Category Archives: Real estate

Russ And Isabel Blair: No Stone Unturned

In 1954 a young couple bought a new home in Westport, near what is now Fresh Market. On April 16, they engraved their names on a stone.

Russ and Isabel Blair are still here. They’ve done a lot in their 6-plus decades in town, from EMS to local boards and commissions. She was a beloved Coleytown Elementary School nurse; he led many building projects, including the modern Staples High School.

As they raised their kids, moved to Woodside Avenue and enjoyed all that Westport offers, they forgot about that stone.

The Blairs’ stone.

But 66 years and 1 week from that date Carlos Colorado, his wife and young daughter moved to Westport.

While redoing their patio, they unearthed the stone. They thought about placing it somewhere prominent in their yard.

But after a quick Google search, they realized the Blairs are still alive. And still here.

Carlos posted that story on a local Facebook page. He asked anyone who knew the Blairs to please let them know.

“I am sure they would love to see this piece of their story and their memories, after so many years,” he wrote.

After 2/3 of a century in town, the Blairs are well known. Several people responded — including longtime EMT Mark Blake.

He’s known the couple for decades. He made the connection.

Mark Blake, with the stone.

Carlos showed Mark around his property — including the stone. Carlos cleaned it up, and invited the Blairs over to see “their” house.

“This is just another reason I love Westport, and am proud to serve the community,” Mark said. “These 2 families epitomize what Westport is.”

And on Friday, Carlos, his wife and daughter headed over to Woodside Avenue.

They heard all about life in Westport, when Eisenhower was president and the town was just starting to grow.

The Blairs and Colorados on Woodside Avenue, Friday afternoon.

“The Blairs are incredible people,” Carlos said. “They gave us a warm afternoon. Their strength and vitality left us amazed.

“I just hope that decades from now, my wife and I will be able to receive a young couple that happened to find a rock in the back yard of their recently purchased home in a quiet corner of Westport.

“And I hope we’ll be as bright, hearty and affection as the couple we met yesterday. In the meantime, I’ll take care of their house, as promised.”

Unsung Hero #159

Jacques Voris writes:

I live in one of the houses on Hiawatha Lane owned by Felix Charney. It is one of the houses he wants to knock down to build a controversial housing development.

Felix Charney

When businesses started shutting down because of the pandemic, he was quick to offer to forgive the rent for April. He did the same in May and June. He even offered eggs from his farm.

Now he has lowered our rent substantially. That is a huge help in these tough times.

It puts my mind at ease knowing that I, my elderly mother,and son have a place to live. So no matter what people may think about his development plan, they should know that the man behind it isn’t the greedy, heartless monster some would paint him as being.

(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

Pic Of The Day #1239

A sly homage on Side Hill Road (Photo/Mark Mathias)

Why Is Westport So White? The Discussion Begins.

The title was provocative: “Why is Westport So White? What Can You Do About It?”

The speakers were heartfelt. Their list of examples was long, at a meeting last night that covered topics like long-ago real estate practices, current zoning regulations, and the roles of schools and police.

The event — organized by a group of residents ranging from long-timers to newcomers, as well as TEAM Westport — drew a crowd of about 75 (outdoors and socially distanced) to MoCA Westport. Another 25 or so joined via Zoom.

Black residents spoke of their experiences as a very small minority, in a very white town. In one compelling example, Ifeseyi Gale was confronted by a suspicious family when she pulled into a driveway to pick up an item.

Ifeseyi Gale addresses the crowd at MoCA.

2020 Staples High School graduate Natasha Johnson — now a Wharton student — sent a recorded message that recounted many painful experiences, starting in elementary schools.

Many speakers described their love for the town. For example, TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey noted Police Chief Foti Koskinas’ grace and calm, and applauded new Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice’s openness to hearing about what can be done differently and better, in terms of diversity and inclusion.

But they did not shy away from demanding that the town do a better job in race relations.

A white student described a survey, in which recent Staples grads were asked about their preparation for living in a diverse society. Many noted that they had been led to believe the world is color-blind — but it is not.

TEAM Westport sponsors an annual high school essay contest. Past prompts have included micro-aggressions, and taking a knee protests. TEAM Westport has spent has spent nearly 2 years working with the school system on a framework including training, hiring, curriculum and staffing that would address diversity and inclusion. Winners of the 2019 TEAM Westport essay contest are (from left) chair Harold Bailey, and Chet Ellis, Angela Ji, Daniel Boccardo and Olivia Sarno.

Planning and Zoning Commission chair Danielle Dobin discussed how the lack of diverse housing impacts who lives here. She urged elimination of Westport’s cap on multifamily housing — which limits the total number of those units to 10% of total town dwellings, many of which are age-restricted and do not allow families — along with removing a restriction on “accessory dwelling units” with full bathrooms and kitchens. Permitting property owners to rent guest cottages, or create separate private living space, would expand housing stock and increase affordability and diversity.

Over the past few months, the entire country has talked openly about race. Organizers expressed hope that last night’s event will be an important beginning — not a one-time event — for their town.

New Westporters Offer Energy, Excitement

On March 11, our world changed.

COVID had lurked here for a while. But that day, schools closed. Stores, restaurants, the library and Y followed quickly. In a head-spinning 24 hours, the entire town shut down.

Every Westporter had a multitude of fears. We worried about interrupted educations, job losses, wiped-out savings. We wondered how to juggle childcare and eldercare. We had no idea how or where to shop for groceries. We hoarded toilet paper. We thought we might, literally, die.

A few industries flourished. Most suffered greatly.

Real estate professionals bunkered in. With buyers and sellers confined to their homes, open houses canceled and the entire Northeast locked down, they imagined they’d never sell another property.

To everyone’s amazement, the market sizzled. First came rentals; sales followed soon. Buyers purchased houses sight unseen. Sellers juggled multiple offers, above the asking price. In a world gone crazy, the real estate market was truly insane.

Some of those newcomers have been here since spring. Others arrive every day. Almost unnoticed — kind of like the coronavirus, but in a good way — they snuck up on us.

They haven’t taken over our town. But all these new arrivals will inevitably change it.

As a native Westporter, I am truly happy and excited

In a thoroughly unscientific sampling, it seems that nearly every new homeowner comes from Manhattan or Brooklyn. Some had already thought about moving to the ‘burbs; the virus sped up their plans. Others had no intention of leaving New York.

During a pandemic, the advantages of city living take a back seat …

But here they are. They bring youth, energy, fresh eyes and young kids to our town. They are smart, talented and creative. They are diverse and intriguing.

They want to take advantage of the best that Westport offers. They love what they’ve seen so far — and they haven’t even seen us at our best.

They want to contribute something to their new community, too. With so many of them working from their (new) home offices, they’ll have time to give back. All we have to do is let them know what’s possible, and invite them in.

… to amenities like space and grass.

If you’re a newcomer, get involved!

When social distancing restrictions are lifted, the Westport Library’s Forum will once again be a community hub.

The Westport world is your oyster.

And we’ve got plenty of them. Find them at a restaurant (and discover your favorite eating places). Learn about the Saugatuck River by kayak, paddle boat and rowing vessel (Westport Paddle Club, Saugatuck Rowing Club, Sea Kayak. Work out at the (soon to be expanded) Westport Weston Family YMCA. Spin at Joyride or Soulcycle. Jog or bike on the roads (be careful!).

Fun at the Westport Paddleboard Club

I’ve left out thousands of ways for newcomers to get the most out of their new home — and contribute to it. Feel free to add your own; click “Comments” below.

Our new arrivals will add new ways to this list, too. They’ll bring new ideas, create new organizations, take our town in new directions.

This is a wonderful time for our town. Out of the bleakness of a pandemic has come an opportunity for reinvention, growth and progress.

Our realtors have done their part. Now it’s up to all of us — the Westporters who have been here awhile, and those who have just joined us — to do the rest.

Roundup: Dear Prudence, Camp A Cappella, More


Last year, “06880” provided the back story to the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence.” John Lennon wrote the “White Album” song about Prudence Farrow — sister of Mia, daughter of actress Maureen O’Sullivan.

They all lived in Westport, though after casually attending Staples High School Prudence headed to the Himalayan foothills, to study transcendental meditation with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. That’s where she met Lennon and George Harrison. The rest is musical history (and you can read it here).

Real estate history — or at least a nice sale — will be made soon. Prudence’s former property at 157 Easton Road is on the market.

As noted by the New York Post — hey, it was a slow news day — the owner (and landlord) for Prudence, Mia and her mom was Leopold Godowsky Jr.

He was quite famous himself: a concert violinist and photographer who helped develop Kodacolor and Ektachrome. His wife Frankie was a painter, singer — and the sister of George and Ira Gershwin.

The 2 3/4-acre property includes a 7,056-square foot main house with 5 bedrooms, 5 bathrooms, 2 half baths, 3 fireplaces, an indoor pool, wine cellar and a gym.

There are also two guesthouses. One has 2  bedrooms, a kitchen and fireplace (1,273 square feet). The other is a 1-bedroom, 1,031-square foot house, with a bathroom and fireplace.

The property also features tennis courts, a greenhouse and walking trails. I have no idea why Prudence left.

It’s all yours for $9 million. (Click here for the Post story. Hat tip: Fred Cantor)

157 Easton Road


More music: Staples grad Danielle Merlis’ popular Camp A Cappella concluded another great Zoom session. Most students were from Westport, but others checked in from New York, Massachusetts and Washington.

Another workshop begins Sunday (August 23). It includes 1-on-1 and group instruction. Click here for details.

So what’s it like to be part of a virtual singing camp? Seems pretty cool. Click the “final concert” video with students singing alongside the professional ensemble, Backtrack Vocals.


Sharkey’s Cuts for Kids is back to their normal business hours — and they’ve reached pre-COVID number.

There are plenty of new safety precautions. But as always, each child gets a token to put in a box for the charity of their choice. Sharkey’s makes donations in their name to:

  • NAACP
  • Connecticut Food Bank
  • Fairfield County Covid-19 Resiliency Fund
  • St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
  • Komen.org – Breast Cancer Foundation

For appointments, click here.


And finally … you knew this was coming, right?

 

The Renters Came. Their Lease Is Up. They’re Not Leaving.

The coronavirus has upended lives, created hardships and caused unintended consequences for every “06880” reader.

It’s affected every aspect of our lives: business, education, recreation. And — this being Westport — real estate.

The Vincents (not their real name) have owned a Westport home since 2013. In 2017 they headed to Europe for 2 to 5 years, on a business assignment.

A rental template — not the lease agreement for the Westport family.

They rented their Westport property on July 1, 2019. The tenants are a family of 3: father, mother, teenager. The husband is CFO and president of a Manhattan investment bank. On the rental application, he said his annual salary was over $2 million.

The tenants claimed to be in the process of building a home in Westport. A 1-year lease would work well for the Vincents, who by that point expected to return home in June 2020.

The owners noted a few unusual circumstances. The tenants initially refused to provide contact details — email, cell phone, etc. — and insisted that all communication go through their rental agent. Only at the Vincents’ insistence did they provide contact info — for the wife only.

The tenants also refused to set up direct debit for the monthly rental payment. They pay by check.

The tenants did not move into the house until late August. This past March — 3 1/2 months before the lease was to expire — the Vincents, out of courtesy and consideration for the COVID situation, notified the tenants of their inention to move back on July 1.

In a back-and-forth email exchange, it became clear that the renters had no intention of vacating the property. They cited the virus as the reason they could not find a new home.

They justified staying with what the Vincents call “a deliberate misrepresentation of the governor’s Executive Order of an Eviction Moratorium” — a regulation intended to prevent the eviction of tenants temporarily unable to pay rent, during the pandemic.

The Vincents say they were “given lip service that the tenants had no intention of ‘staying any longer in our house than absolutely necessary,’ and that they ‘hope to be out by the end of the summer.”

The owners were also told they “simply had to be flexible” given the unprecedented environment.

Requests for further communication of a firm moving date — even an inspection request after an $800 boiler repair — were flatly rejected.

Though the tenants cited coronavirus concerns as a reason for staying, the Vincents have photos showing them mingling in town, attending social gatherings and watching youth sports events — all without masks or social distancing.

In order to plan for their own move back to Westport, the owners offered a 12-month lease extension to the tenants. The Vincents would look for their own year-long rental — from a continent away — just to have certainty themselves, and accommodate their renters’ concerns.

The offer went unanswered.

Since May, communication has been solely through attorneys. Requests for updates were repeatedly rebuffed, and were described as causing the tenants “stress.”

In July, the Vincents learned that the tenants continue to use the owners’ home as the renters’ residency address. The Vincents told the school district that they were waiting to commence eviction proceedings.

The renters then provided the school with a lease on a new property, beginning September 1. Through their attorney, the Vincents asked the tenants to verify the new lease and timeline for moving. Three times — by their lawyer and realtor — the tenants said they had not secured a new lease, and had no intention of moving.

The Vincents wonder whether the lease on the new property is fraudulent.

Last Friday, the Vincents saw the tenants at a youth baseball game in town. They approached the renters in the parking lot. They introduced themselves, and asked the renters to vacate the home or at least tell them about their moving intentions.

The tenants threatened the owners with a restraining order, and said they would do nothing unless ordered to by a court. “Even our request to simply communicate with us was flat-out refused,” the Vincents say.

The eviction moratorium is supposed to protect people adversely affected by the virus, through unemployment, financial distress or illness, say the owners. “Our tenants fall in no such category, but shamelessly take advantage that courts are shut and no other enforcement rights are available to us.”

The owners have moved into an Airbnb in Westport. They have no idea when they can move back into the home they own.

They are paying lawyers, rent on their temporary house, and storage for their belongings shipped back from Europe.

The psychological stress on them and their children is equally profound.

“People like our tenants should not be allowed to call a wonderful community like Westport home,” the Vincents say. “Our friends are shocked when they hear our story, and are offering help in whatever way possible.”

That’s a harrowing story. When and how it will end is not at all clear.

And — say they Vincents — theirs is not the only story like this. They have heard of at least one other family in Westport in similar straits.

Roundup: WTF; Reopening; Historic Homes; More


How you gonna keep ’em away from the farm?

Wakeman Farm Town announces a slew of interesting events.

A “Rockin’ Lawn Party” (Wednesday, August 5, 6 p.m.) includes live music and a customized picnic box by Terrain Cafe. Tickets ($80 for 2; ages 21+ only) include a donation to WTF. BYOB (blankets — or chairs — and beverages). Click here to order.

An outdoor movie — “The Pollinators” — is set for Friday, August 7 (gates open at 7:30 p.m., film at 8:30). The filmmakers will be on hand, and WTF hopes to sell honey from their hives. The ticket price of $15 includes fresh popcorn from Sport Hill Farm; wood-fired pizza is available to order. Click here to order.

Noted chef and caterer Alison Milwe Grace celebrates summer’s bounty with a 4-course farm feast on Tuesday, August 25. The $90 ticket includes a WTF donation. Click here to order.

To learn more about WTF — including an online workshop on CBD (Monday, August 3), click here.


Tomorrow’s ReOpen Westport Advisory Team meeting welcomes a special guest.

David Lehman — commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development — joins the discussion, and answers questions from the community.

The Thursday, July 30 virtual event begins at 11 a.m. The meeting will be live streamed on www.westportct.gov, and broadcast on Optimum channel 79 and Frontier channel 6020. Residents may email questions prior to the meeting  (reopenteam@westportct.gov).

Lehman will provide an update on modified rules for business sectors, and the decision to delay Phase 3 of reopening.


Your house may be old. It can also be famous.

The Westport Historic District Commission  is seeking nominations for its annual Westport Preservation Awards. Properties should show:

  • Rehabilitation and Adaptive Re-use: making a property compatible for new use by preserving features that convey historic, cultural, or architectural values.
  • Restoration: returning a property to its form at a particular period of time.
  • Reconstruction: new construction depicting the original form, features and details of the non-surviving historic structure.
  • Special recognition of individuals or organizations that advance the cause of historic preservation.

A structure must be at least 50 years old, and fit at least one of these criteria:

  • designed by a significant architect
  • the property is associated with a significant event or person;
  • the structure is indicative of a significant architectural style or period.

Nominations can be made by private residents, not-for-profits, commercial firms, and government institutions and officials. Please include photos and a brief narrative describing why the property or person deserves an award. Nominations should be emailed to rwmailbox@aol.com, by August 14.

A 2018 Preservation Award winner, at 75 Kings Highway North.


Next up in the Westport Library’s Camp Explore program: science TV host Emily Calandrelli.

The “Bill Nye Saves the World” and “Xploration Outer Space” star will be online this Monday (August 3, 4 p.m.).

Calandrelli makes science-related topics easily understandable, for audiences ranging from from Google, Pixar, MIT and CERN to colleges and schools around the country. Her topics include science communication, space exploration and women in STEM.

Click here to register for the Camp Explore event.


And finally … one of the best in our parade of classic summer songs.

Judge Rules In Favor Of Cross Street Development

In October 2018, the Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously rejected a plan to build a 6-story, 81-unit apartment complex between Lincoln and Cross Streets, off Post Road West.

The 7-0 vote was based on fire, traffic and other safety concerns, as well as historic preservation.

The developer — Cross Street LLC — appealed.

Last week, state Superior Court Judge Andrew Roraback sustained the appeal. He noted that despite evidence supporting fire and traffic safety issues, and historic preservation, none of those reasons “clearly outweighed” the need for affordable housing.

The proposal had been brought under Connecticut’s 8-30g statute. It allows a developer to override local zoning regulations if at least 10% of a town’s housing stock is not “affordable.” Westport’s is not — although affordable housing built before 1990 is not considered under the formula.

However, the judge added that the developer must ask the town’s Traffic Authority — which, in Westport, is the Board of Selectmen — to remove some existing on-street parking spaces, to accommodate the sight lines needed.

A number of neighborhood residents rely on street parking. Driveways are small and narrow; some lack garages, and some homes have multiple tenants.

The town has 20 days from the issuance of the decision to appeal.

Brazen Break-In Puts Homeowners On Alert

The homeowners were away for the weekend.At 12:30 p.m. last Sunday — in broad daylight, and in view of the road — a security camera caught a man walking up to their Old Hill neighborhood house.

For half an hour, he casually cased out the place. He walked around the property and climbed on the roof, checking for unlocked windows. He banged on the side of the house, making sure no one was home.

Footage from a Nest camera shows the burglar — casually carrying a Gatorade bottle — casing out an Old Hill neighborhood home.

He finally found a vulnerable basement window, underneath the deck. He removed the glass — avoiding setting off the alarm — and entered the home. Then he used the owner’s own tools to cut the alarm wire.

That set off the alarm, and the burglar ran away.

The intruder removed the glass window, then used the owner’s own tools to cut the security alarm line.

“This guy was brazen, unconcerned about being seen or caught, experienced,” the homeowner says. “He knew where the main line of the security system was, and went right to it.”

Police found a Gatorade bottle he had left behind, and got a DNA sample. He did not wear gloves, so they obtained fingerprints and boot prints from the basement too. However, odds are against him getting caught.

The homeowner shows the cut security alarm line.

This is not the first time this has happened in Old Hill. A neighbor’s home was broken into in mid-March.

Residents have noticed men walking around the area recently. They did not give it a second thought; they figured they were handymen, landscapers or other workers. They’ll be more vigilant now, watching their own property and others’.

Since they learned of the break-in, neighbors have posted Nest photos of men casing other houses.

Another intruder, at another Old Hill area home.

The owners are adding extra features to their system, and more cameras. They’re filling in the basement window, and alarming all their glass.

“He would have set off the motion detector if he tried to get upstairs,” the owner says. “But it’s still really creepy.”

Besides heightened awareness by all, there’s only one good thing to come of this incident: At least one intruder was masked.