Category Archives: Real estate

Turkey Hill House Earns Historic Preservation Award

It’s easy to see all the teardowns in town.

Sometimes we focus on them so much, we miss the preservation efforts going on nearby.

Preservation Connecticut notices. In fact, they’ve given the owners of 70 Turkey Hill Road South a Connecticut Preservation Award — one of only 10 in the state. The virtual ceremony is May 5.

The 2-story, 1,230-square foot 1892 farmhouse was completely restored last year.

Rahul Ghai and his wife Priyanka Singh bought the property in November 2019. They had several options. They could demolish the 127-year-old house and build a new one; a demolition permit had already been issued to the previous owners.

They could keep the building as it was, and build a new home on the premises.

Or they could restore it — and also build a new house nearby.

70 Turkey Hill Road South in 2019, before restoration …

The couple decided to restore the 1892 structure, and also build a large house, using a Westport 32-18 regulation obtained by the prior owners. Such a plan — which has prevented 22 other historic structures from being demolished — must be approved by a joint Architectural Review and Historic District Commission committee, then by the Planning & Zoning Commission.

Ghai and Singh hired Christopher Pagliaro, the architect for the previous owners. He worked with them to restore both the exterior and interior.

Work was extensive. All vinyl siding was removed, and replaced with wood. The asphalt roof was replaced with cedar shingles. All windows were replaced. The original front and rear porches — which had been enclosed as living space throughout the years — were recreated.

… during the project …

A number of homeowners have demolished homes the size of 70 Turkey Hill South, replacing them with larger, more modern houses. The Preservation Award press release notes that Westport is “sometimes called Connecticut’s teardown capital.”

The 32-18 regulation shows that those older homes can be retained — while simultaneously allowing construction of new ones.

Singh noted, “We are strongly committed to restoration and preservation of historical structures. Our school-age daughter is also passionate about history. But we couldn’t have done it without our architect Chris, and Ryan Fletcher of Fletcher Development.”

… and after.

Certificates will be presented to the owners, architect, contractor, town of Westport and the Westport Museum of History & Culture.

(Hat tip: Bob Weingarten, house historian for the Westport Museum of History & Culture, who nominated 70 Turkey Hill Road South for the 2021 Preservation Award.)

Saugatuck Harbor Yacht Club’s Intriguing Sequel: They DO Own The Water

This morning’s story about the Saugatuck Harbor Yacht Club’s claim that it owns not only the land under its water — but the water itself — drew a reaction from readers. A few pointed out special circumstances.

One reader — who asked not to be identified — emailed:

In fact, the yacht basin is privately owned. While the general rule is that the state has jurisdiction over tidal and navigable waters like this, as is the case with both the Cedar Point and Compo yacht basins, the Saugatuck yacht basin was deeded to the yacht club by the Governor of Connecticut, I believe when it was proposed to be dredged out or shortly after.

The reader sent a land record map of the basis. Note 2 on the bottom right shows that none of the other lots facing the yacht basin (Duck Pond) have “any riparian, littoral or other rights to said pond or the waters therein.”

The reader notes that the lots never relinquished those rights. Rather, they were created out of land that did not previously have waterfront access, and were created with the stipulation that they would not have access after the basin was dredged.

The same reader sent a second map (below), adding:

The residential properties facing the yacht basin each have deeds that refer to another map recorded with the town. The deeds refer to the parcels being owned, subject to the notes on this map, including the section calling out each lot as having no rights past their property line with the yacht club.

Evan Stein wrote in the comments section that the Saugatuck Shores homeowner who had been warned of trespassing (via kayak) by the yacht club had not Googled deeply enough.

Evan provided a link to a 2008 tax assessment appeal to the town by Saugatuck Harbor Yacht Club. Evan then cites relevant details from the ruling:

The subject property consists of 5 parcels aggregating to 14.68 acres of land, 10 acres of which are the land submerged beneath the body of water known as the Duck Pond, which serves at the plaintiff’s yacht basin.

The subject property is not waterfront property in the classic sense, as it is not on the waterfront of Long Island Sound. A boater must navigate from the Duck Pond boat basin through a dredged channel, past the Cedar Point Yacht Club, past the town mooring fields and the town marina in order to reach the open waters of Long Island Sound.

Harbormaster Bob Giunta responded too. He remembers as a child watching Kowalsky Brothers creating the yacht club, by excavating land.

So it appears that yes, Saugatuck Harbor does indeed own both the land underneath its basin, and the water itself. They do seem to be within their rights to restrict access to it, even by homeowners on its shore.

Saugatuck Harbor Yacht Club.

However, that does not settle the question of whether they should.

Matthew Mandell writes:

I used to do a lot of whitewater rafting. Many of these rivers ran through paper company land. While we could navigate the river freely, we could not set foot on the shore, unless it was an emergency. Often the company had a dam that generated its power. Deals were worked out to open the dam for an hour to create the bubble of water for rafting. Others were spring melt runoff.

Regardless of land/ownership the yacht club should act more like the paper companies and allow use.

And Deb Alderson raises an interesting point:

If the yacht club owns the land under the Duck Pond, then do the other homeowners around the Duck Pond own waterfront property, or do they own landlocked property with water views?

It used to be that property taxes were bumped up by about 10% for waterfront property. If those properties are paying a premium for waterfront property, they may have a case for a reduction in their taxes. It’s worth asking the question.

Despite living on the basin, this Duck Pond homeowner appears to have no legal access to it.

 

Roundup: Real Estate, Rabbis’ Honors, Raptors …

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Westport’s real estate market roars along.

Roe Colletti reports there were 115 house closings in the first quarter of 2021, a 47% increase from 2020 — and the highest number of houses sold in that quarter since at least 2000.

The average closing price rose 33% to $1.84 million, the quarter’s highest since 2000. Homes sold on average for 99.7% of the list price.

There were 87 houses pending (signed contracts) on March 31, up 81% from last year. The average list price of those homes was $2.2 million.

Housing inventory on March 31 was 135  — down 47.3% from the previous March 31, when there were 256 houses on the market. (Hat tip: Chuck Greenlee)

This 12-bedroom, 15 1/2-bathroom estate, set on 7 1/2 acres, is listed for $20 million. (Photo courtesy of KMS Partners @ Compass)

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This year’s New York Board of Rabbis’ Humanitarian Awards will honor first responders and essential workers.

Dr. Anthony Fauci will be feted. So will the Greater New York Hospital Association.

And … Westport’s own Avi Kaner.

The co-owner of Morton Williams Supermarkets (and former Board of Finance chair and 2nd selectman) will be cited for the work his family-owned business did during the pandemic.

Morton Williams stores never closed. Employees kept working; senior executives ensured that the supply chain continued.

The company became a lifeline to New York. They worked with the CDC to adjust trucking regulations so that truckers would be comfortable making deliveries. They were among the first in the nation to set aside special hours for seniors and immunocompromised customers; they lobbied aggressively for mask use, and ensured that supermarket workers were included in phase 1B of the state’s vaccinations.

There’s one more Westport connection to the May 10 event: Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn of The Conservative Synagogue is president of the New York Board of Rabbis.

Avi Kaner in a Bronx Morton Williams store. (Photo/Danny Ghitis for the New York Times)

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Business Networking International does exactly what its name says.

But there’s a twist: Only one person per profession is allowed to join a chapter. For example, there is one CPA, one architect, one insurance agent.

BNI’s Westport chapter is strong and active. They’ve got 48 members. Last year, they conducted nearly $2 million in business.

There are openings now in a few categories: interior designer, home inspector, developer, heating and air conditioning contractor, fitness club or personal trainer, chef, and attorneys who practice estate and elder law.

Weekly BNI meetings are now held over Zoom. They’ll transition to a hybrid or in-person format this summer or fall. Click here for information, or email info@salonpaulmichael.com.

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Today’s osprey update:

Carolyn Doan reports that the Fresh Market ospreys had a busy week rebuilding and freshening up their nest.

Sometimes when they’re not at home, Carolyn and her son head over to Gray’s Creek. Those birds are usually eating. “The male’s chest is more white, while the female has tan markings,” she says. She took this photo of one finishing a fish.

(Photo/Carolyn Doan)

Meanwhile, a group of Y’s Men strolled past this osprey at Longshore:

(Photo/Molly Alger)

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Five Wreckers are Staples High School’s Students of the Month.

Senior Henrik Hovstadius, junior Bruno Guiduli, sophomores Leo Fielding and Ari Lerner, and freshman Domenic Petrosinelli were nominated by their teachers.

Principal Stafford Thomas called the honorees “the glue of the Staples community: the type of kind, cheerful, hard-working, trustworthy students who keep the high school together, making it the special place that is.

Staples High School students of the month (from left): Henrik Hovstadius, Domenic Petrosinelli and Ari Lerner. Missing: Bruno Guiduli and Leo Fielding.

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The 2021 Music at MoCA Concert Series features a diverse range of jazz, pop and classical outdoor concerts, from April through October. Highlights include performers from the Jazz at Lincoln Center Emerging Artist Spotlight series.

Multi-instrumentalist and soulful pop artist Matt Nakoa opens the series on Friday, April 30 (7 p.m). Click here for the full schedule, and tickets.

Season passes are available for all 13 concerts, along with jazz, pop or classical packages and individual concert tickets. MoCA members receive discounts. Food and drinks are available at each event.

Matt Nakoa

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And finally … so who is Matt Nakoa (the first MoCA concert performer this year — see above). Watch below:

 

Roundup: Remarkable Theater, Clear Cutting, Coffee An’ …

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Art imitated life last night, at the Imperial Avenue parking lot.

A 40-foot movie screen was erected for the Remarkable Theater’s 2nd season — and a cameraman was there to film it.

The (metaphorical) curtain rises tonight at 7:30 p.m., with “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” “Sneak previews” follow through Tuesday. Click here for details and tickets.

(Photo/Doug Tirola)

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A reader writes:

“We residents on Pequot Trail are very upset by this week’s clear cutting of a lovely wooded area that provided privacy for multiple properties around the entrance to our street. Every time I turn onto the street now, my heart sinks.

“We’re sad enough that the charming house is being torn down — we get that this is inevitable — but did all of the mature trees and coveted privacy for multiple homes need to be callously destroyed?

“I called the town and was told that initiatives to restrict tree cutting have failed multiple times. I wonder what needs to happen to get our town, which prides itself on being so ‘green,’ to put a stop to this kind of environmental desecration?

“To preempt  any comments about ‘city people’ moving in, this property was bought by a Westport family. That makes it so much more disappointing.

Clear cutting, around the house that will be demolished.

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When COVID canceled last year’s annual plant sale, the Westport Garden Club planted a sign: “See You in 2021.”

True to their promise, this year’s in-person (sale is set for Friday, May 14 (9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.). The new location is Jesup Green.

Gardeners can purchase plants the day of the sale, or online starting May 1. Click here for information.

Online orders will be available for curbside pick-up. And club members will be on hand during the sale to offer expert advice.

In more Garden Club news: “Friday Flowers,” the campaign initiated in the dark days of last spring to lift spirits and beautify the town, returns this summer. The first installation (May 7) is at Saugatuck Congregational Church. Floral arrangements made by club members will be displayed each Friday through Labor Day.

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The annual Compo Beach grooming project is underway. As the weather turns nice — and more folks are vaccinated — it comes not a moment too soon.

The work is impressive to watch on the ground.

And even more impressive by drone.

(Photo/Daniel Johnson)

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For a long while, Coffee An’ was open for takeout only.

They’ve now got indoor seating too. It’s limited, socially distanced, safe — and within amazing aroma distance of their wide selection of donuts (an’ more).

There are plenty of great breakfast and lunch places in town. Coffee An’ is at the topo of any list.

(Photo/Katherine Bruan)

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Amy Mandelbaum is vice president of the OUT Foundation, which encourages the LGBTQ community to participate in fitness, health and wellness activities.

She also owns CrossFit Westport. There’s no better place to encourage the inclusion she champions.

So on Saturday, April 17 (9:30 a.m. to noon), her gym — just over the Norwalk line, at 19 Willard Road — sponsors an “OUT Athletics” event. The warmup and workout is fun, doable — and everyone is welcome.

There’s food, coffee, and gift bags from sponsors like Garnier and Goodr sunglasses. Each heat lasts 45 minutes to an hour; then comes (socially distant) socializing.

For more or information or to sign up, click here.

Amy Mandelbaum

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With little rainfall and low humidity recently, Westport’s brush fire danger is high.

The Fire Department responded to 2 brush fires yesterday — simultaneously.

The one on Sherwood Island Connector was quickly extinguished. The other — between Parsell Lane and I-95 — brought 30 firefighters and officers from Westport and Fairfield, with 7 engines and 1 ladder. It burned 3 1/2  acres, but there was no property damage or injuries.

Westport Firefighters were dispatched to two simultaneous brush fires, one on the Sherwood Island Connector at Nyala Farms Road and the other on Parsell Lane.

Be careful out there!

(Photo courtesy of Westport Fire Department)

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This is amazing! Who would have guessed that “the friendliest curbside experience in America” is located right here in Westport? At our Fresh Market!

A cynic might demand proof.

I just want to know: Is this “the friendliest curbside experience” for supermarkets throughout America only? Or does it include everything: restaurants, bookstores, hardware stores, liquor stores, whatever?

Either way, this is very, very impressive.

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If you missed Monday night’s TEAM Westport Teen Diversity Essay Contest livestream — or read the essays on “06880” the next day, and want to watch the winners’ powerful deliveries — click below.

Spoiler alert: They’re great.

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“06880” has faithfully reported on ospreys: their return, their nests, even their empty platforms.

But they’re not the only wildlife to admire. Sherwood Mill Pond teems with more than ospreys. Matt Murray snapped this shot of a heron yesterday.

(Photo/Matt Murray)

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And finally … today is the birthday of songwriter Yip Harburg. He was born on the Lower East Side in 1896. he survived the blacklist of the 1950s, and died in 1981.

Roundup: Sandwiches, Easter Service, Voter Protection …

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And now — after more than 1,000 votes, for 21 competitors in 9 categories — the winners of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce’s Great Sandwich Contest have been announced. The are:

  • Best Chicken Sandwich: Stiles Market
  • Best Steak Sandwich: JR’s Deli & Grille
  • Best Vegetarian Sandwich: Manna Toast
  • Best Combo Sandwich: Stiles Market
  • Best Club Sandwich: Joe’s Pizza
  • Best Wrap: Layla’s Falafel
  • Best Breakfast Sandwich: JR’s Deli & Grille
  • Best Pressed Sandwich: Mystic Market
  • Best Fish/Seafood Sandwich: Rizzuto’s

Honorable mention (coming within 5 votes of the winners): A&S Fine Foods, Calise’s Market and Fortuna’s

Winners receive plaques. Each winner will also offer a free winning sandwich to 9 lucky voters, who won the lottery in the category they voted in. For photos of the winners, click here.

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Saugatuck Church’s 1st-ever Easter drive-in worship service was — well, if not a miracle, then still pretty cool.

The back parking lot was filled with 45 cars (that’s around 13o people). The FM radio broadcast worked flawlessly, thanks to Mark Mathias. The service was punctuated with plenty of cheerful horn honks.

Dozens more watched the livestream on Facebook and YouTube. But that photo isn’t as interesting as the one below:

(Drone photo/Alexey Syomichev)

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You’ve probably heard there are zoning bills working their way through the General Assembly. You’ve heard that they may affect Westport.

But how?

Tomorrow (Tuesday, April 6, 6:30 p.m. Zoom), Westport Planning & Zoning Commission chair Danielle Dobin hosts an in-depth discussion, The focus is on what they mean for our town.

She will be joined by Westport’s 4 legislators: State Senators Will Haskell and Tony Hwang, and Representatives Jonathan Steinberg and Stephanie Thomas.

I’ll be the moderator. Click here to register.

One bill being considered would affect housing plans for the area around any town’s primary train station.

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Westport Book Shop Artist of the Month is Katherine Ross. Her watercolors will be on display throughout April at the Drew Friedman Art Place, in Westport’s popular used book store on Jesup Road.

Ross is a well-known artist and art teacher. She conceived the children’s mosaic wall at the Longshore pool, with work from over 1,000 middle schoolers. She has served on the Arts Advisory Committee and Westport Cultural Arts Committee, and co-chaired the Westport public schools’ Art Smarts program.  

The exhibit is open during the Book Shop’s business hours: Tuesdays through Fridays (11 a.m. to 6 p.m.), Saturdays (10 a.m. to 6 p.m.) and Sundays (noon to 5 p.m.

Katherine Ross, with her springtime watercolors.

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Tonight (Monday, April 5, 7:30 p.m., Zoom), the Democratic Women of Westport and Staples Young Democrats host a virtual session called “The Anti-Racist Policy Agenda: Connecticut Voter Protection.”

State Representative Stephanie Thomas — who represents part of Westport, and serves as vice chair of the General Assembly’s Government Administration and Elections Committee — will discuss the 2020 election in the state, possible expansion of access for voting, and building support for voter protection laws.

To get the link for the talk, or more information, email dww06880@gmail.com.

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And finally … speaking of “protection”: On this day in 1922, the American Birth Control League — predecessor of Planned Parenthood — was incorporated.

P&Z Considers New Apartment Regulations

Right now, Westport’s rules for “accessory apartments” (units in a principal dwelling) and “accessory dwelling units” (those in detached structures) are strict.

An owner of an accessory apartment must either be at least 62 years old, or the apartment must be deed restricted as “affordable” (which can limit the owner’s ability to easily resell or refinance).

The apartment can be no larger than 800 square feet or 25% of the floor areas (whichever is smaller), and there is an annual certification process.

This top-floor apartment is one of a limited number of legal ones n town.

Accessory structures of up to 300 square feet are permitted. However, they can have only 2 of these 3 three plumbing fixtures: sink, toilet or shower. Kitchens are not allowed. They cannot be rented out, and — importantly — they cannot be used as a dwelling unit.

These are not really “apartments.” They’re more like pool houses.

If the accessory structure is a barn, they cannot have bathrooms, kitchens or central heating. They must be used for livestock or storage of farm products, equipment and/or feed.

“Accessory Dwelling Units” — where people can actually live — have been permitted. But only with special approval, with evidence that the structure is “historic.”

But if the Planning & Zoning Commission’s Affordable Housing Subcommittee has its way — and they’ve approved the proposal unanimously — a text amendment would permit Accessory Dwelling Units throughout town.

It would open up our housing stock. It would add affordable housing. It would provide added income for residents who are going through life changes — the loss of a job, say, or divorce, or those whose children have moved away and who want to move into a smaller place on their own property, while renting out their larger home.

An apartment like this (which is not in Westport) is tightly regulated now.

The text amendment — on the P&Z agenda for this Thursday (April 8, 6 p.m., Zoom) would permit Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) on lots that do not have an Accessory Apartment, anywhere in town.

Lots of 1 1/2 acres or less could have a footprint of up to 650 square feet. Lots of more than 1 1/2 acres could have up to 1,000 square feet. The height of the structure would be capped, to guard against “monolithic tower-like ADUs.”

In addition, the owner of the property must live in either the principal or accessory dwelling. Any lease must be for a minimum of 6 months.

The P&Z will also consider modifications to its Accessory Apartment regulations. The age requirement would be removed, and the maximum size would increase from 800 square feet t0 1,500. However, the apartment could still not exceed 25% of the floor area of the entire house.

Gabled roof ADU, on Cape Cod.

The proposals are in keeping with the Affordable Housing Subcommittee’s mission of encouraging the development and preservation of affordable housing choices in Westport.

(Click here and scroll down for the full text amendment. The April 8 meeting will be livestreamed on www.westportct.gov, and shown on Optimum channel 79 and Frontier channel 6020 until 7:30 p.m. Public comments may be sent before noon on April 8 to PandZ@westportct.gov.)

Zoning Reform Bills: Forum On Zoning Set For Tuesday

NOTE: A technical glitch prevented some readers from receiving today’s first “06880” post. Here it is. Apologies if you already got this.

One of Connecticut’s hottest topics is zoning reform. Action in Hartford will have a direct impact on Westport.

It’s not easy making sense of the fast-moving legislative action. A number of bills are moving toward votes.

“06880” is here to help.

This Tuesday (April 6, 6:30 p.m. Zoom), Westport Planning & Zoning Commission chair Danielle Dobin hosts an in-depth discussion of the bills that have advanced to the full legislature. The focus will be on what they mean for our town.

Danielle will be joined by Westport’s 4 legislators: State Senators Will Haskell and Tony Hwang, and Representatives Jonathan Steinberg and Stephanie Thomas.

And I’ll be the moderator. Click here to register.

Meanwhile, Danielle Dobin sends this report, on the status of several bills:

Senate Bill 1024: As-of-Right Multifamily With No Parking

The original proposed language of this bill rezoned all towns (with a population of over 7,500) in Connecticut to permit as-of-right market rate fourplexes within .5 miles of that town’s primary train station, and triplexes around Main Street corridors. Density of 15 units per acre would be permitted.

“As-of-right” means there would be no public hearings or comment around these new developments. Towns would be explicitly prohibited from requiring any off-street parking for the new units. The P&Z would have been required to conserve sewer capacity for the new as-of-right development instead of utilizing it for larger mixed use, mixed income projects (like Belden Place and Saugatuck Center) with affordable units included.

The Belden Place apartments by the Saugatuck River, off Main Street near Parker Harding Plaza.

Examples of streets that would have been impacted with new as-of-right multifamily – up to 15 units per acre with no parking for the new residents — include St. John’s Place, Evergreen and Myrtle near Main Street, and Stony Point, Davenport, Eno Lane and Burritt’s Landing near Saugatuck.

The original bill also included a litigation-enabling statute that invited constant lawsuits from anyone, regardless of whether they have filed an application for development, against towns regarding inadequacies in a town’s zoning code.

This bill was advanced out of committee without the very harmful provisions that would have limited future opportunity for the development of mixed income multifamily and supportive housing in Westport. The mandate to permit as-of-right multifamily without parking in single family neighborhoods has been removed.

Danielle Dobin, Westport Planning & Zoning Commission chair.

There is language requiring some changes to Westport’s zoning code, and language permitting freely rentable Accessory Dwelling Units) by administrative approval.

Westport is revising its own ADU regulations with a proposal for a text amendment scheduled for April 8 that has already unanimously approved by the P&Z Affordable Subcommittee.

Also included is language exempting ADUs from the overall unit count for 8-30g calculations. This means permitting ADUs will not set back Westport’s compliance with 8-30g.

There is also language setting out a working group to design an optional model zoning code for the state. Right now, the proposed working group has no representatives from suburban towns.

NOTE: Yesterday Sara Bronin, the main proponent behind SB 1024, said that she and her team are working to have the as-of-right multifamily without parking inserted back into the bill before it is voted on by the full legislature.

House Bill 6107: Zoning Enabling Act Changes 

This bill, part of the Partnership for Strong Communities legislative agenda, prohibits consideration of the word “character” in zoning decisions. The Westport P&Z does not utilize “character of the community” in their decision-making. Westport’s special permit standards look at height, massing, etc., and the as-built aesthetics of streets.

This bill creates a working group to examine affordable housing statewide. A modernization of 8-30g (now 30 years old) could come out of this.

This bill has some of the same language as SB1024 requiring changes to Westport’s zoning code, but never included a litigation enabling provision.

NOTE: It’s critical to ensure the as-of-right multifamily without parking isn’t tacked onto this bill before it is voted on by the full legislature.

House Bill 6611: The Fair Share Plan

Unlike SB 1024, this focused on creating more affordable housing across Connecticut. It proposes a completely different process than 8-30(g) (though as drafted now it does not replace 8-30g) to determine the amount of affordable housing each municipality should create, and leaves it to each town to create a 10-year plan for achieving this “Fair Share” goal.

I have a call scheduled with staff from the Open Community Alliance, who proposed this bill, to better understand the requirements and impact to share at Tuesday’s session. SB 1024 garnered so much attention, it’s important that this bill – proposed by longtime advocates for affordability in Connecticut – finally receives a fair hearing.

Among Westport’s affordable housing options: Sasco Creek Village.

Senate Bill 6570: Transportation

The Transportation Committee, under Senator Will Haskell’s leadership, has advanced a bill that requires towns to look at state-owned land near transit stations in their 8-30j affordability plans, and empowers the Department of Transportation to utilize 5 lots from across the state to plan for mixed income housing, while retaining all existing parking spaces.

This bill initially contained the similar as-of-right multifamily language as SB 1024, but it was removed. This language is designed to help fully built-out towns (like Westport) leverage state-owned property for housing, including cottage clusters and townhomes (much like the Westport Housing Authority is working to create on the DOT land off Post Road East and West Parish. Westport’s innovative approach has created a template for towns across the state.

A number of other bills advanced as well. They will be reviewed during  Tuesday’s discussion. But these are the big ones to watch.

Zoning Reform Bills: Forum On Westport Set For Tuesday

One of Connecticut’s hottest topics is zoning reform. Action in Hartford will have a direct impact on Westport.

It’s not easy making sense of the fast-moving legislative action. A number of bills are moving toward votes.

“06880” is here to help.

This Tuesday (April 6, 6:30 p.m. Zoom), Westport Planning & Zoning Commission chair Danielle Dobin hosts an in-depth discussion of the bills that have advanced to the full legislature. The focus will be on what they mean for our town.

Danielle will be joined by Westport’s 4 legislators: State Senators Will Haskell and Tony Hwang, and Representatives Jonathan Steinberg and Stephanie Thomas.

And I’ll be the moderator. Click here to register.

Meanwhile, Danielle Dobin sends this report, on the status of several bills:

Senate Bill 1024: As-of-Right Multifamily With No Parking

The original proposed language of this bill rezoned all towns (with a population of over 7,500) in Connecticut to permit as-of-right market rate fourplexes within .5 miles of that town’s primary train station, and triplexes around Main Street corridors. Density of 15 units per acre would be permitted.

“As-of-right” means there would be no public hearings or comment around these new developments. Towns would be explicitly prohibited from requiring any off-street parking for the new units. The P&Z would have been required to conserve sewer capacity for the new as-of-right development instead of utilizing it for larger mixed use, mixed income projects (like Belden Place and Saugatuck Center) with affordable units included.

The Belden Place apartments by the Saugatuck River, off Main Street near Parker Harding Plaza.

Examples of streets that would have been impacted with new as-of-right multifamily – up to 15 units per acre with no parking for the new residents — include St. John’s Place, Evergreen and Myrtle near Main Street, and Stony Point, Davenport, Eno Lane and Burritt’s Landing near Saugatuck.

The original bill also included a litigation-enabling statute that invited constant lawsuits from anyone, regardless of whether they have filed an application for development, against towns regarding inadequacies in a town’s zoning code.

This bill was advanced out of committee without the very harmful provisions that would have limited future opportunity for the development of mixed income multifamily and supportive housing in Westport. The mandate to permit as-of-right multifamily without parking in single family neighborhoods has been removed.

Danielle Dobin, Westport Planning & Zoning Commission chair.

There is language requiring some changes to Westport’s zoning code, and language permitting freely rentable Accessory Dwelling Units) by administrative approval.

Westport is revising its own ADU regulations with a proposal for a text amendment scheduled for April 8 that has already unanimously approved by the P&Z Affordable Subcommittee.

Also included is language exempting ADUs from the overall unit count for 8-30g calculations. This means permitting ADUs will not set back Westport’s compliance with 8-30g.

There is also language setting out a working group to design an optional model zoning code for the state. Right now, the proposed working group has no representatives from suburban towns.

NOTE: Yesterday Sara Bronin, the main proponent behind SB 1024, said that she and her team are working to have the as-of-right multifamily without parking inserted back into the bill before it is voted on by the full legislature.

House Bill 6107: Zoning Enabling Act Changes 

This bill, part of the Partnership for Strong Communities legislative agenda, prohibits consideration of the word “character” in zoning decisions. The Westport P&Z does not utilize “character of the community” in their decision-making. Westport’s special permit standards look at height, massing, etc., and the as-built aesthetics of streets.

This bill creates a working group to examine affordable housing statewide. A modernization of 8-30g (now 30 years old) could come out of this.

This bill has some of the same language as SB1024 requiring changes to Westport’s zoning code, but never included a litigation enabling provision.

NOTE: It’s critical to ensure the as-of-right multifamily without parking isn’t tacked onto this bill before it is voted on by the full legislature.

House Bill 6611: The Fair Share Plan

Unlike SB 1024, this focused on creating more affordable housing across Connecticut. It proposes a completely different process than 8-30(g) (though as drafted now it does not replace 8-30g) to determine the amount of affordable housing each municipality should create, and leaves it to each town to create a 10-year plan for achieving this “Fair Share” goal.

I have a call scheduled with staff from the Open Community Alliance, who proposed this bill, to better understand the requirements and impact to share at Tuesday’s session. SB 1024 garnered so much attention, it’s important that this bill – proposed by longtime advocates for affordability in Connecticut – finally receives a fair hearing.

Among Westport’s affordable housing options: Sasco Creek Village.

Senate Bill 6570: Transportation

The Transportation Committee, under Senator Will Haskell’s leadership, has advanced a bill that requires towns to look at state-owned land near transit stations in their 8-30j affordability plans, and empowers the Department of Transportation to utilize 5 lots from across the state to plan for mixed income housing, while retaining all existing parking spaces.

This bill initially contained the similar as-of-right multifamily language as SB 1024, but it was removed. This language is designed to help fully built-out towns (like Westport) leverage state-owned property for housing, including cottage clusters and townhomes (much like the Westport Housing Authority is working to create on the DOT land off Post Road East and West Parish. Westport’s innovative approach has created a template for towns across the state.

A number of other bills advanced as well. They will be reviewed during  Tuesday’s discussion. But these are the big ones to watch.

Roundup: Itzhak Perlman, AE Hotchner, Aztec Two-Step, Easter Lilies …

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Itzhak Perlman is a violin virtuoso. On May 13, he adds “virtual” to that list.

The 16-time Grammy Award winner — and Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree — is the Westport Library’s “Booked for the Evening” guest.

Though he won’t appear in person, up to 100 people will be safely spaced in the Trefz Forum to watch Perlman on the state-of-the-art screen. Everyone else with a ticket will watch on devices.

Those tickets — both “live” and online — are available now (click here).

“Booked for the Evening” is the Library’s signature fundraising event.  Previous notables include Tom Brokaw, E.L. Doctorow, Calvin Trillin, Wendy Wasserstein, Pete Hamill, Martin Scorsese, Arthur Mitchell, Doris Kearns Goodwin, David Halberstam, Oscar Hijuelos, Adam Gopnik, Will Shortz, Patti Smith, Barry Levinson, Jon Meacham, Nile Rodgers, Lynsey Addario, Ron Chernow, Alan Alda, Justin Paul, and Frederic Chiu.

Itzhak Perlman

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It got lost in all yesterday’s excitement over April Fool’s Day. But as of April 1, dogs are not permitted on Compo Beach.

Specifically, from now through September 30 “animals are prohibited at the beaches either in or out of vehicles, except when going to and from boats at Ned Dimes Marina (but those dogs must be leashed).

“Beaches are defined to include the water adjacent to the property, the sand areas adjacent to the water, the parking areas, grass areas, playing areas and roads. Dogs are permitted in vehicles entering into the Soundview parking lot weekdays any time, and weekends and holidays prior to 9 a.m. and after 5 p.m. Dogs must be on leash.

Sorry, guys. Gotta wait till October! (Photo/Dan Johnson)

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The ceremony honoring TEAM Westport’s Teen Diversity Essay Contest winners is one of the underrated highlights of each year. Three students read their own words, addressing difficult questions with wisdom, honesty and power.

This year’s event will be held via. It’s this Monday (April 5, 6 p.m.), and — as in years past — is well worth watching.

The prompt was: “The statement ‘Black Lives Matter’ has become politicized in our country. In 1,000 words or fewer, describe your own understanding of the statement. Consider why conversations about race are often so emotionally charged. Given that reality, what suggestions do you have for building both equity and equality in our schools, community and country?”

We may be inspired — or sobered — by what Westport teenagers have to say. We certainly will gain an understanding of what the next generation is thinking.

Click here to register. Click here to read the top essays from past years.

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Westport EMS, Westport Weston Health District personnel, school nurses, the Fire Department and CERT all joined in yesterday, at the Westport Public Schools’ 3rd COVID vaccine clinic.

Over 500 school district employees from Westport, Weston and Easton received their 2nd doses yesterday. Another 500 will get their 2nd vaccine next week.

Huge thanks to all who helped make it the process smooth, efficient — even enjoyable!

A small part of the big fieldhouse, during the first clinic.

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#14 Hillandale Road looks different today.

The longtime home of A.E. Hotchner, author and friend of Ernest Hemingway and Paul Newman — built in 1928, and originally part of a 40-acre estate — has been torn down.

Hotchner died in 2020, at 102. The property will be the site of 4 homes, on 1-acre plots. The new subdivision will be called Authors Way.

A.E. Hotchner’s house, yesterday. (Photo courtesy of Rick Benson)

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Aztec Two-Step 2.0 — featuring Westporters Rex Fowler and Dodie Pettit — performs their Simon & Garfunkel songbook show for the first time as a 5-piece band on Friday, April 23 (8 p.m., Bijou Theatre, Bridgeport, 8 p.m.).

It’s a benefit for WPKN-FM. The show will also be livestreamed in HD and 360º Virtual Reality.

Tickets start at $5. Anyone purchasing by April 19 gets  a free VR headset, for the fully immersive experience. Click here for tickets to the live Bijou (masked and socially distanced) show. Click here for virtual tickets.

BONUS TRACKS: Aztec Two-Step 2.0 will follow the Simon & Garfunkel songbook with a 30-minute set of original material, starting around 10 p.m.

Click below for a video montage to “I Ain’t Dead Yet,” one of Dodie’s 3 original country-blues songs featured in a 5-song EP being releasing to radio soon.

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Dianne Saunders writes:

My beautiful 1-year-old cat died recently from acute kidney failure, just days after he ingested part of a lily from a bouquet someone sent me for my birthday.

If only I had known how toxic these plants are! Easter lilies are particularly toxic.

Within a couple of days of even one sip of the water that lilies are in, or a nibble on a leaf or a brush against the pollen, a cat will go into irreversible kidney failure.

With Easter coming, “06880 readers should be aware of the danger that lilies pose to cats.

Dianne Saunders’ cat Sammy, with lilies.

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And finally … Marvin Gaye was born on this day in 1939. The multi-talented Motown artist was shot to death by his father one day short of his 45th birthday, on April 1, 1984.

2 More P&Z Members Resign

Chip Stephens’ resignation last night from the Planning & Zoning Commission surprised many Westporters. The 3-term member — and native Westporter — has taken a new full-time job in Maine.

But his resignation was bracketed by 2 others. Al Gratrix resigned hours earlier, after 7 years as a full commissioner, and the past 4 as an alternate.

This afternoon, former chair and 13-year member Cathy Walsh submitted hers too. 

All 3 are Republicans. Jon Olefson is the lone Republican remaining, on what should be a 7-member board. By statute, the remaining commissioners choose the trio’s replacement. All must be registered Republicans.

Today, Stephens offers these tributes to his fellow former P&Z members. 

Al is the poster boy; the jack of all trades. He brought wisdom, understanding and service to the commission.

He knows the regulations and how they related to the applications at hand. He is well versed in all building technicalities, codes and everything else, and he gave his wisdom and guidance to all his fellow members.

From left: Al Gratrix, Cathy Walsh, Chip Stephens.

Additionally, he co-chaired the Enforcement Sub-Committee that dealt with all types of offenses and issues that went against the rules that 95 percent of time are followed, but when broken must be addressed, fixed or handed to lawyers.

Al also held a volunteer position on the Tree Board for 3 years. He earned expertise as a Trumbull firefighter and policeman, a part-time builder, and through various degrees in biochemistry and environmental biology.

Al initiated the Westport Evergreen Land Initiative, which helped create the beautiful Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum adjacent to Earthplace.

Al and his vast knowledge of planning, zoning, conversation and landscaping will be sorely missed by the commission, the staff and most of all Westport. Please thank Al for his service. And if you see his wife Nancy Austin around town, thank her for her patience and support of his time spent for our town.

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Cathy, meanwhile, was the non-partisan leader as chair, and even more so when not in her official role.

She is smart, savvy, and always had her say, win or lose (she did not lose very often).

She led the commission on town character, local land knowledge, landscaping and planning initiatives that faced almost every submission, study or issue that came up.

Cathy, along with Al, Jack Whittle and I, spearheaded the Save Baron’s South open space project. She created over 6 open space park designations, maintaining sparse valuable open land in Westport for all.

Cathy Walsh and Chip Stephens, at a Planning & Zoning Commission meeting.

She got her smarts and strengths from her upbringing in Pennsylvania steel country, and her hard-driving success trading steel as a profession.

Her local smarts come from her relationships and many friends in Westport and statewide. Fairness and firmness is always Cathy’s modus operandi.

Although she is thorough and fair in her deliberations and decisions, you don’t want to mess or cross Cathy.

On her soft side, Cathy is a huge proponent of outdoor dining and dancing events.

Cathy co-chaired the landscape committee with Al Gratrix, sat on the Downtown Plan Committee, the Saugatuck Transit District Plan Committee, and dozens of other plans and committees. She always won the most votes when she ran.

Westport will be hard pressed to replace Cathy. Hopefully she will stick around and help newbies as they come aboard. After all, she still has her full-time steel business, and 2 daughters and their 6 kids.

You better thank Cathy when you see her around town!