Category Archives: Real estate

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)

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.