Category Archives: Local politics

Name That Lot!

You may have heard the name Sigrid Schultz.

A pioneering female war correspondent, broadcaster and author who risked her life to expose Nazi secrets to the world, she hid her Jewish heritage from the likes of Hitler, Goering and Goebbels, whom she loathed but entertained in her Berlin home for the sole purpose of extracting information.

Sigrid Schultz

After Schultz and her mother fled Germany, they bought a house and barn at 35 Elm Street. When Sigrid died in 1980, the town demolished her home to expand the Baldwin parking lot.

This famous woman has remained largely unknown in her adopted hometown. But that may change soon, if a Downtown Plan Implementation Committee recommendation to name the new Elm Street parking lot — the one next to Bedford Square, created by the demolition of Villa del Sol directly opposite the Baldwin lot — is approved by the Board of Selectmen, acting as the town’s Traffic Authority.

Then again, it may not be named the Sigrid Schultz Parking Lot.

DPIC member Dewey Loselle suggested celebrating former Public Works head Steve Edwards. The longtime but low-key director nixed that idea.

Another suggestion was to honor the residents of 22 1/2 Main Street — the African American boardinghouse that went up in flames (probably arson) nearly 70 years ago. The location was adjacent to the new parking lot.

It might be tough coming up with an appropriate name — “22 1/2 Main Street lot” would be too confusing for the Elm Street address.

But that hasn’t hasn’t stopped one Westporter from taking a second look.

Chip Stephens grew up here. As a Planning & Zoning Commission member, he attends DPIC meetings. He wants to make sure the name of the new lot reflects town sentiment — not simply the will of one committee.

Pete Wassell

Perhaps, he says, the lot should be named after the Wassell brothers. Harry, Bud and Pete were all killed within 15 months of each other, during World War II.

Or, Stephens says, maybe there are other Westporters we should consider.

So let’s have a townwide discussion, right here on “06880.” Click “Comments” to offer suggestions, and debate the ideas.

Sure, it’s only a parking lot. But, as Stephens notes, “it will be there forever.”

FUN FACTS: So who is this Baldwin that the other Elm Street lot is named for? Herb Baldwin — a former first selectman. 

And on the other side of Main Street, Parker Harding Plaza is named for co-sponsors Emerson Parker and Evan Harding. Fortunately — considering the state of that parking lot — everyone has forgotten those two.

36 Elm Street was demolished in January, to make room for a new parking lot next to Bedford Square. (Photo/Jen Berniker)

 

Vote! But Where? And When?

In the days leading up to Connecticut’s primary election this month, I did not receive my usual postcard reminding me when and where to vote.

That’s important information. In addition to voting day coming in the middle of summer — when one day slides into the next — my polling place has changed twice. First it was Saugatuck Elementary School. Then it was the Westport Library. Now — with renovation underway — I vote at Town Hall.

But I googled that info on my own, the day before the election.

I figured my postcard got lost in the mail.

In fact, there were no postcards.

Alert “06880” reader — and noted journalist/author Andrée Aelion Brooks, who spent 18 years with the New York Times — writes:

Westport and surrounding towns no longer send out postcards confirming the resident’s polling station and date of the election. This came to my attention after the primary last week, when many neighbors and friends said they did not vote because they were unaware it was the right date for Connecticut.

I contacted the Registrar of Voters, and 1st Selectman Jim Marpe. Apparently the town saves money this way, and they do not believe cards are needed any longer.

This is not true. And it will depress voter turnout, especially in communities where residents rely even more on this low-tech method of reminders.

If this is a statewide issue, perhaps it can be solved at the state level. If it is a local issue, perhaps we can muster some awareness of the need for change.

Pickleballers: Beach Bathrooms Don’t Pass The Smell Test

By many measures (though not the weather), this has been a wonderful summer.

Parks and Recreation’s Compo Beach-calming plans minimized crowds, and maximized cleanliness. Innovations like the Mobi-Mat and reworking the entrance road drew raves.

A few more ideas are in the works. A walkway — similar to the one built last year between the pavilion and cannons — is set for South Beach. Bathrooms will replace port-o-potties nearby.

“Nearby” means close to the pickleball area. Constructed a few years ago, the courts have seen steadily increased use.

Compo Beach pickleball courts. Existing bathrooms are far in the background.

Recently, players put down their paddles, picked up pens, and protested Parks and Rec’s plans.

In letters to 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, Parks and Recreation Department director Jen Fava and Parks and Recreation Commission chair Charlie Haberstroh, the pickleballers cite several concerns:

  • The new bathrooms “will block both the lovely views and welcoming air flow/breeze”
  • They’ll “most likely result in unwelcoming smells (sewage related, disinfectant, etc.)”
  • “Staring at the back of a bathroom is not anyone’s idea of a good time.”

One writer argues that moving the location “just 50 feet over would make a huge difference to the 100+ pickleball players in town (with more joining the sport every day!)”

Granted, this is a first world problem. Billions of citizens around the globe have no access to sanitation of any kind — let alone pickleball courts.

But it’s a reflection of the love Westporters have for Compo Beach that the location of new bathrooms creates such a you-know-what storm.

Only Good For Victoria Gouletas

The tree limb that fell on Victoria Gouletas last winter broke her back, paralyzed her from the chest down, and upended her and her family’s life.

The road back has been long and hard. But Victoria — a real estate attorney and Zoning Board of Appeals member — has been buoyed by the kindnesses of family members, friends, neighbors, and total strangers.

Two of those strangers are twins. Judy Vig and Joy Paoletti deliver home-cooked meals to people going through hard times. Victoria was high on their list.

She was nominated by Westport Moms, the resource-rich platform run by Megan Rutstein and Melissa Post.

Judy and Joy’s good work now inspires others on Only Good TV, which — as its name implies — is a much-needed addition to today’s media landscape.

It’s a pay site — but you can watch Victoria, Judy and Joy’s episode as part of a free trial.  Click here to be uplifted.

Victoria Gouletas (far right), her kids, and Judy Vig and Joy Paoletti on Only Good TV.

Wilton Road/Kings Highway Apartment Proposal: It’s Back!

Just over a year ago, the state Appellate Court denied a plan to build a 7-story, 48-unit apartment complex at one of the busiest, most environmentally sensitive spots in town.

The ruling was based on grave concerns about safety, and damage to wetlands adjacent to the 1.16-acre parcel at 122 Wilton Road — right at the Kings Highway North intersection.

Undeterred, the owner has come up with a smaller plan. Garden Homes of Stamford wants to build a 19-unit, 3-story, 20,078-square foot rental complex. With 31 parking spots at grade, that would total 4 stories.

There would be 4 1-bedroom units, 8 2-bedroom units, and 7 with 3 bedrooms.

The site plan for 122 Wilton Road. Wilton Road is at the left; it intersects with Kings Highway North (Willows Medical Complex location) at the top.

The project is being submitted to the Planning & Zoning Commission with 2 affordability plans. The default sets aside 30% of the units as “affordable,” according to state 8-30g regulations. An alternative plan offers 60% as affordable — “if certain conditions are met by the P&Z and other Westport town bodies and staff.”

The goal of the project, Garden Homes says, is “to enable low and moderate income families with children the opportunity to live in Westport and have access to its excellent public schools and amenities.”

The developer submitted a traffic impact study. It included 2 proposed roadway improvements: lengthening the westbound left-turn lane for Kings Highway North by 50 feet, and adjusting the traffic signal at that intersection.

“With these improvements,” the report said, delays there “during the critical weekday peak hours will be shorter than those under the 2015 existing conditions.”

Traffic concerns were only part of the opposition to Garden Homes’ previous proposal.

Another reason was the location: abutting the Taylortown Salt Marsh.

Safety was another major issue. Westport Fire Department officials worried about access to the site.

Former fire chief Andrew Kingsbury reviewed the new proposals. Many concerns remain.

Access is still a major issue: The emergency fire lane is not wide enough, has a tight turning radius, and can only be approached from the south. The access driveway on the east side is also too tight to accommodate Westport’s aerial apparatus.

Kingsbury adds that congestion in the area during rush hour hampers firefighting efforts.

The developer no doubt hopes that a scaled-down version of the previous proposal — and inclusion of 8-30g housing — will carry the day.

“Garden Homes” is a bucolic-sounding name. But I’m betting the reception to this new proposal will not be all peaches and cream.

(Hat tip: Wendy Pieper)

Westport Schools Limit Plastic Straws; Student Takes Aim At Water Bottles

The campaign to lessen plastic straw use in Westport no longer sucks.

The Whelk, Jesup Hall, Kawa Ni, Amis, Viva Zapata, Dunville’s and the Black Duck have all joined in. Dunkin’ Donuts is in the process of phasing them out.

Now comes news that a place that serves many more customers a day than all of these combined — well, maybe not Dunkin’ — has joined the crusade.

RTM member Andrew Colabella tells “06880” that he heard from Deborah VanCoughnett, director of dining services for Chartwells, the company that runs food services for the Westport schools.

Andrew says they’ll severely limit plastic straw use when school starts later this month.

None will be on display. However, students who need one — for example, those with physical disabilities — can simply ask a cashier.

Andrew thanks fellow RTM member Kristin Schneeman, school superintendent Dr. Colleen Palmer, Bedford Middle School principal Dr. Adam Rosen and student Michael Rossi Pontoriero, and VanCoughnett for their work on this project.

It’s an important step forward. But bigger issues lie ahead.

Like plastic bottles.

Yesterday, I got an email from Samantha Henske.

Last year — as a 5th grader at Kings Highway Elementary School — she started a drive to eliminate single-use water bottles. She and her Workshop grouop sold reusable BPA-free water bottles to 400 KHS students. With the money raised, they bought a water filling station for the school.

Samantha Henske, and plastic bottles.

As she worked on the project, Sammi learned not only about environmental effects of plastic bottles (one year of manufacturing uses enough oil to fuel a million cars; a bottle in a landfill takes up to 450 years to decompose; plastics that get into fish and other sea creatures can end up as microplastics in our bodies), but that chemicals in BPA can lead to neurological difficulties and increased growth of cancer cells.

Now — as she enters Coleytown Middle School — she’s moving forward, townwide. Next month, she meets with 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and Westport’s Green Task Force.

This is a sibling effort. She’s doing the research; her sophomore brother Spencer is working on design and technology.

The result is a Change.org petition. The goal is to eliminate single-use plastic water bottles in all of Westport. To sign — or learn more — click here.

Developer, Preservationists Battle Over Artists’ Property On Morningside Drive

The last time I wrote about Walter and Naiad Einsel was in 2016. The story was about their estate sale. Collectors flocked from many states to the 1853 Victorian farmhouse that for over 60 years had been home to the husband-and-wife artists. Both were inducted into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame.

Walter and Naiad Einsel

Walter and Naiad Einsel

The couple were Westport icons. They worked together and independently on book and magazine illustrations, posters, ads and package designs.

They were the first married couple to create stamp designs for the US Postal Service. They also produced 55 figures — with intricate details and moving parts — for Epcot Center.

And they were important members of Westport’s arts community. Naiad designed our Bicentennial Quilt, sewn by 33 women and on display in Town Hall since 1976. She earned a Westport Arts Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.

Most importantly for this follow-up piece: In 2006 the Einsels received a Preservation Award for their South Morningside Drive home.

Now, in 2018, that house may not be preserved much longer.

In fact, a demolition permit has just been filed for the entire property.

As far back as 2007, Naiad was thinking about what would happen after her death (Walter passed away in 1998). Morley Boyd — then chair of the Westport Historic District Commission — spent plenty of time on her porch, discussing her vision for the future.

Ultimately, Naiad applied for a Local Historic District designation for her 2 contiguous properties. She and Walter had previously subdivided, facing the possibility that they might have to sell 1 lot — a square one, in front of Walter’s gallery — to fund their retirement.

Walter and Naiad Einsel’s South Morningside Drive house.

The Historic District Commission supported the designation. They hired a professional architectural historian to document the property’s history, and assess the structures’ architectural integrity.

That report cited the historic and cultural heritage of the structures, while noting that the site reflected the rich agricultural history of Greens Farms — and represented fast-disappearing open space.

Naiad died in April of 2016. The property was marketed as sub-dividable, and sold to a developer.

The development company redrew the lot lines, extending 20 Morningside Drive South all the way back to wetlands. The firm then submitted a Certificate of Appropriateness application to the HDC, to build a house at #20. Preservationists and historians called the design “stylistically inappropriate,” and warned it would  damage the historic integrity of the structures and their setting.

The Commission denied the request, citing historic open space and farmland as additional considerations. In response, the developer sued the town of Westport.

In the late 1960s, Naiad Einsel’s “Save Cockenoe Now” posters were seen everywhere in town.. Eventually, Cockenoe Island was saved: a nuclear power plant was never built there.

Next, the developer submitted plans to subdivide 26 Morningside South. Two new houses would be stuffed around the historic building.

The Historic District Commission — with only advisory powers — voted unanimously against recommending approval of the subdivision application. They sent their comments to the Planning and Zoning Commission.

The developer responded with a vague commitment to preserve the historic structures.

Assistant town attorney Eileen Flug offered her opinion: Open space and historic significance may be considered by the P&Z when weighing a plan to sub-divide.

The Greens Farms Association weighed in too. They said that the proposed subdivision of #26 — coupled with the development proposed for #20 — “drastically degrades if not destroys the district.”

They added: “We cannot imagine that crowding out one of the few remaining mid-19th century farmhouses in the town of Westport with 4 new homes aligns with town guidelines in favor of open space and historic preservation.”

The P&Z voted down — with only 1 abstention — the request to subdivide.

Which brings us to the present. Demolition permits have been requested for all 3 structures on the property: the 1853 farmhouse, a small barn that is believed to date to the same period, and Walter Einsel’s culturally significant barn-style studio.

Demolition would allow for “new construction.”

One of the demolition notices on the former Einsel property.

Neighbors, artists and others throughout town wonder: Who would buy an entire Local Historic District, knowing it had been the home of 2 beloved Westport artists, understanding all the regulations that apply —  then set about surrounding it all with other inappropriate buildings?

And — when that doesn’t work — destroy it all. Literally.

“The preservation of these structures and their setting is ensured by an ordinance enacted by the RTM,” Boyd says.

“That’s because it was determined by experts that the conservation of this collection of historic resources — together with their original setting — was in the public interest. And because the property owner at that time (Naiad Einsel) wanted it that way.”

I called Fred Ury — attorney for Morningside Drive Homes LLC, the Greenwich-based entity associated with the properties.

Citing ongoing litigation, he said he could not comment.

(Hat tip: Greens Farms Association and president Art Schoeller)

Chris Murphy Comes To Westport

It’s still July — but the November election is just 99 days away.

Senator Chris Murphy came to Westport Democratic Party headquarters today, to inspire volunteers for down-ballot races.

Will Haskell — a recent college graduate, running against Toni Boucher for State Senate in the 26th district — introduced the senator, noting that he’d knocked on doors during Murphy’s first US Senate run.

Murphy is only 44 years old. But that’s twice as old as Haskell. Acknowledging the introduction — and his own early days in politics — Murphy said: “I was Will Haskell!”

US Senator Chris Murphy, earlier today at Westport Democratic Party headquarters.

Jim Marpe: “I Proudly Represent All Westporters”

Earlier today, I posted an open letter to 1st Selectman Jim Marpe. Prill Boyle praised him for his civility, intelligence, caring, community building and fiscal prudence — then wondered why he did not speak up against “the values of today’s Republican party.”

He responds:

Thank you for giving me an opportunity to respond to today’s “Open Letter.”

As 1st selectman I proudly represent all Westporters regardless of their individual party affiliations, points of view on particular issues, or whether or not they shake my hand. As much as physically possible, I stand ready to meet with constituents or respond to their emails and phone calls in order to hear their ideas and address their concerns.

There are nearly 4,500 registered Republicans living in Westport. Shaming our neighbors because you presume they do not share all or some of the same political beliefs is wrong.

Westport prides itself on being tolerant and inclusive. We are (or should be) Republicans and Democrats based on a set of principles rather than loyalty or fealty to one individual, including President Trump. It has been my experience in the past 5 years as first selectman that our individual principles as a community have much more in common than they differ.

At last year’s “06880” party, incumbent 1st Selectman Jim Marpe posed with Democratic opponent Melissa Kane. He won the election; she is now 3rd selectwoman. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

As Westport’s 1st selectman and a former Board of Education member and vice chairman, I have chosen to “speak up” through actions that impact Westport and its neighbors. I have supported programs that impact arts and intellectual activities and that address the social services needs of our community as well as neighboring communities that may be less fortunate.

I have committed Westport to an environmentally sustainable future through our “Net Zero by 2050” initiatives. And I practice fiscal prudence on behalf of all Westporters.

Most importantly, my administration is committed to continue to make Westport an attractive and welcoming community in which to live, work and operate a business, regardless of the continuing challenges that the State of Connecticut faces.

In order to affect change, we must have open dialogue. Demonizing someone because of his or her party affiliation, or presumed political beliefs, is not only unfair, it is also self-defeating. In Westport we can and must continue our tradition of listening to and respecting each other – not just when we agree, but more importantly when we differ.

And I will continue to do my best to address Westport’s challenges by reflecting what I believe are the broadly held principles of local governance and process, and a community commitment to tolerance, inclusiveness and civility.

[OPINION] Prill Boyle To Jim Marpe: “I Wish You Would Speak Up”

Last week’s “06880” blog party was a celebration of all things Westport. It was a chance for everyone in town to meet, eat, drink and chill, in a community environment at our favorite beach. And, as I always say, it was non-partisan.

But these days, politics intrudes everywhere. Prill Boyle — a longtime “06880” reader, 1972 Staples High School graduate, and the author of “Defying Gravity: A Celebration of Late-Blooming Women” — saw something that made her think.

And — nearly a week later — write. 

Here’s an open letter she’s written, to 1st selectman Jim Marpe:

Prill Boyle (Photo/Suzanne Sheridan)

When I witnessed my friend Rozanne Gates refusing to shake your hand at the beach last Thursday simply because you are a Republican, I was appalled.

The more I thought about it though, the more I came to admire both her principled stance and your even-handed response. I applaud both of you for being civil to one another.

Although I will always shake your hand if you extend it to me, I too question why you align yourself with today’s Republican party.

From what I have seen, you are a highly intelligent man, not someone who is anti-intellectual, anti-science and anti-environment.

From what I have seen, you are a caring husband and father, not someone who would condone separating mothers and children at our southern border and shutting down Planned Parenthood.

1st Selectman Jim Marpe at last week’s “06880” party.

From what I have seen, you are someone who builds strong coalitions, not someone who would undermine NATO and the European Union.

Finally, from what I have seen, you are someone who is fiscally prudent, not someone who would give a deficit-financed tax cut to the rich while attempting to de-fund a healthcare program for poor children that saves society money in the long run.

In short, from what I have seen you are a good man, a person who values honesty, decency and community. In short, you don’t seem like a person who would tacitly condone the values of today’s Republican party.

So I wish you would speak up.