Category Archives: Real estate

It’s A Grand List

The town has announced the net 2019 Grand List.

At $11,445,273,580, it’s an increase of 1.17 % from the net 2018 Grand List of $11,311,830,644. The list is the sum of the net assessed value of all taxable property: real estate, motor vehicles, and personal property, a press release from assessor Paul Friia says.

Motor vehicles and personal property are valued annually. Real estate is updated based on market values on the town’s last revaluation date (October 1, 2015).

Work has already begun on the October 1, 2020 revaluation.

Homes like these contribute to the Grand List.

According to Friia, the 1.11% increase in real estate assessment totals results from continued residential and commercial new construction, along with renovation activity during the last assessment year.

New apartment/retail developments at 793 Post Road East and 201 Main Street, the new assisted living facility at 1141 Post Road East and the new development at 500 Main Street were significant projects that led the increases in the 2019 Grand List, Friia says.

Artist’s rendering of the Residence at Westport — a new assisted living facility.

Personal property increased 1.75 %, while motor vehicles showed a 2.6% increase.

The current 2019 Grand List totals are:

Assessment 2019 % of List
Real Estate 10,776,725,115 94.16
Motor Vehicle 350,622,910 3.06
Personal Property 317,925,555 2.78
TOTAL 11,445,273,580 100%

The Grand List will be used for fiscal year 2020-2021 town budget calculations.

The Nyala Farms office complex is the 2nd largest taxpayer in Westport.

Friia’s press release includes information on Westport’s top 10 taxpayers:

Connecticut Light & Power Inc          Pers. Property                         $139,409,760

60 Nyala Farms Road LLC                Real Estate                                $89,277,600

Bedford Square Assoc LLC               Real Estate                                $58,800,800

Equity One Westport Vill. Center      Real Estate                                $35,890,600

Byelas LLC                                        Real Estate                                $24,424,500

Aquarion                                             Real/Pers. Prop.                        $23,549,350

285 & 325 Riverside LLC                  Real Estate                                $21,291,300

Campana 125 LLC                             Real Estate                                $20,767,800

1735 Ashley LLC                               Real Estate                                $19,949,400

Ronnie F Heyman Trustee                 Real Estate                               $19,508,800

Hiawatha Lane Apartment Project Suffers Another Setback

Another meeting.

Another defeat for the proposal to build 187 apartment units on Hiawatha Lane. That’s the tough-to-access property bordering I-95 exit 17, for many years home to some of the most affordable housing in Westport.

Last night’s unanimous vote made it 2 towns that have repeatedly opposed plans by Summit Development. After a number of denials by Westport boards, this one came from the Norwalk Conversation Commission.

They ruled 5-0 to deny a request to build an emergency access road through the Norden property. It abuts Hiawatha Lane.

The Norden property includes 1 apartment building, and 11 acres of designated open space with a conservation easement. It was created  as part of a 2006 agreement with the then Norden property owners (now Avalon) and Westport and Norwalk residents. The easement specifically called for a gravel path for use by both towns’ residents for walking and bicycling, but precluded vehicular use.

The gravel walking path. (Photo/Matthew Mandell)

Summit’s request by Summit to modify the easement was made following the Westport Planning & Zoning Commission’s denial of the Hiawatha project. Westport’s fire marshal had raised health and safety issues, noting that the only access to the complex was at the end of a long cul-de-sac.

Summit claimed there would be no environmental issues with the expansion of the path. However, the Norwalk Commission felt there was no need to modify the easement to allow for this.

Save Old Saugatuck, a neighborhood organization led by resident Carolanne Curry, was joined by members of the East Norwalk Neighborhood Association in opposing the request to modify the conservation easement to allow a road.

The Aspetuck and Norwalk Land Trusts both opposed the request as well. They said that modifying an easement for the sole benefit of a developer would set a bad precedent.

State senators Will Haskell and Tony Hwang, along with state representatives Jonathan Steinberg and Gail Lavielle sent letters in opposition. Hwang and Lavielle also spoke at the hearing.

Artist’s rendering of the proposed 187-unit apartment complex on Hiawatha Lane.

Norwalk’s opposition to the project mirrored what happened 14 years ago. Then, Westport residents spearheaded by Curry and RTM member Matthew Mandell aided Norwalk residents in their drive to preserve the land.

The no-road constraint in the easement was agreed to at that point, in part to stop  future cross-border encroachment.

The latest setback for Summit followed 2 appellate court decisions regarding a sewer extension. Summit also failed to block Westport from joining a suit filed by them against the State Housing Authority, seeking to overturn the moratorium granted from 8-30g applications.

(Hat tip: Matthew Mandell)

Here’s The State Of Westport

The state of the town is strong.

The state of our schools is too.

Those verdicts were delivered by 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and Board of Education chair Candice Savin yesterday.

A large, inquisitive crowd packed the Westport Library. The 3rd annual State of the Town meeting was sponsored by our 2 Rotary Clubs.

Marpe began by citing 2 newly improved facilities: the library itself, and the Senior Center.

He also mentioned that Westport has the highest life expectancy in Connecticut, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Our neighborhood averages range from 82 years all the way to 89 (Old Hill area). Who knew?!

1st Selectman Jim Marpe, at yesterday’s “State of the Town” meeting.

Among the 2019 accomplishments, Marpe pointed to:

  • New accessibility projects at Compo beach, and environmentally friendly turf fields
  • Wakeman Town Farm improvements
  • Sasco Brook’s de-listing from the state register of impaired waterways
  • The town’s new mobile-friendly website
  • The Police Department’s innovative technology and equipment, including increased capability to respond in a crisis, and the groundbreaking Tesla 3 patrol car
  • Improvement projects at our 2 railroad stations
  • A 7% decline in Fire Department 911 calls, in large part due to proactive efforts in schools and the construction industry

The Westport Fire Department has made a determined effort to educate Westporters about fire safety.

  • Ongoing investments to upgrade commercial properties downtown and on the Post Road
  • 3rd Selectwoman Melissa Kane’s leadership of improved town wayfinding
  • 2nd Selectwoman Jen Tooker’s leadership of the “Westport Means Business” series
  • Commitment to be a NetZero community by 2050; rebranding “Sustainable Westport”; the RTM’s legislation on replacing single-use plastics; adding new solar energy capacity; switching 1,300 street lights to LED bulbs, and a “Zero Food Waste Challenge,” which includes a free pilot program for dropping off food waste at the transfer station (beginning April 1).
  • Consolidation of police, fire and EMS public safety dispatch centers with Fairfield
  • Automating building and land use processes with the Planning & Zoning, Building, Conservation, Public Works, Health District and Fire departments.

Building in Westport is becoming easier, with enhanced communication among town bodies. (Photo/Jaime Bairaktaris)

Of course, there are challenges. Marpe mentioned:

  • Traffic. He, the police and Public Works are scheduling RTM district public meetings to identify practical, realistic solutions.
  • Affordable housing. We have 3 years left on our moratorium under the 8-30g state statute.
  • The need to enhance Longshore, and other town facilities
  • Keeping the tax mill rate flat, as it has been for about 5 years. Marpe noted that financial reserves are at or ahead of “our conservative targets,” and that pension and post-employment benefit assets are “very well-funded.”

Marpe concluded his prepared remarks by noting:

Westport is and will continue to be among the most attractive towns in the tri-state area to raise a family, educate children, create and grow a business, and retire.

We are a truly rare and wonderful combination of a small, charming New England town committed to celebrating our past and preserving our history, and also a cutting-edge community that fosters innovation, creativity and progress.

Westport preserves its past and looks to the future, says 1st Selectman Jim Marpe. (Photo/John Videler for VIdeler Photography)

Board of Ed chair Savin said that the Westport School District is “strong, and getting stronger,” in areas like academics, arts, special education and athletics.

She noted the district’s focus on social and emotional health, safety and security — and combating vaping.

Among the challenges: reopening Coleytown Middle School, the budget, and the search for a new schools superintendent.

She said the board and community must “continue to invest in students, professionals and infrastructure.”

Board of Education chair Candice Savin’s presentation included slides like these, showing renovations to Coleytown Middle School.

Moderator Jeff Wieser then read questions from audience members.

Marpe was asked about his biggest budgetary challenge. “The capital forecast — school and town projects,” he said.

Regarding empty storefronts on Main Street, he pointed to new businesses coming in, along with “mom and mom” stores owned by local residents. He noted that the P&Z wants to improve efficiencies of town processes, and praised Regency Centers — owners of several large Westport shopping areas — for recent upgrades of their properties.

Marpe also said that the Downtown Merchants Association and Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce are working hard to attract new businesses.

Asked about the relationship with the Westport Museum for History & Culture, the 1st selectman said that the town no longer stores records there, eliminating a $7,500 storage fee. He said that although this year the town helped fund the Museum’s First Light celebration, he was “troubled” when he realized some of the money went toward employees’ salaries.

“We are working with them to recover that portion” of the funds, he said.

However, Marpe added, “the tone of a lot of comments (on ‘06880’) were not what Westport is about. It was like cyber-bullying. I appeal to residents to step back. You’re talking about people who live down the street from you.”

Regarding traffic, Marpe said the most significant impact comes from Waze. He acknowledged frustration with timing of Post Road lights, and said the town is in “regular communication” with the state Department of Transportation.

When the highways get crowed, Waze sends drivers through Westport.

As for Joey’s at the Shore, Marpe described the town’s 30-year relationship with the former beach concessionaire. He said they parted ways “without hard feelings.” An RFP has been issued for Compo, the skating rink/pool and golf course halfway house.

Seven or eight “well qualified” responses have been received. Bids will be open this week, and Marpe is optimistic that the new concessionaire will continue Joey Romeo’s “warmth, style, sensitivity and food.” He warned though that it may not be “fully operational” by the start of beach season.

In response to Board of Ed questions, Savin said that there are contingency plans in case CMS is not ready to reopen next fall; that pushing school start times back 30 minutes for all schools will be on the February 3 and February 10 agendas, and that declining enrollment is more challenging at the middle school level (because of the team approach) than in elementary schools and Staples High.

When the meeting was over, the town officials were not through. Members of the audience continued to ask questions. Marpe and Savin kept answering them.

The Continuing Saga Of Terrain’s Sagging House

In 2011 — as part of its application process to open in town — Terrain agreed to preserve the small house at the corner of Crescent Road.

The Historic District Commission and Planning and Zoning Commission liked what they heard. The small, gray 1900-era building — one of the last examples of a single-family house on the Post Road — stood proudly across from the fire station.

In 2013, this was the condition of the house on Terrain’s Post Road property, at the corner of Crescent Road.

But parking is tight. So in 2013, Terrain tried to gain 8 spaces by knocking down the house. They put in requests to the Planning & Zoning Commission and Historic District Commission (which was involved because the structure was more than 50 years old).

Matthew Mandell was not pleased. The RTM District 1 representative made a video. In it he explained the back story of Terrain’s dealings with the town.

Also in the video, the HDC’s Randy Henkels noted their early support of Terrain, based on promises the store made. Town planning director Larry Bradley described his department’s role.

And RTM member Cathy Talmadge suggested a boycott of Terrain, if they pressed ahead with demolition plans.

They did not. The next day, the company withdrew its request. “0688o” reported, “Terrain is believed to be working with the Planning and Zoning Commission on a parking plan that would preserve the century-old structure.”

It still stands. But — as many Westporters have noticed — it’s looking a bit grotty.

One view of the Terrain house yesterday …

The P&Z is among those paying attention.

Part of the previous deal was that Terrain would not use the house for storage — that way, it would not count toward the number of parking spots needed.

Another part of the deal was that Terrain would maintain it in good condition.

… and another.

Well, it is being used for storage. In fact, the interior has been torn out to allow more space.

And it is most definitely not being maintained.

Storage inside the building.

On Wednesday, the P&Z promised enforcement action.

Will it come in time to save the rapidly deteriorating, yet still somewhat handsome, building?

As “06880” promised in 2013: stay tuned.

Friday Flashback #175

In 1925, Edward T. Bedford contributed most of the funds to build Greens Farms Elementary School. The handsome building on the corner of State Street (Route 1/Post Road) and South Morningside was designed by architect Charles Cutler. (He also built Westport Bank & Trust, now Patagonia.)

It brought together pupils from 3 schools: East Long Lots, West Long Lots, and Lower Greens Farms.

That “lower” school was located at 37 Clapboard Hill Road — with funds previously donated by Mr. Bedford. It started as 2 rooms; he later added 2 more. In 1916 it looked like this:

According to Kitty Field Graves, who grew up in the house (and lived there from 1944 to 1960), for several years after the new school was built, the Clapboard Hill property became “a kind of boarding house or single room occupancy.”

During the Depression, an interior designer purchased the house and incorporated stained glass windows, crystal chandeliers, mahogany paneling and more from the demolished Wendell Mansion in New York.

The building still stands, as a private residence. It’s a bit larger than when it was a school. But it’s just as graceful — 21st-century style.

Thanks to alert “06880” reader/amateur historian Seth Schachter, for the postcard of the school, and today’s image via Zillow.

[UPDATE] New Townhouse Proposal For Post Road

Many Westporters have no idea what goes on at 900 Post Road East. The lot next to Walgreens, across from the Sherwood Diner, is filled with trucks and mounds of sand.

In fact, it’s a maintenance lot for the Connecticut Department of Transportation.

At least, it is now.

Sometime in the future though, it could be the site of new townhouses. Eighty or 90% could be “affordable” — under state 8-30g standards — while the rest would sell or rent at market rates.

As first reported by the Westport Newstown officials — including 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and the Planning & Zoning Commission — are in very preliminary discussions with the state. The complex would be built on 4 of the 10.73 acres, along West Parish Road.

900 Post Road East

Early indications are that some nearby residents favor the move. They prefer townhouses to trucks in their back yards.

Others, however, oppose more development in the Greens Farms/Post Road area. New housing — some affordable, others for seniors, most at market rate — has gone up recently near Greens Farms Elementary School, and the foot of Long Lots Road.

Affordable housing is mandated by the state. It is not optional. In Westport, that translates to people earning just under $80,000 a year, says P&Z chair Danielle Dobin. That includes teachers, firefighters, police officers, other town employees, young people and seniors.

The P&Z’s Affordable Housing sub-committee meets today (Friday, January 10, 12 noon, Westport Town Hall Room 201). It’s the first of many meetings about this proposal.

Pop Goes The Art Gallery

It’s a familiar scene on Main Street: A tenant moves out. Landlords leave the space vacant for a long time, searching for the perfect replacement. Or at least, someone willing to pay the sky-high rent.

But take a look at #1. One of the most visible properties downtown — it’s in the old library building, at the Post Road intersection across from Taylor Place — it was formerly the site of Calypso. The “luxury lifestyle brand” moved out more than 2 years ago.

The space is still available. But for the past few months, it’s been occupied — very vibrantly — by a pop-up art gallery.

#1 Main Street

Pop’TArt is the brainchild of Mark Yurkiw. A longtime Westporter and physicist by training, he spent his career helping Fortune 500 companies launch products and services. Part of that involved creating story-telling sculptures for media outlets like Newsweek and Fortune.

His works include a rendition of the Capitol. Commissioned by the George W. Bush White House, it was signed by 256 members of Congress.

In 1995 Yurkiw created a piece of a real estate developer named Donald Trump. He had bought a hotel on Columbus Circle, and wanted to brand it with his name.

A few months ago, in a conversation with fellow Westport artists Miggs Burroughs and Amy Kaplan, Yurkiw learned that Rick Yarmy was looking for a way to champion local artists.

Yarmy’s is the longtime property manager for Win Properties. They handle #1 Main Street (and many other retail spaces across the country).

Yurkiw called. He told Yarmy his idea: a gallery with works that would push visitors to think about current news and headlines.

Yarmy said “sure!”

Yurkiw found a curator. Jennifer Haviland was working in Southampton. But she took a leap of faith, and moved here.

Together, they set out to find local artist who could create or re-purpose pieces to fit a theme.

The current show — called “Words Matter,” because each work’s title is important — includes some of Yurkiw’s own previous efforts. His Capitol sculpture, for example, is called “Re-Birth of a Nation.” Recalling D.W. Griffith, with an egg shape that suggests birth.

Mark Yurkiw with “Re-Birth of a Nation.” Behind him is another work: “New National Bird.” It’s a monarch butterfly.

Yurkiw froze his own passport. He calls it “Passport on ICE.” It’s provocative. But — as with every piece in the show — Yurkiw says, “people can decide how or what to feel for themselves.”

“Passport on ICE,”

Another example: a monarch butterfly, called “New National Bird.” Some people may look at it and think about all the birds that are disappearing. Others might say, “They migrate from Mexico.” Or, “Oh, we now have a monarch.”

Chris Calle — who has designed 32 US stamps, many relating to space — contributed a diptych. Titled “Fragile,” the two parts — “Climate” and “Change” — show the earth from space, in two very different forms. One is lush; the other, arid.

Reaction to Pop’TArt has been excellent, Yurkiw says. And Yarmy — the landlord’s representative — is so excited at the chance to showcase art in an otherwise empty space that he’s talking with Yurkiw about moving the show to other properties.

The storefront is still for rent. But, Yurkiw says, Yarmy sees the gallery as an asset. Potential tenants are excited to see foot traffic, and can envision their own store there.

Curator Jennifer Haviland, with Steven Goldstein’s Paul Newman art.

Meanwhile, Yurkiw forges ahead. He’s spoken with Westport poet laureate Diane Lowman about doing readings at Pop’TArt.

“We want to bring as many artists here, of all kinds, for as long as we can,” he says.

And when #1 Main Street gets rented — well, there are plenty of other vacant storefronts downtown.

(Pop’TArt is open Thursday through Sunday, from 12 to 6 p.m.)

Post Road Real Estate: Tenants Needed!

In June of 2017, alert “06880” reader/Westport Museum of History and Culture house historian Bob Weingarten drove the entire Westport stretch of the Post Road. He counted the number of commercial buildings with either a “For Rent” or “For Sale” sign.

There were 50.

He shared the information on “06880.” It generated 57 comments.

Two years later he did it again. This time there were 65 commercial properties  looking for tenants — 15 more. Many — including 2 former banks, a gas station and several large retail storefronts — were still vacant from 2 years earlier.

The Mobil Self-Serve property next to Barnes & Noble remains vacant.

Once again, Bob’s story touched a nerve. Fifty readers commented.

The 3rd time — a couple of weeks ago — showed another increase. Now, 72 commercial buildings are available for rent or purchase.

Bob says that one bank building was added to the already empty two. Large retail storefronts still not occupied include the old Pier 1,  and XL Clothing building.

The Mobil gas station near Barnes & Noble, and the large garden center near Stop & Shop are still vacant.

Additionally, 2 new commercial buildings near the new Ignazio’s Pizza (just west of Sherwood Diner), with townhouses in the rear, are unoccupied.

Newly constructed — and not yet rented — space at the foot of Long Lots and the Post Road.

Bob is “alarmed” by the number of empty stores adjacent to Fresh Market.

A renovated large office building on Post Road West will start renting in January, for use as co-working and shared offices.

Empty space on Post Road West, just up the hill from Wright Street.

“I don’t understand how we can be told the economy is getting better and better, with the increasing number of available, empty commercial units,” Bob says.

And, he adds, his figures do not include the apartments that may be available across from Greens Farms Elementary School, or the new townhouses near the diner.

“Several empty available commercial spaces are now occupied — but they are relocations from other spaces on the Post Road, filling one spot but leaving another unoccupied,” he notes. These include Sam Slots Coins, Millie Rae’s and Earth Animal.

“What is going on in the Westport commercial economy?” he asks.

Tons of available space near Fresh Market. (Photos/Bob Weingarten)

Westport’s Thanksgiving Miracle

Last week — a few days before Thanksgiving — this poignant post appeared on Facebook’s “Exit 18: Westport CT Residents and Ex-Residents” page:

My name is Effie and I grew up at 28 Hillspoint Road, where the Conservative Synagogue is now.

They are demolishing the house I grew up in in the next day or two… and I am hundreds of miles away. I wonder if there is anyone there locally who would be kind enough to go by the house and take some pictures, today possibly, before it comes down, and when it’s being taken down.

I grew up there with my brother Alex, who passed away 12 years ago in a car crash. All of our memories are in that house. I have tried for months to get the synagogue to allow me to retrieve some things from the house, to no avail. They said they would get me a door knob and send it to me.

I am devastated and would just like someone who cares, to try and take pictures of the house… before and during demolition. I can’t make it down for a couple of weeks and they didn’t let me know until the last minute. I don’t wish this on anyone. Thank you for your time and understanding. Effie

Effie posted this photo of her old Hillspoint Road home.

Comments poured in. Jeff Van Gelder remembered delivering the Town Crier newspaper to that house. He wished he could help — but he now lives in Germany.

Carmine Picarello lives just 10 minutes away. Unfortunately, he’s currently in San Francisco.

Janette Kinally jumped in. She offered to stop by and take photos.

Other readers added memories or sent condolences. A few others said they’d help too.

Inspired, Effie added more information about her house.

It was built by her great-aunt Frances Humphrey in the 1920s. One of the first women to graduate from Columbia Medical School and never married, she traveled the world alone, bringing much of what she found back to Westport. The hearthstone in the living room is solid jade, from one of her many steamship trips to Japan

“All going to turn to dust,” Effie lamented. “I’m not ok with it, and there is no way to stop it or salvage anything. I tried. It’s not been a good experience. Very disappointed. We all know the drill. It stinks. Thank you for understanding. It means a lot to me.”

Effie and her brother Alex.

Touched by the offers to help, she wrote:

Even with the sad things going on, the kindness and understanding I have received from all of you kind people has helped me tremendously, and I will never forget your kindness. Ever.

It’s not the items so much as the love attached to them. You have turned something sad into something very special and positive. I don’t know how to thank you, except know that I will keep your kindness with me, and pay it forward.

Two days later, Effie wrote again. This time she said:

I received a call from the synagogue this morning. They had tried to reach me yesterday as well.

We, myself and the Conservative Synagogue, are equally impressed, deeply moved, and extremely touched, by the outpouring of love, from the people of Westport.

This is a picture of a board from the attic of the house, that I apparently wrote on, years ago. The rabbi took it upon himself to go into the attic last night and remove it for me. Other members went in and took out quite a few other items, that are there for me to pick up in 2 weeks when I come down to Connecticut. They also had a professional photographer take pictures for me, and took video.

The items from the home are now a bonus. The selflessness and the genuine love, that has come out of the situation, is priceless. As are our collective memories. These are the things we need to hold onto the tightest, and value the most, always. I know I will. Thanks to every single one of you kind and selfless souls, who took the time to comment, take pictures, send me kind and supportive messages, and retrieve items from my childhood and family home. The LOVE I feel, coming from my home town, brings me to tears. Happy and grateful tears. 

The Thanksgiving miracle happened just in time. Two days after her original post, Effie noted:

It’s down. It’s done. The house is gone. I can live with that, knowing how many people will keep and cherish their own memories of 28 Hillspoint Road, my brother Alex, and our family. There is no other way I can really thank you all, other than to say, THANK YOU, from myself and my parents.

I heard from a friend, that Westport has had some internal friction in recent years, because of the school situation. I hope this experience brought some of those people together, who otherwise might be at odds. I also hope that tomorrow, everyone will be giving thanks for the things we have, that aren’t things. Most of all each other.

I love Westport, because of the people, who call, and have called this very special town, “home.” You are all now family to me.

Our LOVE, and deep gratitude, to you ALL. — Effie, and the Watts family.

(Hat tip: Mark Potts)

Pic Of The Day #932

The barn on South Morningside Drive owned by the late Walter and Naiad Einsel — 2 of Westport’s most prominent artists — is being moved. The land across from Greens Farms Elementary School will be the site of 3 new homes. But the historic structures have been saved. (Photo/Tracy Porosoff)