Category Archives: Local politics

Arts Campus On Baron’s South? P&Z Draws The Line.

The Westport Arts Center is a wonderful, vibrant place.

It’s also wholly inadequate.

Essentially one long room on Riverside Avenue — with a spectacular view of the Saugatuck River — it functions as a small studio and gallery. But it can host only one meeting, lecture, concert, class or exhibit at a time.

Given Westport’s long arts heritage — and the interest of so many Westporters, from senior citizens to kids, in art in all its forms — it’s no wonder the WAC has sought more suitable digs.

Last fall, town representatives approached the organization. Would the WAC be interested in preserving and using Golden Shadows — the main building on the southeast corner of 23-acre Baron’s South (named for the perfume developed by its previous owner, Baron Walter Langer von Langendorff) — for exhibits and performances?

Golden Shadows. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

The town soon came back with a new question: Would the WAC like to take over the other 3 long-neglected buildings there too?

Meanwhile, a group of veteran, well-respected local artists and photographers — including Leonard Everett Fisher, Ann Chernow, Miggs Burroughs, Niki Ketchman and Larry Silver — had been meeting regularly to discuss their own idea.

These “deans” of the Westport arts scene wanted a dedicated museum-type space to preserve the town’s artistic legacy.

And at the same time, folks like Burroughs, Westport arts curator Kathie Motes Bennewitz, RTM moderator Eileen Lavigne Flug and the Westport Historical  Society’s Bob Mitchell were seeking ways to involve the WAC more fully with other arts organizations in town.

The result was a public/private partnership to create a “community arts campus” at Baron’s South.

As presented last night by 3rd Selectman Helen Garten, at a Planning & Zoning Commission pre-application meeting, there would be 3 phases:

  1. The Westport Arts Center would lease and restore Golden Shadows, retaining most of its decorative interior, for use as offices, classrooms and gallery space.
  2. The WAC would lease and restore the  Tudor revival guest house at 70 Compo Road South as additional gallery space.
  3. They would lease the 2 units at 52 and 52B Compo Road South, for use as artists’ residences.

The house next door to Golden Shadows. The plan would have leased it to artists.

“Leasing all 4 buildings to a single user is the best way to ensure minimal impact on the public open space and surrounding neighborhood,” Garten said.

“Instead of 4 separate buildings, each accessed by its own roadway and each with its own use, there will be a single integrated property.” It would function much as the baron’s estate did, decades ago.

However, P&Z members gave the arts campus plan a frosty reception last night. A pre-app meeting is intended to give applicants a sense of what the zoning board feels about a plan. Commissioners insisted that the concept is too intense for the “light use” zoning of Baron’s South. It’s zoned as “passive recreational open space.”

Arts advocates were unsure last night what their next step will be.

Back to the drawing board they go.

A view into Golden Shadows’ central parlor shows a chandelier and handsome circular staircase. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

The town currently owns 72 Compo Road South, on the eastern edge of Baron’s South. This was planned to be gallery space.

Town Mill Rate Set: 0% Increase

Westport’s mill rate is set.

It’s exactly the same as last year.

The Board of Finance voted unanimously last night to keep the town’s mill rate at 16.86, for fiscal year 2017-18. The board did express concern about the possibility of a mid-year “supplemental assessment,” depending upon state finances.

The total town budget is $204,240,189.

First Selectman Jim Marpe said:

I am proud of our department heads for working diligently to control costs and improve efficiencies, while at the same time maintaining and enhancing our infrastructure. We have been able to absorb the fully restored school budget through the efforts of all town departments. We continue to reform our pension and health programs as we continue to fully fund our obligations and aggressively pay down debt.

Our community is united to ensure that Westport continues to be a highly desirable place to live – for our youth, young families, and seniors. In addition to fully supporting our world-class schools, this year’s budget includes enhancements to downtown, the beaches, and the senior center. Our grand list continues to grow and enables us to mitigate property tax increases, reflecting the confidence residents and businesses have in investing in Westport.

Board of Finance chairman Brian Stern commended “the hard work and commitment of the town’s department heads and professionals. While not raising property taxes, we will also be able to retain reserves at 11%, at the high end of our policy range and consistent with the town’s Aaa rating.”

Renovate Or Replace Compo Bathhouse And Pavilion? Public Meeting Next Week

The press release is simple:

The Parks and Recreation Commission will hold a Special Public Meeting on Thursday, May 25 at 7:30 p.m. in the Town Hall auditorium.  The purpose of the meeting is to determine whether to repair and renovate the current Compo Beach bathhouse and pavilion structure or replace the structure with a new facility.

Knowing Westport — and the history of the beach — the debate is certain to be lively.

The Compo Beach bathhouse … (Photo/Pat Gold)

… and pavilion. (Painting by Matthew Levine)


High On P&Z List: Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

Connecticut is not Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon or Washington. Those are all states where weed is — or soon will be — legal for recreational use.

But the Land of Steady Habits is one of 28 that has legalized medical marijuana. The state licenses growers and dispensaries.

Next Thursday (May 18, 7 p.m., Town Hall auditorium), Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission will discuss whether users could buy it here.

Text Amendment #735 would allow medical marijuana dispensaries to be located in commercial districts — so long as they are 1,000 feet away from protected uses. That list includes schools, daycare centers, parks, public buildings and houses of worship.

Only active, licensed pharmacists can apply for a dispensary license. State regulations also require security systems and restrict advertising.

The hearing is open to the public. Westporters are invited to watch our P&Z commissioners hash this out.

(Click here for the full text of Text Amendment #735.)

What Do You Think Of The Town’s Plan For Conservation And Development?

A draft of Westport’s new Plan of Conservation and Development is online.

It’s 140 pages long, and covers things like:

  • Community character
  • Open space
  • Coastline
  • Business and economic development
  • Residential development
  • Sustainability
  • Cars, pedestrians, bikes and other transit
  • Infrastructure
  • Future land use

The Planning and Zoning Commission will refine it. There will be a workshop in June, and a public hearing on its adoption in September.

Right now, the P&Z invites public comment. Click here for the document; then email, with “POCD” in the subject line.

But hurry! The deadline for comments is Thursday, May 11.


Marpe: “Ethnic Ugliness Has No Place In Westport”

1st Selectman Jim Marpe issued this statement, in response to yesterday’s distribution of hate flyers in Westport:

Once again, Westport residents have found flyers with disturbing messages in their driveways, in this case with neo-Nazi and white supremacist content.

This latest incident comes almost 2 years to the day after disturbing flyers appeared in other parts of our town. I am concerned and angry that once again statements like this have found their way to Westport homes. As I said 2 years ago, this kind of ethnic ugliness has no place anywhere, and certainly not in Westport.

I have always been proud to speak of Westport as an open and welcoming community, and I continue to believe that the vast majority of Westporters practice that belief through tolerance, inclusion and everyday civil behavior. Unfortunately, the last few years and months have reminded us that our nation still needs to deal with some serious societal and behavioral issues, and we are again reminded that Westport is not necessarily immune.

One of the flyers that was tossed in Westport driveways yesterday.

Westport must not tolerate the threatening, bullying and hateful messages that are at the heart of these flyers. We must reinforce our commitment to civil discourse and to the tolerance for residents of all backgrounds. Regardless of the reasons behind these intolerant statements, we must create a political and social climate that rejects these kinds of statements out of hand and allows all opinions to be heard in an open and non-threatening manner.

Our police department is working with other area police departments to attempt to identify the source of these latest disturbing and inflammatory messages. The town is also working with the Connecticut region Anti-Defamation League to identify possible sources but also to seek ways to appropriately combat this type of threatening activity.

I will also ask TEAM Westport to again work with the Interfaith Clergy and other appropriate Town agencies and civic groups to lead our community’s response to these outrageous statements and, as importantly, how to deal with the behaviors and beliefs that underpin them.

Police Chief Foti Koskinas added:

Not only do we want to keep our community safe, but we strive to also give peace of mind.  When you combine the content of the flyer and the nature in which this was done, we recognize the concern and alarm it may cause.  We are working diligently to determine who is responsible, and look further into the motive.


Senior Center: Town Jewel Seeks Enhancements

There are about as many senior citizens in Westport as school-age children.

But you can’t lump all our older folks together, any more than you can say kindergartners are the same as, um, seniors.

The men and women who frequent our Senior Center — formally known as the Westport Center for Senior Activities — range in age from 60s to 90s. Some come nearly every day; others regularly, or infrequently.

They head to the handsome downtown building for a variety of reasons: Fitness, aerobics, Pilates or yoga. Discussions and lectures. Meet longtime friends, and make new ones. Parkinson’s support groups. Lunch. Use computers. Play pool, bridge, poker, Scrabble or ping pong. Paint, sculpt or sketch. Read. Help with taxes, financial planning or Medicare options. Parties. Movies. Blood pressure screening or flu shots. Find companionship, and a community.

A Senior Center lecture draws a typical full house.

Our Senior Center is one of the most popular, well organized and best staffed in the country. But growth — up to 350 people a day — has created a critical need for enhancements.

In 2007, town planners predicted the Imperial Avenue center would run out of space in 2011. The recession forced improvements onto the back burner.

For the past 7 years, they’ve been part of the 5-year capital forecast. On Wednesday, May 17 (8 p.m., Town Hall), Senior Center representatives will ask for $3.9 million for enhancements.

Plans for the enhanced Senior Center. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

The Senior Center — run under the umbrella of the Human Services Department — has been around since the mid-1980s. Originally one room in the YMCA’s Bedford Building, it expanded when Greens Farms Elementary School closed (space there was shared with the Westport Arts Center).

When Greens Farms reopened, the Senior Center moved to a couple of rooms at Staples High School. The Imperial Avenue facility — built with strong support from First Selectman Dianne Farrell — opened in 2004. (“Ahead of schedule and under budget,” director Sue Pfister notes with pride.)

Much has changed since then. Closing hours were lengthened and Saturdays added, to accommodate seniors who still work.

Westport’s 60-plus population has risen dramatically — and they’re living longer.

As the Senior Center expanded its programming, more men and women attended more often.

There’s no more room for some activities. Four times a year, when registration opens for popular classes like yoga (gentle, regular and intense levels), the line forms at 6:30 a.m.

The small fitness area was filled to capacity on Saturday morning.

The other day, Pfister joined Enhancement Committee chair Lynn Goldberg and member Martha Aasen to explain the $3.9 million request.

There are 3 prongs.

One involves adding 4,500 square feet, offering:

  • More room for existing and new programs.
  • Space to socialize. “Many people meet friends here; they don’t go to each other’s homes nowadays,” Pfister says.
  • Meals to go (the Center serves 11,000 lunches a year — but for some seniors it’s their only real meal of the day).
  • Flexibility to adapt to changing future needs. “There’s a whole group of ‘new elders’ coming down the line,” 87-year-old Aasen notes.

(From left): Martha Aasen, Lynn Goldberg and Sue Pfister. Fitness equipment is stored in the hallway, because there’s no room anywhere else.

The 2nd element is parking and transportation. “If people can’t get here, our great programs are worthless,” Goldberg notes. For popular events, people now park as far away as Colonial Green.

“Senior-friendly” enhancements include more spots closer to the entrance, eliminating inclines, and adding ramps.

The 3rd category is “building tweaks.” This includes flashing work, making the front doors easier to use, adapting the computer room to the increase in laptops, and repositioning the fitness room so it opens onto walking trails on Baron’s South. (Parks and Recreation director Jen Fava is a member of the Enhancement Committee.)

A rendering of the proposed Senior Center building.

The Senior Center is a Westport jewel. And it’s not just for seniors.

Pfister is a huge proponent of intergenerational activities. Staples students volunteer there (one particularly popular activity: iPhone and iPad training). STAR delivers meals. The Senior Center often partners with the Library and other town organizations to sponsor programs.

“Mixing generations together helps reduce cognitive decline,” Pfister says. “And younger people get a lot out of interacting with older ones.”

A young volunteer at the annual lobster/clambake. The Senior Center serves 11,000 meals a year. For some, it’s their only real meal of the day. The proposed enhancement would enable the addition of “grab-and-go” meals.

She is excited about a new, upcoming activity. Suzuki has offered to run a course. Pfister must decide between violin or voice lessons.

Why not both? I ask.

“There’s no room,” she says.

Not now, anyway.

Ron Malone Escapes House Fire

Former Westport police chief and RTM member Ron Malone was treated for smoke inhalation, after a fire at his Cross Highway home this morning.

The blaze began around 6:10 a.m., in the kitchen. Firefighters and police responded very quickly. They made sure Malone and 2 dogs were safe.

According to reports, Malone lived part-time at the property, which he inherited from an uncle.

Ron Malone’s house, after the fire. (Photo/Mark Yurkiw)

Raising Children In Trump’s America

President Trump’s crackdown on immigrants had an unexpected effect in Westport.

A few schoolchildren were worried. What, they asked their parents, would happen to their Spanish teachers? Would they be deported?

Other parents heard similar stories, about fears for foreign classmates.

Some parents had their own worries. How, they wondered, should they raise their kids in this “new” America?

They might get answers — or at least, meet similarly fretful folks — this Tuesday night (April 25, 7:30 p.m., Christ & Holy Trinity Church).

The Democratic Women of Westport are hosting a panel. The title — “Raising Children in Trump’s America” — is both timely and provocative.

President Trump, with some American kids.

The DWW says the discussion will “address the needs emerging in our community as a result of the new political landscape.” Panelists will discuss how to talk to children about the political climate in a way that is “authentic, and not fear-based.” The goal is to “use kindness as an act of resistance.”

The panel includes political activists, as well as Marji Lipshez-Shapiro (senior associate director of the Anti-Defamation League of Connecticut) and Claire Dinshaw, editor-in-chief of Staples High School Inklings newspaper.

It will be moderated by Rob Simmelkjaer, a Westport Democratic Committee member and on-air contributor at NBC Sports.

Among the topics they’ll address:

  • How drastic policy shifts are being felt in Fairfield County
  • How immigrant and refugee families are faring locally
  • The social impact of Trump’s rhetoric on our schools and community.

There are sure to be questions from the audience — and comments here, from “06880” readers.

Please be civil.

Maker Faire Makes Its Mark

You can’t keep a good geek down.

Chilly temperatures and a light rain did not deter thousands of folks from descending on the Westport Library, Jesup Green and Bedford Square, for today’s 6th annual Maker Faire.

Every type of STEM creation was represented: robots, 3-D designs, flight simulators, submersibles and more.

The arts were there too: violinists, jewelry makers, sculptors…

And of course local organizations: the Y, Wakeman Town Farm and Rotary Club were among those showing their commitment to creativity and community.

In 6 short years, the Maker Faire has become one of the biggest events of the Westport year. Now all we need is some young guy or girl who can control the weather.

Which I’m sure we’ll see next spring.

Hand-made robots were a huge hit.

Christopher Crowe’s creations drew a crowd.

What better spot to hang out in than the Westport Library’s permanent Maker Space?

State Senators Toni Boucher (front) and Tony Hwang (right) joined 1st Selectman Jim Marpe (left) and Westport Library trustee Iain Bruce at the Maker Faire.

A father gives a hands-on wind tunnel demonstration to his daughter.

Westporter Charlie Wolgast — a professional pilot — checks out a flight simulator in Bedford Square.