Category Archives: People

Mystic Market Meets The Community

I love writing stories that welcome new businesses to Westport.

They’re often about the owners: their backgrounds, what got them here, the challenges they’ve faced — that sort of thing.

I don’t usually profile store managers.

But I also don’t usually find a manager with a back story like Dave Griswold’s.

The man who runs Mystic Market — Saugatuck’s new kitchen/eatery that’s earning raves in the old Blu Parrot/Jasmine/Arrow space — grew up in a military family. He went to 10 schools, before graduating from a fine arts academy.

Then he trained in ballet, and did a conservator with the American Ballet Theatre. He danced with Alice Cooper, and at Madison Square Garden for the New York Liberty.

David Griswold: ballet dancer …

After that, came … the US Army.

Griswold was a diesel mechanic in Afghanistan and Kuwait. He was also in charge of morale-building, getting soldiers out of their barracks to mix and mingle. During the service he finished his degree in business management.

… and service member.

All of those experiences — arts, problem solving, team building — serve him well as he helps develop Westport’s next favorite spot.

Griswold moved to Saugatuck last March, as Mystic Market prepared its new space. He commuted to their Old Saybrook store for months. Finally — with the local store open — he can enjoy his new home town.

One of the things he likes best is the “thriving arts culture.” He wants Mystic Market to be part of it too.

They’re donating to the Artists Collective of Westport‘s May 4 studio tour. He bought 5 tickets for his team to the April 27 “Gatsby Return” party at Longshore’s Pearl restaurant.

David Griswold (center) and his Mystic Market team.

Mystic Market’s leadership team will also be out in force on Earth Day, cleaning up the neighborhood.

“We all want to be part of the community,” Griswold says. “We want to be hands-on, giving back just as much as we want people to discover us, and be here for us.”

He also wants Mystic Market to be “the first great job for teenagers.” There’s nothing better, he says, than for students to learn the values of work, in an open, inviting space like his.

Griswold doesn’t know it, but his store’s ancestor — the Arrow restaurant — did exactly that, for generations of long-ago kids.

The iconic spot in the heart of Saugatuck pulses with new, 21st-century life. Westporters — old and young, natives and newcomers alike — should be thrilled.

 

Mark Groth’s Amazing “Budy” Story

If you saw “Curtains” last month — or any other Staples Players production over the past 6 decades — you were awed by the acting, dancing, sets and lighting.

But back in the day, Staples Stage and Technical Staff was separate from Players’ actors. SSTS had their own director, officers, traditions — even their own t-shirts.

Mark Groth was a proud SSTS member. He was president in 1968, the culmination of a 3-year career in which he helped construct a set with moving turntables, another that jutted out into the audience, and multimedia projectors for the original show “War and Pieces,” which ended being part of a cultural exchange program with the USSR.

Staples Stage and Technical Staff member Al Frank working backstage, from the 1967 yearbook.

Groth had 2 wonderful mentors at Staples. Both were faculty directors of SSTS.

Steve Gilbert was “brilliant,” Groth says. “He led us places we’d never even thought of. He let us come up with ideas, and do lighting, sound and staging that was way beyond high school.”

When Gilbert was on sabbatical, Don Budy took over. He was a Staples art teacher — his first job after graduating from college in his native Colorado. He was quieter than Gilbert, but equally as talented and inspirational.

Groth learned well. He and fellow SSTS member Steve Katz did all the lighting for the legendary concerts — the Doors, Cream, Yardbirds, Animals — on the Staples stage.

Don Budy (1967 Staples High School yearbook photo)

Gilbert and Budy’s influences were profound. Groth headed to Rockford College in Illinois — attracted primarily by their state-of-their-art, $12 million theater.

He majored in technical theater (and in New York one Thanksgiving break, did the lights for a Hell’s Angels-sponsored Grateful Dead concert).

Groth spent 3 1/2 years with the Army’s 101st Airborne, and the next 40 at the University of Colorado School of Medicine’s department of psychiatry. Groth videotaped residents’ sessions through a one-way mirror, as part of their training. It was a fascinating career.

Meanwhile, when his son was in high school Groth attended their production of “West Side Story.”

“It was terrible,” he says. He offered to help the director.

For the next 10 years, he volunteered for 20 shows. Then, after he protested the administration’s censorship of one play, he was told the school’s drama program was “going in another direction.”

A month later, Kella Manfredi — whom Groth had worked with 10 years earlier — called. With a master’s in theater education, she was now the theater director at Bear Creek High School in Englewood. Would he be interested in helping?

Sure! So, for the past 10 years, Groth has worked with a high school theater program that sounds like “the Staples Players of Colorado.” They’ve done “Cabaret,” “26 Pebbles” (about the Sandy Hook massacre), and just closed “Be More Chill” (they got the license when it was still off-Broadway).

The great set for Bear Creek High School’s production of “Grease.”

Which brings us back to SSTS.

Thirty years ago, Groth’s grade-school daughter performed in a concert at Cherry Creek High School. As he set up his tripod to videotape, a staff member came over.

They looked at each other.

“Mark Groth?!” the man said.

“Don Budy?!” Groth replied.

They rekindled their friendship. Budy — now a professional sculptor, in addition to working with Cherry Creek — comes to as many of Groth’s shows as he can.

He was there a few days ago, at “Be More Chill.” More than 50 years after they first met, Budy still supports his old student.

Don Budy (left) and Mark Groth, after Bear Creek High School’s “Be More Chill.”

Groth enjoyed his academic job, and loves working with high school students. He started with a professional-type troupe at Staples, and he’s with a similar one now in Colorado.

There’s only one difference. At Bear Creek, his tech crew remains separate from the actors.

“We’re like Ninjas,” Groth says proudly. “I tell them: ‘Be swift. Be silent. Be invisible.'”

And — as Steve Gilbert and Don Budy taught Mark Groth all those years ago: Be great.

 

Downtown Business Challenges Kids: Earn Money, Get Free Jerky

As a kid, Matt Levey earned money mowing lawns, shoveling snow and working lemonade stands.

Those experiences served him well. Today he owns Field Trip. That’s the red-hot producer of healthy, protein-rich jerky, in flavors ranging from beef, chicken, turkey and pork to jalapeño, cracked pepper and everything bagel.

They’re in 50,000 retail outlets nationwide. Field Trip is served on Jet Blue and United Airlines.

They’ve got only one store, though. It’s connected to their world headquarters on Post Road East — right across from Design Within Reach.

The Field Trip counter: fun, and filled with great-tasting products.

Levey would love to see kids in his home town — future entrepreneurs, who will create the next Field Trip (though hopefully not in the jerky industry) — put down their phones and video games, go out and earn money.

Anyone can do it. So he’s offering everyone an incentive.

If you’re still in school, and you make money doing something, head down to Field Trip. Matt will give you a “buy one, get one” deal on anything in the store.

This coming week — school vacation — is a perfect time to do it.

Just show proof of what you’ve done with a photo on (uh oh) a cell phone.

(Field Trip is at 153 Post Road East, Westport.)

This photo was not taken in Westport.

Charlie Capalbo: An Inspiring Update

For 2 years, “06880” readers have followed the saga of Charlie Capalbo. The Fairfield Ludlowe High School senior and star hockey goalie — grandson of Westport writer Ina Chadwick and Westport native Richard Epstein; son of Staples grad Jennifer Wilde Capalbo — has battled 2 separate cancers. It’s an astonishing, inspiring story. Click here to read last month’s update.

Charlie is now strong enough to respond. He sure inherited his grandmother’s writing gene. He says:

Hi friends! Finally I am feeling well enough to post an update on my own.

Two and a half weeks ago we moved from Boston Children’s Hospital to Spaulding Rehab Hospital in Charlestown. It was hard to say goodbye to all of my nurses, doctors and other care providers, but it was exciting to move to the next step in recovery.

Many of you probably saw the video of me walking out of my transplant isolation room at BCH through the bubble parade in the hallway to transfer to Spaulding. I worked really hard with my PT and OT providers at BCH for months to be able to walk that stretch.

My room at Spaulding is unreal. It has amazing views of Boston Harbor, which makes getting up early for 3 hours of therapy sessions a little easier.

Charlie Capalbo with rehab specialists at Spaulding Hospital.

On my first day here I was asked at least 5 times what my goals are. The first time I said I just wanted to be able to walk again. But as I said it I knew I wanted more. So I said “to get back to being a normal person, like my regular life.” I want to get back on the ice. I want to go back to school. I want to do everything I used to do, and I’m determined to get there as quickly and safely as possible.

My appetite is coming back. My feeding tube was pulled last week. I enjoy eating regular food again, and my doctors are working with Spaulding to wean my painkillers and many of my other meds (there are some I’ll need to stay on for a while).

In the few weeks that I’ve been at Spaulding I’ve already switched from a walker to a quad cane, to a smaller footprint quad cane, to a single point cane, and now I can walk mostly without a cane. My PT and OT therapists provide a rigorous daily schedule of workouts for me. My parents and everyone here are blown away by how much progress I’ve made. They’ve done such a good job that we’ve agreed on a discharge date of April 16 — much sooner than expected!

When Charlie Capalbo walked for the first time, hockey sticks banged throughout the isolation unit. Check out the Boston Bruins balloon too.

When I get home I’ll be in outpatient PT so I can keep getting stronger and closer to meeting my goals. I’ll also come to Boston every Thursday (the Jimmy Fund Clinic at Dana Farber) for checkups. I’ve already been there twice since moving to Spaulding and my counts have been great – thank you Will! (Charlie’s brother Will was a match for a bone marrow transplant.)

I’ve enjoyed seeing friends and family while here at rehab. I was especially honored to have had a very special visitor. The legendary Jack Parker (and his super nice wife Jackie) came to see me! Jack is the former Boston University men’s ice hockey coach. He spent 48 years at BU as a player, assistant coach and then head coach (for 40 years), and is an incredible man.

I’ve been really lucky to see visitors while here. I’m only able to because I’m still in a hospital setting, but once I go home I’ll have to be in protective isolation for a few months. This means that nobody can come into our house except for me, Will, my mom and dad. I’m also not allowed to go to any indoor public places or other private homes. I can visit with people outdoors, so I can see friends on our patio for the summer. I’m also allowed to go to a restaurant with outdoor tables, so I’m hoping we have a lot of good weather coming for spring and summer!

Will and Charlie Capalbo, post-transplant.

I’ll be on a strict post-transplant diet for about a year, which means that I have to be really careful of what I eat or drink to avoid infection, so please don’t be offended if I can’t eat something you share with me!

Yesterday my parents left me alone (not exactly alone — there were plenty of nurses and doctors around) for the day for the first time since October. They watched Will receive an Inspiration Award at the All-State hockey banquet. I really wish I could have been there in person, but I’m so happy they honored him with the award. I’m also glad to have a video of him receiving it. I’m so proud of my brother!

Thank you to everyone who supports us. You know who you are. We couldn’t have gotten through the last six months (really the last 2 years) without you guys! I can’t wait to be back to a normal life so I can pay it forward.

And an extra shout-out to our friends and family members who are always here for us…the kind who show up for whatever we need, including taking time off from work and driving for hours in Friday rush hour traffic to another state just to attend a 6-minute send off bubble parade! — with Jennifer Wilde Capalbo and 2 others at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.

Charlie and his mother, Jennifer Wilde Capalbo.

Westport Means Business

The event was called “Westport Means Business.”

But the crowd that packed the Westport Country Playhouse barn Tuesday night enjoyed plenty of laughs — plus wine and food — as 4 women described the many highs and few lows of owning a local business.

They ranged in age from 30s to 50s. They’ve been in operation from 20 years to just 1. Yet the quartet share joy in what they do, gratitude for the opportunity to do it — and a firm belief that Westport is a great place to pursue their dreams.

Second selectman Jennifer Tooker’s shirt motto — “Be Bold” — set the tone for the evening.

The evening was sponsored by the Westport Library, with support from the town. Second selectman Jennifer Tooker moderated, with ease and grace.

Julie Fountain and Dana Noorily — founders of The Granola Bar — are rock stars on the entrepreneurial scene. In 6 years they’ve gone from making desserts in their kitchens to owning 6 restaurants, here and in Westchester.

Interrupting each other, finishing their partner’s sentences and laughing often, the pair talked candidly about the challenges women face, from banks to stereotypes. They even pulled the plug once before they started, then forged ahead after Dana’s husband encouraged them to follow their dream.

When a mentor suggested that their planned granola manufacturing facility include something in the “front of the house,” they did not know the term.

Today they do. Proof of their success came a couple of weeks after they opened their first restaurant. It was filled with people they didn’t recognize. Their friends and family had supported them along the way — but now they had real customers.

Julie and Dana are proud to be setting an example for their young children, as “stay around” — rather than “stay at home” — moms. As they grow their business, there will be more obstacles — family and professional — to overcome. But they’re confident, excited, and proud that their journey began in their home town.

Jamie Camche has owned JL Rocks for 3 times as long: 18 years. Opening a jewelry store was a leap of faith. But her husband has supported her. She’s developed a strong and loyal clientele.

She noted the importance of having local ties too. Jamie was on a buying trip in Europe last September, when heavy rains flooded her Post Road East store.

Thankfully her landlord Mike Greenberg was there, hoisting buckets and bailing her out. He was at the Playhouse barn on Tuesday as well, supporting Jamie.

Participants in the “Westport Means Business” event included (from left) Kitt Shapiro (West), Jamie Camche (JL Rocks), 2nd selectman Jennifer Tooker, and Dana Noorily and Julie Mountain (Granola Bar).

Kitt Shapiro is 57. Yet she calls herself “the new kid on the block.” She’s owned West — the cool Post Road East clothing store — for only a year.

She’s been a 20-year resident of Westport, though. Those ties propelled her “leap of faith” into something she’d never done before.

“I feel so committed to this town, to small businesses, to being part of the tapestry of the community,” Kitt explained. “It’s my home.

West is just around the corner from Main Street, on Post Road East.

“We all know retail has changed,” she added. “But I truly believe local retailers are not going away. People want to touch, see and feel merchandise. They want to interact with other human beings. They’ll seek out people who are kind and smile.”

When Tooker asked for questions, an audience member wondered why none of the 4 businesses were on Main Street.

“We can’t afford it,” Julie said. “But we can’t afford a lot of Main Streets.”

“A town is more than Main Street,” Kitt added.

Third selectman Melissa Kane agreed. Getting the word out about options beyond that small, chain-dominated stretch of downtown is important to retailers and town officials alike, she said.

“We have not done a great job of that,” she admitted. “We need a professional initiative.” Kane said the town is working with a national wayfaring firm, developing signage and strategies to help residents as well as visitors realize the wealth of small, local businesses surrounding Main Street — and where to park, and walk to find them.

Julie praised Westport officials from departments like Fire and Health, for making life easy for entrepreneurs. Westport is the easiest to work with, of their 6 locations (Westchester is the toughest).

“The first health inspection could have been the scariest experience of our life. It wasn’t,” she said.

In her opening remarks Tooker noted that the town, library, Westport Downtown Merchants Association and Chamber of Commerce are all spreading the news: Westport is a great place to live, raise a family — and grow and launch a business.

Or, as Julie Mountain, Dana Noorily, Jamie Camche and Kitt Shapiro reiterated: Westport is open for — and to — business.

 

The Men On The Moon: Basil Hero’s Heroes

Only 24 men have traveled to the moon. Just half are still alive.

Their experiences have been told often, in movies and books like “The Right Stuff” and “Apollo 13.”

We know nearly everything about their missions: the risks, the challenges, the triumphs.

But we know little about the astronauts themselves. And even less about how their space experiences changed them, as human beings.

Until now.

Westporter Basil Hero’s new book The Mission of a Lifetime: Lessons From the Men Who Went to the Moon is the first time this elite group of men reveals their inner selves.

They talk about courage, leadership, patriotism. And also spirituality, God, earth, and the entire universe.

It’s a remarkable book. It’s remarkable too that no one has heard these legends — men like Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, Bill Anders — speak so eloquently about these ideas before.

Why not?

“No one asked,” Hero — the marvelously named author — replies. For half a century, journalists have focused on the technical aspects of space flight.

But ever since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon — when the New York Times published a special section with quotes from world leaders about how that event would change man’s relationship with the cosmos — Hero has been fascinated by what he calls “the bigger story”: what it means, deep in one’s soul, to walk on or orbit the moon.

Buzz Aldrin, on the lunar surface.

Though it’s a vast distance from the earth to the moon, Hero’s long-lived idea got a boost from nearby: his next door neighbor.

Bill Burrows is a noted aviation writer and Pulitzer Prize nominee, for publications like the Times and Wall Street Journal. He does not know any Apollo astronauts personally. But he mentioned the idea to former space shuttle astronaut Tom Jones, who helped Hero send an email blast to his Apollo colleagues.

Bill Anders was the first to respond. On December 24, 1968 he took the astonishing “Earthrise” shot. It’s been called “the most influential environmental photograph ever.”

Anders was intrigued. He invited Hero to his Anacortes, Washington home.

Bill Anders in front of his P-51 Mustang, last year. At 86, he still flies his own plane — at least an hour a day. Frank Borman — now 91 — flies his own vintage plane too.

The visit went well. Anders was so impressed with Hero’s approach and questions, he called his fellow Apollo 8 astronaut Frank Borman. Retired now after stints as White House liaison during the lunar landing and CEO of Eastern Airlines, he told Hero to come see him in Billings, Montana.

That interview went well too. So Borman called Jim Lovell, the 3rd Apollo 8 astronaut, commander of ill-fated Apollo 13, and the first of only 3 men to reach the moon twice.

Lovell gave Hero one of the most astonishing insights in a book filled with them. “We don’t go to heaven when we die,” he thought to himself while orbiting the moon. “We go to heaven when we’re born.”

Jim Lovell and his wife Marilyn.

As one astronaut recommended Hero to another, the project took shape.  The author understands how important those personal contacts were.

“These guys get a lot of requests,” he says. “Some of them are in their 90s. They were tired of talking about their missions. They liked the intellectual approach I took.”

Each man asked Hero what he wanted to do that had not been done before. He told them, “I want ‘The Right Stuff 2.0’ — their story from the philosophical, spiritual side.

“They loved that. It’s a function of their age. Soon, the men who walked on the moon will be walking into the history books.”

During their careers, the astronauts had been happy to follow NASA’s directive to not talk much about Big Ideas.

“They didn’t want to appear too ‘intellectual,'” Hero says.

But, he says, “they are very deep thinkers. That separated them out during the selection process, even if no one realized it at the time.”

Hero says that the astronauts take the idea of “the common good” — duty, honor, country — very seriously. “That can sound quaint and outdated — like the ancient Greeks and Romans,” he notes.

But, Hero continues, “once they were in space, and saw the earth from the moon, they saw ‘the common good’ pertaining not just to country, but to humanity, and the planet. They came back to earth as humanitarian citizens.”

Bill Anders’ “Earthrise” photo — taken on Christmas Eve, 1968 — helped human beings see their planet in an entirely new light.

There was a lot they never said — at the time.

Anders’ Catholic priest was at Cape Canaveral when Apollo 8 blasted off for the moon. Six days later, he returned to earth an agnostic.

Hero paraphrases the astronaut’s epiphany: “To think that God sits up there with a supercomputer is bunk.”

On the other hand, Jim Irwin — the lunar module pilot for Apollo 15 — “found Jesus while walking on the moon,” Hero says.

Over and over, the astronauts talked to the author about their belief in “someone — or something — greater than oneself. These are very deep thinkers.”

The deepest of all, Hero says, was a man he never got to interview: Neil Armstrong. The first man to walk on the moon died in 2012.

Basil Hero

Hero is inspired by the Apollo astronauts. He always knew they were physically brave. But what comes through just as strongly in The Mission of a Lifetime is their moral courage.

Hero’s book should be read by everyone. He is particularly hopeful that it becomes a staple for high school and college students. He wants them to learn about the notion of “the common good.”

Reviews have been excellent. Amazon picked it as a Book of the Month. The Wall Street Journal ran an excerpt. Jane Pauley wants to interview him.

The timing is perfect. July marks the 50th anniversary of Armstrong’s one giant leap for mankind.

And after half a century — thanks to Basil Hero — the real story of the Apollo space program has finally been told.

Hiawatha Lane: 150 Years Of History

This Thursday (April 11, 7 p.m., Town Hall), the Planning & Zoning Commission holds another hearing on the long-running, often-amended, quite-controversial proposal to build a 5-building, 187-unit housing complex on Hiawatha Lane. The application is made as an 8-30g, meaning some of the units will be “affordable,” as defined by state regulations.

But the road — wedged between I-95 Exit 17 and the railroad tracks — has long been where owners and renters find some of Westport’s least expensive prices.

Homes on Hiawatha Lane.

Hiawatha Lane has a very intriguing history. Here’s a look at how the neighborhood developed — and a little-known fact about its deeds.

In the late 1800s, train tracks for the New York, New Haven & Hartford Rail Road tracks sliced through what today would be considered prime property.

Laying those tracks was a back-breaking effort. The physical power was provided by thousands of men, who immigrated to America from all parts of Italy.

When their work was done, some of those laborers settled close to the tracks in Saugatuck. They built a tight-knit community — as well as churches, stores, a vital small business economy, and their own homes. Some still remain.

Families with names like Vento, Stroffolino, Cribari, Nistico, Anastasia, Luciano, Sarno, Caruso, Fabbraio, Pascarella, Penna, Giunta, Valiante — and many more — settled in Saugatuck, and helped it grow.

They built all of Westport, as barbers, stone masons, restaurateurs, store owners, carpenters, police officers, firefighters, town employees, lawyers, teachers, and in many other professions.

In the 1920s — when Italian immigrants made Saugatuck a thriving community — Esposito’s gas station stood on Charles Street. Today it’s Tarry Lodge.

Three and four generations later, many of their namesakes still live in Saugatuck, or elsewhere in town.

In the mid-1950s, another transportation revolution plowed through town: I-95 (known then as the Connecticut Turnpike).

Many of the same families who had forged the railway built the new highway system. It was a source of national pride — but also a massive disruption to the lives of those living in its path.

Churches, stores, meeting places, roads and many homes were demolished.  Westport’s Italian community was bisected. Roads like Indian Hill and Hiawatha Lane were cut in half by the highway. Longtime neighbors were suddenly displaced.

I-95 under construction. The photo — looking east — shows the toll booth near Exit 17, with Hiawatha Lane on the right. The Saugatuck River bridge is in the distance.

But some Westport philanthropists saw what was happening. The area between the rail tracks and I-95 — today known as Hiawatha Lane and Extension, Davenport Avenue and Indian Hill Road — was subdivided into parcels. They were then deeded to many of the displaced Saugatuck families, for as little as $1.

Julia Bradley deeded most of those properties, which still stand today. The Bradley family put a specific restriction on each deed. It stated that each house should remain in perpetuity, as one single-family house on each plot.

Ever since, the neighborhood has remained a unique place, providing affordable, low-cost home ownership.

Of the 187 units proposed by Summit Saugatuck LLC, only 30 percent are deemed “affordable” by state Department of Housing standards. They will be small 1- and 2-bedroom rentals — replacing the homes that are there today.

Sixty years after the turnpike came through, many longtime families and close neighbors who have lived next to it may again be displaced.

Anthony Buono Named Acting Schools Superintendent

Anthony Buono

Anthony Buono — Westport’s assistant superintendent of schools — will serve as acting superintendent, Board of Education chair Mark Mathias said tonight.

Colleen Palmer will be on medical leave until August 1, the Westport News reports. That’s when her retirement — announced last month — officially begins.

Buono came to Westport last July from Branford, where he was associate superintendent of schools.

Leslie Orofino Shines

What do Lady Gaga, Peggy Lee and Leslie Orofino have in common?

All are tremendously talented, very fierce women.

And on April 12 and 26 actress/singer Leslie brings her show “Shine” to BJ Ryan’s Magnolia Room in Norwalk, highlighting the music and lives of Lady and Peggy.

As well as 2 other fabulous entertainers, Alberta Hunter and Dorothy Fields.

Leslie Orofino

The 4 women had very different styles. Leslie romps through them all: Broadway, blues, jazz, contemporary. You name it, she sings it.

“Shine” was inspired by Leslie’s mother, Mary McGuire. She recently died — after 96 wonderful years — but always told Leslie and her 3 siblings: “When things get tough … women get stronger!”

And how. In World War II, Leslie’s father spent months as a German prisoner. Mary wrote to him — every day. When he finally came home, they enjoyed 60 years of love.

Leslie is drawn to these remarkable women’s lives and music because they too overcame major obstacles. Lady Gaga faced mental illness; Peggy Lee, physical and mental abuse; Alberta Hunter, racism, and Dorothy Fields, Broadway sexism.

All found strength. All became stars who shined.

On April 12 and 26, Leslie Orofino shines her brilliant light on them.

(Click here for tickets and more information.)

[OPINION] Historic Importance Of South Morningside Is Huge

Between the ospreys and education issues, Westporters’ attention has recently been diverted from the long-running saga of Morningside Drive South. But the Historic District Commission meets Tuesday (Town Hall, 7 p.m.) to discuss a planned development there. “06880” reader Aurea de Souza writes:

Before Walter and Naiad Einsel bought their home and studio, 26 Morningside Drive South was the home of  Charles B. Sherwood. Yes, that’s the same Sherwood family remembered today through Sherwood Island State Park, the Sherwood Island Connector, even Sherwood Diner!

Charles B. Sherwood was given 7 acres of land by his father Walter in 1853.  That same year, he built his house. It was sold in 1864 to John B. Elwood, who owned it until 1920. The Einsels bought it in 1965, after vacationing in Westport for 4 years.

In 2005 the Einsels received a Preservation Award for their home. In 2007 their home and property were designated a Local Historic District.

The Einsels’ house on South Morningside Drive.

Anne Hamonet and her husband Alberto bought what used to be the barn of the Sherwood property in 2002. They have since restored it, respecting its historic value. Today their home is a Greens Farms sanctuary, cherished by the neighborhood.

The Hamonets raise chickens that run freely through the property. Anne brings fresh cage-free organic eggs to everyone at our neighborhood meetings. They also keep horses on the property. It’s almost like a movie set.

Because of the Hamonets, we all enjoy rooster and chicken noises, horses that can be seen from the street, and the beautifully restored barn.

This is what their bucolic backyard looks like today, right next to the proposed development.

This is an approximation of what it will be when the southwest block of the 16 3-bedroom, 32.5-foot high condos is built, just 15 feet from their fence.

The historic importance of 20-26 Morningside Drive south is huge for Westport.  It is about to be destroyed by a developer who purchased property in a historic district. He was well aware of the limitations, but is taking advantage of the 8-30g “affordable housing” statute which can take precedence over historic districts and flooding issues.

The homes will be built on top of wetland setbacks on already flood-prone Muddy Brook – which this week caused the collapse of Hillandale Road bridge.

There is also a safety issue. Westport requires a 400-foot distance from a school driveway for any driveway cutout. Plans for this development shows their driveway directly across from Greens Farms Elementary School.

The developer has presented drawings of the individual groups of homes, but at the Architecture Review Board hearing on March 26, failed to present any documentation on how it will look as a whole.

A Greens Farms United member who is an architect put all of their documentation together in a rough section of what it will actually look like (These do not account for any land modifications; it is simply an illustration of what has been made public).

The house in yellow is the current home, which the developer plans to transport to a new location much closer to the road.

Westport currently enjoys a 4-year moratorium on 8-30g developments, having met the state requirements. This proposal was submitted before the moratorium took effect.