Category Archives: Local politics

[OPINION] Developer: In Wake Of Hiawatha Court Decision, We Plan 187 Units

In the wake of a Superior Court judge’s ruling that Westport grant conditional approval for a sewer line extension — the first step toward construction of a large housing complex on Hiawatha Lane, off Saugatuck Avenue next to I-95 Exit 17 — the developer in the lawsuit has issued a press release.

Summit Development says:

A 14-year effor to create a moderate-income housing community in the Town of Westport took a major step forward after a State Superior Court judge ordered the town to grant a conditional approval for a sewer line extension to serve proposed new development on Hiawatha Lane in the Saugatuck neighborhood.

In a ruling issued May 7, Judge Kenneth Shluger ordered the town to extend an existing municipal sewer line 1600 feet to serve the proposed development. The judge said the town’s Water Pollution Control Authority has abused its discretion by delaying the extension. The town’s 3-member governing Board of Selectmen serves as the commissioners of the Authority.

The town has maintained that it could not consider extending the sewer because a failing sewer line and related pumping station that would serve the site are inadequate to handle the additional sewage effluent the new housing would generate, and further said that an existing town policy precluded it from issuing conditional approvals.

The developer, Summit Saugatuck LLC of Southport has maintained since early 2016, when it negotiated a joint venture agreement with the Westport Housing Authority to build 155 units, that the town was not only authorized but obligated to issue a sewer extension approval conditioned upon the completion of the sewer and pump station upgrades.

In 2016, the Public Works Department set the schedule for the upgrades, which are now nearing completion. Summit’s property met all the criteria for receiving sewer service, including being within the Sewer District, and that the town’s sewage treatment plant having ample capacity.

Summit’s attorney, Timothy Hollister, said the judge’s decision supports Summit’s position that the town’s interests are fully protected by granting the extension conditioned on the upgrade being completed, and that the town produced no evidence that it has a long-standing policy against issuing conditional approvals. “There is no such policy,” he said.

Felix Charney, president of Summit Development, said: “The judge found that the town has been using the sewer system upgrade as a way of delaying creation of the moderate-income housing that is so desperately needed in Westport. In 2016, the town encouraged us to partner with the Westport Housing Authority and we came up with a great plan for 155 units including 70 moderate-income units. But when we presented the very plan the town had encouraged, the Town Board dropped its support and hid behind the sewer line issue as the way of blocking the development. Now, with the Housing Authority having lost its financing opportunity, we are proceeding on our own.”

Summit’s new proposal: 187 units.

Summit’s revised plan will feature 187 studio, 1- and 2-bedroom apartments with 30 percent for moderate income households having maximum rent and household income restrictions for 40 years. The 8-acre site is centrally located with access to local stores, restaurants and services.  The community will be a transit oriented development (TOD), as it is within easy walking distance of the Saugatuck train station.

Westport First Selectman Jim Marpe has been quoted saying that the court decision will have “very little practical impact on the proposed project’s timetable.”

Charney responds: “For years we have offered compromises, all of which have been rebuffed by the town. We have a great location near the train station, are in a neighborhood where there are other multi-family apartments and are using a classic New England-style architecture that fits beautifully within the community. The real question boils down to whether Westport wants to be an inclusive or an exclusive community?”

He said Summit had offered the town a series of smaller proposals including the one in partnership with the Westport Housing Authority, but the town chose to not commit.“They left us no alternative but to turn to the courts.”

Carol Martin, executive director of the Westport Housing Authority, said the authority supports the private sector developing housing in the town. “We have reached the point where we are no longer accepting additional applicants signing up with us. With approximately 1,000 names already on the list, there’s no point. We applaud private sector developers like Summit who are willing to step in and help to address the huge need we have in Westport.”

Unsung Hero #48

Earlier this year, WestportNow celebrated its 15th anniversary.

Since 2003 the site has provided readers with political news, police reports, coverage of community events like library talks and fundraisers, obituaries, photos of sunrises and sunsets, and the immensely popular “Teardown of the Day.”

The founder, editor and publisher is Gordon Joseloff. He gave up his editor’s post between 2005 and 2013 — that’s when he served 2 terms as the town’s 1st selectman — but he’s been back at the helm ever since.

Gordon Joseloff (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Joseloff’s journalistic chops are real. He worked for UPI. Then, during 16 years at CBS News, he rose from a writer for Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather to correspondent, senior producer and bureau chief in New York, Moscow and Tokyo.

Joseloff covered the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the downing of Korean Air Lines flight 007, the assassination of India Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (for which he won an Emmy Award in 1984), the Bhopal gas leak, and the overthrow of Philippines President Fernando Marcos.

And he’s a Westport native. His family’s roots run deep: They owned downtown property including the Fine Arts Theater, a very popular spot for over 8 decades. (Today it’s Restoration Hardware.)

Joseloff was a teenage reporter for the Westport Town Crier, and helped create the predecessor of Staples’ WWPT radio station, broadcasting at Compo Beach.

Prior to running for first selectman, Joseloff served 14 years on the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) — 10 of them as moderator.

A member of Westport Rotary and an honorary member of the Westport Historical Society advisory council, Joseloff is also a volunteer firefighter, and a former Emergency Medical Technician.

Congratulations on 15 years to WestportNow — and thanks to Gordon Joseloff, its founder, guiding light, and this week’s Unsung Hero.

 

Judge Rules Against Town In Hiawatha Sewer Case

Development of multi-family housing in Saugatuck moved one step closer to reality yesterday.

Superior Court Judge Kenneth Schluger announced his ruling: The town should grant an application to extend the town sewer, to serve a proposed development on Hiawatha Lane.

Two years ago, Summit Development proposed building 155 rental units on 5.34 acres. Hiawatha Lane is currently a narrow road accessible by West Ferry Lane off Saugatuck Avenue, between I-95 exit 17 and the railroad station parking lot.

Hiawatha Lane includes many rental properties — and some of the lowest housing prices in Westport. The land was originally developed to house immigrant workers who built the railroad.

Housing would include 85 market-rate units, and 70 “affordable” units, as defined by Connecticut’s 8-30 g regulation.

A rendering of the proposed Hiawatha Lane development.

The court ruled that the extension request should be granted, subject to a condition that a construction permit not be issued until repair work to the force main under the Saugatuck River, and Pump Station #2, was complete. The Public Works Department anticipates construction will be done by late summer.

The Westport Board of Selectmen — acting in their capacity as the Westport Pollution Control Authority — had denied one request for the sewer extension because repair work had not yet begun, and a second request because construction was not yet finished.

The court said that the WPCA could in fact grant conditional approval, provided no work begins until the repair work is done.

Hiawatha Lane is a narrow street, filled with homes that are modest by Westport standards. It’s accessible only via West Ferry Lane off Saugatuck Avenue, next to the I-95 eastbound entrance/exit ramp.

1st Selectman Jim Marpe said, “I am disappointed by the decision. But even if the court had ruled in the town’s favor, the WPCA would have no discretion to deny Summit’s application after the improvements and repairs … were complete and certified. Ultimately, the court’s decision will have very little practical impact on the proposed project’s timetable.”

End Of An Era: Crossroads Hardware To Close

For 27 years, Crossroads Hardware has served Westport.

Jimmy Izzo, his dad AJ, and a superb, knowledgeable staff have helped us weather snowstorms, hurricanes and floods. They’ve been the go-to place for gardening supplies in spring, rakes in the fall, paint and keys and pest control and light bulbs and a lot more whenever we need it.

But all good — no, great — things come to an end. The North Main Street shop with the country-store vibe will close at the end of the month.

Crossroads Ace Hardware on Main Street. Its neighbors include Coffee An’, Merritt Country Store and 323 restaurant.

Jimmy is one of the most positive people I know. A native Westporter (Staples High School Class of 1983 — his dad was Staples ’58), he loves this town and the folks who live here. He will never speak negatively about them.

But they — we — have changed.

Too many of us now buy too much on the internet to keep Crossroads Hardware in business. We buy it from the comfort of our homes, and it’s delivered the next day. We’re even reminded by email or text when we’re about to run out of something, so we can order more right then and there.

We don’t head down to the hardware store as regularly as we used to — particularly on Saturdays. That used to be Crossroads’ big day. Now, families are on the go all day, with kids’ sports and other activities. Saturday at the hardware store is a thing of the past.

Crossroads Ace Hardware has always been community-minded. When former employee Todd Austin (standing, 2nd from right) served in Iraq, the store sent shirts and plenty of other goods to his Marine company.

The Izzos crammed a ton of stuff into 2,300 square feet. When they opened in 1991, there weren’t a lot of places to buy, say, fire logs.

Today those are just one of the squintillion things Amazon sells. (You can get them at Stew’s and Stop & Shop now too.)

People even order ice melt online. We know when a storm is coming. We order with a few clicks, and it’s delivered to our doorstep just hours before the snow falls.

Jimmy Izzo with Monday special assistant Annissa DiNoto.

Amazon — and the big boys like Home Depot — enjoy economies of scale. But the costs of a brick-and-mortar store — rent, insurance, salaries — never go down.

Jimmy is not bitter. He wants his closing to be a celebration of his 27 years in business. He salutes his longtime employees — Janet Horelick,  Mike Stiskel, Chris Gendren, the Coulson brothers, the many Staples students who have worked there (usually in their first jobs), and manager Joe Italiano who retired last year after a quarter century with the Izzos.

Jimmy mentions too his girlfriend Jeannine Molle and her daughter Lilly, for their great support.

For years, Crossroads Ace Hardware has hosted special needs students from Staples High School. They always followed up with personal thank-yous, Jimmy says.

For nearly 3 decades, he says, he has been privileged to see Westport through his customers’ eyes. “The talk, the politics, the civil discourse — I’ve enjoyed it all.” (And he hears it all: In his spare time, Jimmy is an RTM member from District 3.)

“This is a great town. Our customers are gems. They’re awesome, great people.”

But their needs and wants — and shopping habits — have changed.

Now Jimmy will explore other options. He’ll continue to be involved in Westport — a community he loves.

It just won’t be at the store that once served Westport, in the days when “personal touch” meant a lot more than hitting “submit” on your online order.

—————————————————

Here’s his statement:

I can’t believe it’s been 27 years since we opened the doors of Crossroads Hardware. 27 years of serving this wonderful community, and making lifelong friends along the way. 27 years of watching great kids who have worked for us grow into amazing adults, with multiple success stories. Each one becomes a part of our family for life.

I can’t thank all of our employees, past and present, enough for caring so much about Crossroads and our customers, as if the store were your own. You truly contributed to making Crossroads the neighborhood gathering place we always wanted it to be.

I would like to thank our manager of 26 years, Joe Italiano, who retired last year, for his loyalty, depth of knowledge and care for our customers and their needs. And a special thank you to my father, AJ Izzo, for his dedication to Crossroads and the community as a whole.

Joe Italiano retired last year, after 26 years with Crossroads. Janet Horelick has worked there for many years too.

I can’t thank the wonderful Westport-Weston community, and those who traveled from other towns to support Crossroads over the years. You too will always be a part of our family. Without you, we would have never had the 27 years to be your local helpful hardware place.

As we close our doors at the end of May, I want everyone to know it’s been a great ride. We feel incredibly blessed to have served this community, and made forever friendships throughout our 27 years in business.

We hope to see you in the coming weeks as we celebrate 27 years of friendship.

AJ Izzo (right) with Matthew Mandell. He serves on the RTM with Jimmy Izzo, and as executive director of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce, is a strong supporter of small local businesses.

 

 

 

#GregStrong

When Patty Strauss’ son Greg suffered a traumatic injury last month — he broke his back cliff-jumping, but lost his right foot below the knee — all of Westport rushed to help.

We should. In over 20 years as town clerk, Patty has helped nearly everyone here.

Folks in Town Hall were especially affected. She’s just one official among many, but her work is important to every department. Her warmth and generosity has impacted every office.

Everyone loves Patty.

On Friday, nearly everyone in Town Hall wore Virginia Tech colors: maroon and burnt orange. Greg graduated from there just 4 months ago, and was working  his dream job — crewing on a Caribbean yacht — when he was injured.

Showing the Virginia Tech colors for Greg Strauss.

They added messages of encouragement and inspiration. Those are small gestures, but they boosted Greg’s spirits — and of course Patty and her husband Ed’s too.

#GregStrong — started by Greg’s cousin — has caught on. Patty’s assistant Colleen Tarpey ordered stickers that will be sold soon.

Many Town Hall employees and Westporters have contributed to a GoFundMe campaign, for Greg’s mounting medical expenses. We’re all giving back to Patty, in whatever way we can.

Even non-employees sent best wishes.

1st Selectman Jim Marpe — wearing Virginia Tech orange — joined the chorus of encouragement.

Time To Help A Town Hall Gem

Everyone in Westport knows Patty Strauss.

In over 20 years as town clerk, she’s helped all of us at one point with her many duties: managing all public records (land, meetings, births, marriages, deaths), licenses (marriage, dog, fish and game), and elections.

She’s passionate about her job, patient to the point of sainthood, and brings life and light to all of Town Hall.

Now she needs our help.

Her son Greg — a longtime Westporter, and former Staples High School football and lacrosse player — suffered a cliff jumping accident last month. He’s 22, and after graduating from Virginia Tech in January had started his dream job: crewing on a Caribbean yacht.

Greg Strauss

His back was fractured in the jump. Fortunately, he was stabilized enough to be quickly airlifted back from Grenada to the US.

In Florida, Greg’s back was repaired. He then endured several surgeries to repair the compound fractures and soft tissue damage to his right foot and ankle.

However, to give Greg the best hope to enjoy a pain-free and active life, his right foot was amputated below the knee.

Insurance will cover many of his medical bills, but not all. The cost of prosthetics will be significant, and an ongoing financial burden.

The Strausses have always given back to their neighbors, strangers and the entire town. They did not ask for this help. But friends have set up a GoFundMe link that will show how much we appreciate all Patti and her family have done for all of us: https://www.gofundme.com/greg-needs-a-new-right-foot

Victoria Gouletas Update: She’s Strong, But Recovery Is Long

In March, “06880” told the heart-pounding tale of Victoria Gouletas.

The real estate attorney and Zoning Board of Appeals member was crushed by a large tree branch, during a howling nor’easter. It hit her head and back, fracturing several bones in her neck, scapula and sternum.

The tree limb also broke her back, paralyzing her from the chest down. She was told she will never walk again.

Help poured in for Victoria, her husband Troy Burk and their 3 young children. Westporters brought food, drove the kids, helped around the house and yard — and donated over $190,000 through a GoFundMe account.

Doctors assured Victoria that with intense physical therapy she can regain her daily independence, care for herself and her family, drive her children to school and return to work full time.

This week, she returned home for a brief visit. But another surgery — and more rehab — await. The road ahead remains long and difficult.

Victoria Gouletas (bottom row, 2nd from right) with friends (clockwise from left) Coleytown Elementary School PTA co-president Youn So Chao, Westport Human Services Department director Elaine Daignault, 3rd Selectman Melissa Kane, community organizer Marcy Sansolo and Victoria’s sister-in-law Suzanne Karpick.

Her spirit is strong. She and her family have been moved by the many friends — and strangers — who have contributed time and money to help.

Her husband will take another month off work to care for her and the kids. Meanwhile, the bills continue to mount.

Her friends hope Westporters will not forget Victoria.

We won’t. In fact, we’ll continue to be inspired by her.

(Click here to contribute through Victoria’s GoFundMe page.)

It Takes A Village To Beautify A Town

Town officials perform tons of thankless tasks.

They read mind-numbing reports. They sit through mind-numbing meetings. They put up with a lot garbage.

Today, they had enough of that trash.

In the wee hours of Westport’s Green Day, RTM member Andrew Colabella and his friend Franco Zaffina — a 2003 Staples graduate — headed to Grace Salmon Park.

The popular pocket park off Imperial Avenue attracts tons of visitors. Sometimes, some forget (ahem) to pick up after themselves.

You can’t see it here, but Grace Salmon Park attracts plenty of garbage. (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

By 9 a.m. Westport Rotarians, residents of Gault Park and Marvin Road, Homes With Hope founder/RTM rep Jeff Wieser, Parks and Recreation director Jen Fava, 1st selectman Jim Marpe, assistant town attorney Eileen Lavigne Flug and the Westport Garden Club were there too.

Clad in gloves and boots, armed with trash pickers, and roaming the high tide line and marshlands, they filled over 25 garbage bags.

Among the loot: styrofoam cups, bottles, cigarette butts, and — mostly — dog droppings.

A small part of the big haul. (Photo/Andrew Colabella)

It took 2 hours to clean the entire park.

But Garden Club members were not done. They hauled out shovels and edgers. Magically, their green thumbs beautified the garden beds.

That’s just one of the many spots benefiting from today’s Green Day. All across town, other groups, families and individuals did their part to Make Westport Green Again.

Colabella could think of no better way to celebrate his 29th birthday.

“Westport is my home — along with 27,000 other residents,” he says.

“There’s about 34 square miles of land and water. We are responsible for every inch of our environment. Please clean up after yourselves — and your dog — and dispose of waste properly.

“There are garbage cans at every park. Don’t throw trash into the marsh, where animals live.”

 

Noticing The P&Z

Zoning is a hot button Westport issue.

Homes on the old Daybreak property off Main Street. 81 housing units on Post Road West. Medical marijuana dispensaries from Southport to Norwalk.

Now, there’s a hot button to click on.

The Planning & Zoning Commission has spent months figuring out how to alert more Westporters — in a more timely manner — about upcoming hearings.

The traditional — and state-mandated — methods are legal notices in newspapers, and snail mail sent to neighbors. A while ago, Westport added email alerts.

But legal notices are hard to find (besides, no one reads newspapers anymore); mail is not exactly a 21st-century tool, and few people know about the email option.

A typical legal notice.

So the P&Z added a button on the official town website home page. It links to each legal notice, with further links to all applications. No more clicking through multiple tabs to find P&Z, then searching for  notices — or visiting Town Hall to review materials.

But the P&Z wants to do even more.

A subcommittee meeting this Tuesday (May 1, 12:30 p.m., Town Hall Room 201) will explore other ways to spread the word about upcoming meetings and issues. The public is invited to attend, and offer ideas.

Of course, not everyone can make it Town Hall on a Tuesday afternoon. Proposals for new communication methods can also be sent to pzdept@westportct.gov (put “Improving Public Notice” in the subject line).

The P&Z wants to hear especially from Westporters who feel they’ve been left out of the process in the past.

Westport Wins Another Award. It’s Not One We Like.

Valerie Seiling Jacobs and Ian Warburg — co-chairs of Save Westport Now — write:

In 2016, Westport beat out 26 towns in the tri-state area for the highest ozone values. Our levels exceeded the National Ambient Air Quality Standard of 75 parts per billion, by at least 10%.

The latest data indicates that things may be getting worse in Connecticut.

Of course, high ozone levels are bad for the environment and our health. They’re linked to asthma, cancer, heart attacks, pulmonary problems, hypertension, and childhood development issues.

Gas-powered gardening equipment — mowers, hedgers, trimmers and especially leaf blowers — now accounts for 5 to 10% of the total emissions in the US.

A town like Westport probably produces about 25,000 tons of carbon emissions per year — just from lawn care. That’s like adding 5,000 cars to our already congested roads. (On a per household basis, it’s like driving an extra 10,000 miles a year.)

One gasoline-powered leaf blower produces more emissions in half an hour than 40 cars idling.

These machines pose other significant hazards. The exhaust streams from leaf blowers, which often blow over 200 mph, stir up fine particulate matter that often contains pesticides, fertilizers, mold and rodent feces. The fumes can take days to settle down, which makes them especially dangerous for children and pets.

Then of course there’s the noise. Most of these machines exceed the safe decibel limits set by the WHO, EPA and OSHA. Some experts recommend creating “safe zones” around schools and parks to protect children from the noise and other pollution created by leaf blowers.

Save Westport Now believes that by capitalizing on new technology and adopting greener gardening practices, we can reduce the threat these machines pose — and still maintain our beautiful gardens.

This Friday (April 20, Town Hall, 12:30 p.m.), Dr. Jamie L. Banks — executive director of Quiet Communities — will lead a discussion on what Westport can do to protect families from the hazards of gas-powered gardening equipment. She and her colleagues have helped other towns around the country adopt best practices to address the problems caused by this equipment.

We’re sure she can help ours.

(For more information, email ContactSaveWestportNow@gmail.com)