Category Archives: Real estate

Former Positano’s Finally Goes Down

Last month — when “06880” reported that Peter Nisenson flood-proofed, refurbished and saved 201 Main Street, the “little red house” on the Saugatuck River that had been slated for demolition — readers rejoiced.

Now Nisenson and his PEN Building Company are about to start work on another property. It’s a new structure — but it sits on one of the most visible corners in Westport.

For decades, 233 Hillspoint Road has been the site of commercial ventures, in the heart of the Old Mill residential neighborhood. First a grocery store, the 2-story building later housed restaurants, including Cafe de la Plage and Positano’s.

This morning, it became Westport’s latest teardown.

The view from Old Mill Beach, as the former Positano’s and Cafe de la Plage was demolished this morning. (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

Over the next year, Nisenson will build a new home there. He and the owner have spent a couple of years planning how best to utilize the awkward-shaped lot — while maintaining the neighborhood character, and views admired by all Westporters.

“It’s a very public property,” Nisenson notes. “It was important to create something that blends in.”

The new house will be pushed back from the road. A dense buffer zone with native plants will provide privacy in back for the owners. But it’s on a public beach. The property ends where the sand begins — so Old Mill will remain the same as it’s always been.

The sidewalk in front will remain too.

The former restaurant has been vacant for nearly 4 years. Neighbors — and everyone else who loves the beach area — hope that Nisenson’s new project will be as well received as his Little Red House.

And For Just A Few Bitcoins More, We’ll Throw In the Chandelier

Last May, I published a real estate listing.

It wasn’t my new side gig. What made the 5 Ridgewood Road property “06880”-worthy was the price.

You could snag the 5-bedroom, 4 1/2-bath, 4200-square foot home off North Kings Highway for just 250BTC. Or 3,030ETH.

Those aren’t typos. That was the cryptocurrency price.

“Be the first to make a Blockchain Home purchase,” the New York Times said.

5 Ridgewood Lane is off North Kings Highway, between Wilton Road and Old Hill.

This week, the house finally sold.

The buyer paid $1,510,000. The listing price — once it was changed to dollars — was $1,588,000.

Alert “06880” reader David Loffredo notes that when the home was first marketed at 250 bitcoin, BTC was $8,333. That equated to a little over $2 million.

Today, David says, BTC is $3,752. So the owner would have less than $1 million of it in the bank, had he or she accepted the cryptocurrency and held onto it.

Which, he adds, “so many of them do. They remember when it was closer to $20K.”

The moral of the story?

All that glitters is not gold.

The Little Red House Lives!

It’s a constant Westport discussion: empty Main Street storefronts, the perceived loss of community character, the fate of downtown.

Recently, David Waldman — developer of Bedford Square on Church Lane, and the new retail/residential complex at the old Save the Children site on Wilton Road — cautioned in an “06880” post that pessimism can be self-fulfilling. He pointed out many positive occurrences downtown.

Local preservationists/alert “06880” readers Wendy Crowther and Morley Boyd agree that good things are happening by the banks of the Saugatuck. They offer this story as proof.

In December 2016, the “Little Red House” faced demolition. A new mixed retail and residential project was planned for 201 Main Street/15 Belden Place — the spot opposite Le Rouge by Aarti and Ron’s Barber Shop, occupied by an aging storefront and some riverfront residences.

The Little Red House in 2016. (Westport Historic Resources Inventory, courtesy of Wendy Crowther)

Immediately, “06880” readers expressed strong opinions about the loss of a familiar part of the downtown landscape. Perched on the edge of the Saugatuck River, the circa 1920 Colonial Revival style structure could never be mistaken for distinguished architecture.

But that wasn’t the point. It was a picturesque little house which, despite flooding and development pressures, had endured. With the passage of time, the structure simply became a small part of what so many felt made Westport special.

Westporter Peter Nisenson, of PEN Builders, saw the many comments on “06880.” As the property’s new owner, he quickly reconsidered his company’s plans to demolish the antique waterside structure.

Nisenson realized that the house could actually become an attractive, valuable part of his larger redevelopment project.

After obtaining a record-setting 15 variances (thank you, Zoning Board of Appeals!), the Little Red House has been flood-proofed and refurbished.

Today, it’s almost near completion.

The Little Red House today. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

Now divided into 2 light-filled apartments – each with its own porch and astonishing 180 degree views of the Saugatuck River – the structure retains all its beautiful wooden beams.

As a special nod to its place in the hearts of Westporters, the house’s original red paint has been color matched.

So here’s our takeaway: Whether it’s a quirky iron bridge, a beloved local bar or simply a picturesque waterfront dwelling, residents need to speak up when our non-renewable resources become endangered.

In this case, a savvy local developer responded to community input. He harnessed the peculiar power that authentic and familiar things seem to have over us.

As a result, his project is enhanced. And the public has the satisfaction of knowing that the Little Red House will contribute to the aesthetic value of Westport’s riverfront for generations to come.

How’s that for a positive downtown story?!

Morley Boyd and Peter Nisenson, in the refurbished house. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

And The Next 8-30(g) Affordable Housing Application Is …

Hot on the heels of the Planning & Zoning Commission’s denial of an application for construction of a 6-story, 81-unit apartment complex between Lincoln and Cross Streets, off Post Road West, comes news of a new plan, on the other side of town.

This one is smaller: just 19 units. As with other applications — Post Road West, Wilton Road and Hiawatha Lane, for example — this one includes an 8-30(g) element. That’s shorthand for the state statute that encourages “affordable” housing — and makes it harder for town officials to deny the request.

Then again, the site is smaller.

It’s 20 and 26 Morningside Drive South.

If the address sounds familiar, that’s because the property was in the news earlier this year.

Those are the sites of an 1853 house, and nearby studio and shed, formerly owned and used by noted artists Walter and Naiad Einsel.

Walter and Naiad Einsel’s South Morningside Drive house.

The plan — submitted by “Morningside Drive Homes, LLC” — consists of 19 3-bedroom townhouses, in 5 buildings. Six of those 19 units would be “income restricted,” in accordance with 8-30(g).

The studio and shed would remain. The 1853 farmhouse would be demolished.

A horseshoe-shaped private road off Morningside Drive South would serve the units. The exit would be directly across from the entrance to Greens Farms Elementary School. The entrance would be 150 feet south.

20 Morningside Drive South — on Walter and Naiad Einsel’s former property — is a candidate for 8-30(g) development. (Photo/Anna DeVito)

As reported on “06880,” a long battle pitted a developer — who wanted to subdivide the property, while retaining the older structures — against preservationists.

The Historic District Commission — with only advisory powers — voted unanimously against recommending approval of the subdivision application.

They sent their comments to the Planning and Zoning Commission. With only 1 abstention, the P&Z voted down the request to subdivide.

With this new 8-30(g) application, odds are good the P&Z is not finished with South Morningside.

Famous Westport Building Bites The Dust

First it was world headquarters for the Famous Artists School. Joined later by Famous Writers and Famous Photographers Schools, it made Westport known all over the globe — on matchbox covers and magazine ads — as the place to send your artwork, writing and photos to become, well, famous.

Not.

Later it served as world headquarters for Save the Children.

Today, alert “06880” reader (and locally famous photographer) Chip Stephens was across the Saugatuck River, when the 60-year-old Wilton Road building was demolished.

The long view …

The site is being developed by David Waldman into a retail, restaurant and residential complex.

… and a closeup. (Photos/Chip Stephens)

Neighbors Celebrate P&Z Rejection Of Post Road West Complex

Rich Bailey, chair of Westport Neighbors United, sent this email late last night:

At tonight’s Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, the commissioners formally rejected the application by Cross Street LLC to construct a 6-story, 81-unit apartment complex between Lincoln and Cross Streets, off Post Road West, by a 7-0 vote.

This rejection represents a significant setback for Cross Street LLC and a big victory for Westport Neighbors United and those who supported our efforts to protect and preserve this neighborhood from egregious over-development.

The formal opinion by the commissioners in rejecting this application will be available in a couple of days and will be sent out to WNU supporters.

In the meantime, we want to say a very sincere “thank you” to those who have attended various P&Z meetings, contributed to our funding requests, sent in photos and emails to P&Z staff citing your concerns, and taking other supportive actions. The commissioners listened to you. and in our opinion took an appropriate action.

In turning down the application, the P&Z cited fire, traffic and other safety concerns.

Artist’s rendering of the proposed Cross Street complex.

Preserving — And Honoring — Westport’s Past

Homeowners who put time, money, energy and love into preserving old homes don’t do it for a prize, or even praise.

They do it because they love Westport’s past. They want to honor and keep it.

But it doesn’t hurt to say “thanks.”

Next Monday (October 15, 7 p.m., town Hall auditorium), 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, Historic District Commission chair Francis Henkels and members of his committee will present the 2018 Historic Preservation Awards.

The properties can be found all over town. They represent a variety of architectural styles. We should all be grateful, for all of them.

17 Canal Street

Street Keeler House, c. 1830
Federal Style
Rehabilitation
Jocelyn and Addison Armstrong

When the Braxton Armstrongs purchased 17 Canal Street in 2002, they wanted to “honor the past while making the home comfortable for the future.” They kept all original windows, including the elaborate lunette windows on the gable ends, doors and clapboard visible from the street.

They replaced all aluminum gutters with copper, and reinstalled a wooden shingle roof. They used antique knives to cut trim to match existing and lost trim on the façade, reused doors restored by soda blasting them, and reused hardware miraculously found in the basement.

Throughout the project, they remained committed to the original architectural elements.  While the property is not a locally designated landmark, the owners consistently demonstrated their sensitivity to historic preservation and maintaining the integrity of this significant structure.

27 Long Lots Road

Site Rehabilitation
William Nash House, c.1812
Federal
Susan and Stuart Adam

This house was built in 1812, after William Nash bought the property from Daniel C. Banks. It remained in the Nash family until the death of Polly Nash, when the property was sold to Samuel Elwood. James Godfrey and Albert Fresenius owned the house in the 1920s. 

It has retained many of its original historic features, and evolved with sympathetic and modest side additions. The current owners, who have lived in the house for just over a year, restored portions and carefully rehabilitated the front area of the house by removing obstructing vegetation and trees, and building a stone wall. Now the beauty of the original Federal style house can once again be admired.

75 Kings Highway North

Helen Muller Preservation Award
Francis Converse House, c. 1922
Colonial Revival
Kathryn and Brian McGarvey

This award is given in recognition of a significant contribution to the maintenance, preservation and conservation of the Kings Highway North Local Historic District in honor of one of Westport’s most prominent preservation advocates, Helen Muller.

When the McGarveys purchased this prominent house in 2015, it came with an impressive history.  It is thought to have been designed by one of Westport’s most important local architects, Charles Cutler. Barbara and Allan Raymond whose tireless devotion to the history of Westport is well known, lived in the house for 50 years.

The McGarveys wanted to reconfigure the front yard and driveway to make it safer for their young family. They installed a white wooden picket fence and circular drive with gates on either side. A 2-story addition complemented the original structure, with original materials, a matching cedar shingle roof and 6- over-6 wooden windows. The Raymonds would be pleased to know the McGarveys are now stewards of this treasured homestead.

6 Great Marsh Road

Adaptive Re-use
Queen Anne Style, c. 1887
Saugatuck Harbor Yacht Club

In 1690 William and Mary, reigning monarchs of England, bestowed a royal grant for a tidal basin known as Great Marsh. The decree allowed for private ownership of the land under the water located at the mouth of the Saugatuck River.

To whom this grant was bestowed, remains a mystery. Not until 1893 did state records recognize a land transfer of the Great Marsh to Henry C. Eno, owner of a grand Queen Anne manor house on the abutting property. In 1887 he added a richly detailed stable situated alongside the tidal basin land grant.

The picturesque board-and-batten sided stable is massed with a projecting gable pavilion, and double-leaf paneled loft doors on the 2nd level. A copper-roofed cupola accents the ridge of the gable roof. The original horse stalls and their accouterments remain, as does the distinctive herringbone patterned brick flooring where guests of J. Anthony and Frances Probst, third owners of “Great Marsh,” danced summer nights away.

A reversal of fortune caused the family to sell the 100-acre estate. A marina was included in subdivision plans. Landscape architect Evan Harding designed what became Saugatuck Harbor Yacht Club. In keeping with the original aesthetics, the stable was converted to a clubhouse, with an addition and balcony added to the south end. The underwater marsh land was dredged to create a harbor, the first of its kind on the Eastern Seaboard to feature an underwater bubble system allowing boats to remain moored year-round.

79 Newtown Turnpike

Rehabilitation
Lewis Burr Fillow House, c. 1800/1925
Chabad Lubavitch of Westport

This spring, Chabad Lubavitch of Westport celebrated the grand opening of its space in the old Three Bears restaurant. The rehabilitation of this historic building was sensitive and creative.

Exterior and interior architectural elements were preserved and restored. The renovation — designed by Robert Storm and carried out by Able Construction — encompassed over 9,000 square feet of the original property, and 10,000 square feet of complementary new construction.

The project blends New England vernacular-fieldstone and shingle features with the historic core structure. The site that has served as a stagecoach stop, inn, restaurant is now a new Jewish center for prayer services, educational programs and meetings.

15 Bridge Street

Bridge Street National Register District
Mary Dolan House, c. 1880 / David Bulkley House, c. 1880
Veronica and Tom Hofstetter

This Italianate-style c. 1880 house was built on land sold in 1879 by Isaac Allen to David Bulkley. The carpenter built a gable-ended, side hall plan, 2-story original home. Current owners Veronica and Tom Hofstetter purchased the house in 2004. They made their first addition the next year, incorporating a new master bedroom, kitchen and enlarged basement.

In 2017, the Hofstetters continued a 137-year-long tradition of stewardship by working with Vita Design Group. Their commitment is a good example of expansion to an existing historic structure in a manner that reflects appropriate design details. The house is a contributing resource in the Bridge Street National Register Historic District, established earlier this year.

36 Evergreen Parkway

Excellence in Care and Maintenance
Cape Cod, c. 1937
Cynthia Wallace

Cynthia Wallace acquired the property in 1960, and has been its faithful steward ever since. This home is a circa 1937 1 1/2-story Cape Cod, a loosely based Colonial Revival style with origins in the simple wooden folk houses of New England.

It is a rectangular plan building with a symmetrical façade and center entrance.  A brick chimney interrupts the asphalt shingle sheathed roof. The exterior is clad in wood shingles. The attached 2-bay garage, presumed to be a later addition, has carriage doors and an entry door. A rear dormer has been added.

The award acknowledges the contribution an architectural archetype of the mid-20th century has made to our present suburban landscape. The HDC cites this as an example of how, with sensitive modifications — including expansion, care and maintenance — a house of a different era, though not that long ago, can represent what a good neighbor can be.

It’s Not Pink…

… like the house at 244 Wilton Road had been for decades.

Arlene Skutch’s former house, 244 Wilton Road.

But the late artist Arlene Skutch’s home — the namesake of the “Pink House Painters,” as avid students at her nearby studio called themselves — looks pretty good with its new hue too.

(Photo/Evan Stein)

Maybe one day far in the future we’ll reminisce about people who hung out here, after it was painted this different color.

“Blue Man Group” sounds pretty cool.

Water, Water Everywhere

An alert (and very worried) “06880” reader is still drying out from Tuesday’s 3.5-inch rainstorm — and the 7-plus inches that cascaded down on Westport just a week earlier. She writes:

I know mine is not the only neighborhood in town suffering from this problem.

Like many others, 2 feet of water caused terrible flooding in our basement last Tuesday. Fortunately it was immediately sucked out by our sump pumps — but the damage was done.

The high water mark on an “06880” reader’s garage is very high.

We have lived in our house for 9 years. We had a similar problem once before, but it only resulted in 4 inches in the basement.

It is my observation — and that of my neighbor, who has lived in her house for 30 years — that this is a progressively worsening problem. It is due to the huge swaths of land that have been cleared, so new homes could be built behind ours.

Where there used to be trees and forest, there is open land. The new houses are bigger than others.

There is nothing to absorb excess water. It just runs over the huge lawns to the lowest point: my driveway.

My drain can’t keep up, so it backs into the basement.

Another view of recent flooding.

My parents — who live in another part of town — have seen huge rivers of rain wash down their road, which they never had in the 30+ years they have lived in their home. They think it may be due to huge houses being built in the neighborhood above theirs.

Is this a larger town issue, with all the new construction and water being diverted as it hadn’t before? Is there a way for me (or anyone else in this situation) to have someone from the town look into this?

If so, who would that be? I know the weather has been more extreme, but I think there is more to it than that. Any insights from “06880” readers would be appreciated.

Rent Or Buy? A Question For These Times.

For decades, most Westport families lived in homes they owned. This is suburbia, after all. Renters lived in places like New York City.

But times, real estate markets and financial planning have changed.

According to a story in today’s New York Times real estate section:

In a real estate market tinged with so much uncertainty, renting at more than $5,000, $8,000 or even $10,000 a month feels like a safer bet these days to a number of people who could well afford to buy in the suburban counties of Fairfield and Westchester, where median sale prices in many towns are above $1 million. Indeed, demand for high-end single-family rentals is up significantly, a trend that dovetails with a decline in sales in New York and across portions of the region.

The story includes a couple of Westport examples.

Aimee Raupp-Temple and her husband Ken Temple rented instead of buying a house when they moved here from Brooklyn Heights  3 years ago. They were testing out an unfamiliar place.

But they love Westport. They think home prices will continue to drop. So they’re renting again — in Wilton — while waiting out the market to buy here.

This Riverside Avenue house rents for $5,800 a month. Current rental listings range from $2,800 to $11,500.

Another couple — Michelle and Jeremy Fine — and their 2 young children have moved White Plains. Property taxes are much lower  here.

But they too did not want to buy in Westport until they test-drove the town.

Click here for the full Times story. If you’re a renter, we’d love to hear your thoughts; please click “Comments” below.

Meanwhile: Welcome to Westport, Temples and Fines!

(Hat tip: John Karrel)