Category Archives: Local politics

Ray Of Hope: Sakura Trees May Be Saved

Westport will look very different — very soon.

Work is imminent on a state Department of Transportation Post Road improvement project.

It includes road widening, the addition of turn lanes and sidewalks — and the removal of up to 100 trees.

From Volvo of Westport to Cumberland Farms — and continuing east to the trees in the median toward New Country Toyota — workers will cut decades-old trees.

The 2 in front of Sakura — the Japanese restaurant whose name means, literally, “cherry blossom” — are also on the chopping block.

One of the trees possibly slated for removal near Sakura.

But a meeting yesterday may have brought those 2 beautiful trees, at least, a reprieve.

State DOT officials planned to meet yesterday in the Sakura parking lot with workers, to coordinate the upcoming project.

Proposed work around Sakura, at the Post Road/Roseville/Hillspoint intersection.

Also there: Westport Town Representative Meeting members Andrew Colabella, Matthew Mandell, Harris Falk, Lou Mall and Don O’Day; Tree Boad members Ed Picard and Dick Stein; Betsy Newman of Earthplace; Sakura owner Nicole Chen, and landowner John Klinga.

And Westport Public Works director Peter Ratkiewich and town engineer Keith Wilberg.

Plus News12.

When the DOT crew saw the news cameras, they hesitated. They expected a private site visit, not a public meeting.

The Westport officials agreed to merely listen in to the discussion. Eventually, they talked.

DOT representatives, workers and Westport officials met outside Sakura yesterday. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Colabella)

DOT noted that planning for the project began nearly a decade ago. A public information session was held at Town Hall on July 9, 2019 (and previewed on “06880” — though at that point the project start date was the summer of 2021).

Only a dozen or so people attended that meeting.

A follow-up story on “06880” a few days later focused on curb cuts, and entrances and exits of parking lots. It drew 9 comments.

No one mentioned trees.

At Sakura yesterday, a DOT official said that the time to protest the tree cutting was long gone. He noted that no trees not in the right-of-way would be touched. But many are in that zone.

Still, there was hope. The final decision about the fate of Sakura’s 2 weeping cherry trees is now in the hands of Eversource. They may assent to trimming, rather than removal.

A crocus offers hope to one of the Sakura willow trees. (Photo/Harris Falk)

Meanwhile, though the Tree Board has no jurisdiction — US 1 is a state road — they strongly support preservation of the Sakura trees. First Selectwoman Jen Tooker has indicated support for the board.

Whatever the fate of 2 of Westport’s most iconic — and beloved trees — one thing is certain: Nearly every other tree on that corridor will be gone.

Get ready for some traffic tie-ups too. Construction is slated to end in April.

Of 2025.

4 trees that will soon be cut at Linxweiler House on the Post Road, between McDonald’s and Fresh Market. (Photo/Bob Weingarten)

Startup Westport: Public/Private Tech Partnership Launches Thursday

Stefano Pacifico founded Epistemic AI — a proprietary mapping technology that helps discover relationships between genes, diseases, pathways, drugs and biological functions — 5 years ago.

It was based in Westport — the town he’d lived in already for a couple of years — but his employees worked remotely.

Back then, that was a novel concept.

Today, it’s the way much of America — particularly tech companies like his — operate.

Now Pacifico wants more startups — many more — to do it too.

And with their headquarters right here in Westport.

Stefano Pacifico

He understands the attraction of a New York or Boston for a tech founder. But — based on his own experience — he knows the attraction of a town with amenities like great schools, a wonderful library, plenty of recreation and restaurants, and much more.

He pitched the idea — making Westport a special, suburban center of an ecosystem of tech people and investors — to Jen Tooker.

The 1st Selectwoman — who often calls our town “the best place to live, work and play” — was all in.

The result: a public/private partnership called “Startup Westport.”

Among the others working on the project: Dan Bikel, Sam Handel, Police Chief Foti Koskinas, Gioel Molinari, Jay Norris, Peter Propp and Cliff Sirlin.

A kickoff event is this Thursday (March 16, 6 p.m.). The site is — appropriately — the Westport Library’s Trefz Forum, itself a hub of creativity and innovation.

Matt Gorin

Local infotech and biotech entrepreneurs — and anyone else interested — is invited. The program includes an introduction to the “Startup Westport” concept, and a 2023 tech business outlook by Westporter Matt Gorin, co-founder and general partner at Contour Ventures. Tooker will speak briefly.

Attendees will have a chance to meet other tech entrepreneurs, and find out what they’re doing here.

Pacifico notes that Startup Westport is not an investment vehicle, incubator or fund.

It’s also not a vehicle to learn about entrepreneurship. There are plenty of resources for that online — and at the Library.

And it’s not yet a “formal entity.”

What Startup Westport is, he says, is “a citizen-led organization to promote Westport as the most attractive place for start-up companies.”

Pacifico is not sure where the idea will go. That’s part of the reason for Thursday’s session: figuring out next steps.

But — like any good visionary — he’s already thinking ahead.

“My kids are 6, and almost 4,” he says. “They’re just starting in school. But wouldn’t it be phenomenal if, when they get to Staples, they have access to all kinds of tech startups, right here in Westport?

“I didn’t have that. It would have been amazing for me.”

(For more information on Startup Westport’s Thursday launch event, click here. For Startup Westport’s website, click here.)

(“06880” launched 14 years ago. We’re still going strong — and still rely entirely on reader support. Please click here to contribute. Thank you!)

Roundup: Class Of ’72, ABC Dream Event, Garden Club Poetry …

Fifty years after graduation, the Staples High School Class of 1972 has not forgotten their alma mater.

For last summer’s half-century (!) reunion, classmates contributed extra funds to help anyone who wanted to attend but could not afford the expense.

When money remained, reunion committee member Mike Elliot had an idea: purchase a Class of ’72 bench for the Staples courtyard. It could be placed it next to a sculpture of dancers by Steffi Freidman — mother of classmate Margie Friedman.

Mike elicited the help of several Staples grads, including ’72 alums Buck Iannacone and Jim Deegan, plus John Rizzi of Rizzi Design Studio (Class of ’74),

Westport Public Schools director of facilities Ted Hunyadi did a great job installing the finished product in the courtyard.

It’s there now, ready for use. And it bears a plaque: “Sit, relax and enjoy! A gift from the Staples Class of 1972.”

Enjoying the bench, clockwise from upper left: Mike Elliot, Joan Wright, Prill Plantinga Boyle and Ann Becker Moore. Missing: John Friedson,


Tickets are going fast for A Better Chance of Westport’s 20th anniversary Dream Event.

The April 1 gala — one of Westport’s best fundraisers of the year, for the program that offers a Staples education, housing and support to 8 boys from underserved communities — brings together current and alumni scholars.

In addition to strong, insightful speeches from the scholars, the evening includes  cocktails, dinner, entertainment, bowling — the event is at Pinstripes, in the SoNo Collection — and a silent auction.

Among the featured items: 2 nights at Gurney’s in Montauk; VIP tickets to a Yankees game; a Wakeman Town Farm dinner for 2, and a “Broadway your way” experience (with transportation, dinner for 2 and a New York hotel stay).

Tickets are available for cocktail/dinner only, or cocktails/dinner and bowling. Click here to purchase.


Three young poets have won the Westport Garden Club’s youth contest — and placed first in their grade at the state level. They move on to the New England competition.

Congratulations to Owen Cloherty (1st grade), Maya Cloherty (4th grade) and Kassia Stedman (5th grade).

This year’s theme — “Seeds, Trees, and Bees…Oh My – Celebrating the Diversity of Nature” — drew entries from every grade level, kindergarten through 9th.

The winners will receive their awards — and read from their works — at the Westport Library on April 2 (2 p.m).

It’s part of National Poetry Month. The event also includes a poetry workshop with town poet laureate Jessica Noyes McEntee. Attendees can write their own poems, inspired by natural materials provided by the Westport Garden Club.  For more information, click here.


Westporter John Richers put the pandemic to good use: He learned 80 acoustic rock songs on his guitar.

On Friday night, he played at Fairfield’ Social, the Post Road bar. He had plenty of support from Westport friends.

John was invited back for a May gig.

After cutting his teeth there, and in Black Rock and Bethel, he hopes to find a Westport venue soon.

John Richers (Photo/Valerie Ann Leff)


Staples High School celebrated Civic Learning Week with 3 events, featuring local government leaders in celebration of Civics Learning Week.  these events provided opportunities for students to meet and learn from local officials.

Last Monday, selectwomen Jen TookerAndrea Moore and Candice Savin  answered questions about the budget, affordable housing, environmental sustainability and more.

On Thursday, Board of Education chair Lee Goldstein and vice chair Liz Heyer discussed education policy, and the BOE’s role in the community. Students asked questions about curriculum, funding, testing and school schedules.

The final event on Friday featured registrars of voters Deborah Greenberg and Maria Signore. They answered questions about election integrity and access, the voter registration process, and the new early voting proposals.

The 3 sessions were organized by Spencer Yim, a member of Rho Kappa National Social Studies Honor Society and leader of Your Vote Matters, a civic engagement club at Staples,

This week: a “town hall” with Congressman Jim Himes for next week

Civic Learning Week organizer Spencer Yim (center) with (from left) registrars of voters Deborah Greenberg and Maria Signore.


Eileen Diana Blau died Thursday in her longtime Westport home. She was 92.

She was born Eileen Lefkowitz in Brooklyn, to Ukrainian parents who had immigrated less than a decade earlier.

Eileen graduated from Brooklyn College with a BS in mathematics. She met fellow student Barry Blau at a Socialist Youth League gathering. They married in 1948, and enjoyed 69 years together until Barry’s death in 2017.

A passionate reader, artist and collector, Eileen filled her mid-century modern home with thousands of books and an eclectic art collection ranging from Flemish tapestries to Indonesian Buddhas, ancient Chinese mirrors and sculptures of her own creation.

In the basement she helped her husband launch his business, Barry Blau & Partners. It grew over 20 years into a global advertising agency.

Once her children were grown, Eileen pursued a life of many interests. She was an avid golfer and tennis player at Birchwood Country Club. Her Manhattan apartment, also art-filled, was a launching pad for attending classes at the China Institute and Asia Society, and frequent visits to museums, galleries and auction houses.

For many years Eileen and Barry also maintained a vacation home on the Big Island of Hawaii. It was a winter gathering spot for their extended family.

In addition to her husband, Eileen was predeceased by her elder sister Rita Kannel. She is survived by her younger sister, Anita Metz; her children Shawn Blau and Emily Blau (Robert Cohen) both of Westport, Peter Blau (Barbara) of Belmont, North Carolina and Juliet Jenkins (Bruce) of Belmont, Massachusetts; grandchildren Lucy Thomas (Kyle), James Blau, Michael Blau (Julie), Lucas Jenkins, Maddie Jenkins, Tess Jenkins, Benjamin Cohen and Veronica Blau, and great-grandchildren Claire and Charles Thomas.

Funeral services will be held tomorrow (Monday March 13, 11 a.m., Abraham L. Green & Son Funeral Home, Fairfield). Shiva will be observed at the Blau home in Westport the same day from 1 to 6 p.m. For more information and to share a condolence message, click here.

Eileen Blau


They haven’t all come up yet, and they’re not in full bloom.

But trust us on today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo: These crocuses, planted by Janet Wolgast in front of her Sturges Commons home, spell “JOY.”

(Photo/Molly Alger)


And finally … speaking of joy:

(If “06880” brings joy to your world, please consider supporting us with a donation. Click here — and thank you!)

[OPINION] “Tone Deaf Missteps” Lead To Westport’s 3rd Rail

Dr. Jay Walshon is a 38-year resident of Westport. He spends plenty of time at Compo Beach — and, recently, has watched hours of coverage of debates over parking fees. He writes:

Last month, Westport’s Parks & Recreation Commission reduced the non-resident beach emblem price from $775 to $545.

Member Chris O’Keeffe said, “It’s really important we share the history of this.”  I agree.

In the summer of 2017, residents complained about deplorable Compo Beach neglect — uncleanliness, disrepair, litter — plus overcrowding, parking, disorderly conduct and disregard of rules. They ascribed these problems to the increasing number of non-residents at Compo.


Lines of cars waiting to enter Compo. Sure, this was taken the day of the fireworks — but a few years ago, lines like this could be seen on weekends too.

In addition to logistical and operational recommendations, these residents wanted daily and non-resident emblem fees increased, the number issued decreased, visitor revenue captured, and the number of non-paying “drop-offs” addressed.

The Parks & Rec Commission designated a daily parking area, and increased staff, trash collections and weekend and holiday restroom cleaning.

They also considered “relocating the entry booth, daily pass sales, signage, events, traffic, rules and regulations, and police presence and enforcement.”

Lowering the number of beachgoers by decreasing non-resident emblems and daily passes, and increasing fees to offset revenue, became a primary consideration.

To avoid anecdotally based decisions, Parks & Recreation director Jen Fava was tasked to recruit college students to gather objective data. This never occurred.

Representative Town Meeting member Carla Rea asked how much of Compo Beach’s $2 million revenue was budgeted for maintenance. Ms. Fava did not have an answer.

RTMer Sal Liccione asked how many personnel were dedicated to maintaining Compo during summer. She did not have that information available.

Trash pickup was a concern several years ago.

Ms. Fava estimated that grievance rectification would cost $200,000. To recoup revenue, the Parks & Rec Commission raised resident parking emblems by $10 to $50, and Weston by $125 to $375. The number of non-resident emblems was lowered from 600 to 350; daily passes were capped at 100.

Equating it to a “seasonal Vermont ski lift ticket,” Ms. Fava increased non-resident emblems from $490 to $775.

John Suggs warned: “raising prices that could exclude non-Westporters is bad policy.”

Michael Calise declared that $775 “unreasonably punishes non-residents.” Because Compo revenue exceeded $1.5 million, he requested a justifying accounting of revenues and expenses. Ms. Fava could not provide this.

Residents said:

  • “Hopefully the increased fees and decreased non-residents will result in fewer people at the beach.”
  • “$775 is steep but the right direction, because it’s still a great deal.”
  • “This is a town beach; you need to think about the residents before you think about people from out of town.”

Among the Parks & Rec comments:

  • “Reasonable step to decrease overcrowding; right approach.”
  • “We need to focus on the property taxpayers here that are paying for the beach.”
  • “This shouldn’t offend anyone.”
  • “This is the fairest way to assess them.”
  • “Non-residents should pay their ‘fair share.'”
  •  “This is going to work out very well.”

It didn’t.

(Photo/Matt Murray)

Ms. Fava’s outrageously insensitive $775 ski-lift equivalency, and targeting non-resident utilization via parking price and quotas, reverberated into the state legislature.

House Bill 6650 — introduced recently — says:

No municipality shall: (1) prohibit nonresidents…from entering or using a…municipal beach…or a municipal facility associated with such beach, unless such prohibition applies to residents of such municipality; or (2) impose on non-residents a fee for such entrance or use, or parking associated with such entrance or use, that is greater than twice the amount of any fee charged to residents for the same purpose.

In other words: If residents pay $60, a town can’t charge non-residents more than $120. Prohibiting non-resident drop-offs would mean prohibiting residents too).

Describing $775 as “unacceptable,” the Parks & Rec Commission reduced it to $545, increased the number to 450, and raised the number of daily passes to 120. Even $545 is still far higher than any other area town.

Ms. Fava explained she was “now looking at things through a little bit of a new lens in terms of where the current climate is … because we went from $490 and skyrocketed to $775, way out of alignment with other waterfront communities … really doesn’t reflect our accessibility goals we want to have to let people come in and use our facilities.”

She defended the 2018-2022 $775 price, declaring “it was a very different climate.”

For decades, beach fees and accessibility barriers have been under the discrimination microscope. The only “climate difference” is HB6650, and the state’s perception of our exclusionary attitude and treatment of non-residents – our third rail.

Compo Beach (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)

We shouldn’t wait for legislative imposition before re-addressing beach access structures. “Over-crowding” and “equitability” warrant clarification.  Metrics providing data on cost and problem intensity/frequency should replace anecdotes.

Compo’s revenue and expenses must become transparent.

The Parks & Recreation Department’s “Beach/Pool Operating Analysis 2019-2020” showed revenues of $1,820,995 (pool $15,429), and expenses of $498,720. The result: a $1,322,275 surplus.

Non-resident 2018 revenue was $519,800 (including Weston, it’s over $750,000.

RTM member Chris Tait said, “What we did wasn’t well received in the state. A lot of articles were written about us being outdated and alienating people to not go to our beaches.

“It didn’t look good, and gave fuel to the fire of people in Hartford who may not like what we do in Westport. What we did didn’t help us as a community.  Bringing this back down is a way of acknowledging that, saying we are open to people from out of town.  We are not exclusive.”

The manner in which issues were framed in 2017/18 exposed subliminal entanglements of entitlement, elitism and privilege, leading in part to HB6650.

Ms. Fava’s focus remains the false narrative that “things are different now,” the “optics” of being perceived as an elitist, privileged, exclusionary community – and above all, the fear of Hartford.

Instead of targeting non-residents, effective management and rules enforcement are the key objectives. But this requires leadership that doesn’t equate Compo to a Vermont ski resort.

These tone-deaf missteps needlessly blemished our community. It was avoidable.

(“06880” covers the waterfront — and much more. Please click here to support our work. Thank you!)

Roundup: BMS, Budget Process, BOF …

Matthew Balga — the 54-year-old Norwalk resident killed in a motor vehicle/pedestrian accident Saturday night on Riverside Avenue — worked at The Whelk, not far from where he was struck.

A small memorial honored his life yesterday, near the scene of his death.

(Photo/Jennifer Johnson)


This morning’s “06880” lead story described Bedford Middle School’s 7th grade project: sending letters and artwork to their counterparts in Westport’s sister city of Lyman, Ukraine.

But that’s not the only way BMS engages with the world outside Westport.

Yesterday, 6th graders capped off a 2-month “Walk for Water” fundraiser. It coincided with their social studies Africa unit, featuring the book “A Long Walk to Water” to Linda Sue Park.

Students learned that many people around the globe lack reliable access to clean, fresh water. They walk an average of 3.7 miles — sometimes several times a day — to access potable water.

Over the course of 2 months, each BMS 6th grader and member completed a 3.7- mile walk, to understand the struggles that come with fresh water insecurity, and raise awareness and funds for the cause.

Bedford’s 6th grade students and associated community raised over $10,000 to support the “Iron Giraffe Challenge 2023.” The non-profit organization provides safe, fresh water and hygiene to villages in South Sudan.

The cost to build a new well is $15,000. As thanks, a plaque will be placed next to a new well in the village when it is built.

Yesterday, BMS 6th graders participated in a virtual meeting with Elissa Rowley from the Water for South Sudan organization. She described their work, and answered questions.

Then the 6th graders, teachers and staff walked to the Staples High School track, to recreate their Walk for Water.

Contributions are still being accepted. To give, and learn more, click here.

6th graders meet with Elissa Rowley yesterday.


It’s budget season. Buckle up!

Whether you’re an old-timer or newcomer; whether you know Westport’s budget process, or don’t have a clue, this week’s “Westport … What’s Happening” podcast is for you.

1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker explains the budget season, step by step. She also introduces the proposed 2023-24 budget, explaining how it was developed and where the money goes. (Or hopes to go.)

Click below, for this very informative Y’s Men of Westport and Weston feature:


Speaking of the budget (spoiler alert): The Board of Finance plays a crucial role.

Who are they? How do they operate?

The League of Women Voters pull back the curtain on March 15 (7 p.m., Westport Library). Chair Lee Caney and others will explain everything you need to know, at this free event.


“Free Renty” is a documentary about Tamara Lanier, an African American woman now living in Norwich, Connecticut, who was determined to force Harvard University to cede possession of daguerreotypes of her great-great-great grandfather, Renty Taylor — an enslaved man — and his daughter Delia.

The images were commissioned in 1850 by a Harvard professor to prove the superiority of the white race. The film tracks Lanier’s lawsuit against Harvard, and features attorney Benjamin Crump and author Ta-Nehisi Coates.

The documentary will be screen on March 18 (6 p.m.), at The Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Westport — followed by a discussion led by Lanier herself.

Admission is free. A potluck dinner is served before the viewing, at 5. For more information, email

Tamara Lanier


VersoFest 2023’s concert pass is now on sale. It includes 3 shows at the Westport Library’s Trefz Forum:

  • Friday, March 10 fundraiser with supergroup Blue Coupe (members of Alice Cooper and Blue Öyster Cult)
  • Thursday, March 30: Sunflower Bean and DJ Hysterica
  • Friday, March 31: The Smithereens, Amilia K. Spicer, DJ Miriam Linna.

The $90 pass is a 22% discount from the $115 face value. Only 150 are available; click here to purchase. For more information on VersoFest, click here.


Speaking of entertainment:

Brian Marsella headlines this week’s Jazz at the Post (Thursday, March 9, 7:30 and 8:45 p.m. shows; dinner at 7 p.m.; VFW Joseph J. Clinton Post 399).

Called “a psychedelic Art Tatum,” Marsella recently finished a world tour. He’s joined by bassist Reid Taylor and drummer Brian Floody — returning after a fall appearance at The Post — and series curator/saxophonist Greg “The Jazz Rabbi” Wall.

Reservations are highly recommended:

Brian Marsella


New to Westport: Vanessa Lewis’ latest iteration of her Penfield Collective retail concept, in Sconset Square. She brings the physical store from Fairfield, and a customer base from far and wide.

Penfield Collective is a “highly edited collection of must-have apparel and accessories.” That fits in well, with many of its design and lifestyle neighbors in the recently renovated shopping center on Myrtle Avenue.

Click here to learn more.

Vanessa Lewis


Large houses now line the banks of Sherwood Mill Pond. But there is still room for nature, as shown in this “Westport … Naturally” photo by Rick Benson:

(Photo/Rick Benson)


And finally … Gary Rossington, a founding member of Lynyrd Skynyrd — and their last surviving original member — died Sunday at 71.

The guitarist survived both a bad car accident in 1976 (which inspired the song “That Smell”), and the 1977 plane crash that killed 3 band members. Rossington suffered 2 broken arms, a broken leg, and a punctured stomach and liver.

He had quintuple bypass surgery in 2003, suffered a heart attack in 2015, and underwent several heart surgeries later. Click here for a full obituary. (Hat tip: Amy Schneider)

(From Westport’s budget process to VersoFest — and on to Lynyrd Skynrd — the “06880” daily Roundup is your place for news and information. Please click here to support our work. Thank you!)

Budget Season Begins: Town, Education Proposals Presented

The Board of Finance got its first look at the proposed town and education budgets last night.

The total request for the 2023-24 fiscal year, from 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker, Board of Education chair Lee Goldstein and superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice. is $233,487,842. That’s up 4.39% from the current year.

Education comprises 63% of the total town budget. The bulk of that $136 million — 64% — goes for salaries. Benefits comprise another 15%.

Other costs include purchased services (11.3%), property services (5.9%), supplies (2.1%), equipment (0.6%) and other (0.5%).

Click here for the proposed Board of Education budget.

In the $81,932,340 town budget, the largest costs are public safety (30%) and pension, other post-employment benefits and insurance (25%).

The rest of the funds go to Public Works (16%), Parks & Recreation (10%), general government (9%), debt service (6%) and other uses, like the Westport Library, Westport Transit District, Earthplace and Aspetuck Health District (2%).

Where our money goes …

Westport’s total debt is now $100 million. It is projected to rise to $350 million by 2031, then begin to decline.

Tooker’s budget packet includes a mill rate comparison with area towns. Westport’s mill rate of 18.07 is higher than Greenwich (11.28) and Darien (17.23), but below New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Fairfield, Wilton and Ridgefield. Weston had the highest area mill rate: 32.97.

Click here to see the total recommended town budget.

Next steps include public hearings, Board of Finance votes, and final approval by the Representative Town Meeting. (Hat tip: Nancy Kail)

… and the town operations (non-education) portion of it.

(How’s this for a personal budget idea: Please set aside something to support “06880.” Click here — and thank you!)

Unsung Heroes #277

It’s March!

And while to you that may mean college basketball Madness, a few last ski runs or putting off doing taxes, for a few dozen Westporters it means something else.

It’s budget season.

Departments, offices, boards, commissions, committees and agencies big (Education, Public Works, Police, Fire, Parks & Rec) and small (Transit District, Tree Board) have submitted requests for the next fiscal year.

They’ve spent months preparing numbers. Now they must justify them.

Over the next several weeks, members of the Board of Finance will analyze each budget thoroughly. They go line by line, dollar by dollar. They ask questions, large and small. They’re respectful, but firm.

One look at the 2021 town budget …

Sometimes they vote to accept a budget as submitted. Sometimes they cut. They have never — as far as I know — said to any department head, “Hey, you deserve more!”

Then the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) wades in. They’ve got their own questions, and they’re not shy about asking them.

It’s tough, tedious, mind-numbing work. But someone has to do it. I’m glad it’s not me.

… and another. 

I’m not sure anyone has ever thanked our Board of Finance and RTM for the job they do every spring.

It’s part of their job, sure. They knew it was coming, when they ran for office.

But today, “06880” thanks those few dozen men and women for spending all those hours poring over spreadsheets, and all those evenings holding meetings and weighing options.

And the next time you look at your tax bill — especially as you compare it to friends and relatives elsewhere in the tri-state area — you should thank them too.

8-30g Panel Offers Affordable Housing Insights

The threat of snow closed the Westport Library early yesterday, forcing the much-anticipated 8-30g panel to Zoom.

There, nearly 200 Westporters got a cold dose of reality. The innocuously named state regulation, which mandates affordable housing percentages for municipalities — and used by developers to gain approval for much larger market-rate projects — is here.

It’s not going away.

But, the panelists noted, Westport can take proactive steps to mitigate some of its most onerous effects.

The evening — organized by Representative Town Meeting member Nancy Kail, and led by RTM moderator Jeff Wieser — began with a bit of history.

The first 8-30g proposal came 25 years ago, in 1998: 10 units on Cross Street, 3 of which were deed-restricted for 40 years as affordable.

Others followed: 41 units on a small parcel at the Wilton Road/Kings Highway North corner (a rare denial in court). 81 units on Lincoln Street. 19 units at Morningside Drive North.

122 Wilton Road — site of a proposed 6-story, 48-unit apartment building — sits at the corner of Kings Highway North. The property abuts the Taylortown Salt Marsh. The Planning & Zoning Commission’s denial was eventually upheld in court.

The infamous Saugatuck Summit development, which began as 55 townhouses on 10 building lots, ballooned to 187 units, and ultimately was settled at 157.

1177 Post Road East — across from Greens Farms Elementary School — was a “friendly” 8-30 go, without battles between the developer, town officials and neighbors.

All told, Westport now has 32 affordable units, created by 8-30g legislation. When Summit Saugatuck and other projects are completed, there will be 108.

Overall — including units built before 1990, when 8-30g was enacted — there are 390 units deemed affordable.

When projects currently in the pipeline are completed, approximately 6% of Westport’s housing stock will be affordable.

State Representative Jonathan Steinberg called the 8-30g regulation “a blunt instrument.” But, he noted, Westport has done “a great job. We’ve built affordable housing, and we’ve embraced an inclusive housing plan.” He called housing “a national crisis.”

Yet the town’s 4-year moratorium on 8-30g proposals expires this Saturday (March 4). At that point, town attorney Ira Bloom said, developers can file applications.

One is already in the works, for 30 Maple Lane in Greens Farms. “The gate will open,” he predicted.

30 Maple Lane — between Greens Farms Road and New Creek Road, near the Greens Farms train station — is the site of an 8-30g application that may be filed soon.

“But Westport is not alone,” Bloom added. “There’s an intense focus by developers on Fairfield County.”

There is, he noted, a true need for affordable housing in the area. But developers also use 8-30 for their own ends.

The regulation makes it almost impossible for municipalities to prevail. Towns have lost 75% of all cases that have gone to court, Bloom said.

And “developers know it.”

Local officials who turn down an 8-30g application must prove their decision was driven by “a significant public interest.” However, traffic, even safety, are not always reasons for denial. (Wetlands can be a reason, however.)

“The process does not make it easy to negotiate once an 8-30g application is filed,” Bloom said.

A questioner asked whether the 8-30g formula includes beds in homeless shelters, like the Gillespie Center. The answer: No.

Units at The Saugatuck — the Bridge Street co-op limited to to buyers below an income threshold — also do not count for 8-30g.

Though its apartments are income-restricted, The Saugatuck co-op on Bridge Street is not included in Westport’s housing stock for 8-30g purposes. (Photo courtesy of SmartMLS Inc.)

Planning & Zoning chair Danielle Dobin believes the town can reach 10%. But, she explained, “it will take collaboration between town boards, and residents getting behind it.

“Westport believes in affordable housing. What we don’t want is density, or building on wetlands.”

The RTM can play a key role, she told the Zoom audience.

She urged the legislative body to create an affordable housing fund. Using town-owned land, developers could built low-density projects.

One example: Linxweiler House, on Post Road East between Fresh Market and McDonald’s. The historic home there could be renovated, and moved closer to the road. Cluster housing could be built behind it. Homes with Hope could provide supportive services to residents — who would have access to public transportation, almost at their door.

Linxweiler House, on Post Road East,

Another possibility, which town officials have explored for several years: the state-owned Department of Transportation maintenance facility on Post Road East by Parish Road West, just east of Walgreens.

Of course, even with funding, finding willing developers is not easy. Developers make much more money on market-rate housing than on affordable units.

It was an informative Zoom evening. Nearly all 200 attendees stayed on to the end.

They — town officials, residents, those who hope to become residents, and developers — will follow the next steps in the 8-30g saga closely.

Beginning Saturday, when Westport’s moratorium officially ends.

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[UPDATE] Longshore Plan Ready For Parks & Rec Vote

This story has been updated, to include a correct rendering of the proposed new golf clubhouse. The previous image did not show the location near the 1st tee.

When the Parks & Recreation Commission meets on Thursday (March 2, 7:30 p.m., Town Hall), they’ll vote on a long-awaited Capital Improvement Plan for Longshore.

A much-derided idea of turning the entrance into a 2-way road has been scrapped.

But many other elements presented earlier — including a new golf clubhouse; pickleball courts; relocation of the maintenance facility to the brush dump; improvements to the platform tennis and tennis area, pool and playground, plus construction of shoreline and pedestrian paths — are in the plan.

Changes will be coming to Longshore.

Parks & Recreation Department staff has approved the recommendation. It’s the culmination of work done by the Stantec consulting firm. Beginning in January 2022, they held meetings with 14 user groups and town departments; conducted a community survey; held 5 open houses; sent out a second survey, and held several public meetings.

Parks & Rec calls the plan “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make improvements to connectivity, pedestrian and vehicular circulation, safety, functionality, support of uses, accessibility, aesthetics, capacity, ease of use, and recreation opportunities for an increasingly diverse population of park enthusiasts.”

Among the specifics:

A new golf clubhouse by the 1st tee will provide:

  • Restrooms and locker rooms for golfers, and restrooms for other park users
  • A pro shop
  • Indoor instruction and club fit
  • Golfer check-in and payment location
  • Practice green
  • Golf cart paddock area
  • Grill room and patio.

The golf plan includes a clubhouse and golf cart storage (orange), and pedestrian paths (dotted lines).

The current pools are outdated. The improvement plan will include a zero entry pool and splash pad. The redesign will capture water views currently blocked by mechanical systems.

Playground replacement and redesign will separate it from the Sailing School congestion, and improve safety.

Realigning the platform tennis and tennis area will move the platform tennis courts closer to parking, add up to 12 parking spaces, and allow for the possible installation of a bubble in the future.

Plans show changes to the racquets are (blue), the relocated playground (pink), and the pool complex.

Relocating the parks maintenance facility to the brush dump will:

  • Remove an eyesore from a high-use area
  • Create space for platform tennis
  • Reduce maintenance vehicular traffic within the park
  • Add up to 30 parking spaces.

A new traffic circle will improve vehicular circulation, especially for drivers unfamiliar with Longshore, and improve usability of the Cuttings Lane loop road.

Modifications and changes could be made during the design phase.

The Parks & Rec Department recommends a timeline beginning with the “much-needed” pickleball and platform tennis facilities to be built first.

“While we understand the golf community has been waiting for a longer period of time,” officials say, “the golf operations can continue to function while the other uses do not have facilities available to meet the demand.”

The improvement plan is projected to take 10 years. The projected cost is $47,099,000.

[URGENT] 8-30g Meeting Tonight Is Zoom Only

The Westport Library is closing tonight at 6, because of the impending snowstorm.

Tonight’s special panel on affordable housing — “The Impact of Connecticut State Statute 8-30g: What We Can Expect for 2023” (Monday, February 27, 7 p.m.) — will still be held. However, it will be a Zoom session only. Click here for the link. 

Panelists include State Representative Jonathan Steinberg, Westport town attorney ira Bloom, Planning & Zoning Commission chair Danielle Dobin and Connecticut Center for Ending Homelessness CEO Evonne Klein. The event will be led by Westport Representative Town Meeting moderator Jeff Wieser.