stage From Westport Country Playhouse” (Friday, January 14, 9 p.m. Channel 13; check listings for other PBS stations).
Shoshana Bean is the star of this episode. It was taped in September, before 2 local audiences.
But that’s not the only Shoshana news this week. The “Wicked” and “Witness” actress has just been signed to the cast of the new musical comedy “Mr. Saturday Night,” with Billy Crystal. The shows opens at the Nederlander Theatre on April 27.
In the aftermath of 2 recent devastating blazes, Westport Fire Department Chief Michael Kronick says:
This past week, New York City and Philadelphia suffered deadly fires that claimed the lives of 31 people. Our hearts go out to the victims, and to our brothers and sisters at the FDNY and the Philadelphia Fire Department who struggled so valiantly to save them.
Whenever you hear a fire alarm sound, head to the nearest exit and leave the building. If you see fire or smell smoke, call 911 immediately. When you escape a fire, close the door behind you. Every closed door slows the spread of the smoke and fire. This buys you more time to escape and protects others as well.
A Philadelphia Fire Department official said that at least 4 smoke detectors in the rowhouse did not go off during the fire. If you have a smoke alarm with removable batteries, make sure you replace those batteries every 6 months. It’s best to do it when you change your clocks twice a year.
A FDNY Fire Marshal reported that the Bronx fire was likely caused by a space heater that had been running non-stop for several days. Space heaters are not intended to be a 24/7 heating source. They can overheat, overload electrical circuits, and ignite flammable material, like furniture cushions, if the heater is too close.
Whenever you use a portable heater, set it up a safe distance from anything that can burn, never use an extension cord, and check the heater to make sure it’s operating correctly.
Many of the victims died from smoke inhalation while trying to escape, in corridors and stairways. In a high-rise building, toxic smoke can move faster than you can. So, in a high-rise fire, never enter a space that is smokier than the one you’re in.
If the corridor is full of smoke, do not enter it. Stay where you are, close the door and seal it off with towels or blankets. If you’re heading down the stairs and conditions get worse, leave the stairs and shelter on another floor.
Most importantly, have an escape plan and practice that escape plan before you need it.
The fires are terrible tragedies, for the victims, their families, and the first responders. Our heartfelt sympathies to the families and friends of those who lost their lives or were injured. We are reminded of the devastating impact of fire and the need to do more to prevent them in the future.
As we mourn the loss of these lives today, we must use these tragedies to continue efforts to ensure the public and communities prioritize fire safety – in particular the use of smoke alarms, escape planning, and educating our most vulnerable.
It’s not easy to save historic structures in Westport.
Economics, legal restrictions, changing tastes — all make it much simpler to tear down old buildings, rather than save them.
The town desperately needs a regulation that encourages homeowners and builders to preserve, rehabilitate, restore, reconstruct and/or adapt historic proprties.
Well, shiver me timbers! There is one!
Zoning Regulation 32-18 covers “Historic Residential Structures.” Actually, it does far more. It encourages their preservation.
But you’d have to be someone — an architect, say — well versed in Westport’s zoning code to know it.
In the spring of 2020 Simon and Robbyn Hallgarten — who had already renovated (and substantially saved) a historic home near Longshore — bought property on North Avenue.
Simon and Robbyn Hallgarten’s main house, on North Avenue.
The land — between Staples High School and Cross Highway — included a Victorian home and carriage house. Both were built around 1886.
Several “experts” told Simon that if he wanted to do renovate the carriage house, it had to be moved to conform to property setbacks. Otherwise he’d have to leave it as is, or tear it down.
Fortunately, Simon kept asking. Finally he found an architect who said: “Look at Section 32-18.” (You can, too. Click here.)
Simon and Robbyn saved the 130-year-old structure.
Under normal zoning — because the carriage house sits within the property’s setback — any modifications or change of use would not be permitted.
Under 32-18 though, the Hallgartens provided the town with a perpetual maintenance easement over the structure. In return, they converted the historic timber-framed building into a garage gym, spare bedroom, en suite bath and great 2nd floor office/den space.
The renovated carriage house.
Simon wonders “how many other historic buildings could be maintained if only owners and architects were aware that they could be significantly renovated, and even go through a change of use – subject only to an agreement to maintain the structure going forward.”
Well — in a slightly different form — here’s another 32-18 success story. Last April, I wrote about a 2-story, 1,230-square foot 1892 farmhouse on Turkey Hill South.
Rahul Ghai and his wife Priyanka Singh used the regulation — obtained by the prior owners — to restore the 127-year-old structure, and also build a large house nearby.
The project won a Connecticut Preservation Award — one of only 10 in the state.
The story said that 32-18 had already prevented 22 other historic structures from being demolished.
Of course, 22 (now 23) successful preservation projects is a drop in the bucket, compared to the number of houses being demolished annually.
So whether you’re a developer, architect, homeowner — or someone who lives near a historic structure — remember those numbers: 32-18.
When you hear of a successful renovation using that regulation, let me know.
Maybe one day there will be so many, it will no longer be news.
Longtime Westporters Jørgen and Pat Jensen died peacefully, together, at their home on December 22. He was 92; she was 88.
Jorgen — known as “George” — served 9 terms on the Representative Town Meeting (RTM), and was a prominent member of the Y’s Men and their Hoot Owls singing group. He was also an avid bridge player.
Pat worked for many years for the Westport Public Schools. She also served with the Westport Woman’s Club.
Both were active in retirement at the Senior Center, and were lifelong boaters. At the Senior Center George was in charge of the Garden Club. He grew tomatoes, and distributed them widely.
George was born in Copenhagen, and graduated from the university there with an MS in mechanical engineering.
Pat — a native of Bridgeport — graduated from Sacred Heart University.
Both were world travelers. They met while working at General Electric in Bridgeport. He worked there until retirement, in 1985.
Pat retired in 2000, after serving as director of purchasing at Staples High School. She was a master knitter and crocheter.
While on the RTM, George worked to purchase the Baron’s property, and on construction of the Senior Center and Saugatuck senior housing. Both he and Pat were active in the movement to save Cockenoe Island from becoming a nuclear power plant, in the 1960s.
George and Pat are survived by their children Elisa (John McKay), Eric (Michele Ryan) and Aline Maynard (Garth); 7 grandchildren and George’s brother Steen Folmer.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Westport Center for Senior Activities, 21 Imperial Avenue, Westport, CT 06880.
Pat and George Jensen (Photos courtesy of Westport Journal)
Three of Westport’s most important institutions — The Library, Wakeman Town Farm and Westport Farmers Market — are partnering for a delicious presentation.
“Dinner Disrupted: How We Eat” (Tuesday, January 11, 7 pm., in-person at the Library and via Zoom) features a conversation with market researcher and author of How We Eat: The Brave New World of Food and Drink, Paco Underhill.
The book describes how cities are getting countrified with the rise of farmer’s markets and rooftop farms; how supermarkets use their parking lots to grow food and host community events, and how marijuana farmers have developed a playbook so mainstream merchants and farmers across the world can grow food in an uncertain future. Click here to register.
Every Martin Luther King Day, I run a story on the civil rights leader’s visit to Westport — and the wood carvings that local artist Roe Halper presented to him. They hung for years in his Atlanta home.
Halper is still a working artist. Her works are now colorful and abstract.
They are so colorful, in fact, that her current exhibit — at the Westport Library — is called simply “Orange.”
It is “a warm, radiant color with positive energy,” Halper says — “exactly the message I wanted to portray as I pushed bold strokes of power on the canvases with my Chinese brushes. A person must have a positive attitude to survive in life, and be able to be productive.”
Check out “Orange” — and many other colors — at the Westport Library Gallery.
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