Category Archives: Places

Drivers Beware: Newtown Turnpike Bridge Work Begins Soon

In 2016, the state Department of Transportation warned of an urgent need to fix the Newtown Turnpike Merritt Parkway bridge.

Deterioration could lead to capstone and fascia falling hazards, an engineer said.

Three years later, those urgent repairs begin.

The Merritt Parkway Newtown Turnpike bridge. (Photo/Jonathan McClure)

Beginning “on or about June 24,” Newtown Turnpike will be closed between Wilton Road and Crawford Road.

Drivers coming from the south (Norwalk) will be detoured to Cranbury Road, Chestnut Hill Road and Wilton Road. They’ll connect back to Newtown Turnpike north of the Merritt.

Drivers coming from the north will do the reverse, getting back on Newtown Turnpike south of the parkway.

Work is expected to be completed by August 27.

It’s a pain, sure. But so is getting conked on the roof by falling debris.

And it’s better than Greenwich. A similar project there — work on the Lake Avenue Merritt Parkway bridge — will result in a detour of 8 1/2 miles.

Through October.

[OPINION] Good News — And Not So Good — At Baron’s South

Alert “06880” reader, historian and preservation advocate Morley Boyd writes:

In April, I raised environmental and safety concerns about the appearance of a large pile of fill at Baron’s South. The mysterious mound, estimated at roughly 5,500 yards, was discovered in what had once been a meadow dotted with mature trees.

Upon closer inspection I noticed that material in the mound included asphalt, jagged shards of metal, tires, pieces of what appeared to be asbestos cement pipe, plastic containers and the shattered remains of a toilet.

Earlier this spring, Morley Boyd photographed debris in the fill behind the Senior Center.

While erosion prevention netting had been placed across one side of the mound, gullies had formed anyway, and the entire top was exposed. Runoff was visibly headed to drains connected to nearby Deadman’s Brook, a tributary of the Saugatuck River.

Runoff from the fill heads toward Deadman’s Brook.

After learning that the fill had been excavated from a nearby construction site associated with the now completed Senior Center expansion project, I wondered what else might be in the fill. Had it been tested? And why was it there in the first place?

First, I reached out to those whose homes abut the park to see what they knew. After learning the homeowners had been told by the Senior Center project manager that the giant mound was permanent, I made private inquiries about the fill with town officials.

The site of the fill (just south of the Senior Center) is shown by a red arrow (bottom) in this Google aerial image.

When that inquiry went unanswered, the story appeared on “06880.” Shortly thereafter, in reaction to public outcry, the town retained the services of Steve Edwards, recently retired director of public works. He was charged with having the fill professionally tested for the presence of toxic substances.

My concerns proved valid. The recently released toxicology report indicates that the material contains DDT, traces of petroleum byproducts, and a level of arsenic that exceeds state standards for human exposure.

Because of the toxicology report and public pressure, the town has now agreed to remove all of contaminated fill (ideally within the next few months, according to the current director of public works), and restore the meadow to its previous condition.

Morley Boyd says that 6 feet of fill was dumped into the meadow near the Senior Center. (Photo/Morley Boyd)

At Tuesday’s Board of Selectmen meeting, town officials said the tree warden has prepared a replanting plan for the site, including new trees.

In the meantime, residents hope that the toxic pile, which remains fully exposed in the midst of a public park, will be cordoned off to safeguard the health and safety of visitors.

On the whole, this is good news. The town deserves credit for taking responsibility. Still, a number of unanswered questions remain — notably, why did this happen?

The approved site plan for the construction project did not permit the area in question to be disturbed, and the project’s contract included a specific line item for hauling away any excess fill.

Further, many question the wisdom of the town’s proposed plan for reusing the contaminated fill: a parking lot project at the Greens Farms railroad station.

Although the toxicology report — consistent with state guidelines — recommends that the contaminated fill be buried beneath several feet of clean fill if it is to be moved and reused, there is an apparent regulatory conflict.

While state standards for the use of fill are more relaxed, Westport’s are quite stringent. They specifically do not allow the use of fill containing “petroleum based products or materials.”

Since the Baron’s South fill has been shown to contain — in addition to other toxins — chunks of asphalt, it remains unclear how the town can use the fill at the Greens Farms train station and also comply with its own regulations.

If there is any doubt as to whether or not this contaminated fill can be safely remediated for reuse in a public space, wouldn’t the wisest solution be to just dispose of it at a proper facility?

Whatever ultimately happens to the toxic fill, the good news is that a quiet corner of Westport’s “Central Park” will soon return to its natural state. And that’s in large part due to the vigilance and concern of the “06880” community.

Minuteman, Spare That Tree!

It’s one of Westport’s most iconic views: The Minute Man monument.

Yet just as impressive as the 1910 statue is the magnificent red oak tree behind, at the corner of  South Compo and Compo Beach Read. It frames every photo. It adds permanence to that historic spot. It’s as beautiful as New England gets.

The tree stands on town-owned property — long a buffer against development. But that doesn’t mean it’s safe from private property harm. Part of the tree makes contact with private property, so ownership is considered “shared.”

The Minute Man Monument, with the magnificent red oak behind

Spec builders — Simple Plan One LLC — hope to develop a home at 280 Compo Road South. The project is moving through various town departments.

The plan does not include removal of the tree. But it could very likely cause the tree to die within a couple of years due to nearby root cutting and root compaction, along with changes to the topography after regrading.

A major threat to the tree is the proposed moving of a WPA-era drainpipe (which has a permanent easement), to make room for the new house. The developer has asked permission to redirect the pipe, expanding the building envelope — thus allowing a significantly larger home to rise on the site.

Moving the pipe appears to run a very real risk of damaging the red oak’s root system.

The tree would not die immediately, if damaged. Its demise could take a year or two.

But it would sure not last the 800 years or so that similar trees, in robust, healthy condition, could live for.

This one is more than 100 years old. It’s still a child.

The Minute Man Monument, around the time of the 1910 dedication. The very young tree can be seen in the background.

Another worry involves construction of a new driveway across the town-owned property onto Compo Beach Road. That would provide a 2nd driveway, in addition to the one the property has long had on South Compo.

(The driveway is now at the easternmost edge of the property — down the road, away from the Minute Man. The new driveway on South Compo would be closer to the monument.)

Neighbors worry that the 2nd driveway, with parking and a garage — passing over town-owned property — also runs a very real risk of encroaching on, and damaging, the tree’s roots.

The reason for the garage there? It’s to insulate the living areas of the home from traffic noise on Compo Beach Road.

One more view.

According to tree warden Bruce Lindsay, the “stately red oak … is in excellent health.” He hopes that it “is not harmed, (and that) proper tree protection systems are put into place to maintain the tree’s health and structure outside the Critical Root Zone, (and) beyond the scope of the work.”

The Flood and Erosion Control Board approved the project on May 1. Since then, it appears that a number of changes have been made to the plans. The tree was not part of that board’s discussion, as it was not a known issue at the time.

The Conservation Commission met on May 15. They held the matter open until a special meeting — set for June 10 — to allow neighbors’ consultants time to review the proposal. Click here for a video of the commission’s May meeting.

The developer hopes to get on the Planning & Zoning Commission agenda this month or next.

Will officials permit the taking of town property for an additional entrance? Will they green-light proposed work that runs a substantial risk of harming a historic, stately town-owned tree?

All of this does not even touch the question of what new, large construction would mean to the streetscape view of the Minute Man Monument, at that iconic corner.

Stay tuned.

The Minute Man himself may not be able to fight.

But concerned Westporters can.

Friday Flashback #141

Generations of Westporters have swum in, skated on or otherwise enjoyed Nash’s Pond.

The “modern” pond was formed in 1879, when the Nash family erected a dam and 3 icehouses. Workers harvested ice each winter. It was stored through summer, sawed into blocks, then sent to New York for sale.

In 1937 — after the ice business, but before most homes were built along “Nash’s Woods and Pond” — it looked like this:

(Postcard courtesy of Seth Schachter)

What are your memories of Nash’s Pond? Click “Comments” below.

Filling In An Earth Day Puzzle

Happy Earth Day (again)!

My post today earlier today about living shorelines” may have made you feel all warm and earth-fuzzy. You might even be motivated to take a walk at some open space in town.

Great! Just avoid part of Baron’s South.

Alert “06880” reader/local activist Morley Boyd recently noticed that 1,000 or so yards of construction material — from the recent Senior Center modernization project — have been dumped in the southwest meadow.

Morley Boyd took this photo — and outlined the approximate footprint of the excavated fill at Baron’s South.

It includes, he says, both fill and demolition debris: rusty pipes, sharp metal objects, chunks of concrete and asphalt, plastic garbage bags, shattered plastic containers, rubber tires, bricks and more.

Morley says that trapped, standing water at the rear of the dump area abuts residential property. He sees “considerable evidence” of soil erosion across the top section of raw, unprotected construction rubble and fill.

Debris in the Baron’s South landfill. The Senior Center is on the right. (Photos/Morley Boyd)

He also believes that a number of mature trees were removed from the site, to accommodate what he says is a grade raised by 5 or 6 feet.

 

Morley wonders why the material was placed there, whether it has been tested, when it will be removed, and where it will go. He has written to town officials, and awaits a response.

Meatball Shop Update: ImPortant News

Earlier today, “06880” reported that the Meatball Shop will open its 8th restaurant this spring in Westport.

The location has just been confirmed. They’ll be serving ‘balls in what was, most recently, The ‘Port. The family-style restaurant closed last June.

National Hall, when The ‘Port restaurant was there … (Photo/Dave Dellinger)

National Hall has seen a lot, since it was built in the early 1800s. It’s housed the Westporter Herald newspaper, Horace Staples’ bank (and, very briefly, the first classes of his high school).

It was the site of the town meeting hall, and — for many years — Fairfield Furniture.

In the early 1990s, Arthur Tauck saved the historic building from the wrecking ball. (After decades of pigeon droppings, the roof was ready to cave in.)

… and back in the day. (Photo/Peter Barlow)

He and his family converted National Hall into an inn and restaurant of the same name. Several other restaurants later occupied that prime ground floor space.

Now it’s ready for its next phase.

Arlo Guthrie once sang, “You can get anything you want, at Alice’s Restaurant.”

You can only get meatballs (of many kinds, for sure) at the Meatball Shop.

But — with Arezzo, OKO and Bartaco all just steps away, and David Waldman’s new project at the old Save the Children headquarters moving quickly along — the west bank of the Saugatuck River just got a little spicier.

National Hall: The view from Post Road West, even further back in the day.

Unsung Hero #84

Ana Rogers grew up in Westport. For the past 11 years she’s owned a dog-walking business. Something happened at Winslow Park a few weeks ago that she thought deserved mention on “06880.” It sure does! Ana writes:

I was on my last walk of the day, with 5 of my most well-behaved dogs. Winslow Park was almost empty.

I bumped into Mike Greenberg and his German shepherd, Luna. Mike grew up in Westport, and designs and builds beautiful houses. (He’s not to be confused with the other Mike Greenberg, the sports broadcaster and writer, whose dog I happened to be walking.)

Mike the builder and I don’t know each other well. But he’s good friends of a friend of mine. We decided to do a loop around the trails together.

It was a cold day. The dogs were frisky and playful.

German shepherds — and labs, and every other kind of dog — love Winslow Park. (Photo/Tracy Porosoff)

Halfway around the loop, a golden retriever I was walking ran from behind me, and clipped my right side. My feet went out from under me, and I put out my right arm to break my fall.

The impact jammed all my weight into my elbow. I knew right away something was terribly wrong.

The dogs also sensed it. One licked my face as I lay on the ground.

Mike tried to help me up several times, but I felt like I was going to faint. This went on for 20 minutes. No one passed us the entire time.

Finally, I was able to stand. Mike helped me back to my car. He suggested I call the owners to come pick up their dogs. But no one was home.

Mike Greenberg

Mike realized he could not leave me there. I was in shock, and unable to drive. So he loaded the dogs in my car, and added his to the group.

We dropped the 5 dogs off: one by Clinton Avenue, then over to Marion Road, then toward the beach on Grove Point.

When the last dog was dropped off, Mike took me to Norwalk Hospital. I had 2 broken bones in my elbow. I’m in a splint for 6 weeks, then physical therapy.

I know Mike had other plans that afternoon — I heard him cancel some appointments.

The entire ordeal took a few hours.  But the entire time Mike was cheerful, trying to distract me from my pain and distress.

I don’t know what I would have done if Mike Greenberg hadn’t been there. He was my guardian angel — and  my unsung hero.

Photo Challenge #211

Our 1st-ever “4-fer” Photo Challenge showed a quartet of ads. All were shot in the 1950s and ’60s by photographer Bill Bell — longtime Westporter Bobbi Liepolt’s father — for the Dunbar furniture campaign. (Click here to see.)

The photos showed, in order:

  • Kathleen Laycock School on Beachside Avenue (now Greens Farms Academy)
  • Fairfield County Hunt Club
  • Nyala Farm, off Greens Farms Road
  • The Stony Point home of Leopold Godowsky (a concert violinist who helped develop Kodacolor and Ektachrome) and his wife, Frankie Gershwin (George and Ira’s younger sister, and a noted painter).

The first 3 sites are all still in Westport, in more or less the same condition (despite, in Nyala Farms’ case, the construction of a massive office building for Stauffer Chemicals’ world headquarters).

The Godowsky home was torn down in 2009, to make way for a larger, more modern home.

No one got all 4 right. The school was the easiest; Andrew Colabella, Dana Brownell, Barbara Sherburne, Rick Leonard and Bob Grant all quickly identified the iconic, Ivy League-looking main building.

The Hunt Club seemed to be the second easiest. Fred Cantor and Rick Leonard got that one.

It took a while to identify Nyala Farm and Stony Point — but Evan Stein got ’em both. Congrats to all!

This week, we “welcome” old and new readers with this Photo Challenge:

(Photo/Seth Schachter)

If you know where in Westport you’d see this, click “Comments” below.

Senior Center: An “Old” Home Is Now Very New

Martha Aasen remembers when Westport’s Senior Center was part of Staples High School.

Two small rooms were hidden between the fieldhouse and wood shop. It was open just a few hours a day. Lunch came from the school cafeteria.

In 2003, a new Senior Center opened on Imperial Avenue. It was a spectacular improvement.

Bright and airy, it was filled with rooms for meetings, lectures, fitness and films. There was a library and dining room too. Seniors flocked there for events, classes and camaraderie.

That was 15 years ago. When First Selectman Jim Marpe cuts a ribbon tomorrow (Friday, January 4, 11 a.m.), Westporters of all ages will marvel at the first major enhancement of the Senior Center since it opened.

The 9-month project comes in on schedule — and on budget. The town appropriated $3.975 million. Friends of the Senior Center raised $300,000 for equipment and amenities.

(Clockwise from lower left): Martha Aasen, Leslie Wolf, Stan Nayer and Sue Pfister in the lobby of the newly modernized Senior Center.

Last week, Senior Center director Sue Pfister, Friends president Leslie Wolf, and Aasen — now in her 90s, and as passionate about the Center as ever — offered a tour of the new facility. It blends seamlessly with the original.

The 5,000-square foot new wing includes:

  • A new fitness center, with modern treadmills and machines
  • A strength classroom, also used for tap dancing and Zumba
  • A new library, with a computer and magnifiers
  • A drop-in game room
  • All new furniture and carpeting
  • New display cases for artwork
  • Outdoor access to the adjacent Baron’s South meadow, for tai chi and meditation
  • Offices for program manager Holly Betts, and interns
  • New restrooms with showers (for when the Senior Center is used as an emergency shelter).

Martha Aasen on the new treadmill. Doors open onto the Baron’s South park.

Other parts of the Senior Center have been modernized too. There are new floors, chairs and tabletops in the “Sue’s Cafe” dining room (where “grab-and-go” food will soon be available); a new wood floor next door, for dance classes; a second art room, and a handsome new custom desk in the entry foyer.

“It’s even better than we envisioned,” says Aasen — who was closely involved in the project — proudly.

“We’ve had so many meetings, and we saw all the plans. But when you actually see it finished, it’s unbelievable.”

“Stunning!” adds Pfister.

New windows provide the same airy look as the original wing of the Senior Center.

The Senior Center director credits the project’s smooth completion to “tremendous cooperation” from local officials. The Building Department’s Steve Smith, the Department of Public Works, and Parks & Recreation director Jen Fava were all all-in.

Architect Brian Scheuzger designed the original building too. A.P. Construction — which is also handling the Westport Library’s Transformation Project — did all the work.

The Senior Center attracts a wide range of people, Pfister notes: Those who are very active; those looking for quiet activities; those who want to meet old friends, and those seeking companionship.

It’s a welcoming facility for some, a second home for others.

Now — for all of them — Westport’s Senior Center is better than ever.

Workers were still finishing up — and unloading furniture — last week.

Photo Challenge #205

Westport’s cemeteries are important places.

Like most boneyards, they feature row upon row of gravestones, markers and monuments. This being New England, many are old. Some are historic. All mean something.

But cemeteries can be beautiful too. Willowbrook — established in 1847 — is more than final resting place of generations of Coleys, Burrs, Nashes, Bedfords, Bradleys and Hurlbutts.

It’s a place of rolling hills, specimen trees, shrubs, a pond, the famed Daffodil Mile — and last week’s Photo Challenge.

Mark Jacobs’ image showed a lovely brook, running underneath a handsome viaduct. (Click here for the photo.)

Only one “06880” reader — Dan Herman — knew where that photo was taken: by Carriage Lane, just off Main Street.

Perhaps the end of the Thanksgiving holiday kept the number of correct guesses low.

Or maybe we all need to spend more time hanging out in Westport cemeteries.

This week’s Photo Challenge —

(Photo/Stan Skowronski)

— can be found in a hangout of a different type.

Hint to young “06880” readers: The object above is a “pay phone.” Once upon a time, you fed coins into the slot (upper right), dialed or punched in a phone number, and talked to them using the “handset” (middle, with cord).

Another hint to young readers: This phone is located in a place you’re very familiar with. Now you know what it is!

Readers of any age, who know where in Westport you’d find this: Click “Comments” below.