Category Archives: Environment

Friends Of Trees

There are 3 subjects I know will always generate huge “06880” reader reactions:

Parking. Dogs. And trees.

The first 2 are predictable parts of Westport life. The 3rd may be less intuitive.

But as regularly as power goes out when the wind blows, any time I post a tree story we get comments from readers who mourn the loss of every tree. And from others who say hey, easy come, easy go.

Yet — until the other day — I had no idea that both tree huggers and Paul Bunyans could find common purpose.

That’s when alert — and arboreal-minded — reader Johanna Rossi told me about the Friends of Parks & Recreation’s Arbor Program.

Full disclosure: I didn’t even know the Friends group existed, either. They’re a  public-private partnership that finances worthwhile projects and services, beyond those paid for by tax dollars.

The website of the Friends of Parks & Recreation website includes a photo of the Longshore entrance -- before the removal of several trees lining the entrance way. New trees have taken their place.

The website of the Friends of Parks & Recreation website includes a photo of the Longshore entrance — before the removal of several trees lining the entrance way. New trees have taken their place.

One of those programs can be found on the Friends’ website  under the heading “Trees, Trees, Trees.” Launched last year, it’s a way to honor “the lives and achievements of friends and families.”

Working with Parks and Rec, tree warden Bruce Lindsay identifies locations where he’d like to plant trees. He notes the specimens and species that thrive there.

Donors can choose their location and tree. The price is based on the cost of planting, as well as a fund to support maintenance — fertilizing, watering, pruning, etc. — for 5 years.

Planting takes place in the spring and fall. Photos and biographical info can be displayed alongside the tree.

It’s a “living legacy” for people to celebrate those who, most probably, are no longer living.

There’s even a GPS locator to help identify locations and tree types. Right now, there are 2 sites: Winslow Park and Compo Beach.

Tree warden Bruce Lindsay has a plan to remove dead trees at Winslow Park -- and replace them.

Tree warden Bruce Lindsay has a plan to remove dead trees at Winslow Park — and replace them.

So the next time I post a story about tree removal, don’t click “Comments.”

Instead, donate a tree.

These Days, You Never Know Who’ll Show Up At Your Front Door

(Photo/Dana Kuyper)

(Photo/Dana Kuyper)

Photo Challenge #107

Last week’s photo challenge was like Goldilocks.

It was not too easy. Not too hard. It was just right.

There was a great balance between right answers, and wrong.

The wrong guesses went in every direction. Seth Schachter’s waterfall photo showed not Lees Pond. Not Nash’s Pond. Not Devil’s Den.

It was Bulkley Pond. That’s by Sasco Mill, on the Westport/Southport border. It’s right behind Shake Shack. And — sssshhh!  — there’s a cute little parking area, for your enjoyment.

Andrew Colabella, Billy Scalzi, Joyce Losen and Katie Augustyn knew exactly where that hidden-in-plain-sight site was. Click here for the photo, and all the comments.

This week’s photo challenge is a lot uglier. But — like the 3 Bears — it takes all kinds to make up Westport.

If you know where in Westport to find this, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

 

Lifestyles Of The Rich And Efficient

Congratulations!

You’ve just been given the keys to your new 10,000-square foot house. It’s beautiful!

You love the kitchen, with its high-end appliances. The master bathroom, with its fancy his-and-her showers, tubs and whatnot. The pool (and poolhouse!)

The last thing on your mind is how to maintain all that stuff. Not to mention the irrigation, roof and security system.

Plus everything else.

It’s the last thing on your mind because 1) you haven’t even finished unpacking; 2) you are a wizard of Wall Street but not an electrician, plumber, roofer, tile man, lawn guy or locksmith, and 3) you don’t even know what you don’t know.

Who you gonna call?

EfficientLifestyle!

It's tough to maintain a home like this on your own. Right?

It’s tough to maintain a home like this on your own. Right?

They’re a brand-new company — as modern as your home. Since moving into their breathtaking space overlooking the Saugatuck River in November (actually, for a while before that), they’ve been preparing to launch a web-based platform that will make Angie’s List look like the Yellow Pages.

And make the Yellow Pages look like the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Tye Schlegelmich — founder and president of EfficientLifestyle — is an ex-hedge fund guy. He moved to Westport in 2010, and is passionate about his new role: making life more efficient, safe and fun for (among others) hedge fund guys.

Bill Green — vice president of operations — is a 1976 Staples High School grad. He’s spent his career building high-end homes in the area (and in similarly upscale locales, like Telluride).

Tye Schlegelmilch (left) and Bill Green, in their sun-filled riverside office.

Tye Schlegelmilch and Bill Green, in their sun-filled (and very efficient) riverside office.

At the heart of EfficientLifestyle is the belief that while everyone talks about the Internet of Things — the system of interrelated computing devices that in theory allows you to manage every aspect of your home digitally — the reality is far different.

You still have to change your air conditioning filters. Winterize your sprinklers. Clean your gutters. (Well, not necessarily “you.” Someone.)

And even if your house can tell you it’s broken, which local service provider around here is knowledgeable — and reliable — enough to fix it?

“Think of EfficientLifestyle as ‘Facebook for your house,'” Green says.

When you log in — after, that is, your address and credit cards have been verified — you see not a photo of you on the beach at Turks and Caicos, but a photo of your house.

The "home page" for your home.

The “home page” for your home.

You also see photos of your furnace, generator, oven, and many other appliances and pieces of machinery. That’s because the first thing Efficient Lifestyle does is send a “surveyor” to your home.

He takes those images — along with shots of the little plates bearing serial numbers — for 2 reasons. One is to create a database for your home.  The other is to make it very easy for service providers to provide service. If they know exactly where the water shutoff valve or control box is, they don’t have to spend valuable time searching for it. Or asking you where it is. (This also saves you from embarrassment, if your answer is, “Um….”)

Schlegelmilch notes another efficiency: Knowing makes and models allows service providers to pre-load trucks. The amount of time saved by not making multiple trips back and forth for 29-cent widgets on clogged I-95 is insane.

In his 90 to 120-minute inspection, the surveyor looks at everything: the roof, siding and interior of your home.

So far, Green notes, nearly every inspection has turned up something the homeowner did not know about, including chimney cracks, wiring problems and leaky pipes.

When you log in, you’ll also see a customized list of scheduled maintenance tasks — everything from exterior maintenance to moving outdoor furniture in for the winter.

There’s another list for unscheduled maintenance (uh oh).

Efficient Lifestyle also tracks major projects.

Efficient Lifestyle also tracks major projects.

To access a provider for any service — there are 47 categories — you click on the menu. Up comes a short roster of vendors, with pertinent information and reviews.

All have been vetted well. Very well. It’s an A-list for sure.

Once they’re approved — their licenses and certifications checked, their business reviews run — service providers get plenty. There’s full calendar integration. Payment processing. And an email/text system that allows customers and service providers to communicate quickly and efficiently. (No more voicemail, telephone answering services and other 20th-century technology.)

Currently, there is no fee for homeowners. EfficientLifestyle will be rolled out to other communities soon — but even if the firm eventually charges other homeowners for the initial survey, Schlegelmilch promises that Westporters will “never, ever” pay.

The list of repairs includes

The list of services you can access is long and comprehensive. It includes exterminators, generators — even garage doors.

The company charges service providers 5% of their fee.

It’s an efficient way to manage your lifestyle. It’s equally efficient for the service providers who make the cut.

And though the first part of this story talked about “your new 10,000-square foot house,” EfficientLifestyle can make life easy for any homeowner.

They know a thing or two about old places.

After all, their headquarters — 49 Riverside Avenue — was once Horace Staples’ lumberyard. Back in the 1860s.

You know — before electricity, Sub-Zero wine cellars and swimming pools that can’t survive a Westport winter on their own.

(To reach the EfficientLifestyle website efficiently, click here.)

Coalition For Westport: Study Saugatuck Carefully!

Recently, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe appointed a Saugatuck Transit Oriented Development Steering Committee. The group is charged with developing a master plan for that ever-changing retail/restaurant/residential area.

The Coalition for Westport — a non-partisan group originally formed to seek election to the Planning & Zoning Commission — commended Marpe for establishing the committee, then sent this note to co-chair Mary Young:

The time is right for the Saugatuck area to be carefully studied. It is attractive to residents, visitors and developers for a variety of reasons: It is the historical root of Westport; it provides attractive access to the river; it is a destination for foodies and perhaps most importantly, it is a primary transit hub.

What is more, many of the buildings in the area defined as Saugatuck in the Town Plan of Conservation and Development retain features of their original design and construction, despite having been repurposed.

In the 1920s, Esposito's gas station stood on Charles Street. Today it's Tarry Lodge.

In the 1920s, Esposito’s gas station stood on Charles Street. Today it’s Tarry Lodge.

The challenge for land use agencies and planners is a classic balancing act: What shall be saved and what replaced? Do we envision the area as a 2nd downtown? Or, as seems lost likely and most prudent, do we encourage/require a mix of controlled residential (including multi-family and affordable housing within walking distance to the train station) and commercial development which respects the scale and character of the neighborhood?

The Coalition believes that Saugatuck should retain its historical heritage and small town character. Therefore we support an expanded and enhanced neighborhood concept rather than the idea of a 2nd downtown. We come down squarely in favor of a mixed-use plan favoring residential expansion and enhanced essential services — local businesses, to cater to the requirements of the residential population that will need a pharmacy, hardware store, market and other essential services not now present in the area, which can be provided in a “mom and pop” form without competing with Main Street retail. We also foresee new retail and dining services that would attract additional visitors.

One area that can and should be developed for those types of commercial uses is Railroad Place. This can be done without sacrificing the architectural features or facades at the easterly end of the street which are deemed worth preserving. A drop-off lane could also be created for the station.

The Coalition recommends that the remainder of the square block (with the possible exception of the office building) be devoted to a mix of housing types — 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom apartments and townhouses, both rental and condos — with adequate parking and passive open space. An appropriate percentage should be truly affordable.

Land Tech has already developed plans for a mixed-use development at a new Railroad Place. Mario's is, of course, now Harvest restaurant.

LandTech has already developed plans for a mixed-use development at a new Railroad Place. Mario’s is, of course, now Harvest restaurant.

To address the ever-present need for additional railroad parking, we urge adoption of a “Transit District” zoning regulation that provides an incentive to private developers to create parking to be administered by the town, in exchange for increased (but controlled) development density calculated in accordance with a regulatory formula.

Saugatuck residents will need relief from additional vehicular traffic. Therefore both additional visitor and commuter parking should be created — most efficiently at, above or below grade in the ordinary course of construction.

The Coalition would also support traffic flow rerouting plans that would alleviate congestion without any major construction or disruption for residents.

We encourage the new Saugatuck Steering Committee and P&Z to adopt a plan that implements these thoughts, and to coordinate efforts to arrive at a consensus to be formalized in the 2017 Town Plan of Conservation and Development.

Paul Newman Still Helps Farmers’ Market Grow

Sure, it’s winter. But there’s always something stirring at the Westport Farmers’ Market.

The long-running food hub — operating through March on Saturdays, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at Gilbertie’s on Sylvan Lane South — has just received a $10,000 grant from Newman’s Own Foundation.

It’s a great connection for the 2 Westport-based organizations. The foundation — formed in 2005 by our own Paul Newman — focuses on 4 areas with the potential for transformational change. They include philanthropy, children, employment — and nutrition.

The Farmers’ Market, meanwhile, provides fresh, local, healthy and seasonal food to the community, while promoting education about local food and farms, and sustainable growing practices.

A typical scene at the Westport Farmers' Market.

A typical scene at the Westport Farmers’ Market.

Lori Cochran-Dougall, WFM executive director, calls the grant “especially poignant.” After all, Newman helped found the market in 2006.

“Paul Newman and Michael Nischan” — Newman’s friend and partner in, among other things, the Dressing Room restaurant adjacent to the WFM’s 1st location in the Westport Country Playhouse’ parking lot — “brought life to the market we know and love today,” Cochran-Dougall says.

“Over the years we have proudly referred to Mr. Newman’s contributions and relished stories from Westporters who crossed his path at Town Hall on the days he was on a mission to get the market up and running.”

Paul Newman, flanked by Lori Cochran-Dougall and Michel Nischan, proudly sporting Westport Farmers' Market gear.

Paul Newman, flanked by Lori Cochran-Dougall and Michel Nischan.

Over a decade later, the market is thriving. It boasts some of the strictest standards for participation in the state, over 40 vendors, and that active indoor winter market.

The Newman’s Own funds will help the Farmer’s Market increase the breadth and depth of its programming.

“We’re not sure how to express our gratitude for this grant,” Cochran-Dougall says. “But we will work even harder to honor the founders who planted this seed.”

Dredge We Must!

Westporters are used to paying taxes for services we may never use.

Single folks and childless couples pony up for education. Country club members subsidize Longshore. We all chip in for the fire department, even though most of us (thankfully) never call them.

Yet a recent proposal has called into question an intriguing question: Who should pay to dredge the Ned Dimes Marina?

No one denies it’s needed (it was last dredged in 1993). But the cost is $1.2 million.

The Ned Dimes Marina.

The Ned Dimes Marina.

The Board of Finance thinks boat owners with slips in the marina — that’s the one at Compo Beach — should cover the entire bill. The RTM Finance Committee agrees.

But another option on the table is an 80-20 split between boat owners and the town, respectively. The RTM will discuss the matter at their January 10 meeting.

What do you think? Is this a project that — while it does not benefit everyone — the town should fully cover? Are there intangible benefits that non-boat owners receive from a dredged channel? Is this one of many uses for tax money that we should not even quibble about? Does it open the door to a discussion of other types of funding, for other “town projects”?

Click “Comments” below. And be sure to note whether you’re a boat owner or not.

And if so, where you keep it!

Westport Stores Go To The Dogs

An alert — and perturbed — “06880” reader sniffs:

The latest Westport trend is: dogs in stores.

And we’re seeing it more and more.

This picture was taken the other morning at Terrain:

dog-at-terrain

These 2 women conducted a lengthy checkout. The entire time their Lab licked and nibbled the holiday packages of chocolates and peppermint bark on the lower shelf.

When the transaction was complete, the women and dog grabbed a choice table in the Terrain Cafe.

I reported what I saw to the cashier, who seemed completely disinterested.

Not one to give up easily, I found the store manager who said, “It’s probably something we should frown upon. But we’re owned by Urban Outfitters. It’s their rule to allow dogs in the store and cafe.”

She did say she would remove all of those boxes of candy from the floor.

I did not stick around to see if she made good on her promise. But imagine if I hadn’t reported this? Some innocent shopper would give quite a gift: a very germ-y box of candy.

Boy Scouts’ Next Good Turn: Hauling Away Your Christmas Tree

Sure, Christmas was nice. Presents, family, eggnog and fruitcake.

But now it’s on to the next thing: Getting rid of the tree.

Like so many other tasks in Westport — leaf-raking, pool-cleaning, airport-driving — this task too can be outsourced.

Boy Scout Troop 39 of Westport will happily pick up your Christmas tree. That once beautiful, soon-to-be dying and needle-dropping symbol of recent holiday cheer can be disposed of with one simple mouse click.

The big day is Saturday, January 7. This is the 7th year in a row the Scouts are providing the service, so they’ve got the drill down pat. (And it’s a green drill: The trees are recycled as mulch.)

Boy Scout Troop 39 to the rescue!

Boy Scout Troop 39 to the rescue!

To register for this service, click here. Reservations are limited so — unlike Christmas shopping — don’t delay.

Place your tree by your mailbox by 6:30 a.m. that morning — yeah, you do have to move it that far yourself — and tape an envelope with your donation to your front door.

The suggested donation is $20 per tree (cash or checks made out to “Boy Scout Troop 39” are fine). I’m sure the scouts would not refuse higher amounts. Funds go toward troop activities like food drives, community service projects and high adventure backpacking trips.

The Boy Scouts are well known for “good turns” like helping little old ladies across streets. Bush league. In Westport, they help little old ladies — and strapping young men — dispose of big old Christmas trees.

If A Tree Falls In Baron’s South, Does It Make A Sound?

It’s tough to take down trees here on public land without an uproar.

Westporters howled 3 years ago, when 15 tulip poplars and Norway maples lining the Longshore entrance road were slated for removal. There was a similar brouhaha when a number of Main Street trees were sacrificed for light poles.

But very quietly earlier this month, several dozen trees — not far from the center of downtown — were cut down. We’ve heard hardly a peep.

The key is that those latest trees were on the Baron’s South property. That’s the 22-acre site between Compo Road South and Imperial Avenue. We — well, the town — bought it in 1999. But we’ve never decided exactly how to use the land.

It’s magnificent: hilly, wild and filled with wildlife. It’s been minimally maintained, which suits some people fine. Others think it needs a bit more care.

Deep in the Baron's South property. This image was taken from Judy James' video.

Deep in the Baron’s South property. This image was taken from Judy James’ video.

Most Westporters have no idea it even exists. So the recent Parks & Recreation Department project — to clear overgrown brush, vines, tree branches and other debris, and (oh yeah) chop down a number of trees — hardly registered.

Of course, a few folks noticed.

Cut trees are hauled away from Baron's South.

Cut trees are hauled away from Baron’s South.

One “06880” reader emailed to say that when a friend “came upon such woodland carnage, he became so sick to his stomach he had to leave.” Both were appalled that such “clear-cutting” took place without any notice.

Others hailed the project.

Scott Smith wrote:

The property has fascinated me since moving to this part of town 20 years ago. I’ve hiked, biked and explored the place even before the town bought it.

These photos hardly capture the transformation of the overgrown and long neglected grounds, or the number of trees cleared from the landscape.

The new view at Baron's South, looking west. (Photo/Scott Smith)

The new view at Baron’s South, looking west…

The tree clearing has opened up views of the Baron’s old manor house from nearly every part of the park. I never realized the views it commanded from its hilltop setting. The new vistas from the high ground also reveal glimpses of downtown and the steeples of Assumption Church across the river, and Saugatuck Church on the other side of the Post Road.

The loss of so many (but certainly not all) shows how rugged and steep the site is; there are more than a few slopes and ravines that would make for double-diamond sled runs if the town would ever allow it, which they won’t.

... looking east ...

… looking east …

On the flat land closer to Imperial and near the Senior Center is a small nursery of trees and shrubs packed in deep beds of tree mulch. I suspect tree warden Bruce Lindsay has a well thought-out re-landscaping plan.

Can’t wait to see how this most hidden of the town-owned jewels shapes up this spring. It’s definitely going to be a huge change.

It already is. Whether that change is positive or negative is up for debate.

By the small group of people who even know it happened.

... and looking north. (Photos/Scott Smith)

… and looking north. (Photos/Scott Smith)