Category Archives: Local politics

Local Zoning Makes National News

ProPublica — the non-profit investigative news outlet — has published an in-depth look at the interrelated issues of affordable housing and zoning laws in Connecticut.

Much of the piece — produced in collaboration with the Connecticut Mirror, and headlined “How Some of America’s Richest Towns Fight Affordable Housing” — focuses on Westport.

It does not paint a pretty picture.

The story begins with the example of the new houses being built on the former Daybreak property, near Merritt Parkway Exit 42:

A dirt field overgrown with weeds is the incongruous entrance to one of America’s wealthiest towns, a short walk to a Rodeo Drive-like stretch replete with upscale stores such as Tiffany & Co.

But this sad patch of land is also the physical manifestation of a broader turf war over what type of housing — and ultimately what type of people — to allow within Westport’s borders.

After a lengthy description of the zoning battles that followed — without mentioning traffic and related issues — the piece notes:

Welcome to Connecticut, a state with more separate — and unequal — housing than nearly everywhere else in the country.

This separation is by design.

In fact, the Daybreak project was never about affordable housing. It was planned as 55-and-over housing.

Construction fence at the Daybreak development.

It talks about Westport’s “affordable housing” stock (as defined by state regulation 8-30g), without mentioning that the statute does not include dwellings built before 1990.

In Westport — where gated residences overlook the Long Island Sound and voters solidly backed Democrats in the most recent state and presidential elections — private developers have been allowed to open just 65 affordable housing units over the last three decades. Public housing rentals operated by the local housing authority have also grown at a snail’s pace, with 71 new units opening in this charming small town of 10,400 homes.

The story implies several times that racism is a factor in local housing decisions.

“I think the vestiges of our racial past are far from over,” said former Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who left office in early 2019 after eight years and regularly butted heads with General Assembly members who wanted local officials to have even more authority over housing decisions. For minority residents striving for safe and affordable housing, the state has “denied the opportunity that we allowed white middle-class aspirants to access,” Malloy said.

It includes quotes from Planning & Zoning commissioners and 1st Selectman Jim Marpe — though not always with context.

There are descriptions of zoning battles over developments like 1177 Post Road East (which is already built and occupied) and the Hiawatha Lane project (which has been battled over for years).

An artist’s rendering of the 4-story rental property at 1177 Post Road East.

Particularly striking: A photo of the Community Gardens, next to Long Lots Elementary School. The caption implies that the town bought the land and turned it into gardens simply to prevent construction of “multifamily housing for low-income residents in (that) heavily residential single-family section of Westport.”

There’s much more. It’s a long piece — and it will get people talking.

Click here to read the entire story.

Double L Market Owner Angered By Health District Dispute

Lloyd Allen is one of the most chill people I know.

The owner of Double L Market has cultivated a loyal clientele. Customers love his fresh, local, organic, free-range, gluten-free and grass-fed meats, produce, seafood and more. They come not just to buy, but to banter with him.

He’s been operating for more than 30 years, first in actual farm stands, now in a Post Road store next to Calise’s.

Lloyd Allen, outside his Double L Market on the Post Road.

But yesterday Lloyd was upset. Also angry, appalled and disheartened.

His voice shook as he told me that 2 weeks earlier, the Westport Weston Health District inspected Double L, and gave him a 94.

On Wednesday, another inspection. Another grade of 94.

But then, he said, he got a call. There was a problem with labeling, he was told. He said he’d be in at 8:45 yesterday morning.

At the meeting he was told: “You’ve got a serious problem. We’re going to close you down today.”

The problem was with labels on salsa, tomato sauce and canned peppers. They did not include the weight, or indicate where the products came from.

He asked exactly what was needed to rectify the problem. “I don’t know,” a young inspector told him.

She said the state Department of Consumer Protection might be involved too.

Lloyd told “06880” that Double L buys from producers with HACCP food safety accreditation — “and you can’t get higher than that.”

Westport Weston Health District inspectors at Double L Market. (Photo/Lloyd Allen)

The WWHD inspector came into his store, and embargoed everything she said was improperly labeled.

Lloyd does not dispute the need for proper labeling. His issue, he says, is that he was not told earlier about the issue, offered a chance to rectify it — or even given the proper information on what he needed to do.

He is also furious at the way he was treated.

“They showed me no respect,” he said. “I’ve been here for 35 years. I have the healthiest, freshest stuff in town. I love local. I work with big farmers and small farmers.

“I’ve made this town better. I’ve worked with so many kids. The Health Department used to come in, and tell me what was needed. This time they just came in and acted, without any respect at all.”

He worried yesterday he might be shut down, right before Mother’s Day.

Double L Market is still open — though there are empty shelves where his salsa, tomato sauce and canned peppers used to be.

Empty shelves at the Double L market.

“It’s like I was walking down the street with my baby, and someone suddenly grabbed me and shook the baby,” Lloyd said.

“That’s how I feel about the way I was treated.”

Baron’s South Fill: The Sequel

On Monday, “06880” posted a story about Baron’s South. Reader Morley Boyd had written — and sent photos — describing construction material from the recent Senior Center modernization project that had been dumped in the southwest meadow. He said that demolition debris was mixed with the fill; that there was evidence of soil erosion, and that mature trees had been removed from the site.

Yesterday, another concerned reader sent an update. This reader noted that the Baron — Walter Langer von Langendorff of Austria, who founded Evyan Perfumes in the 1930s, bought the estate in 1967, and lived there until his death in 1983 — had planted and nurtured diverse species of trees on his 32-acre wooded, hilly property, between Compo Road South and Imperial Avenue.

Among the “legacy trees’ was a Hinoki False Cypress. It grew robustly and beautifully in a protected valley.

It was judged the state’s #1 Golden Hinoki False Cypress, on a list of Notable Trees compiled by the Connecticut College Arboretum. It was not located where the construction occurred.

Tree warden Bruce Lindsay and Planning & Zoning Commission member Al Gratrix went to great lengths to ensure that the tree — which had been designated for relocation — would be given special attention by the contractor, so it could thrive.

The Hinoki was replanted at the crest of a hill, bordering the Fairfield County Bank parking lot. The “06880” reader who visited yesterday reports that the tree is brown, dry and dead.

After replanting, the Golden Hinoki False Cyprus appears dead. This photo was taken yesterday.

Not far away, the reader says, there is plenty of construction debris in the fill.

The runoff appears headed toward Deadman’s Brook, and the Saugatuck River.

Baron’s South: Town Officials Reply

Yesterday, “06880” posted reader Morley Boyd’s comments about Baron’s South. He said that construction material from the recent Senior Center modernization project had been dumped in a nearby meadow. He was concerned about debris in the fill, soil erosion, and the removal of trees.

Morley wondered why the material was placed there, whether it has been tested, when it will be removed, and where it will go.

Today, 2 town officials responded.

Jen Fava — director of Parks & Recreation — says:

Mr. Boyd’s characterization of an “illegal dump site” including a “host” of objects is greatly exaggerated, misleading and a misrepresentation of the actual conditions.

The decision was made by the Center for Senior Activities Building Committee to store the fill on site temporarily for use in other projects within the town and/or on the Barons South property.

A closeup of the rear of the dumped fill on Baron’s South. (Phots/Morley Boyd)

This fill was taken from on site in order to accommodate the Senior Center expansion. The fill, as taken from its original location, contains rocks and soil, as would be expected, but it is all from the Baron’s South property.

Mr. Boyd’s description also made it sound as though truckloads of debris have been dumped.  This is simply not the case.  There are a few pieces of metal and other debris, but not in quantity, as implied by the description.  The items in question are being removed.

With regard to the “mature trees” that were removed, this was done in consultation with the tree warden. Only a few trees were removed, which were not in the best condition and were identified to be taken down as part of the future plan for this site.

Alicia Mozian, Department of Conservation director, adds:

I inspected the site last night. It is fully stabilized and the erosion controls are in very good shape. I saw no evidence of silt/sediment on the driveways leading down toward the waterways.

Filling In An Earth Day Puzzle

Happy Earth Day (again)!

My post today earlier today about living shorelines” may have made you feel all warm and earth-fuzzy. You might even be motivated to take a walk at some open space in town.

Great! Just avoid part of Baron’s South.

Alert “06880” reader/local activist Morley Boyd recently noticed that 1,000 or so yards of construction material — from the recent Senior Center modernization project — have been dumped in the southwest meadow.

Morley Boyd took this photo — and outlined the approximate footprint of the excavated fill at Baron’s South.

It includes, he says, both fill and demolition debris: rusty pipes, sharp metal objects, chunks of concrete and asphalt, plastic garbage bags, shattered plastic containers, rubber tires, bricks and more.

Morley says that trapped, standing water at the rear of the dump area abuts residential property. He sees “considerable evidence” of soil erosion across the top section of raw, unprotected construction rubble and fill.

Debris in the Baron’s South landfill. The Senior Center is on the right. (Photos/Morley Boyd)

He also believes that a number of mature trees were removed from the site, to accommodate what he says is a grade raised by 5 or 6 feet.

 

Morley wonders why the material was placed there, whether it has been tested, when it will be removed, and where it will go. He has written to town officials, and awaits a response.

[OPINION] Transit Directors Seek Budget Restoration

Last month, the Board of Finance cut the Westport Transit District’s funding request. The WTD is preparing a restoration request for the Representative Town Meeting. Today, directors Marty Fox and Patsy Cimarosa lay out their case.

The Westport Transit District provides bus service with minibuses operated under subcontract with the Norwalk Transit District. It operates 7 commuter shuttle routes to and from the Saugatuck and Greens Farms rail stations, and provides daytime Door-to-Door transportation for seniors and residents with disabilities. (Information on these services, including routes, schedules and fares, can be found here: WestportTransit.org.)

Westport Transit budgeted about $575,000 in state funding for the commuter shuttles for the 2020 fiscal year starting in July. We requested an additional $238,000 from Westport to cover the remaining cost of the commuter shuttles not covered by fares.

A Westport Transit District shuttle rider.

On March 12, Westport’s Board of Finance cut the Town’s financial support for the commuter shuttles by $115,000, approximately half the Westport support necessary to operate the current shuttle routes for the coming fiscal year. (No changes were made to the Door-to-Door component of the WTD’s FY20 budget.)  The Board of Finance affirmed its decision to cut the commuter shuttle funding at its April 3 meeting.

Consistent with the provisions of the Town Charter, the Westport Transit District will ask the Representative Town Meeting to restore the $115,000 in town funding at the RTM’s May 6 meeting. Should the cut not be restored, it’s likely that most or all of the town’s commuter shuttle service would be eliminated by the end of the calendar year – and Westport would lose over $500,000 of state support for the commuter shuttles. (Door-to-Door services will not be affected.)

The Transit District’s April 3rd presentation to the Board of Finance sets out why we asked the Board of Finance to restore the $115,000 it cut from Westport’s funding of the commuter shuttles.

These are also the basis for the WTD’s request to the RTM to restore the full town funding of this community service. Among the reasons is the strong support for fully funding the commuter shuttles expressed by Westport residents in the 2018 townwide survey on Westport’s bus services, completed by 1,700 residents.

More detailed information about the Westport Transit District’s operations, current initiatives, and findings of the 2018 Town-wide survey can be found in the WTD’s March 12 presentation to the Board of Finance.

The RTM Transit Committee meets this Wednesday (April 24). The RTM Finance Committee meeting — when the budget restoration request will be discussed — is this Thursday (April 25).

Westport residents can make their opinion about the future of the commuter shuttles known by contacting RTM members at RTMMailingList@westportct.gov, and speaking at the May 6 RTM meeting.

 

Westporters: Help Downtown Find Its Way

Earlier today, I posted a story about 3 successful local businesses. Toward the end, 3rd Selectman Melissa Kane mentioned one longstanding issue: helping visitors (and residents) realize there’s a lot more to downtown than Main Street.

She — and other officials — are addressing the problem.

And they need our help.

Kane also chairs the Westport Wayfinding Steering Committee. They’ve hired MERJE — a “nationally recognized wayfinding design firm” —  to create a “master wayfinding plan for downtown Westport and the gateways to the town.”

(“Wayfinding” helps guide motorists and pedestrians to parking and destinations using signage, maps and digital plans.)

The committee and MERJE have developed a survey about downtown design and directions. They’ve sent it to merchants and landlords. Now they want public opinion.

Click here to participate. It’s open through next Wednesday (April 17.)

One way to find our way. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Terrain Hosts An Evening Of Ospreys

Last weekend, Terrain was ground zero in the Great Osprey Outcry.

Employees were the first line of defense, when workers hired by Regency Centers came to remove the osprey nest perched on a pole on the border between the Fresh Market shopping plaza, and Terrain next door.

The nest is back. But Terrain is moving forward. The garden-and-much-more store hosts an evening of education about the remarkable birds. It’s this Tuesday (April 9, 6 to 8 p.m.).

Speakers include Charlie Stebbins and Milan Bull from the Connecticut Audubon Society and Osprey Nation, and Christine Peyreigne of Christine’s Critters birds of prey rehabilitation center.

The goal is to provide a forum for education and volunteerism. The event is free and open to the public. There are complimentary snacks, and a cash bar.

No word on whether the ospreys will swing over to say hi.

Terrain’s neighbors (Photo/Christine Peyreigne)

Regency Apologizes; Vows To Do Better

Last night, Regency Centers went before the Westport Planning & Zoning Commission, seeking permission for work on the facade and parking lot at Fresh Market — the shopping plaza they own.

“06880” readers remember that last weekend, prior to to approval, Regency had an osprey nest on their property removed. An uproar ensued, before the owners placed the platform back on its pole.

Alert “06880” reader Carolyn Doan was at Town Hall last night. She reports that Jack deVilliers, Regency Vice President, began with an apology. He thanked Westporters — and “06880” — for their concern, and noted that Regency appreciates having its regional office here in Westport. He said that the company “got it wrong” with respect to their removal of the nest, adding that the company did consult with the Audubon Society and Department of Energy and Environmental Protection prior to its actions.

The ospreys are back in their nest, after Regency replaced the platform they removed last weekend. (Photo/Carolyn McPhee)

DeVilliers acknowledged that Regency’s apologies might not be enough for some Westporters.

He promised the company would do better in the future, then presented plans for the property that included a rain garden (water holding pond) and restaurant.

Several speakers talked about parking issues, asked about the restaurant — and expressed concern about Regency going forward, with regard to its properties and the ospreys.

No vote was taken. Regency will return April 25, to address issues like fencing and the neighbors.

But the P&Z did approve the new Westport Weston YMCA building expansion and Camp Mahackeno project. It includes a water slide, splash pad, new heated pool and archery range.

Ospreys and Regency Centers: VERY Interesting Sunday Afternoon Report

It appears now that Regency Centers — the owner of both the Fresh Terrain shopping plaza and Terrain — is the bad actor in yesterday’s removal of an osprey nest on a pole between the two properties.

Regency’s management company — or a sub-contractor — took down the nest. When confronted by Terrain employees, they claimed to be Audubon Society workers. They also did not have a permit from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. A permit is mandated by the Federal Migratory Bird Act of 1918.

But here’s where the story gets really interesting.

This Thursday, April 4 (7 p.m., Town Hall), Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission has a regularly scheduled meeting.

Agenda item #3 is a request by Regency Centers for “Westport Village Center” — aka the Fresh Market plaza — for “a Site Plan approval for proposed exterior alteration to the building façade and modifications to the parking lot for property located in RBD and Residence A zones, PID# E09068000.”

In other words: The illegal osprey nest removal in preparation for parking lot work was done prior to P&Z approval.

Regency Centers — owner of the Fresh Market plaza — will ask the P&Z on Thursday for permission to make changes to the facade and parking lot.

And here’s where the story gets even more interesting.

Thursday’s meeting is a public hearing. Westporters are welcome to attend — and speak.

(You can also make your feelings known by email before the meeting: pandz@westportct.gov.)

Regency is well known to Westport — and the P&Z. When Regency bought the Fresh Market plaza, they promised to plant trees in front, and install a sidewalk. That has not yet been done.

Regency also owns Compo Acres Shopping Center (anchored by Trader Joe’s). Westporters — particularly those living behind the back parking lot — have not forgotten the work-first-ask-questions-later job done on the retaining wall there.

A similar incident occurred in the back of yet another property owned by Regency: the shopping center across the street from Fresh Market.

Thursday’s P&Z meeting should be very interesting indeed.

—————————————

Meanwhile, back to the ospreys. Someone involved in the utility industry — who asked for anonymity based on the nature of his work — examined this morning’s photo of the removal of the nest. He writes:

The photo taken by the high school freshman of the bucket truck yesterday tells this old utility veteran several things.

This is a “streetlight” pole, set exclusively for mounting the 2 streetlights clearly shown in the photo, whose lights provide security lighting for Fresh Market’s parking lot.

12-year-old James Doan took this photo today, of an osprey at its old nest pole. His mother Carolyn says, “The male is flying around the female with sticks and possibly food. The cry is tough to hear.”

All streetlights are supplied by secondary wires, energized 100% of the time. So this pole has active power supplied to it — a safety hazard for anyone choosing to work on this pole top.

The utility always works with safety most paramount. If this contractor wanted to take this action they should have contacted the utility well in advance to get approval.

Since the utility erected the platform originally. I assume they would never have granted approval for this action. They also would never allow this contractor to work on their pole without authorization, and proof that the contractor is “qualified” to work on energized equipment.

Looks pretty clear that regardless of what DEEP or Audubon said to this contractor, they were also violating various rules and regulations of the utility and perhaps should be treated accordingly. License revocation? Fines? Local Westport electrical inspector might also be someone to get involved with this in that regard.