Category Archives: Local politics

They Do Grow Up!

On July 1, 2003, a small group gathered underneath a pear tree, on a patch of grass separating a rutted parking lot from the sprawling, 1-story Staples High School campus.

Several speakers at the low-key ceremony praised the high school as “the jewel in the crown” of the Westport school system.

Then superintendent of schools Elliott Landon, principal John Brady, 1st selectwoman Diane Goss Farrell, Board of Education chair Sandra Urist and 10 other educators, politicians, citizen-volunteers and Turner Construction Company representatives turned over symbolic shovels of dirt.

Ground was broken for construction of an even more sprawling, 3-story school. Another major chapter in Staples’ fabled history had begun.

The Westport News ran a front-page photo of a young boy helping out:

As the caption noted, 4-year-old Jacob Leaf was the grandson of Dan Kail, chairman of the Staples School Building Sub-Committee.

The paper was wrong, however. Jacob is a member of the Class of 2017 — not 2018.

Tomorrow (Thursday, June 22, 2 p.m.), he and over 450 classmates graduate.

They’ll do so in the fieldhouse — one of the only parts of the building not touched by the $84 million renovation.

The project — completed in 2005 — transformed Staples forever. It is a 21st-century building, and this year’s graduating class have done their high school — and town — proud.

Sitting especially proudly in tomorrow’s crowd will be one of the Westporters most responsible for the modern Staples High School: Jacob’s grandfather, Dan Kail.

Congratulations to all the graduates; to all who made Staples possible, and all who continue to do so.

Pic Of The Day #62

Seasonal plantings at Town Hall. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer)

[OPINION] Saugatuck Resident Thanks P&Z For Tesla Response

Last night, the Planning & Zoning Commission heard public comment on a text amendment to allow an electric car service center — and possibly a dealership — on Saugatuck Avenue.

Most of the public was not in favor of the plan. The P&Z heard concerns loud and clear. They’ll revisit the proposal on July 6.

Opponents of the plan — which involves Tesla — took heart from the meeting. Saugatuck resident and “06880” reader Marilyn Harding writes:

Last night the residents of Saugatuck did a brilliant job — through strategies that encompassed fact-based data, tell-tale photographs and their passion of purpose— that saved Saugatuck from a future of more traffic chaos, more misuse of land, and more reckless change to a historic community. Their presentation to the Planning and Zoning Commission fully demonstrates how local communities can work together successfully to preserve the town of Westport.

20 Saugatuck Avenue — the site where Tesla hoped to build a service facility.

The P & Z deserves bunches of kudos for their sound judgment in steering an electric car company away from the already overcrowded streets of Saugatuck, but did embrace the innovative brand.

P &Z members extended welcoming invitations to Tesla, alerting them to locations on the Post Road where the required commercial zoning is permitted for car dealers.

The P & Z took yet another step forward, acknowledging the value of their predecessors’ work when town regulations were written and designed to safeguard Westport’s authenticity as a historic New England town.

Congratulations to the Saugatuck residents, members of the P & Z, and to the wonderful, creative Westporters who have gone before us!

Melissa Kane Enters 1st Selectman Race

Jim Marpe has an opponent.

This afternoon, Melissa Kane announced her candidacy for 1st selectman of Westport. The Democratic activist opposes the Republican incumbent.

Kane currently serves as chair of the Westport Democratic Committee, and is a member of the non-partisan RTM from District 3. She is also co-chair of the Downtown Implementation Committee (appointed by Marpe).

Previously, as chair of the Downtown Steering Committee, she helped create a new Downtown Master Plan.

Melissa Kane

Kane recently received the Democratic Women of Westport’s first scholarship to the Yale Campaign School for Women.

She has been a Westport Library trustee, a board member of the Green Village Initiative and A Child’s Place, and active with Earthplace, the Westport Arts Center and PTA.

After moving to Westport in 2003, Kane launched and ran a floral design company, MKK Designs. She began her career as a columnist for Hearst New Media’s online publications, before becoming a publicist in the recording industry.

A graduate of Mount Holyoke College with a B.A. in international relations, she is married to Jonathan Kane.  Their children are George (18) and Lily (14).

In her announcement, Kane said:

First, I’ve loved Westport since I was a little girl. I spent my summers at Beach School and fishing in the currents off the bridges at the Mill Pond. Today, I love this town for all that it offers, and for its extraordinarily active community involvement.

Westport’s inclusive values, the importance of community, the integrity and beauty of our open spaces and beaches, and the quality of our schools, led my husband and me to choose to raise our family here.

Second, I have a vision for our infrastructure, public safety and economic sustainability that is critical to our future. We can do much more to protect the fiscal strength of our schools and to enhance our home values, to attract future generations, and support local businesses. As your first selectman, I will have a clearly articulated economic development plan. Times require more than just hoping to come in on budget each year without clear priorities.

At the women’s march on Washington the day after President Trump’s inauguration, Senator Richard Blumenthal posed with Connecticut protesters. Among the crowd was one of the state organizers, Melissa Kane.

Third, every Westporter deserves to have a leader who is willing to stand up for our most important priorities and values.

If you are concerned about maintaining excellence in our schools, know that I will advocate forcefully and effectively to make sure our schools are fully funded.

If you are a senior or have aging parents, know that I will work proactively with our P&Z officials and developers to make sure seniors have access to affordable, centrally located housing, or that they have the tax relief and support they need to be able to age in place.

If you are a commuter, know that I will work to make sure our traffic issues are finally addressed. I will improve mobility throughout town by working more collaboratively with DOT and the Citizens Transportation Commission on innovative solutions, and I will commit to investing in multi modal public transportation options as alternate ways to get around town.

If you are concerned about public safety, know that I will work with our local, state and national officials on responsible gun protection measures, and I will always stand up to hate in any form.

In this election we have an exciting opportunity to move Westport forward and to ensure that our town’s leaders represent the values we believe in.

 

[OPINION] Keep Tesla Out Of Saugatuck!

Alert “06880” reader Mark Kirby is an organizer of Saugatuck Neighbors. As outlined below, he is opposed to the plan for a Tesla service facility in his neighborhood.

Two months ago I got a letter from Mel Barr, former Westport Planning and Zoning director, now a zoning consultant. Tesla Motors wanted to change town zoning to allow a “service center” at one of two sites in Saugatuck, including one that abuts part of our backyard. Would I attend a meeting to learn about the proposal?

I had mixed feelings. I was excited to have Tesla in Westport. I support its vision for a less carbon-reliant future; I signed up for a Model 3 before it was officially announced.

But as a neighbor, I worried about noise from tools like compressors and pneumatic wrenches. A service center isn’t what I’d imagined in the neighborhood—in fact, it’s prohibited. But because it was Tesla, I wanted to keep an open mind.

20 Saugatuck Avenue — the proposed site for the Tesla facility.

The meeting was held on a Tuesday night. Mr. Barr was there, along with the building’s landlord, Bruce Becker (a Westport architect and Tesla enthusiast), 4 Tesla representatives, and Tesla’s realtor.

Mr. Barr handed out his proposed zoning amendment. Something jumped out immediately: the zoning change was for a dealership. I asked him and the Tesla representatives about it.

Me (reading their amendment): “Said establishments may also provide vehicle sales of new and used electric motor vehicles, subject to a State License.

Them: Well, we can’t actually sell cars in Connecticut right now.

Me: But I’ve just signed a petition supporting legislation that would allow you to.

The conversation went on from there, but you get the idea: It was a challenge getting forthright answers from this group. At one point, I asked whether Tesla would be willing to go forward without the dealership. Their answer was no.

What’s so bad about a dealership? I’ve heard lots of reasons from neighbors but I’ll share only mine here.

My wife and I settled in Saugatuck because we liked the easy access to transit, and that it was a walkable neighborhood. Many families in Saugatuck have done so for similar reasons.

It’s not just the immediate neighbors who want to preserve this area. Creating a walkable Saugatuck is a priority for both the current Saugatuck Transit-Oriented Master Plan and the town’s draft 2017 Conservation Plan of Development.

I can’t think of a single example of a walkable neighborhood with a car dealership smack in the middle. Our kids are young, and we’re especially concerned about test drives in cars that are fast, silent and accelerate in ways that startle new drivers. While there may be virtues to having a pioneering company like Tesla in town, I wouldn’t count bringing car dealerships to residential areas as one of them.

I realize that some people will read this and cry NIMBYism! But the kind of zoning change proposed here isn’t just bad for Saugatuck; it’s bad for Westport.

Some Saugatuck residents fear this is what the Tesla facility will turn into.

Saugatuck is already a chokepoint for the town — and that’s predominantly from local trips. Tesla would mean additional cars from out-of-towners hopping off I-95 for gas, a rush-hour service appointment or a test drive.

The fact that Saugatuck has the village character it does today is the result of decades of zoning decisions aimed at keeping highway services out of the area. There’s also the question of why we’d want a car dealership (which even for green cars aren’t pollutant-free environments) either on the river or alongside a stream feeding directly into the river.

While learning about zoning rules and knocking on neighbors’ doors weren’t things I anticipated doing this spring, I’m glad for it. It’s been a great way to meet neighbors, get to know town officials, and learn about the many fights over neighborhood preservation that have made Westport what it is today. We’re pleased that Save Westport Now and the Greens Farms Association are supporting neighbors in protesting this zoning change. If you’d like to support us too, you can here.

Westport is investing a lot of time and effort into studying Saugatuck. Will it be a well-planned, cohesive community with local businesses and residents supporting each other, or will we pre-empt all that by dumping a dealership right in the middle of the village?

My hope is that the Planning and Zoning Commission will listen to the neighborhood at the hearing tomorrow (Thursday, June 15, 7 p.m. Town Hall), and make this decision wisely.

Marpe Signs Gun Control Pledge, Backs Paris Climate Accord

More than 2 months ago, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe addressed Westport’s “Democracy on Display” demonstration.

“Sign the pledge!” chanted many in the crowd of nearly 1,000, at Veterans Green.

This morning — at a board of selectmen meeting in Town Hall, overlooking the same spot — Marpe announced that on Monday, he did just that.

Westport’s chief executive joins more than 1,000 current and former mayors, from nearly every state. They’ve committed to fight for “common sense gun laws,” through the Everytown for Gun Safety initiative.

Here’s the pledge, with Marpe’s signature:

Marpe — a Republican running for re-election this fall — also affirmed Westport’s support of the Paris Climate Accord. Over 1,200 governors, mayors, businesses and universities nationwide have made similar statements, in the wake of President Trump’s decision to pull the US out of that 195-nation pact.

Pledging the town to meet and exceed the Paris agreement goals, Marpe said: 

Westport has a proud and extensive legacy of environmental leadership, and we believe in doing what’s right for our residents and the environment. 

In 2015, we announced a target of “Net Zero by 2050″ across energy, water and waste. Our goal is to create a sustainable community — from economic, social and environmental perspectives — where future generations will choose to raise their families.

Westport First Selectman Jim Marpe.

Senior Center Expansion Moves Forward

With support from a wide range of town officials, the Westport/Weston Clergy Association and — most importantly — longtime residents, the Board of Finance last night unanimously approved $3.975 million to expand the Senior Center.

Dozens of Westporters had written in praise of the project. Finance members seemed moved by the broad support — particularly the emails and letters (many of them handwritten) from men and women who have lived here for decades.

The expansion will add 8,362 square feet to the Imperial Road facility, and add 27 parking spots.

Construction could begin in the fall of 2018.

A rendering of the proposed Senior Center building.

Despite Rain, Westport Honors Its Heroes

For the 2nd year in a row, Westport canceled its Memorial Day parade.

But the men and women who gave their lives for our country — and all who served it — were memorialized in a moving ceremony at Town Hall.

2nd selectman Avi Kaner live-streamed it on Facebook. If you missed it, you can watch the impassioned speeches — and hear the stirring music — by clicking here. (The ceremony starts at the 10:30 mark.)

Among the speakers was 1st selectman Jim Marpe. He wove together the past and present, linking yesterday’s heroes with today’s “turbulent and unprecedented” times.

And — continuing a wonderful Westport tradition — he gave a sad roll call of the veterans we’ve lost within the past year. Here is his speech:

Good morning. It is an honor and privilege to be here today. First, I must salute the great gentleman we all love to call Mr. Parade, Bill Vornkahl, president of the Westport Veterans Council. Bill has orchestrated this special event for the last 47 years, in a true demonstration of love and commitment to his town and country. And thank you to everyone who has a role in making this great parade and these ceremonies happen.

Grand marshal Ed Vebell.

In just a few moments, we will hear from this year’s grand marshal, Edward Vebell. Ed is a World War II veteran who joined the Air Force in 1942. He was a member of the 904thCamouflage Unit, dropped behind enemy lines to sketch enemy equipment and positions.

He was also with Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper. We honor and recognize you, Ed, for your bravery under fire and distinguished service to our country.

We gather here today in our cherished annual tradition, to recognize those who sacrificed their lives for our great nation. We also honor the men and women right here among us who have served our country, whether in battle or in support of those who chose to put their country before themselves.

The contrast between our beautiful and peaceful town and the battlegrounds our soldiers experienced seems unimaginable right now. Technological advances and our societal demand for instantaneous news has shaped our experience of war, world conflict and political upheaval through high definition televisions, computer screens, and abrupt notifications on cell phones. We look at world politics, radical terrorism, chemical warfare, revolution and military oppression through a vastly different lens than we did a generation ago.

So how do we manage to uphold traditions and honor our past, but keep up with the technology and fascination with newer and faster means to gather information? What is our responsibility as Westporters in this fast-paced, ever changing world in which we live?

My answer is simple.  Like we have done for decades, we take a breath on the last Monday in May, reflect on our country’s history of great sacrifice and we honor those who have served and continue to serve. We recognize the tradition of Memorial Day. We value the sacrifices made by others to preserve our history and our tradition of civil discourse, where we constantly witness democracy in action despite strong and sometimes opposing views.

This sign on the 2014 parade route said it all.

The issues of the day make it appear as if the divide grows ever greater. But if we look back on our history, and recognize just a few of the lessons of the past, we can see that our democracy has withstood the test of time, despite tremendous cost.

It is almost a cliché to say that the Civil War pitted North against South, brother against brother; that the country could never unite again. Before World War II,the US was stubbornly isolationist. Today, many believe the decision to fight was an easy one, but it was not…it took the attack on Pearl Harbor to hurtle the US into war.

The Vietnam War tore our nation apart, pitting a younger generation against an older one, liberals against conservatives, and those who served against those who objected. Our political climate today, which for many feels turbulent and unprecedented, has in fact mobilized many who are trying to effect change peacefully, through demonstrations and lawful means, which is the bedrock of our country.

As Westporters, we celebrate the ability to disagree in a civil manner, but when the time comes to defend our great nation and the liberties we cherish, our men and women continue to place service to our country above themselves. We honor and thank them all today.

And now, as we have done in years past, I will make special mention of those war veterans who lived in Westport who have passed away this past year, with apologies in advance for any we may have inadvertently omitted.

Bertram Aber
Bruno Arcudi
Ernest (Ernie) Arnow
George F. Avery, Jr.
Alexander (Al) Balas
Robert Brannigan
Russell Brenneman
Erwine T. Buckenmaier, Jr.
Donald Evans Casciato
Frank Clark
C. Steven Crosby
Daniel B. Driscoll
Mary T. Ferruccio
Edward B. Gill
Thelma Gordon
Brett Matthew Hauslaib
James R. Hurley
Robert Kochiss
Kenneth H. Lanouette, Jr.
John Lomartire
Henry R. Loomis
Delmor B. Markoff
George H. Marks, Sr.
James P. McCabe
Frederick Meier, Sr.
Durwood (Woody) C. Milone
Jonathan B. Morris
John Nazzaro, Sr.
H. Elliott Netherton, Jr.
John G. Petti, Jr.
Alan Phelan
Charles T. Raymond
Philip W. Reeves
Estelle Reitano
Warren Rossell
Jack Rotman
Harold Scher
Frank Scotti
John C. Skinner
Jerome T. Spinola
David S. Stein
George L. Sterling
William E. Surrette
Walter (Wally) J. Sutherland
Ronald J. Swenn
Hugh B. Sweeney, Jr.
Albert R. Tremonte
William G. Turner, Jr.
George W. Underhill
Lawrence N. Waterbury

Let us always remember the service that these veterans gave to our country.

When you return to your homes today, enjoy your holiday, and take the time to reflect onwhat the flags, the music, the traditions and the speeches mean, and what you want your children and grandchildren to remember about Westport’s Memorial Day. That it means placing service to your country above yourself, and that the price of democracy, of the ability to debate and disagree in a civil and respectful manner, may mean making the ultimate sacrifice for our great nation. Today, we honor those who made that sacrifice for us all.

Thank you, and best wishes for a wonderful Memorial Day.

On Myrtle Avenue the quintessential Memorial Day view.

BREAKING NEWS: Judge Dismisses Application For Wilton Road Housing Complex

The Town of Westport has won a major land-use victory.

The Wilton Road/North Kings Highway intersection will not be the site of an enormous new housing complex.

Judge Marshall Berger of Hartford District Superior Court has dismissed an appeal by Garden Homes of a unanimous decision by the Planning & Zoning Commission. In February 2016, the board denied an application by the Stamford-based developer to build a 6-story, 48-unit apartment complex on one of the busiest, most environmentally sensitive corners of Westport.

The judge’s decision noted grave concerns about safety, and damage to wetlands adjacent to the 1.16-acre parcel.

122 Wilton Road — site of Garden Homes’ proposed 6-story, 48-unit apartment building — sits at the corner of Kings Highway North. The property abuts the Taylortown Salt Marsh.

Garden Homes sought approval using an 8-30g application. That Connecticut statute allows developers to override local zoning regulations if less than 10% of a town’s housing stock is “affordable” (according to state formulas).

However, yesterday Judge Berger noted that fire and environmental concerns referenced as substantial public interests clearly outweighed the need for affordable housing.

In addition, the judge criticized Garden Homes’ tactic of rushing their application through the approval process, refusing to grant the P&Z and other town officials sufficient time. The developer also failed to provide alternate plans or additional information.

For full details on the case, click here.

The Taylortown Salt Marsh, next to the proposed apartment complex on Wilton Road.

 

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.