Category Archives: Real estate

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)

Court Hands Hiawatha Lane Developer Another Setback

The long-running saga of a developer’s plan to build 187 housing units on Hiawatha Lanethe narrow road nestled between Saugatuck Avenue and I-95 exit 17 — has taken another turn.

The state Appellate Court ruled that Westport’s Water Pollution Control Authority appropriately exercised its discretion to deny the developer — Summit Saugatuck — an application for a sewer connection.

Applications for sewer connections had been denied by other bodies as well, including the Planning & Zoning Commission and Board of Selectmen.

The Appellate Court ruling is a major victory for the town.

Summit may refile their application. They may also appeal to the state Supreme Court.

But as of today, they do not have permission to extend the sewer — or build on what is already a narrow, difficult to access piece of land, with some of the most affordable housing in Westport.

Summit Saugatuck’s proposal for 187 housing units on Hiawatha Lane.

Saugatuck Center Phase II Moves Forward

More than a decade ago, the Gault family’s bold plan kick-started the renaissance of Saugatuck.

Two plazas with restaurants, shops and apartments brought new life to one of Westport’s oldest neighborhoods. It’s a vibrant, fun and walkable area, with only one chain store in sight. (Dunkin’ Donuts. At least it’s not Starbucks.)

Now, a new development will soon begin.

Last week, the Planning & Zoning Commission voted unanimously in favor of Phase II of Saugatuck Center. It consists of residential apartments on Ketchum Street — the humpback road connecting Riverside Avenue and Franklin Street.

Aerial view of the Phase II apartments (white and green).

Three of the apartments will be affordable, based on town regulations.

Thirteen units will be in the area near the office building that houses the Hub workspace, Bartaco corporate headquarters and a financial firm. That building will remain. Parking is underground.

A small office building on Ketchum near Franklin, as well as the post office mailbox building, will be removed. Four more townhouse-style units will be built there.

The streetscape will be similar to the apartments already further east on Ketchum, with trees, sidewalks and matching lamps. Bruce Beinfield is the project architect.

An artist’s rendering of the apartments. View is northeast, from the corner of Franklin and Ketchum Streets.

The project also includes work on the parking lot at the existing office building, as well as 518 Riverside Avenue. That building houses Landtech, the engineering and environmental firm that’s working with the Gaults on Phase II.

The P&Z was the final town body needed for approval.

Groundbreaking takes place in early spring. The first residents move in in in 2021.

You Can Be A Star. Well, Your House Can, Anyway.

Sure, jobs are fleeing Connecticut like fans at a Bengals game. It seems the only work left here is in a hedge fund, consulting or (who knows?) perhaps Nordstrom, when the new Norwalk mall opens (whenever).

But there is one growth industry in the Land of Steady Habits: TV and movies.

Specifically, renting out your house (or organization) for a television or film shoot.

The state Office of Film, TV & Digital Media — part of the Department of Economic and Community Activity — acts as a liaison between production companies, towns, local crews and vendors.

Part of its function is to help find appropriate locations for TV networks, movie studios and commercial producers. In other words: If you need a nice suburban home, bustling city, beach, farm, railroad station or other scene for your show, film or ad, they’ll find it for you.

Scene from a movie recently filmed in Connecticut. No, there was never a “New York and New Orleans” railroad.

Presumably, they can also find a crumbling highway, dilapidated apartment or abandoned corporate headquarters too.

Locally, a variety of sites have told the office they’re eager to be used. Saugatuck Congregational Church, the Saugatuck senior housing complex, Westport Museum for History & Culture (nee Westport Historical Society), Westport Little League and Sherwood Island State Park have all chimed in.

So has Main Street (probably the Downtown Merchants Association) and the Saugatuck River (no clue).

A number of homeowners also offered their houses for filming. Styles range from Colonial and contemporary to shingle cottage and (somewhat immodestly, but hey, it’s the movies) “Perfect New England Home.”

The self-described “Perfect New England home.”

According to a recent New York Times story, compensation ranges from $1,500 to $50,000 for use of a home. At least, those are city prices.

Westport is no stranger to filming. “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit,” “The Swimmer,” “The Stepford Wives” — all were shot, in part, right here.

So was “Manny’s Orphans” — Sean Cunningham’s unforgettable film about a hapless soccer team.

Hey, it was unforgettable to me. I was in it.

I have no idea how much Greens Farms Academy was paid for the use of their facilities.

But whatever Sean paid, it was worth it. We had a food fight of epic proportions right there in their beautiful, staid library.

And if that story doesn’t want to make you offer your home or business to the movies, nothing will.

(Click here for a direct link to the state of Connecticut’s “Locations” page. Hat tip: Fred Cantor)