Category Archives: Local politics

Beach Alert: Closures Expected; No Drop-Offs Allowed

1st Selectman Jim Marpe says:

Due to the extreme heat forecast for this weekend, increased vehicular and pedestrian traffic is anticipated at Westport beaches.

In an abundance of caution and to insure public health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the beach reaches a capacity where it is deemed impossible to maintain social distancing, it will be closed to additional beachgoers. S

Signage at key intersections on local roadways will inform drivers if the beach is closed, and traffic will be diverted from the area. Drop-offs will not be allowed.

These types of crowded conditions start from mid to late mornings. We advise residents who wish to spend the day at the beach to arrive before 10 a.m.

The beach may re-open mid to late afternoon, provided safer conditions relative to crowds and social distancing are observed at that time.

The goal is for everyone to enjoy Compo — and obey the rules. (Photo/Tom Cook)

The town will make every effort to inform residents of conditions throughout the day via the Town of Westport and Parks and Recreation Department website home pages, and the Town and Parks and Rec Facebook pages.

At Compo Beach you are reminded to wear masks on the boardwalk, using the restrooms or sidewalks, or any other time when you are unable to maintain a 6- foot distance from others.

Your cooperation, patience and understanding with the town staff and police who will enforce and maintain traffic and crowd control during these unprecedented times is appreciated.

I have utmost confidence that town health and safety officials have only the best interests of residents and guests in mind when making difficult decisions. I also know that Westporters understand and accept the gravity of the current health crisis. I am grateful that we are at a point where our town amenities may be open and thriving. But now more than ever, we must enjoy them in a safe and responsible manner while respecting our family, neighbors and friends.

Solar Project Application Withdrawn

Earlier today, “06880” reported that tonight the Planning & Zoning Commission would consider a text amendment, special permit and site plan application for “solar-based electric generating facilities” on the Bedford Middle School campus.

Less than 4 hours before the meeting, Public Works director Peter Ratkiewich advised P&Z director Mary Young that the plans — submitted by Greenskies Clean Energy, on behalf of the town — were being withdrawn.

“The Administration has decided not to pursue this project at this time,” Ratkieweich said.

The site plan for Bedford Middle School. The proposed solar panels

P&Z Hears Solar Energy Request Behind BMS

The Planning & Zoning Commission usually takes August off.

But before they do, a solar energy project is on the docket. Today (Thursday, July 16, 5 p.m., Zoom meeting) they’ll consider a text amendment, special permit and site plan application for “solar-based electric generating facilities” on the Bedford Middle School campus. They’ll be mounted on the ground (not canopies).

Greenskies Clean Energy has been granted a town lease to produce electricity there. The firm seeks a variance to mount 20-foot solar panels in the grassy area behind the school, and remove 10 trees.

The project includes modules in both corners behind the school.

One section of the site backs up to property on Woody Lane. The other part backs up to High Point Road.

The site plan for Bedford Middle School. The proposed solar panels are indicated by hatch marks near the center of the map. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

The meeting will be livestreamed on http://www.westportct.gov, and shown on Optimum channel 68 and Frontier channel 6020.

A close-up view of the work proposed. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

School Superintendent Reports On Fall Planning

New superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice sent this email to all Westport families last night:

Last night [Monday] I had the fortune of participating in my first business meeting of the Westport Board of Education as the superintendent of schools. I am honored to serve in this role and it is indeed humbling to lead this esteemed school community.

Thomas Scarice (Photo courtesy of Zip06.com)

However, like most things in our lives right now, my transition into this role is unusual. Similar to the patterns of our personal and professional lives that have undergone profound changes over the past four months or so, I have foregone the typical incremental induction period for full immersion into the work before us.

Although I am disappointed to abandon the opportunities to meet and develop rapport with individuals across the system, I am fully aware of the community’s urgency to not only develop, but to communicate the reopening plans for the 2020-2021 school year.

With that, I will dive into an update on our work in preparing our schools for the upcoming school year and reserve a more traditional written statement to the community for a future date.

The Context

As I shared at the Board of Education meeting last night, I have found that there is a great deal of fear and uncertainty in communities across the country and it is a fragile time. To complicate matters, there are some contradictions in professional recommendations and guidelines in how to effectively respond to the pandemic. Additionally, there are demands from our state leaders and questions from our parents, our faculty and staff, and our larger community,

Yet, as the public health community confronts this novel virus and learns more by the day, and after considering the fundamental role schools play in child and adolescent development, confidence has grown among many in the medical field that reopening our schools for all students for on-site full day schooling is the appropriate, and necessary, course of action.

Such professional organizations as the American Academy of Pediatrics have weighed the benefits of mitigating measures such as school closures and concluded that the goal of the coming school year should start with all students physically present in school. In addition, Governor Lamont has also called on Connecticut towns and cities to welcome all students for on-site full day schooling for the start of the 2020-2021 school year.

Governor Lamont encourages all schools — like Staples High School, shown here — to open this fall.

In response to this call, we will work as a system to institute the necessary safety measures to ensure a high quality learning environment, including social and emotional learning, for all students.

However, these calls come with caveats. First, endorsements of a full reopening of schools for all students are predicated on low transmission rates of the virus in communities. Currently, the transmission rates are such that a full return to school in the fall is justified.

Secondly, any return to school must include mitigating measures such as physically distancing to the extent possible, limiting transitions, cohorting groups of students where possible, regular facility disinfecting, compulsory hygiene practices, effective screening measures, and face coverings.

With low transmission rates and rigorous mitigating measures, I encourage the community to welcome a full return to school this fall. Although this approach will not eliminate risk as there are no ”zero risk” approaches, evidence has emerged that schools appear to be low risk settings for virus transmission if the community transmission rates remain low and the mitigating measures are followed with fidelity.

The district will respond with a hybrid, or full distance learning model, if transmission rates surge. The metrics for this decision will be provided by the Connecticut State Department of Public Health and the local Westport/Weston Health District.

Next Steps

As we move forward into the summer months we are obligated to submit a plan to the Connecticut State Department of Educations for the reopening of our schools. This plan is due July 24. However, there will be a full preview and deliberation on the components of the plan at the July 20 public meeting of the Board of Education. This plan will be posted for review prior to the meeting.

The final product will be a comprehensive document crafted by the education and health professionals serving on our “Westport Reopening School Committee.” This plan will contain the volumes of work conducted over the past month related to:

  • Health and Safety – the specific mitigating measures that will be employed to minimize the transmission of the virus while supporting the social and emotional wellness of our children and adolescents
  • Facilities and Operations – the cleaning, disinfecting and infection control measures that will be in place to limit the transmission of the virus, as well as the transportation and food services practices that will be instituted
  • Teaching and Learning – the pedagogy, scheduling and overall learning experiences that will provide purposeful and regular live interactions between teachers in students, whether engaged in on-site schooling, or a blended/distance model
  • Co-Curricular Programming – the extra-curricular experiences that provide programming to meet the physical, artistic, and enrichment needs of our children and adolescents.

Critical partnerships with local medical professionals and public health experts have provided a framework for the development and implementation of the plan. In addition, these professionals will provide ongoing consultation in advancing mitigating measures, identifying and treating cases of transmission, and effectively tracing contacts after transmission.

Lessons learned from the spring distance learning have provided our professional educators with valuable experience in the pursuit to continually improve our teaching and learning. Live instruction, naturally when students are engaged in on-site schooling, has emerged as a necessity for any blended or distance learning model. These approaches will augment the current pedagogy employed by our teaching staff.

As confidence grows in an environment with low transmission rates and strong mitigating measures, it is important for parents to understand that the Governor’s call for a full return to school comes with an important option for parents. You, as a parent, have the option to choose a distance learning model for your child in lieu of on-site schooling.

The primary features of this model will be included in the Westport reopening plan. In the near future, the school district will follow up on the initial parent survey recently administered to accurately project the number of parents that will invoke this option in order to appropriately plan for upcoming school year.  You will have the option to subsequently modify your choice. Further information will be provided related to these procedures.

As superintendent, I am committed to increasing the frequency and substance of communication to the school community. In the future, I intend to provide brief insights to our work on a regular basis. This initial communication is critical in setting the stage for the next steps in our plan to return to reopening our schools. Thank you for your attention and support as we work to serve the children and adolescents of the Westport community.

Sincerely,
Thomas Scarice

Roundup: Marpe Update; More


1st Selectman Jim Marpe provides this update, on a variety of topics:

Town Facilities

As part of our efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19 and in an abundance of caution, Town Hall and indoor town facilities continue to be closed to walk-in services. All town services are being conducted on-site or remotely. and telephones and emails are monitored. Appointments may be made on an as-needed basis.

If you have a matter that requires resolution by town staff, please use the staff directory on the website (www.westportct.gov/directory) to call or email the office, and allow adequate time for a response.

The possibility of conducting in-person public meetings is being explored. In the meantime, public meetings of the Boards of Finance and Selectmen, the Representative Town Meeting, Conservation Commission, Planning & Zoning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals can be viewed on the town’s website (westportct.gov/watch) and Westport TV on Channel 79 (Optimum) and Channel 6020 (Frontier).  Public meetings of the Board of Education can be viewed on Channel 78 (Optimum) and Channel 6021 (Frontier).

Masks and Social Distancing

It is imperative that masks be worn while inside or when unable to maintain social distancing in all public places. Masks may be removed provided you are with people who reside in your household, and maintaining a 6-foot distance from others.

Any other time, whether you are outside at Compo Beach, on a field, walking on town sidewalks and roadways, or entering an indoor location (including the restrooms at Compo Beach) you must wear a mask. You protect yourself, your family and your neighbors when you abide by this rule.

Many residents continue to express concern about the lack of face coverings on individuals that they encounter in public spaces. While it is impossible to know if a group includes only those people who reside in the same household, it is usually obvious when they do not.

Gatherings of younger people without face coverings have been observed. I respectfully ask that parents speak to their children about the importance of wearing a mask. We know that children are not impervious to the virus, and steps must be taken to insure the safety and health of all. Each of us has a personal responsibility to wear masks and maintain social distancing.

I Love Westport Campaign

If you haven’t already seen the #ILoveWestport videos on social media, please go to the town’s website (Westportct.gov/ilovewestport) and view these one minute video vignettes.

The #ILoveWestport campaign asks Westporters to make a personal promise to our community to stop the spread of COVID-19. We love our town, so let’s keep our neighbors and our employees healthy. Please make a pledge and share your video at #Ilovewestport.

Statement from the Westport Weston Health District on Connecticut’s Travel Advisory

Given the concerning surge in COVID-19 cases reported in many states across the country, it’s more important than ever to take precautions and pay strict attention to the state’s recent travel advisory. The Westport Weston Health District urges residents to keep up their prevention efforts.

Governor Lamont’s travel advisory went into effect on June 25. Anyone traveling into Connecticut from a state that has a new daily positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents, or a state with a 10% or higher positivity rate over a 7-day rolling average, must self-quarantine for 14 days from the last contact within the identified state. This also applies to Connecticut residents who return from those states.

Those who test negative for COVID-19 are not subject to the travel advisory. In order to avoid the advisory, any traveler from the restricted states should be tested no sooner than 72 hours prior to departing.

For more information, a listing of restricted states and frequently asked questions, please visit the State’s site https://portal.ct.gov/Coronavirus/Covid-19-Knowledge-Base/Travel-In-or-Out-of-CT

Please continue to stay connected by signing up or following us at:


Seen (and admired) on Hillandale Road:

(Photo/Bill Dedman)

And finally … Joyeux Quatorze Juillet! Happy Bastille Day!

Judge Rules In Favor Of Cross Street Development

In October 2018, the Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously rejected a plan to build a 6-story, 81-unit apartment complex between Lincoln and Cross Streets, off Post Road West.

The 7-0 vote was based on fire, traffic and other safety concerns, as well as historic preservation.

The developer — Cross Street LLC — appealed.

Last week, state Superior Court Judge Andrew Roraback sustained the appeal. He noted that despite evidence supporting fire and traffic safety issues, and historic preservation, none of those reasons “clearly outweighed” the need for affordable housing.

Artist’s rendering of the proposed Cross Street complex.

The proposal had been brought under Connecticut’s 8-30g statute. It allows a developer to override local zoning regulations if at least 10% of a town’s housing stock is not “affordable.” Westport’s is not — although affordable housing built before 1990 is not considered under the formula.

However, the judge added that the developer must ask the town’s Traffic Authority — which, in Westport, is the Board of Selectmen — to remove some existing on-street parking spaces, to accommodate the sight lines needed.

A number of neighborhood residents rely on street parking. Driveways are small and narrow; some lack garages, and some homes have multiple tenants.

The town has 20 days from the issuance of the decision to appeal.

Marpe’s Message: Holiday Is More Than Fireworks

1st Selectman Jim Marpe says:

Today is the day that most of us would be preparing food and drink, joining friends, and enjoying the ultimate Westport experience of our Annual July 4th fireworks at Compo Beach.

Many of you would typically continue that celebration through the holiday weekend and into the upcoming week. Unfortunately this year, we can’t gather as we typically do to celebrate our nation’s independence.

Although COVID has restricted our ability to gather, we can’t forget that the July 4th holiday is more than fireworks, parties, and picnics. Instead, it can serve as an opportunity to reflect and re-direct the energy we may have spent in those celebratory rituals.

This year let’s be innovative in how we celebrate with close family and friends, staying at home and enjoying each other’s company. Consider taking the time to acknowledge that all of our brothers and sisters, no matter their race, creed, color, religion, sexual orientation or gender expression, deserve the same independence we cherish in Westport.

While there are those who continue to struggle, we must learn from the mistakes of the past, and move forward in a concrete, firm, resolute manner to make the positive changes in our community that reflect the current conditions of this 2020 world.

Town departments, health and safety officials, and local community volunteers and leaders continue to coordinate and advance the deliberate phased reopening plans. This insures that the difficult decisions that minimized and contained the virus were not in vain. Westport is on the right track, moving forward, cautiously and carefully, but with resilience and hope.

I encourage you to continue this positivity and show your community spirit by engaging in the #ilovewestport campaign. Please check out #Ilovewestport; let us know why you love Westport and how you will commit to making a difference during these changing times.

Personally, I plan to show that “I Love Westport” by committing to wearing a mask out of respect for all my fellow Westporters, by promoting policies that ensure social distancing, by prioritizing health and safety during reopening, and by supporting our local businesses. And I commit to engaging in ongoing dialogue that will make all our residents, visitors and businesses feel safe and welcome in Westport.

Let’s celebrate this holiday with hope, imagination and a sense of community. Whether speaking about phased and gradual implementation for reopening, to the difficult but necessary discussions about racism and policing, we are a community of resilience, a community of love and hope, and a community of history with the means to affect true change in how we govern and interact. I look forward to gathering once again in the near future, with all the necessary steps to keep us safe and healthy, to celebrate our strength and fortitude, and to celebrate our independence.

Thank you, Westport, for your continued cooperation and patience. We are in this together and we will get out of it together – stronger than ever before. I hope that you have a healthy, happy, and innovative Fourth of July holiday. Please enjoy yourselves and continue to be safe.

(Photo by Lynn U. Miller)

North Avenue Water Tank Agreement Reached; Site Work Begins Thursday

It’s tough to get anyone, anywhere, to agree on anything these days. And in Westport, a long-running, particularly thorny issue was the North Avenue water tank project.

Area residents worried about installation of big, tall tanks near their property, and traffic issues during construction across from Staples High School. On the other side: the need for upgraded facilities, plus Fire Department concerns about inadequate water supplies in town.

An aerial view shows the North Avenue Aquarion tank site, opposite Staples High School.

But town officials, Aquarion representatives, North Avenue neighbors and the state Public Utilities Regulatory Agency worked together to address water supply, public safety and construction concerns.

Today, the town and Aquarion announced that site preparation will begin Thursday (June 4), with the installation of erosion controls, temporary fencing and limited site clering.

The project itself includes construction of two water tanks (28 and 33 feet tall — lower than the original 40-foot plan); removal of an existing tank, and extensive landscape restoration. Sound dampening equipment will be installed. Work is expected to take 2 years.

Among the conditions of the settlement agreement is appointment of an ombudsman: former assistant town attorney Gail Kelly. She will act as a liaison between the neighbors, town officials and Aquarion, providing weekly construction updates to residents, and meeting with school and police personnel to insure minimal impact on North Avenue traffic. No road closures are planned.

In addition, an independent site monitor will ensure permit compliance.

PURA members and protesters at the Aquarion North Avenue water tower site in December, 2018.

Construction hours are 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, with pre-arranged extensions as required.

First Selectman Jim Marpe thanked all parties for their cooperation, along with state legislators Will Haskell, Tony Hwang, Gail Lavielle and Jonathan Steinberg.

Click here for construction status, work schedules and project updates.

Downtown: This Is Our Embarcadero Moment

In 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake rocked San Francisco. Twelve people were killed. Fires raged. And the Embarcadero Freeway was severely damaged.

Built in the 1950s to connect the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges — but never completed — the enormous double-deck highway instead cut the city off from its waterfront.

The Embarcadero Freeway. The Ferry Building is center left, with the clock.

For years, there had been talk of removing or redesigning the freeway. The earthquake provided a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do so.

Opposition was intense. But when the highway was demolished, a couple of things happened. More than 100 acres of land was redeveloped into a spectacular new public plaza and waterfront promenade. The area sprang to life.

The Embarcadero today. The Ferry Building is its centerpiece, but the entire area pulses with activity.

The 1898 Ferry Building became a vibrant gathering spot for local farmers, artisan producers, and independent food businesses. Commercial real estate boomed. Housing increased dramatically. The entire city benefited.

Today, Westport has our Embarcadero moment.


On March 3 — less than 2 weeks before our world changed forever — I posted a long story on “06880.”

Headlined “Main Street at an Inflection Point: An ‘06880’ Call to Action,” it noted that despite what we like to think, Main Street is no longer our “main street.” It’s just a short stretch of commercial buildings, many of them vacant.

But boy, I wrote, does it have potential. I continued:

The problem is, “potential” implies re-imagining the future. And re-designing the present.

We can’t simply tweak the Post Road. We need to (almost) blow it up, and start again.

The possibilities are endless.

Main Street could be a car-less, pedestrian-friendly piazza/ promenade lined with trees, tables and benches; upscale and family restaurants and cafes, including outside dining (with space heaters for winter); food carts and artists’ kiosks; independent businesses like a general store, bookstore and ice cream shop (joining the special Savvy + Grace-type places already there).

Look at the river. Look at Main Street. Imagine the possibilities. (Drone photo by John Videler/Videler Photography)

It could be filled with cultural and arts events; food festivals, and something at Christmas; music on weekends, plus waterfront access, with paddleboat and kayak rentals. In the winter, we could flood part of it for a skating rink.

And more: The Farmers’ Market could relocate there. We could add offices for non-profits, and co-working spaces. Apartments could be build on 2nd and 3rd floors.

Downtown, I said, was at an inflection point. Just as 70 yeas ago the area was re-imagined when landfill created Parker Harding Plaza, we needed a new downtown.

And change could not be incremental. It must be “big, bright and bold.”

The story drew 86 comments. This being Westport, they ranged all over the place: from why it couldn’t work, to lesser tweaks, to offers to help make it a reality ASAP.

What united us all was a common goal: to make downtown vibrant and alive, while looking ahead.

Had we looked behind, we would have seen the coronavirus galloping toward us. But now that it has, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to remake downtown, the right way.

Remember I said we should “(almost) blow it up, and start again”?

Now we really can.


I’m envisioning an even more dramatic reimagining than the one just 3 months — aka many light-years — ago.

Despite its horrors, the pandemic has taught us a few important lessons. Even when the danger passes, our lives will be vastly different from before. The way we work, eat, shop and spend our leisure time has changed, in ways we don’t yet fully understand. And although we have done certain things certain ways for longer than any of us have been alive, we learn very quickly how to do them in completely new ways.

Main Street, not long ago. (Photo/Sharon Fiarman)

Even during the shutdown, renovation continued on a few Main Street buildings. But we all know: Retail is altered forever. The big chains that forced out locally owned shops have swiftly contracted. Some are already bankrupt. More will follow. Betting that a new women’s clothing store, “lifestyle brand” or sunglasses shop will save Main Street is like believing that drinking bleach will kill a virus.

So to the vision I proposed on March 3 — a promenade filled with restaurants and cafes, food carts and artists’ kiosks; a general store, book store, and ice cream shop; cultural and arts events; the Farmers’ Market, offices, non-profits, apartments — I’d like to add a few more: a parking garage, with athletic fields on top. Fire pits. That elusive movie theater. Maybe even that long-discussed bridge over the river to the west bank.

And now I have an even more dramatic idea.

Let’s build it all the right way, at the right place: alongside the river.

It’s time to reclaim the river. San Antonio’s done it; so has Providence. This is our chance to actually, spiritually, emotionally — and physically — create an entirely new downtown.

Waterfire draws huge crowds to downtown Providence. It — and a reimagined waterfront — helped revitalize the city.

Let’s get rid of Parker Harding Plaza. Let’s tear down most of the buildings on Main Street. Let’s redesign everything from the Post Road to Avery Place, from scratch.

A proposal like this demands a lot from everyone. We’ll need the cooperation of property owners. That’s not easy in the best of times. But paradoxically, this might be the best time. What REIT in its right mind wants to hold on to a building whose tenant relies on a February 2020 retail model — with no other businesses to replace them in sight?

We’ll need the cooperation of town officials. Again, that’s not as far-fetched as it seems. Where once it took weeks to approve an awning or agree on sidewalk paving standards, the past few days have seen lightning-quick action on outdoor dining applications and new town regulations.

“We’re all in this together” can be a meaningless phrase. These days, local government, civic groups, merchants and restaurant owners have shown it can be a reality.

We’ll need the cooperation too of Westporters. Our downtown transformation won’t happen overnight. We’ll be building a house while also living in it. But if the past 3 months have shown us anything, it’s that our homes — our residences, and our home community — are vital to everything we do.

Look at that huge parking lot by the river. And the long line of boxy stores behind it. (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)

So that’s my plan. It’s a way to re-imagine, renovate and recharge Westport, for generations to come.

It’s a way to put hundreds of people — construction workers first, then employees — to work. It’s a way to draw countless others downtown, to be entertained, eat, enjoy themselves, and live.

Let’s not let this slip away. We can’t content ourselves dreaming that some day — hopefully soon — Americans will begin shopping in stores again, the same way they did before. And remember: On March 3, we weren’t exactly doing that either.

Magical thinking like that leads us right down the path of the guys who said, a couple of years ago, “Hey! Let’s build a mall in Norwalk, right next to Exit 16. What could possibly go wrong?!”

This is the start of the post-pandemic world. This is the time for truly bold, really creative, way-forward thinking.

This is our Embarcadero moment.

Police Chief, 1st Selectman React To Minneapolis Death

Westport Police Chief Foti Koskinas and 1st Selectman Jim Marpe issued this statement today:

We certainly can be counted among the many municipal and law enforcement leaders who were horrified and deeply disappointed by the recent tragedy in Minneapolis.

The Westport Police Department, like so many others across our country, has worked diligently to build relationships and trust within our communities; a trust which we and our national partners in law enforcement recognize must be incrementally earned and always carefully maintained. Fostering this trust among our community through a steadfast dedication to public service continues to be our top priority.

During difficult times such as these, it is important to reaffirm that the Westport Police Department remains resolutely committed to pursuing the goals of its mission statement through the fair and equitable treatment of all of those we encounter.

Marpe noted: “Westport’s commitment to fairness, equality and social justice is stronger than ever, and is reflected daily in the actions of our Police Department, as well as in all town departments and activities.”