Category Archives: Real estate

Consultants Plan. Candidates And Readers: Respond!

On Monday, “06880” gave a nod to the Westport Historical Society’s “06880 + 50” exhibit. It’s an intriguing look forward, at how our town might look and act 5 decades from now.

Yesterday, Saugatuck Center Transit Oriented Design consultants unveiled their latest master plan.

Looking forward themselves — but only 5 to 10 years — they presented a vision for the area bounded by the train station, Saugatuck Avenue and Riverside Avenue.

The landscape looks beautiful — filled with trees, sidewalks, a realigned park and improved lighting.

There are also over 200 new residential units. Plus more than 40,000 additional square feet of retail space. And new deck parking.

Colored areas show possible development of Saugatuck over the next 7-10 years, based on a presentation by the Transit Oriented Design group.The railroad station is at the bottom; the intersection of Riverside and Saugatuck Avenues is at the top.

The development of Saugatuck is exciting. It’s also challenging and controversial.

It comes at a time when downtown Westport grapples too with new development — on both sides of the river.

Many plans for the future look great. Many blend our town’s history and heritage with the reality of today, and the promise of tomorrow.

Sometimes they miss things. Traffic — as anyone who has crawled through Saugatuck or sat on the Post Road can tell you — is central to all aspects of life here.

Our infrastructure is aging. Our public services are stretched thin.

The future of the William Cribari (Bridge Street) Bridge is key to any discussion of the future of Saugatuck. (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

This November, voters will elect a first selectman — and 3 Planning & Zoning Commission members.

Four Westporters are vying to be chief executive. Five are running for the P&Z spots.

All will face issues involving preservation of historic structures and open space. They’ll weigh in on amorphous subjects like town image and character, and concrete ones like personal property rights versus property development.

All candidates are invited to chime in on those topics right now, in the “06880” “Comments” section. Of course, readers can pipe up too.

But here’s something we can all agree on: Let’s keep it civil. Discuss the issues in a positive way. Don’t bash others; no ad hominem attacks.

After all, this is Westport, not Washington.

Our future is in our hands.

(Click here for the Saugatuck Transit Oriented Design website. As of yesterday evening, the most recent presentation had not yet been added to the site.)

House Hunters Hit Westport

If it seems that every new home buyer in Westport comes from Brooklyn: Watch “House Hunters.”

The popular HGTV show’s promo for tonight’s 10 p.m. episode says:

Buyers in Brooklyn, NY, look for a home with more space in nearby Westport, CT. One wants a modern place that’s move-in ready, has an open floor plan and a Japanese bathtub. The other is hoping for a Cape Cod or Colonial with vintage charm. Can they meet in the middle and find the spacious home of their dreams?

Of course they can! This is reality TV — and there are plenty of homes on the market.

There’s still one unanswered question, though: Will they move next door to the 2nd Fattest Housewife in Westport?

(Hat tip: Charlie Haberstroh)

 

Drumlin Does It The Old-Fashioned Way

Fred Cantor graduated from Staples High School in 1971. After Yale University he got a law degree, married, and worked and lived in New York.

But his heart was always in Westport. He and his wife, Debbie Silberstein, bought a place here for weekends and summers. Then they moved in fulltime.

It’s a decision Fred never regretted — in part because of his close-knit neighborhood.

That friendly spirit remains. Fred reports:

Fred Cantor (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

My family moved to Westport in 1963, when I was in 4th grade, and I have many fond memories of my childhood here. Our home was on Easton Road. I spent many afternoons and weekends playing and/or hanging out with friends on nearby Silverbrook. It was a true neighborhood — at least for kids.

I know a number of “06880” readers lament some of the changes in town in the decades since that time. But I can attest that the small-town, neighborhood feeling is alive and well on the street my wife and I have lived on for the past 20+ years: Drumlin Road.

One prime example: This past weekend we had our annual road barbecue. Close to 50 residents turned out.

The ages ranged from 91 to just under 2 years old. Homeowners who lived on Drumlin since the mid-1950s chatted with a family with young daughters, who moved here just a few months ago.

Every household brought a dish (many were homemade).

Generations mixed (and ate) together at the Drumlin Road party. (Photo/James Delorey)

The friendly interactions during the party reflect the year-round atmosphere.  It’s not unusual to see residents helping out each other out. One man put his new snowblower to use in a winter storm, clearing the sidewalks of his elderly neighbors.

One of my favorite sights is seeing kids come off the school bus and — believe it or not — not stare down at their iPhones but instead talk and mess around with their friends or siblings as they head up the street to their homes. Later in the afternoon, they kick a soccer ball in the front yard, or shoot a basketball in the driveway.

Kids had a great time too at the neighborhood event. (Photo/James Delorey)

Perhaps the size of the lots — 1/4 acre — and the horseshoe shape of the road contribute to the neighborly character of the street. Whatever the reason, my wife and I feel fortunate to have lived more than 2 decades in a place that — to borrow from the slogan of the old Westport Bank & Trust — is truly a small-town neighborhood in a town of homes.

All ages posed for this Drumlin Road party photo, by James Delorey.

If You’re Thinking Of Weston…

06883: Get ready!

Today’s New York Times real estate section profiles Westport’s neighbor to the north.

It’s a fair, balanced account of the pros and cons of buying in the “quiet and wooded” town.

The 2 places will always be linked — after all, we were once part of Weston. And today’s story mentions Westport a few times.

There are references to a couple who looked at our “popular town on the Metro-North Railroad line with beaches and a vibrant downtown. But prices were daunting,” and a real estate agent suggested “they might get more for their money in Weston, a town they hadn’t considered.”

Referring to Weston’s “single plaza in the town center, where the market, pharmacy, hardware store and sole restaurant are housed behind identical brick storefronts,” the Times says “Weston is nothing like Westport. But the more the (couple) looked around, the more it felt like home.”

If you can’t find what you need in Weston Center, you have to head to Westport.

The article notes that Westonites commute from our train station, shop in our stores, and enjoy our restaurants.

Of course, Weston’s school system is excellent. The 2-acre zoning is very appealing. And it’s got Devil’s Den, 3 private clubs and Lachat Town Farm.

Negatives include the “rather sluggish” real estate market, and a property tax rate “higher than that of most surrounding towns.”

That won’t change, says 1st Selectman Nina Daniel.

“When you come into Weston, you breathe a sigh of relief. You are not in traffic. You have a sense of being away from the hurly-burly of the world.”

For years, Cobb’s Mill Inn defined Weston. The New York Times story never mentioned the fabled restaurant.

The Times concludes:

The resistance to change that has long defined Weston has lessened of late, as newcomers push for various amenities. As first selectman, Ms. Daniel is trying to straddle the divide, agreeing with those who want, for example, sidewalks connecting the school campus with the town center, while reassuring others that the town is not headed for mass commercialization. Also up for discussion: a town green, a community center and cluster-style housing for retirees.

(To read the entire story, click here. Hat tip: John Karrel)

“Kayak House” Slated For Demolition

It’s one of the most well-known houses in Westport.

But it won’t be for long.

The small yellow cottage on Bridge Street — the first one past the William Cribari Bridge heading east — sports a “Demolition” notice on a nearby tree.

The 572-square-foot home was built in 1932.

No word on what will replace it.

Or where all those kayaks in the yard will go.

 

Westport’s 1st $10 Parking Lot Is Open For Business

Everybody’s talking about how much to charge for Compo Beach parking.

Fortunately, with two exceptions — the Saugatuck and Green’s Farms train stations — every other parking spot in Westport has been free.

Until now.

Last night I went to The ‘Port. Between that popular new restaurant and Bartaco, there’s now a great lively scene on the west bank of the Saugatuck River.

Sure, parking in the closest lot is tight. With the removal of some spots from behind the old Save the Children building, it’s tougher.

Of course, there’s always been the 3-level parking deck, a few steps away across Wilton Road.

Spots are also available next to the deck, by the office building at 11 Wilton Road. A semi-hidden sign warns “Reserved Parking 24 hours a day/7 days a week/Violators will be towed at Vehicle Owner’s expense.”

That deters most drivers. They simply head into the adjacent garage.

But tonight a teenage boy stopped everyone who entered. He charged $10 to park in the “reserved” lot.

And the lower level of the parking deck was chained shut.

He told drivers they could use the top levels of the deck — though they quickly filled up.

He said his father owned the reserved lot. He added that the lower level of the parking deck was “always” reserved.

I found one of the last remaining spots on the upper deck.

The Wilton Road parking deck. The private lot at 11 Wilton Road is on the left.

I had a fine meal (salmon, brussels sprouts) at The ‘Port.

When I headed back to my car, the kid was gone. The chain to the lower level was gone too.

It’s one thing to close off a private lot — cheesy, but legal. A Church Lane landlord next to Spotted Horse has done that for a while.

But charging 10 bucks for a spot in an unused lot — well, let’s just say that’s not the way we do things in the ‘port.

8-30g Relief? Not So Fast.

It seemed like welcome news last month, when the General Assembly overrode Governor Malloy’s veto of a bill that would loosen restrictions of 8-30g. Part of the state’s affordable housing standards, 8-30g incentivizes municipalities to make 10 percent of their housing stock “affordable.”

Officials in Westport — which has more affordable housing than counts under narrow 8-30g regulations — thought the override meant they’d qualify for a moratorium.

But the devil may be in the details.

According to Partnership for Strong Communities — a statewide policy and advocacy organization “dedicated to ending homelessness, expanding the creation of affordable housing, and building strong communities in Connecticut” — Westport will not qualify for “eligibility relief.”

Hales Court is affordable Westport housing — though it was built before 8-30g regulations came in effect in 1990, and does not count for “points.”

The reasons are complex. The organization says:

Through September 30, 2022 a town is eligible for a moratorium from the provisions of Section 8-30g if it shows that it has added affordable housing units equal to the greater of 2 percent of the housing stock, or 50 Housing Unit Equivalent (HUE) points. Previously, the minimum number of HUE points required was 75. This change makes it easier for the state’s 64 smallest towns to achieve a moratorium.

But Westport is not among those “smallest towns.”

For towns with 20,000 or more housing units, the requirements for achieving a 2nd and subsequent moratorium have been eased by reducing the number of HUE points needed from 2% of a town’s housing units to 1.5%. The term of a 2nd or subsequent moratorium is extended from 4 to 5 years for 6 towns: Fairfield, Greenwich, Hamden, Milford, Stratford and West Hartford.

In other words — according to PSC — Westport is not helped by having 10,000 housing units less than the 20,000.

Canal Park offers affordable housing for seniors, near downtown. It too was built before 1990.

The organization continues:

Through September 30, 2022, restricted family units with at least 3 bedrooms, or in an Incentive Housing Zone (IHZ), receive a 1/4-point bonus. Restricted elderly units receive a 1/2-point bonus, if at least 60% of the restricted units counted toward the moratorium are family units.

However, no 3-bedroom units have been offered in any 8-30g in Westport.

Complex? Absolutely.

What comes next? Perhaps more “affordable housing” proposals.

Stay tuned.

Final Court Denies Wilton Road Affordable Housing Appeal

The corner of Wilton Road and Kings Highway North will not become clogged with traffic. The fire department will not have to worry about access to a potentially dangerous site. The Saugatuck River wetlands are safe.

Those are 3 direct consequences of a judicial decision, announced today by Westport town attorney Ira Bloom.

Connecticut’s Appellate Court has denied a petition by Garden Homes. The Stamford-based developer contested a May decision in Hartford Superior Court that dismissed their appeal of a unanimous decision by Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission. In February 2016, the board denied Garden Homes’ application to build a 6-story, 48-unit apartment complex on one of the busiest, most environmentally sensitive corners of Westport.

The Superior Court judge’s decision noted grave concerns about safety, and damage to wetlands adjacent to the 1.16-acre parcel at 122 Wilton Road.

“I am very pleased with this decision from the Appellate Court,” Bloom said.  “The Trial Court’s decision upholding our denial of this application now stands.  The Planning & Zoning Commission, its staff, First Selectman Jim Marpe,  our consultants, and all the citizens who participated in the hearing deserve our thanks.”

122 Wilton Road — site of the proposed 6-story, 48-unit apartment building — sits at the corner of Kings Highway North. The property abuts the Taylortown Salt Marsh.

Adios y Hola, Villa Del Sol!

Villa del Sol has served its last margarita.

At its longtime Elm Street location, that is.

The interior of Villa del Sol, as seen from the outside steps.

The popular downtown restaurant is moving to 170 Post Road West. The former site of Peachwave has been vacant for over 2 years.

David Waldman — developer of Bedford Square — is purchasing the Mexican restaurant, adjacent to his new complex. It’s part of a land swap. He’ll demolish the old Villa del Sol. In return, he’ll construct a retail/residential building across Elm Street, behind Lux Bond & Green.

The old Villa del Sol on Elm Street. On the left is the new Bedford Square. The restaurant will be demolished, and used for parking.

(Hat tip: Steve Stein)

Aaaargh! I Moved To The Wrong ‘Burb!

Tomorrow’s New York Times real estate section has a long article, with a provocative title: “What To Do When You’ve Picked the Wrong Suburb.”

“Just like someone living on the Upper East Side won’t fit into Williamsburg, someone who likes Maplewood may not fit into Short Hills,” the story says.

You may expect block parties, when all you get are nannies playing indoors with their charges. You may come for the outdoors, but discover deer ticks.

“Are you looking for a Whole Foods and a farmers’ market?” the Times asks. “Do you want to see pickup trucks or Volvo S.U.V.s? A spinning studio or a Planet Fitness? Trump bumper stickers or ‘Resist’ signs?”

Westport has a Whole Foods — AND a Farmers’ Market. Farmers’ Market.

The piece is Westchester, Long Island and New Jersey-centric.

But at the end, it pivots to Westport.

Ali Bernstein, the owner of Suburban Jungle Realty, a real estate strategy firm that helps families transition from city to suburb, said it’s best to know the good — and the bad — before moving. She said her clients hear about aspects of a place that real estate agents may gloss over. “We’ll tell you, ‘It may seem like a 28-minute train ride, but there’s no parking at the station and you’ll drive around to find a spot,’” she said. “You’re going to move there knowing as much as possible.”

Ms. Bernstein founded her company, in part, because she struggled with finding the right suburb herself. She and her husband left the city for Westport, Conn., which they loved for its beautiful architecture, beaches and vibrant cultural scene. But after they moved in, the town seemed sprawling and they longed for a small town with mom-and-pop shops. Ultimately, after a fresh search, they bought a home in Westchester in Armonk, where they know shopkeepers in town.

Has she found her people? She thinks so. “It’s life-changing when you live in a town where you’re raising kids with people you want to be raising kids with,” she said.

What do you think? Did you pick the right — or wrong — suburb? If so, how? Click “Comments” to share your story.

(To read the full New York Times story, click here.)