Category Archives: Real estate

Progress Report: The Old Bertucci’s Site

Last August 1, I reported that work was proceeding s-l-o-w-l-y  — yes, that was the technical term I used — at the former Bertucci’s property, on the Post Road near the Sherwood Island connector.

Now it’s exactly 6 months later. It’s still not finished. But the end is in sight.

Ignazio’s Pizza will — as noted previously — occupy part of the former Bertucci’s floor. This will be the 2nd location for the thin-crust restaurant. The original is in DUMBO — it is literally down underneath the Brooklyn Bridge.

An art and design firm will take up another part of that floor. That leaves about 2,100 square feet still available — which is why the “Building For Lease/Space Available” signs has Westporters wondering if Ignazio’s was just pie in the sky.

The view from the parking lot.

Not to worry. Steve Straus — of Fred Straus Inc., the Yonkers-based family real investment company — says that exterior work is done. When Ignazio’s finishes their interior work, they’ll open.

And, Straus says, there are “very good prospects” for the remaining first floor space.

Upstairs, there’s another 2,840 square feet of office space to rent.

Straus is proud of his company’s new landscaping, sidewalk, rain garden, facade, parking lot and lighting on the spot that many Westporters will long remember as Bertucci’s. (Older generations recall Tanglewoods. Real old-timers know it as the Clam Box.)

Straus says that the redevelopment of the property coincides with the construction of the office/retail/residential complex across the street, at the Post Road/Long Lots junction. He believes it will create a “village” environment in that part of town.

As for what’s going on clear across town, in the old Blu Parrot/Jasmine/Arrow property by the train station parking lot: Mystic Market announced they were moving in — back in November 2017.

When they’ll actually open is anyone’s guess.

8-30g Affordable Housing: More Proposals On The Way

For Westport, this has been a winter without much snow.

But a blizzard of 8-30g proposals continues to swirl all over town.

8-30g is the official name of Connecticut’s affordable housing statute. It mandates that municipalities make 10 percent of their housing stock “affordable” (according to a state formula). Though Westport has a variety of such units, many were built before 1990 — the date upon which the standards are based.

Which means that developers now eye all kinds of property. Incorporating 8-30g housing helps ease the legal path toward approval.

This week, a plan was submitted for 5 residential buildings on the Roger’s Septic Tank site at 1480 Post Road East. It includes 18 1-bedroom apartments, 14 more with 2 bedrooms — and would be 30% affordable housing, as defined by 8-30g. (Click here for the complete application.)

Roger’s Septic Tanks, Post Road East

The property — between the Rio Bravo/Julian’s Pizza strip mall, and a gas station — is a throwback to the days before the Post Road was greened and cleaned. Roger’s was there for decades; before that, it was Bob’s Welding.

Several years ago, a private agreement was reached between the owner of the commercial site and homeowners on Cottage Lane — which runs behind — stipulating that no housing could be built on the property. The agreement did not involve the town. A legal battle is sure to ensue.

Meanwhile, a couple of hundred yards east, there’s talk that several properties are being gathered together for at least one 8-30g proposal. These includes Redi-Cut Carpet, Innovation Luggage and Pane e Bene restaurant; houses behind it on George Street; the now-shuttered Sono Baking Company and adjacent A&J’s Farm Market, and the Westport Tennis Club behind it.

Those properties are not all contiguous, so there could be more than one proposal. No applications have yet been filed.

The former A&J Farm Market.

Next month, another proposal — much more concrete, in the works for far longer, and at the opposite end of Westport — comes (again) before the Planning & Zoning Commission.

Felix Charney will be back with yet another plan to construct 187 units on Hiawatha Lane. The narrow road is accessible by West Ferry Lane off Saugatuck Avenue, between I-95 exit 17 and the railroad station parking lot. The developer hopes to create a “medium density housing opportunity zone” there.

The P&Z is up to its eyeballs in 8-30g issues. Still on the docket: 20-26 South Morningside Drive (where discussions continue about the historic Walter and Naiad Einsel property), and on-again, off-again 81-unit Lincoln Street/Cross Street/Post Road West development (it’s back on).

The fate of 20-26 Morningside Drive South — on Walter and Naiad Einsel’s former property — remains in doubt. (Photo/Anna DeVito)

But wait! There’s more!

This week, a legal challenge was filed after the commission turned down an application for 122 Wilton Road. That’s the 1.16-acre parcel at 122 Wilton Road — at the Kings Highway North intersection, adjacent to the Taylortown Salt Marsh and wetlands. A developer wants to build a 19-unit, 3-story, 20,078-square foot rental complex there.

“Complex” is the right word, for all these proposals.

Though it’s easy to see why developers look at the 8-30g statute, and see a cash register.

And why they’re filing a blizzard of applications and lawsuits now. As of April — thanks to recent construction like 1177 Post Road East, opposite Greens Farms Elementary School — Westport may qualify for a 4-year moratorium on affordable housing proposals.

Like shoppers stocking up on bread and milk before a snowstorm, developers race to beat the clock.

Pietro Scotti’s Next Culinary Chapter

For 3 decades, Da Pietro’s has been one of Westport’s hidden culinary jewels.

The tiny spot on Riverside Avenue draws raves — and repeat visits — from everyone who knows it. They love the charming, intimate atmosphere; the feeling of being someplace special, and — especially — the consistently flavorful southern French and northern Italian dishes cooked by talented and welcoming chef/owner Pietro Scotti. (There’s a fantastic wine list too.)

Pietro Scotti

But a change is on the horizon. Pietro has put his building up for sale. When it’s bought, he’ll pack up his knives and turn off his stove.

Thankfully though, Pietro will keep cooking. He’ll be a private chef.

Pietro has loved serving the community. But it’s time, he says, to put all the other parts of running a restaurant — hiring and supervising a staff, paying bills, even sweeping the floor — behind.

Now, he’ll focus solely on cooking.

“Being a chef has always been my calling and my passion,” Pietro says. “My dream for this next chapter is to spoil a wonderful couple or family in the area.” He’s still looking for that position.

He’ll also be available for cooking classes, and pop-up dinners for favorite organizations.

Da Pietro’s (Photo/Katherine Bruan)

Pietro’s legacy extends throughout the community. For 30 years he’s cooked for the Girl Scouts, Wakeman Town Farm and the Blues, Views & BBQ Festival. He’s organized tastings at the Playhouse and A Taste of Westport, and raised funds for the Food Bank of Lower Fairfield County.

Pietro’s humble beginnings on the island of Ischia, in the Gulf of Naples, laid the foundation for his love of food, gardening and animals. He’s embraced Westport with his warm hospitality. His generous spirit, humble nature and constant energy will serve his private clients well.

It will take a while for his building to sell. Which means there is still time for Westporters to enjoy their 100th — or 1st — great meal at Da Pietro’s.

Shakespeare’s Stratford And Westport: A Twice-Told Tale

Early Sunday morning, fire destroyed the American Shakespeare Festival Theater in Stratford.

News reports noted that the 1,500-seat venue — modeled after London’s Globe Theater — hosted performances by Katharine Hepburn, Helen Hayes and Christopher Walken.

When the theater thrived, its garden on the banks of the Housatonic River featured a garden with 81 species of plants mentioned in the Bard’s plays.

The American Shakespeare Festival Theater in Stratford, in its heyday.

Papers reported too that the idea for the theater came from Lawrence Langner. It was not his first rodeo. In 1930 — 25 years before developing the Stratford venue — the Weston resident turned an apple orchard and old tannery into the Westport Country Playhouse.

But Westport’s connection to the American Shakespeare Festival Theater runs far deeper than that.

In fact, our town was almost its home.

In 2014 I posted a story that began with a note from Ann Sheffer. The Westport civic volunteer and philanthropist — who had a particular fondness for the Playhouse, where she interned as a Staples High School student — had sent me an old clipping that told the fascinating back story of Stony Point. That’s the winding riverfront peninsula with an entrance directly off the train station parking lot, where Ann and her husband Bill Scheffler then lived.

Stony Point today (left of the river). The train station and tracks are at top.

Stony Point today (left of the river). The train station and tracks are at top.

Written in 1977, the Westport News piece by longtime resident Shirley Land described a New York banker, his wife and 2 daughters. They lived in a handsome Victorian mansion with “turrets and filigree curlicues.” The grounds included an enormous carriage house, gardener’s cottage, barn and hothouse.

It was the Cockeroft family’s country home, built around 1890. They traveled there by steam launch from New York City, tying up at a Stony Point boathouse.

After the daughters inherited the home, the New York, New Haven & Hartford railroad purchased some of the land for a new train station. (The original one was on the other side of the river.)

The 2nd daughter bequeathed the estate to the Hospital for the  Crippled and Ruptured (whose name was later changed, mercifully, to the New York Hospital for Special Surgery).

But the property fell into disuse. Eventually the hospital sold Stony Point to real estate developers.

Which brings us to Shakespeare.

Around 1950 Langner, Lincoln Kirstein of Lincoln Center and arts patron Joseph Verner Reed had audacious plans. They wanted to build an American Shakespeare Theatre and Academy.

And they wanted it on Stony Point. Proximity to the train station was a major piece of the plan.

The price for all 21 acres: $200,000.

But, Land wrote, “the hand of fate and the town fathers combined to defeat the efforts of the theatre people.” Many residents objected. There were also concerns that it would draw audiences away from the Westport Country Playhouse. (Others argued that a Shakespeare Theatre would enhance the town’s reputation as an arts community.)

The theater was never built in Westport. It opened a few miles away –in the aptly named town of Stratford — in 1955.

It achieved moderate success there. But in 1982 the theater ran out of money (and backers). The state of Connecticut took ownership. It closed in 1985.

The garden turned into weeds. The theater grew moldy. The stage where renowned actors once performed the world’s greatest plays was taken over by raccoons.

The entrance to Stony Point.

The entrance to Stony Point.

Meanwhile, in 1956 Westporters Leo Nevas and Nat Greenberg, along with Hartford’s Louis Fox, bought the Stony Point property for residential development.

It’s now considered one of the town’s choicest addresses. A recent listing for one home there was $14 million.

That’s quite a story. We can only imagine what might have happened had Westporters decided to support — rather than oppose — the American Shakespeare Festival Theater in Westport.

Then again, as a famous playwright once said: “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny, but in ourselves.”

Invasive Vines: If You See Something, Do Something

Darcy Sledge has lived in Westport for 30 years. She is active in several organizations — most importantly for this story, the Westport Garden Club and University of Connecticut invasive plant working group. Darcy writes:

This is the perfect time of year to check the health of your trees and shrubs.

Many trees are being smothered by invasive vines — often right under our noses.

I took a few photos in Greens Farms right before New Year’s, to show a few examples.

This is the entrance of a beautiful estate, with stone wall gates. In the foreground you see gorgeous pines. In the background, you see the same type of trees completely smothered in vines.

Vines weaken trees and shrubs. When weakened, they are the first to fall in a storm. The result is power outages, property damage and injuries.

When leaves are out, vines are hard to see. It’s easier to see them now.

I’ve gotten rid of my vines by cutting them at ground level, then cutting them again at head level. The dead ones hang in the branches, but eventually fall off.

Here’s what they look like:

(Photos/Darcy Sledge)

You  have to watch for new growth, and cut it every time. Eventually though, you get rid of the vines.

Even thick ones (called Asiatic bittersweet) can be cut with a lopper. I did it often in Winslow Park, and earned the nickname Cyndi Lopper.

Invasive vines are a rampant problem throughout the US — especially in Connecticut.

We will lose our beautiful trees and shrubs if we don’t work on getting rid of invasives. The town and state can do only so much. People need to walk their own properties on nice winter days. You may get an unhappy surprise. Landscapers may not even notice or identify owners about vines.

We talk about Westport’s changing streetscape, properties being torn down, and lovely trees being cut for new construction.

Yet our own trees may be slowly dying.

(For more information on invasive vines, click here. For more on the UConn invasive plant working group, click here.)

Giant Typewriter Eraser: The Sequel

This morning, “06880” reported that the 19-foot, 10,000-pound typewriter eraser sculpture that’s entertained Beachside Avenue drivers and joggers for more than 20 years has relocated to Florida.

The story quickly made its way south. This afternoon, a spokesman for Norton Museum of Art — its new West Palm Beach home — emailed a photo of the installation.

(Photo/Rachel Richardson)

And hey! I learned something else:

It’s sitting in Heyman Plaza.

Artists’ rendering by foster + partners.

The area outside the museum honors Sam and Ronnie Heyman. She’s a Norton trustee.

And — this is no coincidence — they’re the Beachside Avenue couple who donated the massive, quirky Claes Oldenburg/Coosje van Bruggen sculpture to the museum.

I guess like many Westporters, “Typewriter Eraser, Scale X” is a snowbird at heart.

Gone: One 19-Foot, 10,000-Pound Typewriter Eraser

For years, one of the attractions of Beachside Avenue — besides the beautiful homes, enormous lawns and sweeping views of Long Island Sound — has been a quirky sculpture of a typewriter eraser.

The work — “Typewriter Eraser, Scale X” by noted sculptors Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen — stands 19 feet, 3 inches tall, and weighs 10,300 pounds. Enormous blue bristles project from a tilting red wheel.

It was commissioned in the late 1990s by Westporters Sam and Ronnie Heyman. It’s a limited edition piece. Others are in Seattle, Las Vegas, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

The Heymans went to California to see their artwork fabricated. It traveled cross-country in a flatbed truck, before being installed — very trickily, atop a subterranean 12-foot concrete base — on the couple’s front lawn.

“Typewriter Eraser, Scale X” — just the thing for your lawn.

For two decades “Typewriter Eraser, Scale X” amused, entertained and enthralled everyone who drove or jogged by.

Now it’s gone.

But it will be unveiled next month in a new location: the outdoor entrance plaza to the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Florida.

That’s fitting. The museum will feature an exhibition of Oldenburg and van Bruggen’s work. Much of it focuses on office equipment — including typewriters and erasers.

In fact, the Heymans’ sculpture proved an inspiration for the exhibit. Ronnie Heyman is a Norton trustee.

In 2012, Greens Farms resident Seth Schachter’s son stood in front of the Beachside Avenue fence — with the eraser sculpture in the background.

Plenty of people enjoyed the enormous eraser on Beachside Avenue.

But many, many more will see it in its next home, outside a museum in Florida.

The big question is: How many visitors actually know what a typewriter eraser was?

(Hat tip: Seth Schachter. He spotted an article about the sculpture in the Wall Street Journal. Click here to read the full story.)

Progress Report: That Building By Bertucci’s

What’s rising on the lot between Westport Wash & Wax and Bertucci’s?

The view from Long Lots Road. (Photo/Jo Ann Davidson)

Two mixed-use buildings of 3 stories (and 10,000 square feet) each. There will be retail and offices on the 1st floors, with 16 residences above.

In the rear are 4 townhouses, with 2 or 3 bedrooms each. Of the 28 apartments, 6 are classified as “affordable.” There are also 93 parking spaces.

The address is 793 Post Road East — and 5 Long Lots Road, because of the driveway there too.

Happy New Year!

Pic Of The Day #620

Flood-proofing, at Old Mill Beach. (Photo/John Videler, Videler Photography)

And In Today’s Starter Home News…

The stock market is headed for its worst December since 1931.

But in Westport, there’s a house on the market for $20 million.

At 5,206 square feet, with 4 bedrooms, 4 full and 3 partial baths and a 3-car garage on 1.48 acres, it doesn’t sound too different from many Westport homes worth about $18 million less.

Plus, this is right on a main road. There’s a ton of traffic — especially in summer.

Then again, that’s one of the attractions. This is the house everyone gawks at.

It’s the only one on the south side of Hillspoint Road between Soundview Drive and Old Mill Beach.

(Photo copyright SmartMLS)

In real estate-speak, 261 Hillspoint Road offers

total privacy – and the most stunning, varied and interesting water views one could ever hope to find….This important property is the most truly unique waterfront estate at coveted Compo Beach. This premier neighborhood is one of the most highly-desired coastal communities in the Northeast.

There are “mesmerizing views of the water…..all but two rooms open to vast waterside decks and balconies.” Plus a private beach, a pool, pool house and outdoor kitchen.

So the hell with the market. You only live once. Go for it!

(Hat tip: Rosemary Milligan)