Category Archives: Local politics

Court Hands Hiawatha Lane Developer Another Setback

The long-running saga of a developer’s plan to build 187 housing units on Hiawatha Lanethe narrow road nestled between Saugatuck Avenue and I-95 exit 17 — has taken another turn.

The state Appellate Court ruled that Westport’s Water Pollution Control Authority appropriately exercised its discretion to deny the developer — Summit Saugatuck — an application for a sewer connection.

Applications for sewer connections had been denied by other bodies as well, including the Planning & Zoning Commission and Board of Selectmen.

The Appellate Court ruling is a major victory for the town.

Summit may refile their application. They may also appeal to the state Supreme Court.

But as of today, they do not have permission to extend the sewer — or build on what is already a narrow, difficult to access piece of land, with some of the most affordable housing in Westport.

Summit Saugatuck’s proposal for 187 housing units on Hiawatha Lane.

“06880” Persona Interview: Board Of Finance Candidate Nancie Dupier

“06880” continues our series of “Persona” video interviews with candidates for local office. Rob Simmelkjaer produces these, as part of his new venture that helps users create casual, interesting conversational videos.

Today’s interview is with Democratic Board of Finance candidate Nancie Dupier. Click below:

To see all the Persona candidate interviews — and others — click here.

“06880” Persona Interview: Board Of Education Candidate Vik Muktavaram

Yesterday, “06880” introduced the first in a series of “Persona” video interviews with candidates for local office. Rob Simmelkjaer is producing these, as part of his new venture that helps users create casual, interesting conversational videos.

Today’s conversation is with Republican Board of Education candidate Vik Muktavaram. Saugatuck Elementary School PTA member Jen Berniker conducted the interview, which begins with a question about redistricting.

Click below:

To see yesterday’s interview with Board of Finance candidate Sheri Gordon — and other Persona conversations — click here.

Introducing “06880”‘s Persona Of The Week

Earlier this year Rob Simmelkjaer — who ran for 2nd Selectman in 2017 — left his corporate gig with NBC Sports and News to pursue a personal mission.

His goal: Develop a multimedia platform giving people the tools to create and discover great interviews and conversations. His company is called Persona.

Rob Simmelkjaer

Though national in scope, its rollout begins locally this month, with a custom interview service. Today, Rob and I are excited to announce a collaboration: the “06880 Persona of the Week.”

Each week, Rob or a Persona colleague will interview an interesting member of the community. Topics and interview subjects will be varied and unlimited, from local movers and shakers to those doing amazing things well beyond our borders.

Each interview will give “06880” readers a chance to meet a neighbor, and see the amazing things that happen when people sit down to chat.

With elections looming, we decided to start with a sprint.

Between now and Election Day we’ll post interviews with each of the Republican and Democratic candidates for the Boards of Education and Finance. These non-partisan interviews will give voters a chance to get to know the candidates, and encourage Westporters to vote.

We start with the Democratic candidate for re-election to the Board of Finance, Sheri Gordon. Tomorrow: Republican Board of Education candidate Vik Muktavaram.

More candidate videos will follow, in the coming days. After the election, this feature will become an actual “Persona of the Week.”

Saugatuck Center Phase II Moves Forward

More than a decade ago, the Gault family’s bold plan kick-started the renaissance of Saugatuck.

Two plazas with restaurants, shops and apartments brought new life to one of Westport’s oldest neighborhoods. It’s a vibrant, fun and walkable area, with only one chain store in sight. (Dunkin’ Donuts. At least it’s not Starbucks.)

Now, a new development will soon begin.

Last week, the Planning & Zoning Commission voted unanimously in favor of Phase II of Saugatuck Center. It consists of residential apartments on Ketchum Street — the humpback road connecting Riverside Avenue and Franklin Street.

Aerial view of the Phase II apartments (white and green).

Three of the apartments will be affordable, based on town regulations.

Thirteen units will be in the area near the office building that houses the Hub workspace, Bartaco corporate headquarters and a financial firm. That building will remain. Parking is underground.

A small office building on Ketchum near Franklin, as well as the post office mailbox building, will be removed. Four more townhouse-style units will be built there.

The streetscape will be similar to the apartments already further east on Ketchum, with trees, sidewalks and matching lamps. Bruce Beinfield is the project architect.

An artist’s rendering of the apartments. View is northeast, from the corner of Franklin and Ketchum Streets.

The project also includes work on the parking lot at the existing office building, as well as 518 Riverside Avenue. That building houses Landtech, the engineering and environmental firm that’s working with the Gaults on Phase II.

The P&Z was the final town body needed for approval.

Groundbreaking takes place in early spring. The first residents move in in in 2021.

Vote Next Month. But Register Now!

On November 5, Westporters will elect candidates for a variety of important local offices, including the Board of Education, Board of Finance, Planning & Zoning Commission and RTM.

But in order to vote, you must be registered.

October 29 is the deadline for:

  • Mail-in registration of new voters (postmark)
  • Online registrations (click here)
  • In-person registration at the Registrars of Voters office, Town Hall, Room 107 (weekdays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.)

November 4 (5 p.m.) is the deadline for in-person registration at Town Hall for residents who meet at least one of the following limited criteria. Between October 29 and November 5, you must have:

  • Turned 18 years old
  • Moved to Westport
  • Achieved citizenship
  • Been a member or family member of the armed services.

Questions? Call 203-341-1115 or click here.

 

Unsung Heroes #119

The other day, I posted a story about a long, important RTM meeting. After 3 hours, our town’s legislative body voted narrowly — 18-16 — against a motion to ban recreational marijuana sales in Westport. (Such sales are not yet legal in Connecticut.)

That was typical of our Representative Town Meeting. Once a month they meet to debate and approve town and education budgets, and all town appropriations over $20,000; enact ordinances; review bonds, leases, sales and purhcases of town property; review zoning, recreation and other regulations, and oversee labor agreements with town and Board of Education employees.

They meet much more frequently in committees. Each member serves on several.

It’s time-consuming, arduous and thankless work. And every 2 years, RTM members must run for re-election.

Fortunately, serving on the body is not all work and no play. Last week, 23 members — along with the town clerk and RTM secretary — gathered for lunch at Tavern on Main.

Member Matthew Mandell — whose day job is executive director of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce — organized the event. It was a way for everyone to spend time together outside of Town Hall. (And yes, for the Chamber to promote Restaurant Week.)

The RTM lunch at Tavern on Main.

It was the middle of election season. But, Mandell says, “people enjoyed that we could all sit together. Political party means nothing to us” — the RTM is non-partisan.

“It was nice to just BS, and not discuss any issue coming before us, or even around town. The RTM has had some late nights recently. This was a good break.”

(Even though there was a quorum, no official notice was required. “Social gatherings do not constitute an illegal meeting — just fun,” explains town clerk Patty Strauss.)

“The RTM is a collegial bunch who volunteer a lot of time to the town,” Mandell notes.

So, to all 36 members — and all the others, running for a seat — thank you for all you do for Westport. You are our Unsung Heroes of the Week.

We hope you enjoyed your lunch. Now get back to work!

(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

 

Pic Of The Day #911

Finally! A candidate we can all agree on. (Photo/Luke Garvey)

[OPINION] RTMers: Why We Voted Against Recreational Marijuana Ban

Earlier this month, the Representative Town Meeting considered an ordinance to ban the sale of recreational marijuana in Westport. (Currently, only medical marijuana is legal in Connecticut.) The motion was defeated, 18-16, after more than 3 hours of debate.

After the vote, 14 RTM members who voted against the proposal sent this email to “06880”:

Westport’s most recent RTM meeting included consideration of an ordinance that sought to ban the sale of recreational marijuana, despite the fact that it is already – and remains — illegal in Connecticut and Westport.

For reasons that persuaded the majority of the RTM, any ordinance passed in anticipation of a future state decriminalization statute would be speculative, premature, and passed now for no reason that could achieve even a modicum of extra protection for the town of Westport.

As explained below, it turned out that the proposed legislation was deeply flawed and poorly conceived.

Some states have legalized marijuana based on the view that legalization could ensure that the ingredients are standardized to make it safer, so it is not cut with unsafe or excessively strong or dangerous ingredients. Connecticut, other states, and the federal government have been considering whether the laws should be changed.

A variety of medical marijuana edibles.

Many states have permitted an opt-out provision, permitting individual towns to decide to limit retail sales.

To date, the versions of the marijuana decriminalization legislation submitted to the Connecticut legislature also included local opt-out provisions for retail sales.

The RTM’s final debate on this proposed ordinance to ban retail sales of marijuana made it clear that there is significant desire to restrict or prevent the sale of recreational marijuana retail sales in our town when, and if, a decriminalization statute is passed.

However, under no scenario would any such decriminalization statute afford any Connecticut town the right to make marijuana illegal for use. The legal concept of state preemption of municipal and town ordinances would clearly prohibit that.

The town attorney spoke at the RTM meeting and provided his opinion that the proposed ordinance, as written, was problematic. He was unable to testify in support of the petitioners’ defective ordinance. He noted that, under the law, there is something called the preemption doctrine, which means that any state law would preempt a town ordinance that contradicts it.  So, for instance, if the state legalizes marijuana, there is nothing Westport can do to make it illegal.

However, if the state statute expressly permits towns to decide how many retail stores for marijuana there should be or whether there should be any at all, then towns such as Westport would be empowered and permitted to limit or prohibit retail sales.

Moreover, there is typically a period of time between when a state statute is passed, and when it becomes enacted and has the force of law.  With respect to the legalization of marijuana, in Connecticut, it is anticipated that there will be an 18-month to 2-year interregnum between passage and enactment.  This will give Westport plenty of time to evaluate what the new law says, and how Westport can protect itself with the right kind of ordinance.

Passing such an ordinance now, however, is a bit like shadow boxing; we really have nothing to swing at and hit, as the legislation we are trying to address has not been passed yet.

Moreover, given that we will be afforded abundant time to address retail sales in the event the decriminalization statute is passed, before it becomes enacted into law, it makes no sense to swing in the blind now.  We have insufficient details about what the eventual decriminalization legislation would say, and/or whether it will even pass.  Therefore, any attempt to pass legislation in such a knowledge vacuum would result in a potentially deeply flawed and inaccurate ordinance.

That is not how responsible RTM legislators should proceed.

An ordinance is a law, so it must be legally viable. Some RTMers who voted for this ordinance said they recognized that it would be completely ineffective, but thought it would be “symbolic.”

Legislators who take their role seriously cannot pass legislation that they know to be ineffective and unenforceable, simply because it “feels good.” Symbolic votes are preserved for “sense of the meeting” votes; they should not be used for legislation.

At the hearing, the petitioners also acknowledged their proposed ordinance was flawed when they realized it accidentally outlawed a derivative substance, CBD, that is perfectly legal.

Additionally, the ordinance had what many perceived to be due process problems.  Instead of permitting the police to issue a citation for a violation and then a hearing with all afforded due process rights in court, the proposal politicized the process, permitting a politically elected official, the first selectman, to appoint a hearing officer – even a biased one — to be the judge and jury.

The “officer” would not have to have any legal background or expertise or even personal qualifications, would not have to follow the Connecticut Rules of Evidence or Civil Procedure, would not be required to be objective and unbiased, and the ordinance provided no means to seek recusal for bias or conflict of interest, etc.

Westporters believe in due process rights, and in protecting the legal rights of all, including the falsely accused, as well as the properly accused. This weakness in the petitioners’ proposed ordinance needs to be changed to permit the accused to have any violation citation to be initially heard in court, given the serious reputational and career harm to be had from such a citation for narcotics sales.

As a result of these shortcomings, the RTM did not pass this ordinance last week. However, with the right ordinance — without so many legal and due process flaws – brought forth when and if the state actually passes the decriminalization statute, the RTM may then (more appropriately) revisit this issue.

Many of the 18 members who voted against this particular ordinance are not opposed to a ban on retail sales of recreational marijuana in Westport, but recognized that, as our town attorney explained, this poorly constructed ordinance would not be legally viable.

Westport has already restricted the sale of marijuana.  The town’s Planning & Zoning Commission put in place strict zoning regulations that allow only the sale of medical marijuana in specific places. This highly proscriptive zoning restriction does not allow for recreational sales at these places. Despite scare tactics to the contrary, there is no mechanism for the approved medical facilities to suddenly become recreational facilities if the state were to permit the sale of recreational usage.

Whether you are for or opposed to the statewide legalization of recreational marijuana, you can rest assured that we RTMers will fight hard to ensure that we have a say as to whether it is something that we want here in Westport.

Once the statewide legal status is sorted out, the RTM will consider a better-crafted ordinance. For the time being, however, we must all remember that recreational marijuana is still illegal here and in all of Connecticut. Scare tactics aside, there is zero doubt that, should that legal status change in the future, Westport will have more than ample time to pass any necessary, legally permissible, local legislation.

Seth Braunstein
Andrew Collabella
Arline Gertzoff
Wendy Goldwyn Batteau
Kristan Hamlin
Richard Jaffe
Amy Kaplan
Nicole Klein
Ellen Lautenberg
Sal Liccione
Matthew Mandell
Carla Rea
Lauren Soloff
Cathy Talmadge

Danielle Dobin: Middle School Views Posted Today Are My Own

Today’s post on Westport’s middle schools generated plenty of comments. The author of the piece — Danielle Dobin — writes:

I wrote this opinion piece. It represents my personal views, not those of the Planning & Zoning Chairman, or any other Planning & Zoning commissioners or P&Z department staff.

The October 22 session will be a meeting of the PZC’s Plan of Conservation & Development High Level Review Subcommittee, to hear public comment regarding Chapter 14: Address Community Facility Needs. Click here to find the 2017 Plan of Conservation & Development.