Category Archives: Real estate

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)

From Blight House To Bright Spot: Green Honors For Hillspoint Home

For years, only one thing marred the view from Old Mill Road and Elvira Mae’s, down Hillspoint Road. There — sandwiched between handsome beach homes and the beach itself — sat a blight house.

Unkempt and untended, it looked out of place. And dangerous.

When Robin Tauck bought the property, and an adjacent lot, she wanted to maintain the traditional beach community vibe. But she’s also an ardent environmentalist.

Her vision for the blight house was to maintain the same footprint for minimal impact, while creating a model for future homes.

Working with architect Michael Greenberg and TecKnow, the Bedford Square-based company that combines automation technology with green energy products, she built an innovative “guest cottage.” (Her own, similarly designed home, is next door.)

The new Hillspoint Road home.

227 Hillspoint Road uses sustainable building practices and innovative technology. Solar and battery storage is optimized, so the house is run almost entirely off the grid.

It meets many of the standards for a Green Building Award: rehabilitation, energy efficiency, innovation, conservation, sustainability, and modeling for the future.

So the other day — around the same time the United Nations hosted its Climate Action Summit — Governor Ned Lamont and Congressman Jim Himes were in town. So was Albert Gore III, from Tesla (one of the companies TecKnow works with), environmental leaders from groups like Sustainable Westport and Save the Sound, and all 3 selectmen.

Robin Tauck and Governor Ned Lamont, on the steps of 227 Hillspoint Road.

They presented Tauck, Greenberg and TecKnow with a Green Building Award. It recognizes this project, for its contribution to sustainability.

The honor signifies one more step on Westport’s path to being a net zero community, by 2050.

And it also shows that a small, blighted house need not be replaced by a bigger, more energy-sapping one.

Especially at such a well-known, beloved and lovely spot by the shore.

Phil Levieff of TecKnow, Albert Gore III of Tesla, and Robin Tauck. (Photos/JC Martin)

Backyard Dumping In Front Of Westfair Village

An alert “06880” reader living in Westfair Village — behind Westfair Center, between Post Road East and North Bulkley Avenue — writes:

This is a fantastic neighborhood. In the last few years, many homes have turned over to new families with young children. There is almost a full school bus just for our little area. There are also families that have lived here for decades.

All of the houses are on lots of about 1/3 acre, so there is a tremendous feeling of community. It’s common to see kids and parents walking the streets each day.  Of course, there’s an annual block party. It’s a Halloween destination for many families who live elsewhere, because it’s so easy to walk to so many homes.

Westfair Drive. (Photo/Google Maps)

We (and many of our neighbors) truly love the area — and its proximity to the Post Road.

However, Westfair meets the Post Road near the shopping complex that houses Shanghai Gourmet, Gaetano’s and Yamafuji Sushi. Over the years, the back parking lot has become progressively more of a dumping ground.

An oil dumpster has leaked for years.  The lot is littered with boxes, bottles and cans — no one looks after it. A bin of soiled aprons is a permanent fixture — along with a discarded refrigeration unit.

The building needs a good paint job. And the roof fence needs fixing.

It’s unclear whether anyone has complained to the owner: 1701 Post Road East LLC (registered to a parent company with an address of 30 Shorehaven Road, Norwalk).

If so, and they’ve done nothing: Shame.

If no one has contacted them: They should know what’s going on with their tenants, anyway.

And be good neighbors, regardless.

Senior Housing Rises — Quietly — In Westport

Senior communities are fairly quiet. Older residents are not loud. They don’t drive much, or create a stir.

On the other hand, many of those seniors are quite active. They participate in group activities. They exercise. There’s plenty of life there.

Those characteristics can be applied to the current construction at 1141 Post Road East. There — on the former Kowalsky property, between the old Geiger’s site and the new 1177 Post Road East apartments — a new assisted living center is being built.

From the road, we can see something going on there. But it’s back near the woods. It’s quiet and low-key.

The facility is called The Residence at Westport. When it opens — the target date is next summer — it will include 96 studio, 1-bedroom and 2-bedroom apartments. It’s the first upscale community of its kind in town.

Artist’s rendering of the Residence at Westport.

The Residence features common rooms, a library, media room, “bistro” and dining room.

There are no set meal hours. Dining is any time between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Among the amenities: laundry and linen services, in-house maintenance, personal housekeeping. Pets are allowed.

The 3 levels of care are independent living, assisted living and “Reflections Memory Care,” for residents with dementia.

Apartments begin at $7,250 a month. The most expensive is $10,421.

The Residence at Westport is being developed by LCB Senior Living. They operate similar senior communities in Stamford and Darien, as well as Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.

A sales office is already operating, at 238 Post Road East. For more information, click here.

Westport Housing Authority: Little-Known Body Has Big Impact

In 1952, the Hales family sold 14 acres of land to the town. The price: $1.

The Westport Housing Authority had been established a few years earlier. For the first time, it was ready to act.

With state financing the WHA built 40 Cape Cods, between Greens Farms Road and Hillspoint. Hales Court helped ease Westport’s severe postwar housing shortage.

In the nearly 70 years since, the WHA has done much more. Hales Court has nearly doubled in size. There are 93 units at Sasco Creek and Hidden Brook, contiguous sites on Post Road East. And 50 elderly and disabled Westporters live at Canal Park, near downtown.

Yet the Westport Housing Authority remains unknown — or little understood — by most Westporters.

The  official name is the Housing Authority of the Town of Westport. Yet it’s not really a town body. It’s independent — “like a water pollution control authority,” says executive director Carol Martin.

As with other housing authorities around Connecticut, the WHA falls under a state statute.

The 1st selectman appoints a board of commissioners. Five members serve rolling 5-year terms.

Beyond that though, there is no link to town government. The housing authority’s money is completely separate too.

Funding comes from federal and state grants, and real estate the WHA owns and manages. Each of its 4 independent properties has its own operating budget. They range from $412,000 annually (Hidden Brook), to $1.1 million (Hales Court).

All 221 units are income-restricted.

At Hales Court, the limit is 60% of the area median income. For a family of 4, that median is about $144,000 a year. So, Martin says, the 78 homes there — most of them 1,700 to 1,800 square feet — are rented by people with quite low incomes, to those earning about $75,000 annually.

Hales Court, after its 2008 modernization.

Hales Court now encompasses 78 units. The WHA modernized the entire area in 2008. The original homes had limited accessibility, and were not in compliance with fire codes.

Working with a development partner, the WHA applied for and received $2 million in 9% low-income housing tax credits — a program initiated by the Reagan administration.

Sasco Creek and Hidden Brook — the front and rear portions of 4-acre 1655 Post Road East, respectively, until the 1990s the site of a trailer park near Stop & Shop — is restricted, variously, to families with 60%, 50% and 25% of the area median income. Most units include 3 bedrooms, and are approximately 1,800 square feet.

Hidden Brook apartments.

The 2 developments were constructed using tax credits, and tax-exempt bond financing.

Canal Park’s studio and 1-bedroom apartments are restricted to people 62 and older, and the disabled (by Social Security definition). It was built in 1981, with federal and state assistance.

Martin — the part-time executive director — is assisted by two full-time “resident services” staff members. Other operations — maintenance work, rent collection, lease enforcement and the like — are contracted out.

“We’ve really elevated our services,” Martin says proudly. “We’ve got cradle to grave — newborns to the frail elderly — and we take care of them all.”

David Newberg chairs the Westport Housing Authority. He and fellow commissioners Thomas Bloch, Jeff Nixon, Kathleen Wauchope and C. Gibson Halloran “understand and support our mission,” Martin says. “They all want to give back to the town.”

Westport Housing Authority director Carol Martin.

The WHA does great — and important — work. They’d like to create even more housing opportunities.

However, Martin notes, the cost of land and zoning regulations limit future expansion.

But the WHA keeps looking for opportunities.

“We help people become more successful — emotionally, socially and financially,” Martin says. ” We’re a friendly partner. We do all the work.”

Even if most Westporters have no idea who — or what — the Westport Housing Authority is.

[OPINION] Unsightly Stump Town

Alert “06880” reader — and concerned streetscape admirer — Bob Weingarten writes:

Westport’s tree warden decides whether a tree on town property should be removed.

That includes the strip of land extending from public roads to private property, in front of most Westport houses. We’ve all seen signs on trees that are to be removed. After authorization, a town crew cuts down the tree. But they frequently leave the stump, because it is costly to remove. (Homeowners who remove trees on their property usually do remove stumps.)

One stump …

Recently the town removed 4 trees, because of decay or other issues, on Hillandale Road. The stumps are still in place, and probably will remain.

… more stumps …

There are also 2 tree stumps on Center Street, and many stumps on other streets.

They become very unsightly, with all kinds of growth.

… and another. (Photos/Bob Weingarten)

The issue is whether the town should remove the stumps, because they change the characteristics of our streets and the value of our homes. I believe that since the stumps are on town property, homeowner cannot remove them.

I’d like to hear what other Westporters think.

New Residences At Richmondville Mill?

One of Westport’s most historic buildings — The Mill on Richmondville Avenue — may have a new look.

The red-brick former factory on the Saugatuck River, just off Main Street near Coffee An’, is now the site of a variety of small offices.

The Mill, 41 Richmondville Avenue.

A trio of developers — Coastal Luxury Homes, Gault Family Companies and Michael Greenberg & Associates — is requesting a text change application, to residential use. If granted, they would reuse most of the historic portions of the existing building, remove the later additions and infill with some new construction, replacing 55,000 square feet of offices with approximately 38 condominiums.

The design includes a pool and garage. The site is 2.41 acres.

The plan is in the early stages. After the text amendment process with the Planning & Zoning Commission, the proposal would go through various town boards, including the Conservation Commission and Flood and Erosion Control Board.

Aerial view of the current site. The Mill is in the center of the photo.

In a letter to neighbors, consultant Richard Redniss says the condos would reduce traffic, and improve the landscape buffer. The concept will be presented to neighbors at a meeting this Thursday (September 12, 7 p.m., The Mill).

Neighbors worry about increased traffic, noise, more lights, flood and wetland issues, and a different “feel” to the neighborhood. They say they will share those concerns at the meeting.

The proposal.

If You’re Thinking Of Living In Westport …

… then this Sunday’s New York Times has a story for you.

We’re the subject of this coming weekend’s Real Estate section feature. Sometimes a neighborhood is featured; other times, a village or — like us — entire town.

The piece begins with a story about a British couple with 3 young daughters. They rented in Old Greenwich, but found it very “finance-driven. They wanted to be part of “a real community.”

The New York Times map of Westport.

Westport — with its “scenic waterfront, proximity to New York City and variety of restaurants, as well as its international contingent and cosmopolitan atmosphere” — offered “ nice balance of diversity, understated successful people and enough of a European vibe.”

1st Selectman Jim Marpe then touts Westport’s “global mind set,” along with the arts, education, abundant recreational facilities and — according to the Times — “2 downtowns.”

One of our downtowns serves as the main image for the New York Times profile of Westport. (Photo/Jane Beiles for New York Times)

“The lifestyle here caters to a range of interests,” Marpe says. “And to high expectations.”

Marpe notes, “We live in a place that dates back to the very start of this country. There is a sense of history here, but we are firmly focused on the future.”

The rest of the piece includes information on Westport’s geography and neighborhoods (I learned that there’s an area known as “In-Town,” which is “within walking distance of the main downtown”); the housing mix (there are 8,818 single-family houses, 104 multifamily homes, 546 condos in 21 complexes, 292 rental apartments in residential and mixed-use buildings, 4 affordable-housing complexes with 217 units, and 1 building with 36 age-restricted cooperative apartments); the price range ($350,000 to $22.5 million, with homes under $1 million selling fastest and waterfront properties listed at a premium).

An aerial view of the Saugatuck River.(Photo/Jane Beiles for New York Times)

There’s also this, headlined “The Vibe”:

From “The Twilight Zone” and “Bewitched” to the current sitcom “American Housewife,” Westport has long been cast as an affluent suburban backdrop for television. Stereotypes aside, the town blends a laid-back ambience with year-round cultural offerings, high-end shopping and dining, and a slew of outdoor activities.

“With roots as an artists’ colony, Westport remains a creative hub,” The Times continues. The Westport Country Playhouse, Community Theatre, Levitt Pavilion, Westport Writers’ Workshop, Library, and MoCA Westport (formerly the Westport Arts Center) are all mentioned.

Schools get mentioned too, including the district’s #1 ranking in the state (and 28th in the country) by Niche, and Staples’ 7th place state rating by U.S. News and World Report.

Girls soccer: one of the many great activities at Staples High School. (Photo by Jane Beiles for New York Times)

Finally, there’s a section on the “64- to 90-minute” commute (though Marpe notes that more people now come to Westport for work than leave), and a bit of history of the Minute Man monument.

It’s a very fair and balanced picture of our town.

It’s just a week after Labor Day. But clearly, every realtor in Westport has just been handed an early Christmas or Hanukkah gift.

(Click here for the full New York Times story.)

Shirley Jackson’s 18 Indian Hill Road: The Sequel

CJ Hauser’s latest story on the Literary Hub website begins:

My niece is 8 months old. She was born into Shirley Jackson’s old house in Westport, Connecticut, which my sister and brother-in-law bought when they wanted to start a family. Do you know who Shirley Jackson is? I’m sure you do, but if not, what I need you to know is that Shirley Jackson was an author who most famously wrote about two things: 1) children 2) haunted houses.

Jackson was a prolific writer. Her short story “The Lottery” — first published in 1948, about brutal events in a seemingly normal village, and perhaps an inspiration for “The Hunger Games” — is an English course staple. It still spooks me.

Shortly after her story appeared in The New Yorker, Jackson and her husband Stanley Hyman — a famous literary critic — rented 18 Indian Hill, for $175 a month. Jackson described Westport as “a nice fancy rich arty community.” Eventually, Ralph Ellison joined them. Dylan Thomas was a frequent guest, and J.D. Salinger played catch with Jackson’s sons.

18 Indian Hill Road, back in the day.

In 2016 I wrote about that famous house, built in 1901 with a commanding view of Saugatuck. David Loffredo owned it then, and spent nearly 2 decades researching its history. He restored much of the interior as well.

Now he’s sent along the Literary Hub piece. It mentions some of what I wrote about 3 years ago — including the fact that in October 1950, 2 days before his 8th birthday — Jackson’s son Laurence rode his bike out of the driveway, and was hit by a car.

The accident, and the lawsuit that followed, soured Jackson even more on the town she had found “too suburban for her taste, too many picnics and Cub Scout outings, a few too many self-conscious artists around.” She moved to Vermont.

18 Indian Hill, today.

In 2017, Loffredo sold the house. The new owner’s sister is Hauser.

Her Literary Hub piece includes an anecdote about Jackson and Dylan Thomas having sex on the back porch. Today a fake historical placard commemorates the event.

The bulk of the story though is about life in a famous house — specifically, the author’s niece who is growing up there.

The house may or may not be “haunted.”

But it sure has a history with a woman who made her mark writing horror stories.

(Click here to read CJ Hauser’s entire piece.)

Behind The Minute Man Wall

It’s one of the most visible properties in town.

The new Compo Road South house — finished this spring — sits just east of the Minute Man monument. It’s right next to Minute Man Hill.

But joggers, bikers and anyone driving by can’t really see it. It’s hidden by a high stone wall, topped by an equally high fence.

(Photo/Matt Murray)

Thanks to a drone and the Higgins Group website though, we get a peek at the 6-bedroom, 9-bath, 8,950-square foot home, 1-acre property. FYI, it’s “New England rustic traditional (that) interweaves with West Coast modern sensational.”

The view looking west, toward Gray’s Creek, Owenoke and Long Island Sound. The Minute Man is barely visible, near the center of the photo.

It’s quite a place. And — in an intriguing twist — the swimming pool is in front of, rather than behind, the house.

(Drone and house photos courtesy of The Higgins Group)

The asking price: $4.9 million.

But you’re too late. It’s already sold.