Category Archives: Environment

Take $100,000 Worth Of Perfectly Good Furniture. Then Throw It Out The Window.

Ken Bernhard is a principal in Cohen & Wolf’s municipal, real estate, and business and corporate groups. He works in the firm’s office at 320 Post Road West.

He’s also a former state representative, assistant minority leader and Westport town attorney.

He’s nobody’s fool.

This morning, Bernhard heard an enormous crunching sound coming from the building’s top floor.

Morgan Stanley — the tenant there — is moving out. Workers were methodically moving every piece of furniture — cherry desks, tables, chairs, sofas, bookcases, credenzas, you name it — onto the ground.

A chipper then chewed every single piece up.

Into the chipper it goes.

Bernhard — who helped create the Syria Fund, which provides education, medical supplies, household goods and food to families living in desperate areas underserved by large, mainstream organizations — was appalled.

He asked the foreman of the company — Total Relocation Services — what was going on. The man said they had a contract. Morgan Stanley’s floor must be “broom clean” by the close of business today.

A small portion of the furniture Morgan Stanley is throwing away …

Bernhard asked the foreman to check that the financial services firm really wanted to toss at least $100,000 worth of perfectly good furniture away.

Yep, the forerman reported. A Morgan Stanley representative repeated the claim: “Broom clean” by the end of the day.

… another shot …

Bernhard swung into action. He called Jeff Wieser. The CEO of Homes With Hope raced over. He salvaged what Bernhard estimates is “1/20” of the furniture being demolished.

Bernhard also called 1st Selectman Jim Marpe. He said he would send someone over, to see what he could do.

The foreman said he’d had no real notice of the project. But, he told Bernhard, next week the company is scheduled to do a project “4 times as big,” not far away. That may be Morgan Stanley’s Nyala Farms complex.

Bernhard hopes to organize non-profits, and save some of what is there.

“It’s a collective effort,” he says.

It certainly is.

But what does it say about Morgan Stanley — and our society — that it has to be?

… and a 3rd. (Photos/Ken Bernhard)

David Pogue Finds A Renovation Angel

To the rest of the world, David Pogue is a tech guru. He’s a writer (Yahoo, New York Times, Scientific American), TV correspondent (“CBS News Sunday Morning,” PBS “Nova Science Now”) and author (“Missing Manual” series, “Pogue’s Basics”) who has won 3 Emmy awards, 2 Webbys and a Loeb for journalism.

To Westporters, he’s a neighbor.

Which means he worries about the same things you and I do: traffic. How his kids do in school. His kitchen renovation project.

Here — because David Pogue is a neighbor, friend and “06880” fan — is his exclusive story about one part of that kitchen remodel:

When we decided to renovate our aging kitchen, one of my greatest stresses was: What happens to the old kitchen?

David Pogue’s kitchen, before renovation.

For most Fairfield County residents, I’d imagine the answer is, “it winds up in the landfill.” Occasionally, “Habitat for Humanity will take a few items.”

But I’m here to tell you about an amazing alternative that I wish everybody knew: Renovation Angel.

Our kitchen designer told us about this outfit. To be frank, it sounded too good to be true. Listen to this business model:

* They dismantle and haul away your old kitchen for free. You’re saved the cost of the demolition, disposal fees, dumpster rental, and so on.

* They give you a huge tax deduction.

* They then resell your entire kitchen, both online and at their huge showroom in New Jersey. All of it: cabinets, countertops, appliances, lights, chairs —whatever you can part with. Other people who are renovating their kitchens get luxury stuff for a fraction of its usual price.

* The best part: Renovation Angel then gives the proceeds to charity. They donate to programs for addiction recovery, at-risk children, job training, and social entrepreneurship.

David Pogue, wondering how to renovate his kitchen and help the world.

To me, this seemed like a win-win-win-win-win. You win (free demo and the tax writeoff); the planet wins (nothing thrown away); your kitchen’s buyer wins (saves a fortune); Renovation Angel wins (employs 135 people); and, of course, the charities win.

I decided to try it. I sent them photos; they sent a guy out to measure. They asked when we wanted them to show up, and recommended that we have the water and gas disconnected when they arrived. That was it.

Oh — except for the part where they said that our nearly 20-year-old kitchen would earn us a $40,000 tax deduction! Unbelievable.

And so last week they showed up on schedule with a big truck and a 4-man, fully insured crew. Board by board, piece by piece, they dismantled our kitchen, protecting each piece as they loaded it into the truck. They worked nonstop for 4 hours, treated each piece like an heirloom, and left the place spotless. (Incredibly, ours was their 2nd kitchen of the day.)

Almost done!

Renovation Angel is the brainchild of Steve Feldman, who credits a drug addiction recovery program with saving his life when he was a teenager. About 12 years ago, he saw a 10,000-square-foot house in Greenwich being demolished — and watched all the fine marble, custom cabinetry and expensive appliances get tossed into a dumpster. That was the inspiration for Renovation Angel.

Now, a dozen years later, he’s recycled 5,000 kitchens, donated $2.2 million to charity, and kept 30 million pounds of stuff out of landfills.

The kitchen, after Angel Renovation got done. (Photos/David Pogue)

The experience for us was joyous, effortless and thrilling — not words you usually associate with home renovation. Seems like Westport is a national hub of nice kitchens and kitchen renovation. So I can’t help myself in trying to spread the word!

As I said, David Pogue may be world famous, but he has typical Westport/1st world problems. Like, how will he and his family eat while their new kitchen is being installed?

Click below for David’s great time-lapse video of the entire Renovation Angel project:

 

 

Main Street Merchants To Earth: Screw You!

The 1st selectman endorses it. The Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce does too.

So do the Westport Downtown Merchants Association, Green Task Force and Earth Guardians, a Toquet Hall-based youth group.

All back an initiative asking local businesses to keep their doors closed on hot summer days. Air conditioning is a major contributor to carbon dioxide emissions that lead to global warming.

And open doors are a major contributor to wasteful air conditioning.

Yet despite reminders from all those folks, this was the scene last Saturday on Main Street:

(Photo/Bob Mitchell)

That’s 3 stores in a row with wide-open doors — including Blue Mercury, which has been doing it since at least 2010.

There were many more as well.

I know the usual suspects will jump into the “Comments” section, declaring that unless there’s a law against it, stores can do whatever they want to attract customers.

Of course they can.

But that doesn’t mean they should.

Neighbors Oppose Aquarion’s Proposed North Avenue Water Tank

For nearly 2 years, on-again, off-again construction of a new water pump directly across from Staples High School slowed traffic and disrupted neighbors.

Now a group of North Avenue residents is alarmed at the next project. Aquarion wants to build 2 storage tanks — each holding 2.5 million gallons of water. They would replace the one current 1.5 million gallon tank, built in 1956.

Aquarion says the tanks are necessary to address future town growth. Fire chief Robert Yost supports the proposal.

Opponents disagree. Their petition to the Planning & Zoning Commission says:

We, concerned neighbors surrounding and adjacent to the area of the proposed water tank construction project on North Avenue, hereby urge you reject Aquarion Water Company’s Special Permit Application #17-043 to allow the installation of two 2.5 million above ground concrete water storage tanks at 63-67 North Avenue, Westport.

We believe that Aquarion’s construction of the tanks, along with their permanent siting on this property, will have a deleterious effect upon our quality of life, neighborhood safety, North Avenue traffic, visual landscape, and home values.

Our objections are as follows:

1)  The proposed 39 foot above-ground height of the two tanks far exceed the 24 foot height of the one existing tank, as well as the heights of all homes in the surrounding area. This will have a significantly negative impact on the character and quality of the residential neighborhood surrounding it, effectively changing its appearance from residential to commercial.

2)  As proposed, construction of these tanks will take 2 years but is very likely to take longer, based on Aquarion’s previous record of construction of its pump station, which was projected to take 6 months but actually took 18 months. During that time the ensuing noise of construction activity, all-night presence of high intensity construction lights, debris and operation of construction equipment had a severely negative impact on the peaceful enjoyment and quality of life of our neighborhood. Additionally, landscaping besides 6-foot trees, has never been restored since then. With the proposed project we expect this impact to be magnified due to its much larger scale, and Aquarion’s lack of concern for the neighborhood be repeated.

The Aquarion water tank, during recent pump station construction.

3)  Construction activity will severely exacerbate traffic conditions on North Avenue which already suffers from chronic traffic backups and congestion due to the daily volume of cars and school buses traveling to and from Bedford Middle School and Staples High School. This will make travel to and from the schools virtually impossible for both staff and students, and guaranteed to result in school delays.

4)  We are very concerned about the impact on the safety of this residential neighborhood, where so many children live and commute to school, due to the siting of two huge water tanks at this location. When at the June 28 informational meeting Aquarian was asked precautions have been taken regarding the storage of five million gallons of water in a residential neighborhood, Aquarion’s response was “nothing will ever happen.” We find this response irresponsible and unacceptable.

5)  It is highly objectionable that Aquarion did not adhere to the Site Plan and Special Permit requirements, as follows:

a) Aquarion informed and invited only 13 neighbors to the June 26 informational neighborhood meeting, instead of all 27 neighbors in the 250 feet radius from their property.

b) The neighbor list was not distributed to the neighbors in that invitation, as required.

c) Important details were not communicated during the meetings, such as the fact the application had already been filed.

6)  Siting of these highly visible, unsightly structures in our neighborhood will be unpleasant and will adversely affect our property values to a significant extent.\

7)  Given that Aquarion filed the Special Permit Application only on June 21, the last week of school when many families are involved in graduations or traveling, insufficient time has been given to neighbors to review and weigh in on the proposed project. Aquarion has thus far failed to provide answers to our questions including:

What is the basis for the project?
Capacity: Why is there a need to increase the current tank capacity by almost 400%, from 1.5 million gallons to 5.75 million? Population in Westport has been relatively stable since 1970, during which time we have not been made aware of any serious water shortages in our area.

Why situate two huge tanks next to each other in a residential area?
a) Alternative sites: What other options have been considered?

b) Can the second tank (if need has been proven) be situated on a different piece of land?

c) Why is such a large (62.5%) increase in tank height necessary?

A photo in the position shows the height of the proposed new water tanks.

Finally, we are dismayed and concerned that the Planning & Zoning Commission has agreed to review and presumably rule on this Special Permit Application along such a rushed time frame, with so little consideration given by Aquarion to neighbors who wish to review and weigh in on the application. Thus far, few of our questions have been answered to our satisfaction, and few of our concerns addressed. We would expect that in your roles as advocates for us, the Town’s residents, Planning and Zoning Commissioners will not allow this process to be rushed. We are counting on you to insure that our concerns are addressed and alternatives proposed.

In conclusion, we once again respectfully urge the Planning & Zoning Commission to reject Aquarion’s Special Permit application pending further review, consideration of alternatives, and input by Westport citizenry and other public officials.

Thank you for consideration of this very important matter. Yours truly,

North Avenue Neighbors including: Dr. Stefanie and Marc Lemcke; Michael and Kusumarn Fleming; Jennifer and Andrew Kobettisch; Claudia Steinman, Alfred and Mirian Popkin; David and Dawn Chaskin; Jodi and Russel Hardin; Jennifer and Jeffrey Watzman; Jennifer Stein, 12 Terhune Drive, and many concerned neighbors of Westport.

Photo Challenge #133

Last week’s photo challenge was easy. You might call it a “clam dunk.”

Richard Hyman’s photo showed devices under the 2nd wooden bridge at Sherwood Mill Pond, just before Compo Cove.

They were described variously as a “sluice gate,” “pumps,” “pond gates,” “lock system,” “flood control gates” and “water control mechanism.”

Actually they’re electric gates, installed around 1990. They replaced hand cranks.

Craig Clark provided important context:

They are neither locks or flood gates, but gates to keep water in the pond after high tide. The escaping water was then used to run the grist mill. On an incoming tide there was about 2 feet of clearance under the gates. Many of us swam under them, much to the distaste of the lifeguards.

As the tide changed, the gates would close and hold water back, hence the name Mill Pond. The gates were raised yearly to flush out the pond and allow any repair work to be done to the stone coffer dams, and flush out some of the other stuff that would accumulate.

The Mill Pond has gotten a lot shallower over the years, due to sand coming from Compo Cove and the state park. Farmers used to harvest the salt hay that grows on the flats, and the channels were cut for mosquito control. The Mill Pond is one of Westport’s and the state’s true treasures.

Congratulations to the 24 alert readers — a record! — who knew their onions: Fred Cantor, Luke Garvey, Lisa Marie Alter, Vanessa Wilson, Matt Murray, Craig Clark, Andrew Colabella, Rich Stein, Bob Stalling, Susan Granger, Robert Mitchell, John Brandt, Martin Gitlin, Stan Skowronski, Jill Turner Odice, Antony Lantier, Julie Fatherley, Peter Swift, Jay Tormey, Joelle Malec, Michael, Pettee, Rosalie Kaye, Linda Amos and Don Jacobs. (Click here for the photo, and all responses.)

Since last week’s photo challenge was so easy, here’s a tough one. If you recognize this sign, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Paul Curtis)

Friends Indeed: New Trees Grace Compo Beach

The Compo Beach palm tree was not in the plans. Its fate this winter is unknown.

But 2 other trees planted nearby last month were long expected. And they’re just the start of a new, Johnny Appleseed-like look by the shore.

Friends of Westport Parks & Recreation — formed in 2011 to help fund projects and services beyond the town budget — spearheaded a private program. As with benches, donors can plant trees honoring friends and loved ones. Funds cover planting, maintenance and replacement due to storm damage or death.

Specific species and locations — at Compo and Winslow Park — are determined by the tree warden, and Parks & Rec Department.

The 1st 2 trees honor a newly married couple who just moved here, and a family matriarch who recently died.

Irene Penny honored her grandmother — World War II veteran Evelyn I. Wright — with a lace bark elm.

The lace black elm …

Longtime Westporter George Schweitzer planted a red oak to celebrate the marriage of his friends Anne O’Grady and Skip Wells. Their new home is not far from the tree.

… and the red elm.

Besides the tree program, Friends of Parks & Recreation has raised funds for Wakeman Town Farm, and Longshore projects including the Cliff’s Place halfway house, and a storm shelter at the 9th hole.

To read more about the Friends group, click here.

Farmers’ Market Photo Contest Draws “Young Shoots”

Two of our town’s most creative institutions — the Westport Farmers’ Market and Westport Arts Center — have teamed up to showcase the creativity of one of our town’s most important assets: our kids.

The Young Shoots Digital Photography Competition highlights images taken all summer long at the Farmers’ Market.

It’s a great place for budding (ho ho) photographers to shoot. Every Thursday (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.), the Farmers’ Market pulses with life. Fruits, vegetables, flowers, people — they’re all there, showing off the vitality of the market in colorful, imaginative ways. All photos must be taken somewhere on the Imperial Avenue premises.

“Towhead Tomatoes” — last year’s Fan Favorite winner, and 2nd place in 15-18 age group. (Photo/Margaret Kraus)

There are 3 age groups: 8-10, 11-14, 15-18. Submissions are due by August 14.

First-place winners in each category receive a $100 cash prize, and the chance to lead a food photo shoot with Bill Taibe (chef/owner of The Whelk, Ka Wa Ni and Jesup Hall). Second-place winners get $50.

Winners will also have their work shown in a gallery-like setting at Sugar & Olives (a favorite Farmers’ Market vendor).

Anastasia Davis won 1st place last year in the 11-14 age group for this shot.

Beginning August 20, the community will have a chance to vote online for their favorite images. “Fan favorites” get a 1-year membership to the Westport Arts Center, and a Farmers’ Market t-shirt.

Click here for photo guidelines and submission info.

“Starstem” by Calista Finkelstein placed 1st last summer in the 8-10 category.

RTM Urged To Join “Net Zero” Energy Effort

Last month, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe announced that Westport has joined over 1,200 governors, mayors, businesses, universities and others in pledging to exceed the goals of the Paris Climate Accord.

Two years earlier, Marpe announced “Net Zero by 2050”: a target involving energy, water and waste. The goal is to create a sustainable community — economically, socially and environmentally — by mid-century.

Now, a group of Westporters is asking the RTM to endorse Net Zero too.

On Tuesday (July 11), the Green Task Force will present a petition with dozens of signatures. So far all 3 selectmen, and many town boards, commissions and individual committee members have signed the document.

Another petition is also circulating, with a similar request. This one is aimed at non-government Westporters.

Westport has a history of environmental activism. In 2007, we were the first town in Connecticut to include a sustainability chapter in a Plan of Conservation and Development.

Since then we’ve won the Department of Energy’s Neighbor to Neighbor Challenge, helped launch the Solarize Connecticut program, and (with a unanimous RTM vote) became one of the first towns in the state to adopt financing to support energy efficiency and clean energy improvements.

Solar PV power can be the way to go.

Examples of Net Zero include:

  • Signing an agreement to receive electricity credit for 1 megawatt of solar power per year, produced at a site in eastern Connecticut. The town is waiting for approval for an additional 1 megawatt. This program could satisfy 1/4 of the town buildings’ electricity.
  • Implementing the Energy Performance Contract initiative in school and municipal buildings. Reducing energy consumption has the potential to save up to$1 million per year in energy costs for the next 15 years.
  • Installing electric vehicle charging stations at the railroad station parking lots and other municipal parking sites.
  • Applying for an additional 1.2 megawatts of on-site solar power at Staples High School (just shy of 50% of the school’s electricity loads, after a separate building efficiency improvement program).
  • Preparing to break ground on an efficient renovation of the Westport Library, including 70 kilowatts of solar power.
  • Installing another 100 kilowatts of solar capacity as part of the planned expansion of the Senior Center.
  • Initiating a new program with support of the town, Downtown Merchants Association and the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce, encouraging businesses to keep the doors closed this summer when using air conditioning.

That last goal may be the toughest of all.

(To sign the Net Zero petition, click here.) 

Savannah Bee Company Has Westport Buzzing

For a decade, honeybees died in distressingly large numbers.

But in downtown Westport, they’re alive and well.

At least, their honey is.

On Friday, Bedford Square welcomed its newest tenant. Savannah Bee Company — an artisanal honey and body care store — opened its 8th location. It’s the first outside the Southeast.

Savannah Bee Company’s entrance on Church Lane.

“They’ll have to sell a lot of honey to afford that space” is the reaction from some residents.

But others who have seen Savannah Bee in action — in its 3 eponymous locations, or its upscale locations in Charleston, Myrtle Beach, St. Simons or Lake Buena Vista — know it’s more than just a honey store.

And folks who have wandered in since its opening are all abuzz.

Savannah Bee is the brainchild of Ted Dennard. If you think his company is interesting, wait till you hear his back story.

Ted Dennard, at the “honey bar.” The front counter is made of bee boxes.

Dennard grew up in St. Simons, Georgia. When he was 13, a beekeeper asked his father for permission to put hives on the property. His father agreed — provided the man taught his kids about beekeeping.

Dennard studied religion and philosophy in college, then joined the Peace Corps.

He opened his first store in 1999, selling tupelo honey. He expanded slowly, adding sites and expanding his mission.

Customers at the Bedford Square store can sample a variety of honeys, from several continents; bottle their own (from local beekeepers), and enjoy treats like “artisanal honey chocolate” made by Fred Knipschildt.

The bright interior of Savannah Bee Company.

Dennard has spent time in this area, and loves it. Westport, he says, is a community that “seems to appreciate what we do, and understands the wonder of the honeybee world.”

He calls bees “an amazing species. They keep the world thriving.”

Dennard marvels at their complexity, their important (if unsung) role in nature, and their appeal to anyone who understands them. After 40 years, he says, “they never let me down. I’m always learning more.”

So he’s undertaken the Bee Cause Project (get it?). Savannah Bee donates hives to schools. Students watch bees build honeycombs, make honey, raise babies, do their dances and pass nectar.

More than 250 schools already participate, in 46 states. Each beehive is worth about $2,000.

Savannah Bee also gives honey to students, to sell. The money they earn helps fund more hives, in more schools.

“Bees have been around for hundreds of millions of years,” Dennard says. “We’re taking the long view. We’re trying to raise a generation that loves, understands and protects honeybees.”

He learns a lot from bees. One lesson: “You don’t get anywhere unless you’re moving.”

Savannah Bee Company has moved out of its Southeast hive. It’s now making honey — and happy customers — in downtown Westport.

Breaking News: Tesla Withdraws Saugatuck Application

In a 2-sentence letter, Tesla has abandoned its quest to build a vehicle service center on Saugatuck Avenue.

Mel Barr — the electric vehicle manufacturer’s land-use consultant in Westport — wrote to Planning & Zoning director Mary Young:

In view of the public testimony, submitted protest petition and Commission concerns expressed at the Public Hearing on June 15, 2017, the Applicant has decided to WITHDRAW the above referenced application [#17-024]. Please REMOVE this continued item from the July 6th, 2017 Planning & Zoning Commission Agenda.

Public protest at the public hearing, and on “06880,” against Tesla’s plan was strong earlier this month. Reasons included traffic, noise, and the possibility that the service center could become a dealership sometime down the road.

But the comments section of “06880” was also filled with proponents. They touted Tesla’s plan as a strong, low-intensity use of the property, and an asset to Westport’s economy and environmental commitment.

20 Saugatuck Avenue — the site where Tesla hoped to build a service facility.