Category Archives: Local politics

Want To Run For RTM? Deadline Looms!

This November’s elections are strictly local. There are no national or state races. The focus is on town bodies: Boards of Education and Finance, etc. Their roles are clear; even the most apolitical Westporter can figure out what those members do.

The Representative Town Meeting — RTM — is less clear. But it’s as crucial to Westport as anything else on the ballot.

For over a century, Westport held an annual Town Meeting. This uniquely New England  form of democratic government was great — until it grew unwieldy.

In 1949, the “representative town meeting” replaced the everyone-gets-a-vote model. The town was divided into districts.

There are now 9; each elects 4 members, for 2-year terms. The RTM is responsible for:

  • Final approval of the town budget. Members may also restore budget requests that were cut earlier in the process.
  • Voting on requests for all appropriations over $20,000.
  • Approving town ordinances.
  • Reviewing certain decision of town boards and commissions, including Planning & Zoning.

RTM members must serve on 2 or more study committees, which review and make recommendations regarding appropriations and ordinances. Full RTM meetings are generally held on the first Tuesday of the month.

Sound like something you’d like to do?

Great! But you have to get moving.

The deadline for petitioning to run is tomorrow (Tuesday, September 10; petitions available in the Town Clerk’s office, Town Hall). Right now, 2 districts have only 3 candidates.

If you miss the petitioning deadline, you may run as a write-in candidate. To do that, you must register with the Secretary of the State before October 22.

The RTM is a powerful board. It is representative democracy at the most basic level. These are your representatives.

To find out more — including information about your district, and who your representatives are — click here.

(Hat tip: Former RTM member Pat Porio)

Cribari Bridge Disappears

Werner Liepolt — an alert “06880 reader/William F. Cribari Bridge neighbor/member of the Connecticut Department of Transportation Project Advisory Committee for a new, rehabilitated or (long shot) basically unchanged span — read with interest yesterday’s post about $40 million in possible funding for the project.

Then he noted with equal interest that the DOT has pulled (“temporarily?” he wonders) the Cribari Bridge project from its web page. (Click here for the error message.)

However, he does have 2 public documents — sent to Advisory Committee members — showing plans for the “restored” bridge. Here they are. Click on, or hover over to enlarge:

State: Here’s $40 Million For Cribari Bridge Rehab. Town: Not So Fast…

The state Department of Transportation today released a draft list of projects, under the 2021-24 Transportation Improvement Program.

Included is $20 million in fiscal 2023 — plus $20 million more in fiscal ’24 — for the “rehabilitation/replacement of state-town Bridge #01349, aka William F. Cribari Memorial Bridge.”

For those who haven’t followed the years-long saga, that’s the 133-year-old swing span over the Saugatuck River. It connects Riverside Avenue and Bridge Street.

One view of the William Cribari Bridge … (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

All projects on the list must be evaluated for air quality concerns. Because federal funding is also involved, national regulations — as well as state — must be adhered to.

The Cribari Bridge project may not necessarily be placed into the TIP. No decision is likely on the TIP until at least next summer.

First Selectman Jim Marpe said:

The town of Westport has not endorsed any plans for the Cribari Bridge, and awaits a conclusion to the CTDOT Environmental Assessment and Environmental Impact Evaluation.

As part of the EA/EIE, the DOT established a Project Advisory Committee, and met with this committee several times over the last year. DOT conducted a professional process, and I am confident they have taken away the community’s sentiments and concerns about the Cribari Bridge.

However, the town of Westport neither accepts nor rejects the CTDOT’s budgeted funding of $40 million over the 2 years until it is clear on the specific proposal for the Cribari Bridge, and the community agrees on which solution is the best for the town of Westport.

The Project Advisory Committee reviewed several alternatives for rehabilitation, including a no-build operation, and provided feedback to the DOT. No decision has been made.

The DOT continues to coordinate with other state and federal agencies, as well as various stakeholders, to consider specific concerns, such as impacts on historic properties.

… and another. (Photo/Katherine Bruan)

The DOT is expected to issue a preliminary environmental document early next year. There will then be a public hearing and comment period, after which the DOT will make a recommendation of a preferred design alternative. Review by the Federal Highway Administration and state Office of Policy and Management will follow, with a decision announced later.

Marpe added:

My staff and I will stay abreast of the air quality and environmental findings for the Cribari Bridge rehabilitation or replacement options. Thereafter, we will follow the development of the TIP closely. I am committed to keeping the residents and businesses of Westport informed in a timely manner about this very important project.

Marpe Challenges Hatred, Urges Civility

In the wake of last weekend’s mass shootings, First Selectman Jim Marpe says:

Following the tragic events in Charlottesville 2 years ago, I stated that “there is no place for hatred and bigotry in our country,” and expressed our community’s prayers for the victims of that senseless tragedy.

Those events led to the “Hate Has No Home Here” movement in Westport and other communities. Last year, after the Parkland, Florida tragedy, I again addressed the issue of gun control and sensible gun legislation.

After another weekend of shocking headlines involving mass shootings which obviously have roots in white supremacy, and frankly, 2 more years of incidents similar to Charlottesville and Parkland, we are still faced with the challenge of inflammatory public rhetoric and hate-filled internet postings and activity.

We are fortunate that Westport is represented by national, state and local legislators and elected officials who act and speak responsibly in the face of these divisive issues.  They are committed to pursuing and enforcing responsible and effective gun control legislation, as well as condemning the racial biases demonstrated by others.

The fact that these incidents are happening on a regular basis is appalling. Each time I am asked to address them both personally and in my role as first selectman, it is done with an extremely heavy heart.

Although recent national incidents were much more horrific and tragic, the sentiment where I prompted a call to civility and respect to all Westporters after an unfortunate incident during a local public meeting last year holds true today.

I stated, “We will continue to publicly deal with issues and challenges that ignite passions on all sides, but we can’t let those passions create an air of disrespect, intimidation and bullying. I implore all Westport residents to allow their personal and public interactions to be driven by respect, tolerance and a desire to coexist in a positive manner with all of our neighbors.”

I will continue to address this issue within our community, and I will continue to denounce any form of hatred, bigotry or cultural bias.

Sewage Leak Stemmed; Beaches Still Closed

According to the Westport Fire Department, the sewage leak in the Saugatuck River was completely stopped as of 8:30 last night.

Temporary pumps will remain in place until permanent pumps are installed next month.

According to the Fire Department, town officials have been in close communication with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and the Westport Weston Health District. 

Water quality testing will be performed tomorrow (Monday), in an effort to reopen beaches. Swimming at all Westport beaches — including Sherwood Island State Park — remains off limits today, “in an abundance of caution.”

First Selectman Jim Marpe thanked town and state departments for their prompt response.  He added, “We appreciate the cooperation of our residents and visitors not using the beaches for swimming until we receive the all-clear from the Health District and DEEP.”

The sewage leak yesterday, on the Saugatuck River.. (Photo/Michael Cammeyer)

Westport’s Newest — And Tiniest? — Town Park

In 2011 a pair of tiny cottages were damaged beyond repair, by 2 successive storms: Irene and Sandy.

The homes sat on tiny parcels of land. One was just .005 acre.

But they were known to everyone — at least, everyone who knows about the footbridges connecting Old Mill with Compo Cove. The cottages were on the right (Long Island Sound) side, between the bridges.

The town bought the cottages — for $1,111,650. But every penny was reimbursed, thanks to FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.

The structures were torn down. For a few years, the land sat vacant.

It’s still empty. It’s still beloved by fishermen.

But now it’s also been spruced up. There’s a garden, and a granite slab for sitting.

Welcome to Westport’s newest park. It’s probably also the smallest.

Now all it needs is a name.

(Photos/Amy Schneider)

Despite Denials, Hiawatha Lane Housing Proposal Still Lives

Folklore says that cats have 9 lives.

The proposed Hiawatha Lane housing development has been rejected 8 times by town officials.

Its developer is betting the 9th time’s the charm.

In June, Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission struck down Summit Saugatuck’s plan for 187 units on the narrow road nestled between Saugatuck Avenue and I-95 exit 17. Board members cited concerns about access by firefighters and first responders, as well as traffic and pedestrian concerns.

Applications for sewer connections were denied earlier, by the P&Z and/or Board of Selectmen, in July and September 2007; January 2015; July 2016, and February 2017.

A text amendment and zone change were voted down in November 2016. The text amendment, map amendment and zoning amendment request defeated this past June was the 8th request.

Every denial was unanimous.

Summit Saugatuck’s plan for Hiawatha Lane.

But Summit Saugatuck principal Felix Charney will be back again. Because the proposal is submitted as an 8-30g application — meaning it falls under the state’s “affordable housing” regulation — it’s been re-submitted. A public hearing is set for September 12.

The plan would include 130 market-rate units, and 57 deemed “affordable.” Hiawatha Lane already includes many homes that are among the most affordable in Westport.

The 8-30g statute mandates that 10% of a town’s housing stock be “affordable,” under a state formula. Westport is currently at 4%.

However, only units constructed after 1990, and those that are deed-restricted for 40 years, are considered. Most Westport units serving lower-income groups do not fall into either category.

In March, Westport received a “Certificate of Affordable Housing Completion” from the state Department of Housing. The result was a 4-year moratorium on 8-30g.

The moratorium was granted “based upon the significant progress Westport has made in supplying affordable housing,” 1st Selectman Jim Marpe. Yet the moratorium does not preclude more submissions, like the one Summit Saugatuck is proposing.

Summit Saugatuck and Garden Homes — another developer whose proposal to build on untenable land was denied by the town — tried to get the state to vacate the moratorium. Their petition was denied on Monday by Connecticut’s Department of Housing.

1177 Post Road East helped Westport earn a 4-year moratorium on 8-30g proposals.

The town has received “moratorium points” for these units:

  • Rotary Centennial House, 10 West End Avenue (6 out of 6 total units)
  • Bradley Commons, Bradley Lane (4 of 20)
  • Saugatuck Center, Riverside Avenue (5 of 27)
  • Bedford Square, Church Lane (5 of 26)
  • 20 Cross Street (3 of 10; a portion of all others also earn points)
  • Coastal Point, 1135 Post Road East (2 of 12)
  • 1177 Greens Farms, 1177 Post Road East (29 of 94; a portion of all others also earn points )
  • Sasco Creek, 1655 Post Road East (31 of 54)
  • Hidden Brook, 1655 Post Road East (4 of 39)
  • Hales Court (38 of 78).

As noted earlier, that does not count any affordable housing built before 1990.

(Hat tip: Carolanne Curry)

Garden Cinema: The Sequel

Alert “06880” reader/concerned moviegoer Bill Kutik was one of many Westporters at last night’s meeting in Norwalk. The subject: the fate of Garden Cinemas, the indie/foreign film theater threatened by demolition. Bill writes:

Responding to an enormous public outcry, the Norwalk Common Council postponed voting on the controversial development plan that would have torn down the Garden Cinemas art movie house for a parking garage.

Mayor Harry Rilling opened the SRO meeting by announcing tabling the matter until September 10 after receiving a petition with nearly 3,000 signatures gathered online by the Wall Street Neighborhood Association.

Until the petition, the destruction vote had seemed like a done deal. “Pave paradise and put up a parking lot,” as Joni Mitchell used to sing.

The 22 people signed up to speak against the plan addressed the SRO crowd of Norwalk and Westport residents anyway – to cheers and applause.

I helped the opposition – www.WallStreetCT.org – and spoke because I moved to Westport 20 years ago after decades in Manhattan precisely because the Garden and Gold’s (substituting for Zabar’s) offered just enough of home to make me feel comfortable.

Some speakers criticized the modern design of the 101-unit rental apartment building on Wall Street in a federally designated Historic District. Others criticized the trickle of taxes it would produce for Norwalk after the city and state granted large tax credits for it being “affordable housing.”

But most expressed their love for the independent theater: the only one showing non-Hollywood and foreign films on four screens between Westport and Manhattan! The Avon shows some in Stamford.

And alluded to the absurdity of tearing down this amazing suburban cultural gem – housed in a 1918 building originally built as a vaudeville house – for parking!

Mayor Rilling said that the city would work with board members of the Wall Street Association on their proposal to develop an arts and cultural center in the area – using the Garden Cinemas or in the new building.

“There are at least 4 options,” he noted.

In my public statement, I pointed out a fifth: Simply buying the existing parking lot 100 feet away at 27 Isaacs Street, instead of tearing down the Garden at 13 Isaacs Street.

The lot’s owner, Jason Milligan of New Canaan, later said publicly he would sell it at a “reasonable” price to save the Garden. As bargaining tactic, he had once asked $10 million for it.

In my own conversations with Milligan, he seemed ready to be truly reasonable. He even publicly apologized to 3 Council members by name for his previous actions.

At the 11th hour, it seems that Norwalk is starting all over for the Garden.

Ins And Outs Of Post Road Shopping Centers

On July 8, representatives from Connecticut’s Department of Transportation gave a public presentation on proposed work on the Post Road. Much of it involves the stretch between Fresh Market, and the Roseville/Hillspoint Road intersection.

The $5.3 million project (80% federally funded, 20% state funds) would include special left-turn-only lanes, as well as traffic signals, curbing, curb ramps, sidewalks and crosswalks.

Proposals for the Post Road near Fresh Market.

Alert “06880” reader Jennifer Johnson agrees with many of the ideas. However, she also has concerns. She wrote the DOT about several, including the need for a sidewalk on the south side from Mitchells to the fire station, and care of the cherry trees in front of the Volvo dealer.

However, what really caught my eye was this:

Eliminate multiple single-property curb cuts. There are an excessive number of curb cuts (17) on both sides of the road, from the traffic light at Fresh Market to the light at Roseville/Hillspoint Road.

The number of curb cuts is a source of danger to people regardless of how they travel (foot, car or bicycle). Now is the time to correct problems that have evolved as the Post Road developed.

There are many ways in and out of the shopping centers, and adjacent lots.

I never thought about that — but now that I have, it makes a lot of sense.

Why do we need so many entrances and exits at Fresh Market? Across the street, there are also a number of ways to get into and out of the Dunkin’ Donuts/UPS Store/Westport Hardware/Mumbai Times lot. (No one ever calls it by its official no-meaning name, Village Center.)

There are other spots in town too with multiple entrances and exits, like Stop & Shop, and Aux Delices/Carvel/Stiles.

There are only a couple of ways in and out of the CVS/Trader Joe’s clusterf***. But at the end of her email, Jennifer notes that this intersection appears to have been ignored by DOT.

Finally, she asks that one person be appointed to oversee and coordinate all of DOT’s Westport projects (there are others besides the Fresh Market initiative).

Great idea! I nominate Jennifer Johnson for the job.

(For full details of the project on the Westport town website, click here. Questions about the Post Road project can be sent to  the CT DOT project manager: Brian.Natwick@ct.com)

Proposed work at the Post Road/Roseville/Hillspoint intersection.

If You Don’t Like The Way The Town Is Being Run, Read On!

Time to put up or shut up.

Or run for the RTM.

NOTE: You can also run if you love the way Westport is run.

Westporters interested in serving on the Representative Town Meeting — the 36-member legislative body that passes the town and education budgets; enacts ordinances (like the plastic bag ban), and reviews certain zoning changes, among other duties — can pick up an election petition beginning tomorrow (Tuesday, July 23, Town Clerk’s office in Town Hall).

Just get 25 signatures from residents of your district, by September 10. (That’s less than one a day.)

Bingo — you’re on the November 5 ballot.

You don’t even know your district map. The Town Clerk’s office tells you everything you need to know — including all registered voters in that district.

The RTM is non-partisan. Members serve 2-year terms.

For more information about this and other election matters, contact Town Clerk Patricia Strauss (203-341-1105; pstrauss@westportct.gov). For more on the RTM, click here.