Category Archives: Local politics

Marpe Challenges Hatred, Urges Civility

In the wake of last weekend’s mass shootings, First Selectman Jim Marpe says:

Following the tragic events in Charlottesville 2 years ago, I stated that “there is no place for hatred and bigotry in our country,” and expressed our community’s prayers for the victims of that senseless tragedy.

Those events led to the “Hate Has No Home Here” movement in Westport and other communities. Last year, after the Parkland, Florida tragedy, I again addressed the issue of gun control and sensible gun legislation.

After another weekend of shocking headlines involving mass shootings which obviously have roots in white supremacy, and frankly, 2 more years of incidents similar to Charlottesville and Parkland, we are still faced with the challenge of inflammatory public rhetoric and hate-filled internet postings and activity.

We are fortunate that Westport is represented by national, state and local legislators and elected officials who act and speak responsibly in the face of these divisive issues.  They are committed to pursuing and enforcing responsible and effective gun control legislation, as well as condemning the racial biases demonstrated by others.

The fact that these incidents are happening on a regular basis is appalling. Each time I am asked to address them both personally and in my role as first selectman, it is done with an extremely heavy heart.

Although recent national incidents were much more horrific and tragic, the sentiment where I prompted a call to civility and respect to all Westporters after an unfortunate incident during a local public meeting last year holds true today.

I stated, “We will continue to publicly deal with issues and challenges that ignite passions on all sides, but we can’t let those passions create an air of disrespect, intimidation and bullying. I implore all Westport residents to allow their personal and public interactions to be driven by respect, tolerance and a desire to coexist in a positive manner with all of our neighbors.”

I will continue to address this issue within our community, and I will continue to denounce any form of hatred, bigotry or cultural bias.

Sewage Leak Stemmed; Beaches Still Closed

According to the Westport Fire Department, the sewage leak in the Saugatuck River was completely stopped as of 8:30 last night.

Temporary pumps will remain in place until permanent pumps are installed next month.

According to the Fire Department, town officials have been in close communication with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and the Westport Weston Health District. 

Water quality testing will be performed tomorrow (Monday), in an effort to reopen beaches. Swimming at all Westport beaches — including Sherwood Island State Park — remains off limits today, “in an abundance of caution.”

First Selectman Jim Marpe thanked town and state departments for their prompt response.  He added, “We appreciate the cooperation of our residents and visitors not using the beaches for swimming until we receive the all-clear from the Health District and DEEP.”

The sewage leak yesterday, on the Saugatuck River.. (Photo/Michael Cammeyer)

Westport’s Newest — And Tiniest? — Town Park

In 2011 a pair of tiny cottages were damaged beyond repair, by 2 successive storms: Irene and Sandy.

The homes sat on tiny parcels of land. One was just .005 acre.

But they were known to everyone — at least, everyone who knows about the footbridges connecting Old Mill with Compo Cove. The cottages were on the right (Long Island Sound) side, between the bridges.

The town bought the cottages — for $1,111,650. But every penny was reimbursed, thanks to FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.

The structures were torn down. For a few years, the land sat vacant.

It’s still empty. It’s still beloved by fishermen.

But now it’s also been spruced up. There’s a garden, and a granite slab for sitting.

Welcome to Westport’s newest park. It’s probably also the smallest.

Now all it needs is a name.

(Photos/Amy Schneider)

Despite Denials, Hiawatha Lane Housing Proposal Still Lives

Folklore says that cats have 9 lives.

The proposed Hiawatha Lane housing development has been rejected 8 times by town officials.

Its developer is betting the 9th time’s the charm.

In June, Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission struck down Summit Saugatuck’s plan for 187 units on the narrow road nestled between Saugatuck Avenue and I-95 exit 17. Board members cited concerns about access by firefighters and first responders, as well as traffic and pedestrian concerns.

Applications for sewer connections were denied earlier, by the P&Z and/or Board of Selectmen, in July and September 2007; January 2015; July 2016, and February 2017.

A text amendment and zone change were voted down in November 2016. The text amendment, map amendment and zoning amendment request defeated this past June was the 8th request.

Every denial was unanimous.

Summit Saugatuck’s plan for Hiawatha Lane.

But Summit Saugatuck principal Felix Charney will be back again. Because the proposal is submitted as an 8-30g application — meaning it falls under the state’s “affordable housing” regulation — it’s been re-submitted. A public hearing is set for September 12.

The plan would include 130 market-rate units, and 57 deemed “affordable.” Hiawatha Lane already includes many homes that are among the most affordable in Westport.

The 8-30g statute mandates that 10% of a town’s housing stock be “affordable,” under a state formula. Westport is currently at 4%.

However, only units constructed after 1990, and those that are deed-restricted for 40 years, are considered. Most Westport units serving lower-income groups do not fall into either category.

In March, Westport received a “Certificate of Affordable Housing Completion” from the state Department of Housing. The result was a 4-year moratorium on 8-30g.

The moratorium was granted “based upon the significant progress Westport has made in supplying affordable housing,” 1st Selectman Jim Marpe. Yet the moratorium does not preclude more submissions, like the one Summit Saugatuck is proposing.

Summit Saugatuck and Garden Homes — another developer whose proposal to build on untenable land was denied by the town — tried to get the state to vacate the moratorium. Their petition was denied on Monday by Connecticut’s Department of Housing.

1177 Post Road East helped Westport earn a 4-year moratorium on 8-30g proposals.

The town has received “moratorium points” for these units:

  • Rotary Centennial House, 10 West End Avenue (6 out of 6 total units)
  • Bradley Commons, Bradley Lane (4 of 20)
  • Saugatuck Center, Riverside Avenue (5 of 27)
  • Bedford Square, Church Lane (5 of 26)
  • 20 Cross Street (3 of 10; a portion of all others also earn points)
  • Coastal Point, 1135 Post Road East (2 of 12)
  • 1177 Greens Farms, 1177 Post Road East (29 of 94; a portion of all others also earn points )
  • Sasco Creek, 1655 Post Road East (31 of 54)
  • Hidden Brook, 1655 Post Road East (4 of 39)
  • Hales Court (38 of 78).

As noted earlier, that does not count any affordable housing built before 1990.

(Hat tip: Carolanne Curry)

Garden Cinema: The Sequel

Alert “06880” reader/concerned moviegoer Bill Kutik was one of many Westporters at last night’s meeting in Norwalk. The subject: the fate of Garden Cinemas, the indie/foreign film theater threatened by demolition. Bill writes:

Responding to an enormous public outcry, the Norwalk Common Council postponed voting on the controversial development plan that would have torn down the Garden Cinemas art movie house for a parking garage.

Mayor Harry Rilling opened the SRO meeting by announcing tabling the matter until September 10 after receiving a petition with nearly 3,000 signatures gathered online by the Wall Street Neighborhood Association.

Until the petition, the destruction vote had seemed like a done deal. “Pave paradise and put up a parking lot,” as Joni Mitchell used to sing.

The 22 people signed up to speak against the plan addressed the SRO crowd of Norwalk and Westport residents anyway – to cheers and applause.

I helped the opposition – www.WallStreetCT.org – and spoke because I moved to Westport 20 years ago after decades in Manhattan precisely because the Garden and Gold’s (substituting for Zabar’s) offered just enough of home to make me feel comfortable.

Some speakers criticized the modern design of the 101-unit rental apartment building on Wall Street in a federally designated Historic District. Others criticized the trickle of taxes it would produce for Norwalk after the city and state granted large tax credits for it being “affordable housing.”

But most expressed their love for the independent theater: the only one showing non-Hollywood and foreign films on four screens between Westport and Manhattan! The Avon shows some in Stamford.

And alluded to the absurdity of tearing down this amazing suburban cultural gem – housed in a 1918 building originally built as a vaudeville house – for parking!

Mayor Rilling said that the city would work with board members of the Wall Street Association on their proposal to develop an arts and cultural center in the area – using the Garden Cinemas or in the new building.

“There are at least 4 options,” he noted.

In my public statement, I pointed out a fifth: Simply buying the existing parking lot 100 feet away at 27 Isaacs Street, instead of tearing down the Garden at 13 Isaacs Street.

The lot’s owner, Jason Milligan of New Canaan, later said publicly he would sell it at a “reasonable” price to save the Garden. As bargaining tactic, he had once asked $10 million for it.

In my own conversations with Milligan, he seemed ready to be truly reasonable. He even publicly apologized to 3 Council members by name for his previous actions.

At the 11th hour, it seems that Norwalk is starting all over for the Garden.

Ins And Outs Of Post Road Shopping Centers

On July 8, representatives from Connecticut’s Department of Transportation gave a public presentation on proposed work on the Post Road. Much of it involves the stretch between Fresh Market, and the Roseville/Hillspoint Road intersection.

The $5.3 million project (80% federally funded, 20% state funds) would include special left-turn-only lanes, as well as traffic signals, curbing, curb ramps, sidewalks and crosswalks.

Proposals for the Post Road near Fresh Market.

Alert “06880” reader Jennifer Johnson agrees with many of the ideas. However, she also has concerns. She wrote the DOT about several, including the need for a sidewalk on the south side from Mitchells to the fire station, and care of the cherry trees in front of the Volvo dealer.

However, what really caught my eye was this:

Eliminate multiple single-property curb cuts. There are an excessive number of curb cuts (17) on both sides of the road, from the traffic light at Fresh Market to the light at Roseville/Hillspoint Road.

The number of curb cuts is a source of danger to people regardless of how they travel (foot, car or bicycle). Now is the time to correct problems that have evolved as the Post Road developed.

There are many ways in and out of the shopping centers, and adjacent lots.

I never thought about that — but now that I have, it makes a lot of sense.

Why do we need so many entrances and exits at Fresh Market? Across the street, there are also a number of ways to get into and out of the Dunkin’ Donuts/UPS Store/Westport Hardware/Mumbai Times lot. (No one ever calls it by its official no-meaning name, Village Center.)

There are other spots in town too with multiple entrances and exits, like Stop & Shop, and Aux Delices/Carvel/Stiles.

There are only a couple of ways in and out of the CVS/Trader Joe’s clusterf***. But at the end of her email, Jennifer notes that this intersection appears to have been ignored by DOT.

Finally, she asks that one person be appointed to oversee and coordinate all of DOT’s Westport projects (there are others besides the Fresh Market initiative).

Great idea! I nominate Jennifer Johnson for the job.

(For full details of the project on the Westport town website, click here. Questions about the Post Road project can be sent to  the CT DOT project manager: Brian.Natwick@ct.com)

Proposed work at the Post Road/Roseville/Hillspoint intersection.

If You Don’t Like The Way The Town Is Being Run, Read On!

Time to put up or shut up.

Or run for the RTM.

NOTE: You can also run if you love the way Westport is run.

Westporters interested in serving on the Representative Town Meeting — the 36-member legislative body that passes the town and education budgets; enacts ordinances (like the plastic bag ban), and reviews certain zoning changes, among other duties — can pick up an election petition beginning tomorrow (Tuesday, July 23, Town Clerk’s office in Town Hall).

Just get 25 signatures from residents of your district, by September 10. (That’s less than one a day.)

Bingo — you’re on the November 5 ballot.

You don’t even know your district map. The Town Clerk’s office tells you everything you need to know — including all registered voters in that district.

The RTM is non-partisan. Members serve 2-year terms.

For more information about this and other election matters, contact Town Clerk Patricia Strauss (203-341-1105; pstrauss@westportct.gov). For more on the RTM, click here.

Happy 102nd Birthday, Ted Diamond!

Ted Diamond is a Westport jewel.

Today, the longtime resident celebrates his 102nd birthday. And what a 10-plus-decade life it’s been.

Diamond served as an Army Air Corps combat navigator with the 15th Air Force. He flew 50 missions over highly secured military installations throughout Europe, often leading a group of 28 B-17s.

Four years ago — on his 98th birthday — he received France’s highest medal: the insignia of Chevalier (knight) of the Legion of Honor.

The award — established by Napoleon in 1802 — acknowledged Diamond’s enduring contribution to the success of Operation Dragoon, a military campaign to free the nation from Nazi domination.

Ted Diamond, at the 2017 Memorial Day ceremony.

He has spent the last 64 years in Westport. In addition to 3 terms as 2nd selectman, he was an RTM member, and volunteered on numerous town committees, commissions and boards.

In 2007, he served as grand marshal of Westport’s Memorial Day parade.

Happy birthday, Ted Diamond. Have a sparkling day!

Refreshing New Look For Westport’s Website

So much of Westport sparkles.

Our transformed library. Compo Beach, from the playground and pavilion to the new South Beach walkway and grills. Longshore. Staples High School. The Saugatuck River. From Harbor Road to Beachside Avenue, Sherwood Mill Pond to Mahackeno, this is a truly remarkable town.

Our website, however, sucked.

Last updated in 2011 — after 2 previous equally grim versions — it was an ugly, bloated mess. Typography, layout, massive text and lack of photos  — all that wouldn’t have been so bad, if you could easily find what you were looking for.

But you could not.

Happily, as of today Westport’s official website is as crisp, clear and clean as so many of our other wonders.

The new website landing page.

Don’t believe me? Click here!

The new site was more than 2 years in the making. First Selectman Jim Marpe appointed a Website Redevelopment Steering Committee, including town staff and residents with expertise in technology, design, economic development and community interests.

They worked with Granicus, a company that specializes in website services for local governments.

Since the 2011 version debuted, users have migrated from desktops to mobile devices. The new website, all agreed, had to be mobile-friendly.

In addition, town operations director Sara Harris says, users needed quicker access to information.

“Popular services” and “I Want To…” provide quick access to information.

One key feature of the new design is a better search bar. The former “mega-menu” has been cleaned up and streamlined.

The committee used Google Analytics to rearrange the “How do I…?” section. The most popular requests — regarding, for example, beach passes, railroad parking permits, town maps, employment opportunities, open bids and bid results, and videos of town meetings — are given the most prominence.

A one-click “Popular Services” section makes it easier to pay taxes, register for programs, and get meeting agendas and minutes.

News is more prominently displayed on the home page.

There are more photos too, showing (of course) Westport at its best and most beautiful.

An “Economic Opportunity” page is aimed at anyone considering opening a business or relocating here. The goal, Harris says, is to show the town’s great quality of life, and support of business.

For the first time, Westport is marketing directly to businesses and employers.

The site now offers a 1-click link to subscribe to some (or all!) town notifications: emergency alerts, meeting information, news, you name it.

And — this is very, very cool — the Town Charter, plus every ordinance and regulation (including Planning & Zoning, the Conservation Commission, and Parks & Recreation Commission) are all available on one page.

As often happens, after the 2011 website went live certain sections lay dormant. Now, every department has a designated content manager. They’re trained on how to keep their own pages fresh and updated — and respond to users’ evolving needs.

The Parks & Recreation page is one of the most visited on the town’s website.

As part of the project, volunteers with marketing and design backgrounds — including graphic artist Miggs Burroughs; advertising creative director Rob Feakins; brand innovation principal and Westport Downtown Merchants Association president Randy Herbertson, and marketer Jamie Klein — worked to refresh the town’s “brand identity.”

Westport’s new website logo.

They eventually settled on a new logo. Designed by Samantha Cotton — who grew up in and now works here — it suggests open space, the movement of water or sails, and “open warmth and refreshing coolness.”

After a month of testing by the committee and town staffers, the new website went live yesterday.

Harris says, “We’re confident that users will be happy with the experience. We think it represents the town very well.”

She invites residents — and everyone else — to test-drive the new website. The URL is the same: www.westportct.gov.

What do you think? Click “Comments” here.

And/or email the town directly: webmaster@westportct.gov.

Of course, you can also do it from the site itself. Nearly every page has a “feedback” button.

It’s simple. It’s easy.

And that’s the whole idea behind the refreshing new website refresh.

A highlight of the new WestportCT.gov website is the Highlights page.

[OPINION] Bike Lane Needed On Riverside Avenue

Alert “06880” reader Jennifer Johnson loves to ride her bike around town.

She’d love it a lot more if there were more bike lanes — especially on roads where there is enough room. She writes:

If anyone is interested in making Westport safer for biking, please come to Town Hall tonight (Monday, June 24, 7 pm ) for the “Main to Train” study meeting. 

The current draft recommendations of the Main to Train study (click here) do not include a bike lane for Riverside Avenue.

Riverside Avenue yesterday (Sunday) morning …

This is important. Without this key recommendation, Westport will have a much harder time securing state and federal grants for bike enhancements on this important road.   

You may have noticed the new and very well-marked shoulder lines on Riverside Avenue south of the Post Road. These shoulders could easily be dedicated for biking. 

Instead, cars increasingly use these wider shoulders to park. Riverside is a state road (Route 33). Parking is not allowed on other state roads in town, including most of the Post Road and  Compo Road (Route 136). 

… and this (Monday) morning.

Because Riverside is a key artery to the train station, and one of the key purposes of the Main to Train study is to “promote non-motorized modes of transportation,” the final report should include a recommendation that the wide shoulder be reserved for biking.

A stretch of Riverside Avenue with no parking (except for church services) …

Currently, the draft report shows a schematic where bikes must travel in the same lane as cars.  This is arguably an even more dangerous scenario than what currently exists.

Historically, some businesses have used Riverside/Route 33 for parking. That may have worked in the past. But it is no longer a viable solution for our traffic-plagued town. 

… and one where cars always park. (Photos/Jennifer Johnson)

If we are serious about addressing congestion, then the town should use every opportunity to make town roads more friendly for pedestrians and cyclists. The last thing our elected leaders and town employees should be doing is making it easier for people to park and harder for people to bike, especially to the train.

Please show up today. For additional information, click here for the Main to Train study website.