Category Archives: Local politics

Prince Philip: The Westport Connection

The death last week of Prince Philip at age 99 brought back memories for Jim Marpe. A quarter century ago, he spent 2 hours with the queen’s consort.

Marpe was not yet first selectman, so this is not a Town Hall-meets-Buckingham Palace story. Still, it’s a good one.

In 1996 Marpe was a partner with Accenture, the management and technology consulting firm. His British partners asked if he would introduce the prince to the leadership team of the major New York global bank that was his client, to help encourage their further expansion in the UK.

The meeting took place when Prince Philip was in New York.

Marpe recalls that while he and the other guests were briefed on a certain amount of protocol, he was pleasantly surprised with “the relaxed demeanor of the prince, his genuine engagement in the presentations and discussion, and a self-deprecating sense of humor.

“He knew what he didn’t know, but seemed anxious to learn,” Marpe says.

Prince Philip (left) and Jim Marpe. “You don’t shake a royal’s hand,” Marpe notes. “You just kind of clasp it.”

While this was more than 20 years before “The Crown,” and a year before the death of Princess Diana, Marpe was aware of the royal family’s “challenges,” and the prince’s propensity for making “tone-deaf” remarks.

Nevertheless, Marpe says, “our time together felt like a normal, friendly business meeting, and our conversation was comfortable.”

Reading the obituary this weekend, he noted that Phillip’s (as well as Queen Elizabeth’s) great-great-great-great-grandfather was King George III. The monarch was responsible for the British landing on Compo Beach, and the subsequent Battle of Compo Hill that is commemorated by our Minute Man Monument.

“That’s another Westport connection” with the British royal family, Marpe notes.

Jennifer Tooker Runs For 1st Selectman; Andrea Moore Joins Ticket

Jennifer Tooker’s hat is in the ring.

This morning, the 2nd selectwoman announced she’s running for the town’s top spot. First Selectman Jim Marpe said yesterday that he will not run for a 3rd term.

Tooker was elected with Marpe in 2017. Her running mate this time is Andrea Moore, vice chair of the Board of Finance. Like Marpe, both are Republicans.

As 2nd selectwoman Tooker launched Westport Together, an alliance between the town and Westport Public Schools.

She also created and hosts Westport Means Business, a series of events through which business owners and entrepreneurs make connections, exchange ideas and promote Westport.

Last May, in the early months of the pandemic, Marpe appointed Tooker as chair of the ReOpen Westport advisory team.

Jennifer Tooker

Tooker — a longtime member of the Board of Finance, Board of Education and Conservation Commission — left her 22-year career with Gen RE’s US and European reinsurance markets in 2013.

Since then — and continuing as 2nd selectwoman — Tooker has created ties with the Westport and Fairfield County business communities. She served on the board of directors for the Women’s Business Development Council, which provides training and financial education to female small business owners around the state.

Tooker is also involved in education, with a focus on closing the achievement gap in Connecticut. She was a board member of the State Education Resource Center, the Education Commission for the Diocese of Bridgeport, and the Adam J. Lewis Academy.

Tooker’s other volunteer efforts include the Westport Weston Family YMCA board of trustees and Bedford Family Social Responsibility Fund committee; Westport Sunrise Rotary Club and its 21st Century Foundation board, and coaching with the Westport Soccer Association.

Second selectman Jennifer Tooker’s shirt sent a message at a meeting to promote local women-owned businesses.

Tooker earned a bachelor of arts degree in economics and international relations from the University of Notre Dame. She and her husband Mo have 3 children: Jack, Riley and Nicole. Her parents recently moved to Westport.

“It has been a privilege to serve Westport as second selectwoman,” Tooker says. “This is an amazing town where we enjoy an excellent quality of life. I’ve been part of the team that has worked diligently to ensure Westport is a great place to live and work.

“This community deserves a local government that is accessible and accountable with leadership skills, management expertise and a strategic perspective. As first selectman I will continue to bring these skills to Town Hall every day. It would be an honor to lead Westport, the community we all call home, and foster an even greater sense of community and belonging for all our residents and business owners.”

Tooker’s running mate was elected to the Board of Finance in 2017, and selected as vice chair 2 years later. Moore also serves on the board’s audit subcommittee.

Previously she represented District 9 on the RTM. Her committee work included Education, Public Protection, and Library and Museums.

Moore has worked for over 20 years in financial services, with positions in institutional equity sales, equity research and investment banking at firms including UBS, BT Deutsche Bank and Salomon Brothers.

Andrea Moore

A native Westporter and Staples High School graduate, Moore is member of the YMCA board of trustees. She has served on the National Charity League’s Westport board, and is a former president of Staples Tuition Grants, Saugatuck Elementary School PTA, and A Child’s Place preschool board. She also co-chaired the Westport Public Schools’ Workshopo Committee.

Moore received a bachelor of science degree in finance from the University of Massachusetts School of Management. She and her husband Dave have 3 daughters: Tessa, Janna and Ella.

Moore says, “It is an honor to run alongside Jen Tooker, a truly accomplished leader for Westport. I am continually impressed with the effective, bipartisan way Jen solves problems and drives positive change. Westport is a truly special place to call home, and I know Jen will work every day to bring people together, represent our community with the utmost integrity, and employ a fresh perspective to meet challenges and new opportunities in the days ahead.”

(Click here for the Tooker/Moore website.)

 

 

[BREAKING NEWS] Marpe Will Not Run For 3rd Term

Moments ago, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe announced that he will not pursue re-election this November. He is 74 years old, and in his 2nd term as Westport’s chief executive. Marpe said:

It has been an honor to serve my community for the past 7 years. I deeply appreciate the bipartisan support and encouragement I have received throughout that time.

While the Westport Town Charter does not place term limits on our elected officials, my experience in the private sector taught me that every organization benefits from regular changes in senior leadership.

First Selectman Jim Marpe

I am proud of what my administration has accomplished or set in motion, including our responses to COVID-19, fiscal responsibility, physical improvements, and addressing social justice concerns. We have prioritized the delivery of superior services at a predictable cost to the taxpayer. I am very proud that we kept the mill rate stable throughout my entire term in office.

I also know that the real key to our success as a community is the professionalism and commitment to serving our residents that is exhibited every day by the women and men who are employed by the town and the Westport Public Schools.

It is also the result of the remarkable dedication and creativity of our dozens of citizen volunteers and elected officials. I am so fortunate to have led a team of employees and residents that is the envy of my counterparts in other communities.

During the remaining 7 months of my term, I will continue to focus on leading Westport safely out of the pandemic tunnel we have been in for the past year, as well as achieving or launching the initiatives that I have described in various budget and State of the Town presentations.

When I first ran for election to the selectman’s office, I committed to bringing a citizen-centric, professional management style to my responsibilities. I assure you that will continue into November.

I want to thank the voters of Westport for allowing me the opportunity to have the special privilege of serving them in the first selectman’s office. I remain humbled by, and grateful for, the responsibility you have granted me.

“06880” thanks Jim Marpe for his strong, clear, passionate service to the town — as 1st Selectman, former Board of Education chair, and many other positions. Click here for a full biography.

1st Selectman Jim Marpe last May, with a pandemic message for the town.

Roundup: Vaccines, Zoning, Schlaet’s Point, Ospreys …

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Not every “06880” reader lives in Westport. Sarathi Roy notes: “New York or New Jersey residents can book COVID vaccine appointments in their home state or in Connecticut.”

Here is New York state information:

A few days ago, “06880” posted a comprehensive list of Connecticut vaccine options, thanks to Sarathi’s HR department. Click here for information on CVS, Walgreens, Yale New Haven Health, Stamford Health and VAMS sign-ups.

In addition to that list, Sarathi adds:

  • Check your town’s website for information and clinics available only to residents. You may be able to register in advance or receive a call for available appointments or excess doses.
  • Connecticut’s  Vaccine Assist Line (877-918-2224) operates 7 days a week, from 8am-8pm. Agents can schedule appointments at state-run clinics. If you call early and are given the chance to leave a message, you should. They accept a certain number of messages each day, then call those people back throughout the day to assist in booking appointments. Once the maximum number of calls for the day has been reached the message option is turned off.
  • You can now search additional locations, including supermarkets and local pharmacies. A great tool to see who is administering the vaccine in your area is Vaccinefinder.org. Search a zip code, make note of the providers nearby, then search for booking websites.
  • Here are a few of the more common ones:
    Rite Aid

ShopRite

Big Y

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Did you miss last night’s webinar on the many housing bills making their way through the state’s General Assembly, and their possible impact on Westport?

Planning and Zoning chair Danielle Dobin gave a comprehensive overview. Our 4 local legislators — Senators Will Haskell and Tony Hwang, and Representatives Jonathan Steinberg and Stephanie Thomas — tackled the pros and cons. Viewers asked questions. It was a wide-ranging, engaging 80 minutes. (And I would say that even if I had not served as moderator.)

It’s now available to watch — or re-watch — at your leisure. Click here for the link.

Everything you wanted to know about zoning — including sewers — and more.

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One of the few positive parts of the pandemic: Many more Westporters have had time to walk.

Because we practice social distancing, we’re not always on the sidewalk. And — as Tammy Barry’s photo of Hillspoint Road at Schlaet’s Point shows — the result is some barren patches where grass once grew.

I’m sure saltwater flooding had something to do with t too.

(Photo/Tammy Barry)

Here’s hoping the town can find some resources to bring this beautiful stretch of waterfront back to what it once was.

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CNN anchor (and Westport resident) Alisyn Camerota’s last day on “New Day” is today. The show was filled with many nice tributes. Yesterday, co-host John Berman started things off (click here to see).

Alisyn is not going very far — just a few hours later. She’ll anchor CNN’s weekday coverage with Victor Blackwell.

Congratulations, Alisyn, on your new gig — and the chance to sleep in a little longer. (Hat tip: Seth Schachter)

Alisyn Camerota

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Today’s osprey report comes courtesy of Chris Swan.

He wants Westporters to know that there are 3 platforms near Sherwood Island State Park.

One is in the saltmarsh behind the Nature Center, midway to the last house off Beachside Common.

The second is in the saltmarsh on the eastern shore of Sherwood Mill Pond, several hundred feet above the Compo Cove homes. It’s visible from the path on Sherwood Island’s western edge, above the fire gate to Compo Cove.

Both platforms are occupied by returning osprey pairs.

A 3rd location can be seen from the saltmarsh shore of the northeastern corner of the Mill Pond, looking west. This was erected last fall. No osprey pair has yet staked their claim.

A 4th platform is at the entrance to Burying Hill Beach, in the marsh across New Creek. Chris has watched it for 10 years, but has never seen it occupied.

He thinks it’s too low. He believes old utility poles make the best platforms — citing the ones at Fresh Market, Longshore’s E,R. Strait Marina, and Gray’s Creek.

Chris should know: He spent his professional career with Eversource.

The newest osprey platform in Sherwood Island Mill Pond. A house on Grove Point is visible behind it. (Photo/Chris Swan)

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Congressman Jim Himes holds a Facebook Live session today (Wednesday, April 7) at 3 p.m. He’ll discuss how constituents can benefit from the American Rescue Plan. Click here to watch live. To watch later, click here.

Congressman Jim Himes

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And finally … on this day in 1940, Booker T. Washington became the first African-American depicted on a US postage stamp.

In November 1944, Booker T. Jones Jr. was born in Memphis. He was named after his father, Booker T. Jones Sr., a high school science teacher — who himself was named in honor of Booker T. Washington, the educator.

 

RTM April Meeting: Refinancing, Reimbursement, Restrictions

This is Peter Gold’s report on the April Representative Town Meeting. He is an RTM member writing for himself, and not in an official capacity.

With one exception, April’s RTM meeting dealt with unexpected opportunities and unexpected costs.

The current (and very low) interest rates provided an unexpected opportunity to refinance $13 million in bonds issued in 2012 and 2013, when rates were much higher. The rate on the new bonds is expected to be less than 2%, given the Town’s AAA Moody’s bond rating. Refinancing will save the town approximately $500,000 over the 9-year life of the new bonds.

The RTM approved unexpected costs of $380,000 for additional COVID expenses, $780,000 for additional expenses related to Hurricane Isaias, $508,470 for Westport’s 50% share of additional costs for the new Fire, Police and EMS dispatch center being built in connection with Fairfield, and $32,970 for unanticipated state-required drug testing for police officers, and costs to hire new officers to fill 4 unexpected vacancies. FEMA is expected to reimburse the town for all COVID and Hurricane Isaias expenses.

Hurricane Isaias damage on the Longshore golf course. (Photo/Brian Sikorski)

The COVID expenses are for protective devices, sanitizing, legal fees, signage and employee testing. Ten percent of all town employees are tested every week.  During the debate, several RTM members expressed the need to relax the COVID-induced restrictions on public access to Town Hall once the pandemic is passed so people could freely access town offices.

Nearly all of the Hurricane Isaias expenses were for extra help, overtime, and contract services for extra equipment and help to clear roads. The town enters into standby agreements with various contractors to provide their services on an as needed basis in the event of an emergency. Westport incurs no expense if the services are not used. Contracting for emergency services on an annual basis ensures the services are available when needed, at a lower cost, and makes the costs eligible for FEMA reimbursement.

In addition to FEMA reimbursing the town for the $780,000 in out-of-pocket hurricane expenses, exceptional record-keeping by town employees will result in FEMA reimbursing Westport an additional $200,000 to $250,000 for the town’s storm-related use of its own trucks and other equipment.

The new joint Westport-Fairfield Emergency Dispatch Center has been in the planning stage for several years. The proposed site was the old GE headquarters building owned by Sacred Heart University.

Sacred Heart is building a new hockey arena next to the old GE headquarters, forcing the Center’s relocation to a different spot on the Sacred Heart campus. That, and delays in the start of construction, resulted in increased construction costs. Upgraded technology, new servers and a backup microwave communications link account for the remainder of the new costs.

The new appropriation brings Westport’s share of the costs for the establishment of the Emergency Dispatch Center to $1,928,470. Despite this, savings from the lower operating cost for  the Center are anticipated to exceed the cost of establishing the Center in 3 years, and to continue hereafter.

Connecticut’s new police accountability law requires officers to be tested for steroids as part of their certification. Ten percent of the  police force is recertified each year. While Westport police officers are already tested for drugs, this new mandate will increase drug testing costs.

The last item on the RTM agenda was a first reading of an ordinance banning gas-powered leaf blowers, except during 6-week periods each spring and fall.  There is no debate or discussion on a proposed ordinance at the RTM on a first reading. The draft ordinance now goes to the RTM Environment, Public Protection, Parks and Recreation, Health and Human Services, Public Works, Finance, and Ordinance Committees for review.

Dates for these meeting will be posted on the Town’s website at https://www.westportct.gov/about/advanced-components/meeting-list-calendar. The public is welcome to listen to the meetings and submit comments via email before and during the meetings. Once the committees finish their reviews, the draft ordinance returns to the RTM for a second reading and a vote.  This will not be before the June RTM meeting at the earliest.

Board Of Ed, Town Collaboration In The Works

It’s been talked about for a long time. Now it’s official.

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice and 1st Selectman Jim Marpe will coordinate on upcoming capital projects, it was announced at last night’s Board of Education meeting.

The form of that collaboration is still to be determined. But it’s a step toward bringing the school and town planning processes together.

Also last night, Brian Fullenbaum reports, the board accepted Scarice’s recommendation to ask the Board of Finance to restore $235,363 to its budget. Some members had pushed for a $500,000 restoration.

The board also voted unanimously to retain the law firm of Shipman & Goodwin. Questions had been raised earlier about a potential conflict of interest. In a previous case, attorney Timothy Hollister represented a plaintiff in a zoning case against the town of Westport.

In addition, it was announced that a $700,000 ESSER II grant will be used for both technology and summer tutoring programs.

Supervisor of health services Suzanne Levasseur reported 18 COVID cases in the district last week. Students who test positive from get-togethers are still quarantining. The district will revisit restrictions after the April break.

P&Z Considers New Apartment Regulations

Right now, Westport’s rules for “accessory apartments” (units in a principal dwelling) and “accessory dwelling units” (those in detached structures) are strict.

An owner of an accessory apartment must either be at least 62 years old, or the apartment must be deed restricted as “affordable” (which can limit the owner’s ability to easily resell or refinance).

The apartment can be no larger than 800 square feet or 25% of the floor areas (whichever is smaller), and there is an annual certification process.

This top-floor apartment is one of a limited number of legal ones n town.

Accessory structures of up to 300 square feet are permitted. However, they can have only 2 of these 3 three plumbing fixtures: sink, toilet or shower. Kitchens are not allowed. They cannot be rented out, and — importantly — they cannot be used as a dwelling unit.

These are not really “apartments.” They’re more like pool houses.

If the accessory structure is a barn, they cannot have bathrooms, kitchens or central heating. They must be used for livestock or storage of farm products, equipment and/or feed.

“Accessory Dwelling Units” — where people can actually live — have been permitted. But only with special approval, with evidence that the structure is “historic.”

But if the Planning & Zoning Commission’s Affordable Housing Subcommittee has its way — and they’ve approved the proposal unanimously — a text amendment would permit Accessory Dwelling Units throughout town.

It would open up our housing stock. It would add affordable housing. It would provide added income for residents who are going through life changes — the loss of a job, say, or divorce, or those whose children have moved away and who want to move into a smaller place on their own property, while renting out their larger home.

An apartment like this (which is not in Westport) is tightly regulated now.

The text amendment — on the P&Z agenda for this Thursday (April 8, 6 p.m., Zoom) would permit Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) on lots that do not have an Accessory Apartment, anywhere in town.

Lots of 1 1/2 acres or less could have a footprint of up to 650 square feet. Lots of more than 1 1/2 acres could have up to 1,000 square feet. The height of the structure would be capped, to guard against “monolithic tower-like ADUs.”

In addition, the owner of the property must live in either the principal or accessory dwelling. Any lease must be for a minimum of 6 months.

The P&Z will also consider modifications to its Accessory Apartment regulations. The age requirement would be removed, and the maximum size would increase from 800 square feet t0 1,500. However, the apartment could still not exceed 25% of the floor area of the entire house.

Gabled roof ADU, on Cape Cod.

The proposals are in keeping with the Affordable Housing Subcommittee’s mission of encouraging the development and preservation of affordable housing choices in Westport.

(Click here and scroll down for the full text amendment. The April 8 meeting will be livestreamed on www.westportct.gov, and shown on Optimum channel 79 and Frontier channel 6020 until 7:30 p.m. Public comments may be sent before noon on April 8 to PandZ@westportct.gov.)

Zoning Reform Bills: Forum On Zoning Set For Tuesday

NOTE: A technical glitch prevented some readers from receiving today’s first “06880” post. Here it is. Apologies if you already got this.

One of Connecticut’s hottest topics is zoning reform. Action in Hartford will have a direct impact on Westport.

It’s not easy making sense of the fast-moving legislative action. A number of bills are moving toward votes.

“06880” is here to help.

This Tuesday (April 6, 6:30 p.m. Zoom), Westport Planning & Zoning Commission chair Danielle Dobin hosts an in-depth discussion of the bills that have advanced to the full legislature. The focus will be on what they mean for our town.

Danielle will be joined by Westport’s 4 legislators: State Senators Will Haskell and Tony Hwang, and Representatives Jonathan Steinberg and Stephanie Thomas.

And I’ll be the moderator. Click here to register.

Meanwhile, Danielle Dobin sends this report, on the status of several bills:

Senate Bill 1024: As-of-Right Multifamily With No Parking

The original proposed language of this bill rezoned all towns (with a population of over 7,500) in Connecticut to permit as-of-right market rate fourplexes within .5 miles of that town’s primary train station, and triplexes around Main Street corridors. Density of 15 units per acre would be permitted.

“As-of-right” means there would be no public hearings or comment around these new developments. Towns would be explicitly prohibited from requiring any off-street parking for the new units. The P&Z would have been required to conserve sewer capacity for the new as-of-right development instead of utilizing it for larger mixed use, mixed income projects (like Belden Place and Saugatuck Center) with affordable units included.

The Belden Place apartments by the Saugatuck River, off Main Street near Parker Harding Plaza.

Examples of streets that would have been impacted with new as-of-right multifamily – up to 15 units per acre with no parking for the new residents — include St. John’s Place, Evergreen and Myrtle near Main Street, and Stony Point, Davenport, Eno Lane and Burritt’s Landing near Saugatuck.

The original bill also included a litigation-enabling statute that invited constant lawsuits from anyone, regardless of whether they have filed an application for development, against towns regarding inadequacies in a town’s zoning code.

This bill was advanced out of committee without the very harmful provisions that would have limited future opportunity for the development of mixed income multifamily and supportive housing in Westport. The mandate to permit as-of-right multifamily without parking in single family neighborhoods has been removed.

Danielle Dobin, Westport Planning & Zoning Commission chair.

There is language requiring some changes to Westport’s zoning code, and language permitting freely rentable Accessory Dwelling Units) by administrative approval.

Westport is revising its own ADU regulations with a proposal for a text amendment scheduled for April 8 that has already unanimously approved by the P&Z Affordable Subcommittee.

Also included is language exempting ADUs from the overall unit count for 8-30g calculations. This means permitting ADUs will not set back Westport’s compliance with 8-30g.

There is also language setting out a working group to design an optional model zoning code for the state. Right now, the proposed working group has no representatives from suburban towns.

NOTE: Yesterday Sara Bronin, the main proponent behind SB 1024, said that she and her team are working to have the as-of-right multifamily without parking inserted back into the bill before it is voted on by the full legislature.

House Bill 6107: Zoning Enabling Act Changes 

This bill, part of the Partnership for Strong Communities legislative agenda, prohibits consideration of the word “character” in zoning decisions. The Westport P&Z does not utilize “character of the community” in their decision-making. Westport’s special permit standards look at height, massing, etc., and the as-built aesthetics of streets.

This bill creates a working group to examine affordable housing statewide. A modernization of 8-30g (now 30 years old) could come out of this.

This bill has some of the same language as SB1024 requiring changes to Westport’s zoning code, but never included a litigation enabling provision.

NOTE: It’s critical to ensure the as-of-right multifamily without parking isn’t tacked onto this bill before it is voted on by the full legislature.

House Bill 6611: The Fair Share Plan

Unlike SB 1024, this focused on creating more affordable housing across Connecticut. It proposes a completely different process than 8-30(g) (though as drafted now it does not replace 8-30g) to determine the amount of affordable housing each municipality should create, and leaves it to each town to create a 10-year plan for achieving this “Fair Share” goal.

I have a call scheduled with staff from the Open Community Alliance, who proposed this bill, to better understand the requirements and impact to share at Tuesday’s session. SB 1024 garnered so much attention, it’s important that this bill – proposed by longtime advocates for affordability in Connecticut – finally receives a fair hearing.

Among Westport’s affordable housing options: Sasco Creek Village.

Senate Bill 6570: Transportation

The Transportation Committee, under Senator Will Haskell’s leadership, has advanced a bill that requires towns to look at state-owned land near transit stations in their 8-30j affordability plans, and empowers the Department of Transportation to utilize 5 lots from across the state to plan for mixed income housing, while retaining all existing parking spaces.

This bill initially contained the similar as-of-right multifamily language as SB 1024, but it was removed. This language is designed to help fully built-out towns (like Westport) leverage state-owned property for housing, including cottage clusters and townhomes (much like the Westport Housing Authority is working to create on the DOT land off Post Road East and West Parish. Westport’s innovative approach has created a template for towns across the state.

A number of other bills advanced as well. They will be reviewed during  Tuesday’s discussion. But these are the big ones to watch.

Zoning Reform Bills: Forum On Westport Set For Tuesday

One of Connecticut’s hottest topics is zoning reform. Action in Hartford will have a direct impact on Westport.

It’s not easy making sense of the fast-moving legislative action. A number of bills are moving toward votes.

“06880” is here to help.

This Tuesday (April 6, 6:30 p.m. Zoom), Westport Planning & Zoning Commission chair Danielle Dobin hosts an in-depth discussion of the bills that have advanced to the full legislature. The focus will be on what they mean for our town.

Danielle will be joined by Westport’s 4 legislators: State Senators Will Haskell and Tony Hwang, and Representatives Jonathan Steinberg and Stephanie Thomas.

And I’ll be the moderator. Click here to register.

Meanwhile, Danielle Dobin sends this report, on the status of several bills:

Senate Bill 1024: As-of-Right Multifamily With No Parking

The original proposed language of this bill rezoned all towns (with a population of over 7,500) in Connecticut to permit as-of-right market rate fourplexes within .5 miles of that town’s primary train station, and triplexes around Main Street corridors. Density of 15 units per acre would be permitted.

“As-of-right” means there would be no public hearings or comment around these new developments. Towns would be explicitly prohibited from requiring any off-street parking for the new units. The P&Z would have been required to conserve sewer capacity for the new as-of-right development instead of utilizing it for larger mixed use, mixed income projects (like Belden Place and Saugatuck Center) with affordable units included.

The Belden Place apartments by the Saugatuck River, off Main Street near Parker Harding Plaza.

Examples of streets that would have been impacted with new as-of-right multifamily – up to 15 units per acre with no parking for the new residents — include St. John’s Place, Evergreen and Myrtle near Main Street, and Stony Point, Davenport, Eno Lane and Burritt’s Landing near Saugatuck.

The original bill also included a litigation-enabling statute that invited constant lawsuits from anyone, regardless of whether they have filed an application for development, against towns regarding inadequacies in a town’s zoning code.

This bill was advanced out of committee without the very harmful provisions that would have limited future opportunity for the development of mixed income multifamily and supportive housing in Westport. The mandate to permit as-of-right multifamily without parking in single family neighborhoods has been removed.

Danielle Dobin, Westport Planning & Zoning Commission chair.

There is language requiring some changes to Westport’s zoning code, and language permitting freely rentable Accessory Dwelling Units) by administrative approval.

Westport is revising its own ADU regulations with a proposal for a text amendment scheduled for April 8 that has already unanimously approved by the P&Z Affordable Subcommittee.

Also included is language exempting ADUs from the overall unit count for 8-30g calculations. This means permitting ADUs will not set back Westport’s compliance with 8-30g.

There is also language setting out a working group to design an optional model zoning code for the state. Right now, the proposed working group has no representatives from suburban towns.

NOTE: Yesterday Sara Bronin, the main proponent behind SB 1024, said that she and her team are working to have the as-of-right multifamily without parking inserted back into the bill before it is voted on by the full legislature.

House Bill 6107: Zoning Enabling Act Changes 

This bill, part of the Partnership for Strong Communities legislative agenda, prohibits consideration of the word “character” in zoning decisions. The Westport P&Z does not utilize “character of the community” in their decision-making. Westport’s special permit standards look at height, massing, etc., and the as-built aesthetics of streets.

This bill creates a working group to examine affordable housing statewide. A modernization of 8-30g (now 30 years old) could come out of this.

This bill has some of the same language as SB1024 requiring changes to Westport’s zoning code, but never included a litigation enabling provision.

NOTE: It’s critical to ensure the as-of-right multifamily without parking isn’t tacked onto this bill before it is voted on by the full legislature.

House Bill 6611: The Fair Share Plan

Unlike SB 1024, this focused on creating more affordable housing across Connecticut. It proposes a completely different process than 8-30(g) (though as drafted now it does not replace 8-30g) to determine the amount of affordable housing each municipality should create, and leaves it to each town to create a 10-year plan for achieving this “Fair Share” goal.

I have a call scheduled with staff from the Open Community Alliance, who proposed this bill, to better understand the requirements and impact to share at Tuesday’s session. SB 1024 garnered so much attention, it’s important that this bill – proposed by longtime advocates for affordability in Connecticut – finally receives a fair hearing.

Among Westport’s affordable housing options: Sasco Creek Village.

Senate Bill 6570: Transportation

The Transportation Committee, under Senator Will Haskell’s leadership, has advanced a bill that requires towns to look at state-owned land near transit stations in their 8-30j affordability plans, and empowers the Department of Transportation to utilize 5 lots from across the state to plan for mixed income housing, while retaining all existing parking spaces.

This bill initially contained the similar as-of-right multifamily language as SB 1024, but it was removed. This language is designed to help fully built-out towns (like Westport) leverage state-owned property for housing, including cottage clusters and townhomes (much like the Westport Housing Authority is working to create on the DOT land off Post Road East and West Parish. Westport’s innovative approach has created a template for towns across the state.

A number of other bills advanced as well. They will be reviewed during  Tuesday’s discussion. But these are the big ones to watch.

Board Of Ed Debates Budget Cuts

Money was on the minds of Board of Education members last night.

At their virtual meeting they addressed the gap between their submitted budget, and the $125,594,582 approved last month by the Board of Finance. The difference is $975,284.

Brian Fullenbaum reports that federal grants from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund’s (ESSER) 3rd round will total $1.6 million. The board will reserve 20% of that amount, to address learning loss.

Other grants approved for Westport include a maximum of $947,633 from the COVID relief fund, and $832,917 from the first 2 rounds of ESSER.

Two proposals were made. One would use $607,000 from ESSER II to meet the $975,000 reduction. Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice would then request restoration of the rest of the $367,000 gap.

The other proposal would rely fully on the ESSER III grant money to fill the reduction gap.

Though the possibility of not receiving that third grant is small, the board discussed a backup plan.

The board also noted the need to adjust technology purchases, in the event that online learning continues into the next year.

In addition, education costs may rise due to increased enrollment. Over 100 extra students joined elementary schools, necessitating new hires. Enrollment numbers for next year are already looking strong.

The board deferred a decision until Monday’s meeting.