Category Archives: Local politics

BREAKING NEWS: Cribari Bridge Solution May Be At Hand

For years, the state Department of Transportation has pushed for a major renovation of the William Cribari (aka Bridge Street) Bridge.

For just as long, Westporters and town officials have pushed back. They fear that modernizing and widening the 2-lane span over the Saugatuck River would draw traffic — including 18-wheelers — off I-95, whenever there is an accident or delay on the nearby highway.

A solution appears to have been found.

And it’s a creative one.

The William Cribari (Bridge Street) Bridge. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

According to State Representative Jonathan Steinberg, the DOT is prepared to reroute Route 136. Right now, 136 includes North and South Compo Roads, and Bridge Street, through Saugatuck and on out to Saugatuck Avenue headed toward Norwalk.

Under the new plan, Route 136 would join the Post Road (also US1) at the North Compo intersection. It would head over the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge downtown, then go south on Riverside Avenue (also known as Route 33), and on toward Saugatuck Avenue.

Thus, the Cribari Bridge would no longer be a state road.

DOT has agreed to do repair work on the bridge — but not a major renovation.

When repairs are finished, DOT would hand the bridge over to the town. Westport would own it — and be responsible for ongoing and future maintenance.

The bridge and environs would no longer be Route 136.

The plan was described to a bipartisan group of state legislators from the area — Steinberg, State Senators Toni Boucher and Tony Hwang, and State Representative Gail Lavielle — by state DOT officials, including commissioner James Redeker. DOT wanted the legislators’ input, before presenting it to 1st selectman Jim Marpe.

[NOTE: An earlier version of this story described — based on a source — the meeting as a “negotiation.” It was an informational meeting only.]

“It’s not cost-free to the town,” Steinberg admits. “But once in a while we come up with creative solutions that work for everyone.”

He gives credit to the DOT. “If they weren’t on board, we’d still be battling this out,” Steinberg says.

Marpe notes, “The concept has just been presented to me. I’m working with my staff to understand the short-term and long-term implications — including finances and public safety — to the proposal. It’s certainly an alternative that needs to be seriously considered.”

Selectmen Sign ADL Pledge

All 3 Westport selectmen — Jim Marpe, Avi Kaner and Helen Garten — have signed an Anti-Defamation League petition. It requests that President Trump “publicly and unequivocally disavow white supremacy.”

The statement reads:

The White House’s repeated failure to stand up to white supremacy and other forms of domestic extremism emboldens and allows its perpetrators to increase their visibility.

Now is the time for President Trump to name the hate and acknowledge that this is not a matter of equivalence between two sides with similar gripes.

The White House’s refusal to disavow white supremacist ideology as a growing source of extremist violence empowers and abets its perpetrators.

President Trump must personally and unequivocally disavow white supremacy and end the White House’s enabling and tolerating its rise.

To truly take a stand, we urge President Trump to also terminate all staff with any ties to these extremists. There is no rationale for employing people who excuse hateful rhetoric and ugly incitement.

 

John Suggs Joins 1st Selectman Race

The 1st selectman race just got more crowded.

John Suggs has announced his candidacy for Westport’s top spot. The independent — running against Republican incumbent Jim Marpe and Democratic challenger Melissa Kane — plans a 3-pronged platform.

Suggs stresses “advocacy, common sense solutions and a nonpartisan approach.”

As a Representative Town Meeting member for 10 years, Suggs cites his leadership roles on school safety, open space and protecting neighborhoods.

A 25-year professional in asset management analysis, public policy and community development, Suggs currently works in forensic genetic genealogy. His Family Orchard business helps adult adoptees search for and reunite with their birth families.

John Suggs

Suggs says he is running as an independent because “I want to represent all of Westport — not merely the interests of any single party or constituency. In times of toxic, partisan politics, where politicians will say just about anything, true or untrue, to gain an advantage, I will always tell you the truth.”

He wants Westporters to “roll up our sleeves and work harder, smarter, better to reduce traffic congestion, sustain the quality of our schools, revitalize downtown and fill empty storefronts, and preserve our property values.”

Suggs says that local elected officials cost Westport taxpayers money as they “endlessly study our problems with exorbitant fees paid to outside consultants.”

He pledges to “place a moratorium on expensive studies, roll back onerous traffic control measures that aren’t working, refurbish (not replace) the Compo Beach pavilion, and restore (not destroy) the Cribari Bridge in Saugatuck.”

Suggs was born and raised in California. With a BA in political science from Loyola Marymount University, an MS in management and systems from New York University and an MBA from Fordham University, he has served as a public policy director, affordable housing advocate, history teacher and Jesuit seminarian.

He and his wife moved to Westport in 2003 with newborn twins, in large part for the schools. Suggs is an active Assumption Church parishioner, and volunteered as a Little League baseball and basketball coach. For 5 years, the Suggses have been a host family for A Better Chance scholars.

“Despite my long record of working on behalf of the town, I am starting the race as the underdog, going up against both established political parties,” Suggs tells “06880.”

“But having talked — and more importantly, listened — one on one to so many people these past few months, I know that my message to Westporters that we must not allow ourselves to get dragged down into the finger-pointing and blame game of toxic partisan politics by both parties resonates deeply for people across the entire political spectrum.”

He adds, “These next few years will be full of difficult challenges for all Westporters, at the state and federal level.” He urges residents to “put aside partisan bickering and pull together as one community, using our common sense to find our own best solutions to navigate through.”

Among the “common sense solutions” Suggs advocates is “fine-tuning traffic controls to mitigate traffic backups.” Adding 3 seconds to a green arrow helps clear 7 more cars from congested intersections, he says.He’d also restore right turn on red at downtown intersections.

Suggs wants to “adaptively reuse valuable town-owned assets” rather than build new ones. He believes “perfectly sound empty buildings” could be converted to new uses like municipal offices, homes for non-profits and senior housing.

“Let’s listen to our residents when they resoundingly no (or yes),” Suggs says. From railroad parking and replacing the Compo pavilion to funding schools, “local politicians should never presume” to tell Westporters what to believe. The 1st selectman should be “an honest broker to ensure all Westporters have a say, and are satisfied that decisions are being made fairly and honestly.”

Josh Suggs wants to save the William F. Cribari Bridge over the Saugatuck River.

He describes his past advocacy efforts as leading the campaign to “save the Cribari Bridge, and protect Saugatuck and Greens Farms from 18-wheelers”; fighting to restore “critical education funding” to the budget; organzing an effort to preserve nearly 6 acres of endangered land as a state archaeological preserve; being an early and strong proponent of a blighted property ordinance; helping revise guidelines that are now “free and fair to both proponents and opponents of future sanitary sewer extensions,” and leading the campaign to stop construction of a driveway from the Barnes & Noble shopping center onto South Morningside Drive, opposite Greens Farms Elementary School.

Recently, Suggs says, partisan politics has seeped down from national and state levels, “influencing substantive policy decison in our so-called nonpartisan RTM.”

He concludes, “I’ve always been true to my convictions. I’ve entered this race not just to win, but to represent the whole community, encouraging greater civic involvement that will lead to a better Westport.”

(For more information, click here.)

Compo Beach Crowding: Parks & Rec Chair Responds

An “06880” story on Wednesday about a hot Westport topic — crowds at Compo Beach, and what appears to be an increase in out-of-town cars — drew dozens of comments.

Many readers wanted statistics on the number of passes sold, how many times the parking lot has been closed, and related issues.

This morning, they’ve got an official response.

Charlie Haberstroh just emailed this statement. He says:

Compo Beach is one of Westport’s most treasured assets, and has been a key priority for our Parks & Recreation Commission. There have recently been concerns and recommendations expressed in the media as well as political emails sent to Westport residents. We of course welcome all ideas to improve Compo Beach. As the chairman of the Parks & Recreation Commission, I would like to share some facts and my thoughts with the community.

Congestion

The 4th of July and Labor Day weekends have historically seen a surge in visits to Compo Beach. However, an unexpected surge occurred this past Sunday, July 30. We did limit the sale of daily parking passes on that day from 2:30 to 4 p.m., consistent with our policy when the available spaces at Compo Beach reach 75. No resident beach emblem holders were turned away – only those attempting to purchase a daily pass.

While these surges are rare occurrences, we will consider policy modifications to address those instances including limits to the number of daily passes sold, and pre-purchase options to reduce wait time at the beach entrance.

To avoid any misunderstandings on the Soundview lot, it is only available to emblem holders, not daily pass holders. It has been this way since the 1980s.

Compo Bech is many things, to many people. (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)

Daily Pricing

As we do every fall, the Parks & Recreation Department conducts a full review after the beach season concludes and presents policy and fee recommendations to the Commission and board of selectmen. Westport charges $30 per day on weekdays and $50 on weekends, consistent with neighboring communities. Norwalk’s Calf Pasture Beach charges $25 on weekdays and $30 on weekends. Fairfield’s Jennings Beach charges $20 on weekdays and $50 on weekends. Darien’s Weed Beach charges $40 every day. Doubling the daily parking fees, as some have proposed, could dramatically restrict access to our beach for lower income guests, and may not reflect Westport’s values as an inclusive, welcoming community.

Improvements

Our Commission’s efforts have made Compo Beach an even more attractive destination for Westporters and visitors alike. The popular new east beach walkway provides safe access for everyone including those with strollers, wheelchairs and mobility issues, enabling them to travel from the pavilion to the cannons. We resurfaced the basketball courts and created new pickleball courts. The east beach parking lot has been repaved and we are currently making improvements to the Soundview parking lot. The dredging of Compo Basin improves safety and the boating experience.

This fall, the Compo Beach pavilion gets a new roof.
(Photo/Katherine Bruan)

We are also pursuing a number of other Compo Beach initiatives. This fall we will commence renovations to the bathhouse and pavilion, including upgrading the bathrooms and roofs to make them more attractive and safe. We are examining options to extend the beach walkway and build permanent accessible bathrooms in the South Beach area, as well as upgrading the skateboard park. We are also evaluating moving the entrance hut further back to help reduce wait time on surge days and allow residents with emblems to bypass the lines. We continue to explore how technology can improve the beach entrance process for our resident beach emblem holders as well as visitors.

I encourage residents to share their ideas directly with me. I will share your thoughts with the Parks & Recreation Department and Commission. My email address is haberstroh.prc@gmail.com.

Final Court Denies Wilton Road Affordable Housing Appeal

The corner of Wilton Road and Kings Highway North will not become clogged with traffic. The fire department will not have to worry about access to a potentially dangerous site. The Saugatuck River wetlands are safe.

Those are 3 direct consequences of a judicial decision, announced today by Westport town attorney Ira Bloom.

Connecticut’s Appellate Court has denied a petition by Garden Homes. The Stamford-based developer contested a May decision in Hartford Superior Court that dismissed their appeal of a unanimous decision by Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission. In February 2016, the board denied Garden Homes’ application to build a 6-story, 48-unit apartment complex on one of the busiest, most environmentally sensitive corners of Westport.

The Superior Court judge’s decision noted grave concerns about safety, and damage to wetlands adjacent to the 1.16-acre parcel at 122 Wilton Road.

“I am very pleased with this decision from the Appellate Court,” Bloom said.  “The Trial Court’s decision upholding our denial of this application now stands.  The Planning & Zoning Commission, its staff, First Selectman Jim Marpe,  our consultants, and all the citizens who participated in the hearing deserve our thanks.”

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

Yellow Pages, The Sequel: RTM Reps Help Westport Go Green

Yesterday, “06880” reported that Westporters can avoid the coming Yellow Book plague by opting out.

Today, there’s even better news on the driveway littering front.

RTM representatives Liz Milwe, Jeff Wieser and Matthew Mandell have worked for months to make opting out of phone book deliveries easier, more effective — and environmentally friendly.

Spurred by Westporter Morgan Mermagen’s 200-signature petition, the RTM members started work on a town ordinance. The Local Search Association — the national lobbying organization for companies like the Yellow Pages and Frontier — heard about the plan. They — and members of those businesses from around the country — came to Westport, to meet with the 3 RTM members.

But the talks reached an impasse.

So this spring, the RTM reps moved forward with their proposed ordinance.

The companies reached out again. Finally — with the help of assistant town attorney Gail Kelly, and following months of conference calls — a deal was struck.

There will be no ordinance. However, all phone book distributors in Westport have agreed to follow these parameters:

  • All plastic bags used during delivery will be made with 20% post-consumer recycled content. This will be noted on the bag.
  • A new opt-out notice — showing the website www.YellowPagesOptOut.com — will cover 30% of one side of the bag.
  • A letter to the town, announcing a pending distribution by any company, will be done 90 days prior to any event, and 30 days prior to a cut-off for being able to opt out of that (and future) distributions.
  • All books will continue to have a notice on the front cover about the opt-out, with the same URL.
  • Within 14 days after delivery, the distribution company will return through the route, picking up any unclaimed bags within view.
  • A report will be sent to the town each year, noting how many people have opted out.

“These are serious concessions made by companies trying to stay relevant in a changing time,” says Mandell. “Each side used all of its might to sway things, with First Amendment rights waved around more than once. In the end this is a fair solution.”

“The change in the bags is a success for the environment,” adds Milwe. “It will be a greater success if residents opt out and if they tell their friends to opt out. Let’s make it happen!”

The 3 RTM members will now work with the town and local groups to create a campaign to inform all residents about the opt-out.

For more information, contact Milwe (lizmilwe@gmail.com), Wieser (JWieser@hwhct.org) or Matthew Mandell (matthew@westportd1.com).

Unsung Hero #8

On Friday, Gail Kelly finishes her 15-year stint as Westport’s assistant town attorney. (She doesn’t say “retiring” — just moving on to new things in life.)

Everyone working at Town Hall is sorry to see her go.

But none more than Ira Bloom.

“It’s a tremendous loss for the town government — and me,” says the longtime town attorney. “Gail has done an excellent job.”

Gail Kelly

Working out of a Town Hall office — though, like Bloom, she is employed by the private Berchem, Moses & Devlin law firm — Kelly handles Westport’s day-to-day legal affairs.

That means reviewing contracts and RFPs; handling Freedom of Information inquiries; coordinating with the Representative Town Meeting on ordinances, and attending board of selectmen meetings.

Kelly is available to all Town Hall personnel, in offices ranging from the town clerk to public works to conservation.

“A lot of lawyers know the charter and ordinances,” Bloom says. “But what distinguishes Gail is her uncommon common sense, her excellent judgment and her terrific sense of humor.”

She is adept at “defusing difficult situations. She’ll tell you the law, and then she’ll have a sensible answer people accept,” Bloom adds.

For 15 years, Kelly has served the town with efficiency, poise and professionalism — and not many kudos.

Congratulations, Gail Kelly — and good luck as you retire move on!

(Know of an unsung hero we should celebrate? Email details to dwoog@optonline.net)

Stephens, Steinberg Snipe Over Affordable Housing

Recently, the Connecticut General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to loosen the restrictions of 8-30g — the state’s affordable housing standards, which incentivize municipalities to make 10 percent of their housing stock be “affordable.”

(Westport has a long history with 8-30g. Some affordable housing units here were built before the 1990 date on which state standards are based. Developers have proposed large buildings on small lots, marking a few units as “affordable.” Some observers have called those proposals “blackmail.” Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission has denied several such proposals already. They approved one, on Post Road East.)

A proposed 4-story rental property at 1177 Post Road East.

The vote — 30-6 in the Senate, 116-33 in the House — makes it easier for towns and cities to reach “moratoriums,” and in some cases increases those moratoriums beyond the previous 4 years. (For an in-depth analysis of the measure from CTMirror, via WestportNow, click here.)

Governor Dannel Malloy vetoed the bill. The Senate overrode the veto by the closest 2/3 margin possible — 24-12. The House overrode it 101-47.

Local reaction was swift.

Westport Representative Jonathan Steinberg said: “I’m going to tell people in my town, ‘Put up or shut up.’ Build the units. Get to the moratorium. Stay on that path.”

That infuriated P&Z member Chip Stephens.

He emailed an “open letter” to Steinberg:

We got your message.

How dare you grandstand and throw your fellow town officials and residents under the bus last night:

“Steinberg said he plans to take an unwavering message to his town’s leaders — act.

“As far as I’m concerned, I’m going to tell people in my town, ‘Put up or shut up. Build the units. Get to the moratorium. Stay on that path,’” Steinberg said. Only after they have been given that chance, he said, can leaders “talk about whether or not 8-30g is working.””

I suggest you consider that your town officials have worked long and hard on affordable housing, both 8-30g qualifying, and more importantly quality affordable housing as Hales Court, Sasco Creek, Canal Park and other IHZ and multifamily components.

Canal Park offers affordable housing for seniors, near downtown. Because it was built before 1990, it does not count for points under 8-30g standards.

In passing the newest 8-30g complex on Post Road East we will have our first moratorium application ready as soon as the developer completes the project and gets his CO.

Next time you crawl up on that stump and blow hot air directed at your town, think hard before letting your common sense filter down hurling inflammatory and demeaning comments at Westport. We hear and we will remember.

Steinberg fired back:

I have fought for 7 years to amend 8-30g to make it easier for Westport to achieve a moratorium, while you have done very little.

How dare you lecture me on this statute when all I stated that it’s now on towns to take advantage of this new opportunity to get to a moratorium and avoid developer predation.

You have real gall calling me out, given your abject failure as a Commissioner representing Westport’s interests.

I’m responsible for giving you a tool to protect our town. Shut up and get it done.

Like the 8-30 g/affordable housing debate, this political dialogue will continue.

State Representative Jonathan Steinberg (left) and Westport Planning & Zoning commissioner Chip Stephens.

Take $100,000 Worth Of Perfectly Good Furniture. Then Throw It Out The Window.

Ken Bernhard is a principal in Cohen & Wolf’s municipal, real estate, and business and corporate groups. He works in the firm’s office at 320 Post Road West.

He’s also a former state representative, assistant minority leader and Westport town attorney.

He’s nobody’s fool.

This morning, Bernhard heard an enormous crunching sound coming from the building’s top floor.

Morgan Stanley — the tenant there — is moving out. Workers were methodically moving every piece of furniture — cherry desks, tables, chairs, sofas, bookcases, credenzas, you name it — onto the ground.

A chipper then chewed every single piece up.

Into the chipper it goes.

Bernhard — who helped create the Syria Fund, which provides education, medical supplies, household goods and food to families living in desperate areas underserved by large, mainstream organizations — was appalled.

He asked the foreman of the company — Total Relocation Services — what was going on. The man said they had a contract. Morgan Stanley’s floor must be “broom clean” by the close of business today.

A small portion of the furniture Morgan Stanley is throwing away …

Bernhard asked the foreman to check that the financial services firm really wanted to toss at least $100,000 worth of perfectly good furniture away.

Yep, the forerman reported. A Morgan Stanley representative repeated the claim: “Broom clean” by the end of the day.

… another shot …

Bernhard swung into action. He called Jeff Wieser. The CEO of Homes With Hope raced over. He salvaged what Bernhard estimates is “1/20” of the furniture being demolished.

Bernhard also called 1st Selectman Jim Marpe. He said he would send someone over, to see what he could do.

The foreman said he’d had no real notice of the project. But, he told Bernhard, next week the company is scheduled to do a project “4 times as big,” not far away. That may be Morgan Stanley’s Nyala Farms complex.

Bernhard hopes to organize non-profits, and save some of what is there.

“It’s a collective effort,” he says.

It certainly is.

But what does it say about Morgan Stanley — and our society — that it has to be?

… and a 3rd. (Photos/Ken Bernhard)

Party On With “06880”

Mary Hoffman supplied the balloons. Yes, they say “06880” — if you face the other direction. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

They came from Westport, Fairfield, Norwalk — and Roxbury and New York City.

They were politicians, musicians, and (probably) a mathematician.

They ranged in age from 6 years old to (at least) 89.

They mixed, mingled, ate and drank.

They talked about everything under the sun — and the sun itself. Fortunately temperatures cooled, a breeze blew in, and the sunset was one of the most spectacular of the year.

Everyone there did not agree on everything — after all, last night was a party, but it was still “06880.”

Yet everyone agreed that wherever we live, we’re lucky to be part of this amazing community — online, and in real Compo Beach life.

Thanks to the 100 or so folks who came to last night’s bash. If you missed it: See you next year!

Politics, Westport style: Republican 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and his challenger, Democrat Melissa Kane, enjoyed the evening. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

So did 2nd Selectman candidates Rob Simmelkjaer (D) and Jen Tooker (R).

Recent “06880 Unsung Heroes of the Week” — and Compo Beach regulars — Mike Calise and Tom Lowrie hung out together.

Hair they are! Photographer Larry Silever and musician Warren Bloom. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Mary Palmieri Gai and Fred Cantor are frequent “06880” commenters. They also curated the current Westport Historical Society exhibit on Westport’s rock music history. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Longtime Westport volunteers — and mid-’60s Staples High School graduates — Bill Scheffler, Ann Sheffer and Miggs Burroughs lent panache to the party. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Carter Klein took home a souvenir: The “6” balloon. He wanted to celebrate his age. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)