Category Archives: Real estate

Bloch That Cell Tower!

Stephen Bloch and his wife moved to Stonybrook Road in 2002. He’s a partner in a Westport venture capital firm. In an earlier career, he was a practicing physician.

The Blochs have spotty cell service at home. There’s a dead zone in the area, not far from Earthplace.

Verizon wants to enhance coverage. You’d figure the Blochs would be happy.

They are anything but.

The company plans to put a mini-cell tower on a utility pole in the couple’s front yard, 60 yards from their home. Verizon says that’s the best place for it.

The Blochs — and their neighbors — disagree.

Vehemently.

The Blochs’ home (left), and the utility pole (right) where Verizon hopes to install a mini-cell tower.

Bloch — who, you will recall, has a medical degree — is concerned about possible biological effects of radio frequency waves emitted by the mini-tower.

And — just as disturbing — Bloch says that Verizon refuses to share any technical details about performance and safety of the devices.

“There’s no information about shielding, direction of the beam – nothing.”

“We’ve gotten no specs” from the company, he adds. “So we can’t even tell whether it’s compliant” with existing laws and regulations.

Bloch notes that current rules were written for large cell towers — not these new mini ones.

“Whenever I ask, all they say is, ‘We follow FCC regulations,'” Bloch says. “I’ve asked them to demonstrate the need for these. I’ve never gotten any answers.”

Bloch says there was “a big uproar” in Palo Alto when Verizon proposed a similar mini-tower. Ultimately, he says, the utility got what it wanted.

A typical mini-cell tower.

“They want to do this here by fiat,” says Bloch. They hide behind legal precedent, and a weak appeals process.”

The appeals process requires them to spend a day at Public Utilities Regulatory Agency headquarters in New Britain. They’re slated to meet December 15. Verizon must appear that day too.

But, Bloch says exasperatedly, “Just getting that appointment was incredibly difficult.”

He says there is only one other similar mini-cell tower in Westport: in front of Ned Dimes Marina at Compo Beach. That’s much further away from any homes than Verizon’s proposed Stonybrook site.

First selectman Jim Marpe and town attorney Ira Bloom have written letters supporting the Blochs, and helped propose alternative pole locations either on public land or further away from houses. But, Bloch says, “Verizon will not consider it.”

He doesn’t think Verizon will listen on December 15 either. But, he notes, “PURA has to consider public comment.”

He doesn’t expect Westporters to flock to New Britain to support him and his wife, in their battle against a large utility company.

But, he says, “we welcome public comment on ‘06880.’”

 

Mystic Market Ends Saugatuck Blight

For too long, the building at 60 Charles Street — most recently the Blu Parrot, before that Jasmine, and for decades the beloved Arrow restaurant — has sat empty.

The vacant building and overgrown lot have served as a shabby welcome to everyone coming into Westport off I-95 Exit 17.

Also for too long — ever since Peter’s Bridge Market closed — Saugatuck residents have lacked a moderately-priced place to pick up food.

Both issues are now solved. The building — owned by Felix Charney and Jake Grossman — has been leased to Mystic Market.

(Photo/Russell Sherman)

This will be the 4th location. Three others — 2 in Mystic, 1 in Old Saybrook — tout “gourmet quality products, at marketplace prices.”

Mystic Market will offer groceries, soups, salads, wraps, sandwiches, grinders, a coffee bar, and a bakery serving breakfast goods, breads and desserts. Catering is also available.

“It’s moderately priced — sort of a contemporary Peter’s Bridge,” says Tommy Febbraio, the Coldwell Banker Commercial realtor who brokered the deal.

A spring opening is planned.

 

 

Pic Of The Day #192

1 Wilton Road — and the Wright Street building. (Photo/John Videler)

Honoring Westporters Who Preserve History

Though the 1 Wilton Road building disappeared, plank by wooden plank, there is some good news on the preservation front.

Next Monday (October 30, 7 p.m., Town Hall auditorium), 1st selectman Jim Marpe and Historic District Commission chair Francis Henkels will present the organization’s 2017 awards.

Eight properties — from all over town — have been chosen. They represent a variety of styles, and were selected for many different reasons.

Taken together, they are proof that Westport still cares about its architectural heritage.

Well, sort of.

Bedford Square

Since 1923, this Tudor revival has anchored downtown. Generations of Westporters knew it as the YMCA. When the Y moved to Mahackeno, there were grave concerns over the future of the building.

Bedford Square Associates — led by David Waldman — made a strong commitment to historic preservation. With hard, creative work and collaboration with town agencies, they and architect Centerbrook Associates designed a mixed-use complex that repurposed the Bedford building. Though there is significantly more space, the character and scale respects the streetscape of Church Lane, the Post Road and Main Street.

Bedford Square (Photo/Jennifer Johnson)

Wakeman Town Farm

This late-1800s farmhouse, with veranda, turned posts and a projecting gable is a Westport landmark. In the 1900s the Wakeman family supplied neighbors with produce, milk and eggs.

In 1970 Ike and Pearl Wakeman sold the historic property to the town. Today it is a sustainability center and organic homestead, open to the public.

Longtime Westport architect Peter Wormser donated his time and talent to rehabilitate the farmhouse. Public Works oversaw construction. Key elements include a rebuilt front porch, and new educational kitchen and classroom. Wakeman Town Farm is now even better able to teach, feed and inspire Westporters of all ages.

Wakeman Town Farm (Photo/Bob Weingarten)

190 Cross Highway

The Meeker homestead stood on the route taken by British soldiers, heading to Danbury to burn an arsenal. But after 2 centuries the barn and 1728 saltbox house fell into disrepair.

When Mark Yurkiw and Wendy Van Wie bought the property in 2003 it was in foreclosure. They rehabilitated the barn/cottage, and got a zoning variance to subdivide the property (making both buildings more likely to be preserved.) They’re now protected by perpetual preservation easements.

190 Cross Highway (Photo/Amy Dolego)

383 Greens Farms Road

This English-style barn was built in 1820 by Francis Bulkley. In 2000 Lawrence and Maureen Whiteman Zlatkin bought the property. They installed a new shingle roof, reinforced the basement foundation and floor beams, replaced exterior siding and enhanced the interior. All work was done with meticulous care, using historically appropriate materials. The barn now hosts civic gatherings, concerts and family events.

Maureen died last month. Her husband hopes that her focus on preserving the barn will inspire other Westporters to do the same to their treasures.

383 Greens Farms Road

8 Charcoal Hill Road

This 1927 stone Tudor revival is a classic example of the homes Frazier Forman Peters designed and built in the area. When Sam and Jamie Febbraio bought it in 2015, it had suffered from severe neglect. They meticulously restored it to its original form, adding 21st-century amenities. A 3rd-generation Westporter, Sam understands the appeal and significance of Peters homes.

8 Charcoal Hill Road (Photo/Bob Weingarten)

101 Compo Road South

Jenny Ong purchased this 1924 colonial revival — listed on the Westport Historic Resources Inventory —  in 2015 “as is” from a bank, with no inspection. Extensive water damage made it uninhabitable. The roof had collapsed, and the exterior was rotted.

The owner hired a structural engineer and architect. The original footprint was maintained, but with new windows, doors and roof. A dormer, stone steps and driveway were added. The rehabilitation replaced basement posts, first floor joists and flooring.

101 Compo Road South (Photo/Bob Weingarten)

37 Evergreen Avenue

The renovation of this 1938 colonial revival — located in the Evergreen Avenue Historic District — included the removal of a later-addition solarium in the front of the house. It was replaced by an addition within the existing footprint. Materials and design reflect and enhance the house’s original character. Owners Bruce McGuirk and Martha Constable worked with the HDC to ensure the work would be appropriate for the historic district.

37 Evergreen Avenue (Photo/Bob Weingarten)

6 Clover Lane 

This 1966 home — designed and built by George White — is a typical New England saltbox-style replication. Its 3rd owners — Lawrence and LJ Wilks — have taken special care to preserve the exterior.

6 Clover Lane (Photo/Bob Weingarten)

1 Wilton Road: Demolition Is Halted

For several days, Westporters watched with mounting concern as 1 Wilton Road — the little building at the always-clogged intersection with Post Road West and Riverside Avenue — was slowly reduced to its skeleton.

This morning, “06880” posted reader Wendy Crowther’s concerns.

Earlier this evening, I heard from Wendy again. She writes:

Following a site visit today that included a Westport building official, the Westport Historic District Commission, the owner of 1 Wilton Road, a representative from the Westport Preservation Alliance and other interested parties, it was agreed that the scope of work done represents a demolition.

Consequently, the work will be temporarily halted on the original structure (although construction of an addition will continue) while the owner obtains a retroactive demolition permit.

1 Wilton Road, front view. The Wright Street office building looms behind it. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

The demolition permit will be subject to an automatic 180-day delay period because the building is over 50 years old.  A waiver of the balance of the 180-day delay period will be reviewed at the Historic District Commission’s regularly scheduled public hearing on November 14.

At that hearing, the public will have an opportunity to directly comment on the matter. It is hoped that the owner of 1 Wilton Road will now consider reconstructing more of the structure’s original appearance so as to preserve some historic continuity and to permit the building to read as the beloved house that has witnessed so much change itself.

Wendy concludes:

If you love this quaint and undeniably historic house, we encourage you to continue to weigh in, both here on “06880” and at November’s HDC public hearing.

1 Wilton Road, before the demolition.

1 Wilton Road: The Sequel

Earlier this month, “06880” reported on 1 Wilton Road. The quaint little building at the traffic-choked intersection with Post Road West and Riverside Avenue was going to be renovated by — and serve as headquarters for — the Vita Design Group.

1 Wilton Road, circa 1975. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

The renovation now looks like a demolition. “0688o” reader — and amateur historian — Wendy Crowther writes:

Morley Boyd and I have been watching the goings-on at 1 Wilton Road. We are disturbed by what has been happening there. Plenty of others have come to us expressing similar concerns. We’ve been looking into it, and thought readers might be interested in knowing a little more.  

The little house was built in 1830 – 5 years before Westport was founded — and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s been a grocery store, a vulcanizing business, a tire and battery emporium, a spirit shop and a knitting supply source.

But now it’s been shorn of its charming 19th century Italianate-style side addition, and just about everything else too — doors, windows, walls, siding, even the chimney – as part of a redevelopment project.

1 Wilton Road, from the rear. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

Though the owner has characterized this as a renovation, many Westporters have asked if this is actually demolition. The Historic District Commission says yes. The Building Department says no.

Either way, one thing is clear: The intersection that Westporters love to hate was, until recently, pretty well preserved in terms of historic streetscape. With the major changes coming to 1 Wilton Road, the loss of this building’s original features and charming qualities will no doubt be missed by many.

1 Wilton Road, front view. The Wright Street office building looms behind it. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

The Little Red Gingerbread On Long Lots Road

It’s one of the most recognizable houses in Westport: the red “gingerbread” house at 55 Long Lots Road, just east of Hall-Brooke.

For the first time in 60 years, it’s on the market.

As befits a home built more than 150 years ago, it’s got a back story.

Plus a bit of mystery.

According to Tad Shull — a current co-owner and musician/writer in New York, who spent his childhood there — it was constructed as a caretaker’s cottage or gatehouse, elsewhere on Long Lots.

It was moved to its present site in the 1870s by William Burr, who inherited it from his father. Additions were built in the 1920s and ’60s. From the street, it still looks much like the original.

55 Long Lots Road. The entrance to Hall-Brooke is on the left.

It may (or may not) have served as a 1-room schoolhouse. But it has a definite connection to education: Burr Farms School opened in 1958 a few yards away. (It was demolished in the 1980s; all that remains are athletic fields.)

The most intriguing tale is this: Shull’s parents bought the house in 1957 from Elaine Barrie — the 4th (and last) wife of John Barrymore.

Shull had heard that the actor used the house as a “love nest.” It’s uncertain whether Barrymore lived there; Barrie bought it after he died in 1942.

Shull also heard rumors that Barrymore had an affair there with a married woman,  Blanche Oelrichs, who published poetry under the name Michael Strange. Shull found a book of her poems — with her handwritten annotations — on his mother’s bookshelf last fall.

More lore: Stevan Dohanos’ famous “Thanksgiving” painting may have used the red Long Lots house as its model/inspiration. (“06880” posted that possibility last year; click here, then scroll down for several comments confirming it.)

Stevan Dohanos’ “Thanksgiving” painting. Recognize this house?

And, Shull adds, he heard from Tony Slez — who once owned a gas station at the foot of Long Lots, where Westport Wash & Wax now stands — that his Polish relatives worked as onion pickers on the road.

Shull says that as a youngster he was teased for living “next door to a mental institution.”

But he calls his boyhood “a paradise. There were plenty of kids around. We had a pond with frogs. It was a great place.”

His family hopes that whoever buys the house will preserve it. And — even if only part of its history is true — the red gingerbread that everyone passes on Long Lots has quite a past.

Photo Challenge #146

Last week’s photo challenge was one of those I’m-sure-I-saw-it-somewhere images.

If you’ve ever strolled along Soundview Avenue — and every Westporter enjoys the beach exit road at some point — you noticed the handsome gray-shingled home on the corner of Norwalk Avenue.

And you saw — whether you remembered it or not — the red postal box by the porch.

Congratulations to Patricia McMahon, Fred Cantor, Elaine Marino, Catherine Ryan and Seth Goltzer. They remembered exactly where it was. (Click here for the photo.) 

Back in the day, the entire Compo Beach neighborhood was summer homes only. Many — like this now-renovated house — date to the early 20th century. In addition to the postal box, 15 Soundview boasts a historic plaque.

Here’s this week’s photo challenge. If you know where it is, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

New Teardown In Old Neighborhood

Over the past few years, the Compo Beach Historic District has lost several homes to demolition.

Next up to go down: 15 Roosevelt Road.

The other day, neighbor Larry Hoy wrote to the Historic District Commission:

Please halt the demolition of this 92-year-old home in our historic Compo Beach neighborhood.

15 Roosevelt Road

The destruction of our neighborhood must stop. Too many of the original homes have been destroyed to make way for McMansions. Two homes on Roosevelt Road were torn down in recent years and replaced with homes  that are out of scale in our neighborhood.

Both new homes required variances for which the owners claimed they had large families. As it turns out, both homes are now occupied by single people. These illicit variances have paved the way for the destruction of this once beautiful street.

A large house replaced a smaller center-chimney colonial on Roosevelt Road.

11 Roosevelt Road has recently been saved and tastefully restored. This is the approach that should be taken with 15 Roosevelt Rd. Preservation — not destruction — is the only acceptable solution for this house in our neighborhood.  Please help us halt this destruction!

11 Roosevelt Road was recently restored with additions, but only minor changes to the facade. (Photos/Larry Hoy)

Speaking of history: Two streets in the Compo Beach Historic District — Roosevelt and Quentin Roads — were named after Theodore Roosevelt’s youngest son. Quentin Roosevelt was killed in his airplane over Normandy on Bastille Day, during World War I.

(The Historic District Commission will consider the application for demolition tonight at 7 p.m., in Town Hall Room 201.)

“06880 + 50”: Mike Greenberg’s Vision

The Westport Historical Society‘s new “06880 + 50” exhibit — visions of Westport in 2067 — is fun. It’s thought-provoking. It’s clever.

Over a dozen local architects contributed ideas. From a reimagined river to out-of-the-way parking for driverless cars, it’s more focused on what’s really possible than an idealistic Jetsons world.

Many of the concepts deal with downtown. One firm took a different approach.

Michael Greenberg & Associates built on their founder’s lifelong association with Westport. The Staples High School graduate grew up in a town filled with artists and other creative people. He believes Westport remains a community that embraces “progressive change,” committed to taking care of the planet both environmentally and socially.

A map of Westport — circa 2067 — shows only arterial roads (white) remaining. The rest of the town is broken up into relatively self-sufficient “quadrants.” Click on or hover over to enlarge.

He’s seen builders embrace the “bigger is better” model, but believes it will end. Single family homes on 1- and 2-acre lots, with driveways, pools and manicured lawns, are environmentally wasteful, Greenberg says.

That lifestyle has created isolation, and a disconnect not only to nature but to each other, he adds.

So Greenberg — who reveres barn and antique materials — envisions a Westport that goes back to its roots. He imagines smaller homes, surrounded by open space, community farms, and places to care for the elderly and young.

These “new villages” will develop, he thinks, as millennials (and the generations that follow) realize the importance of downsizing and living responsibly.

A rough sketch of one quadrant. It is bounded by Roseville Road, Long Lots Road, North Avenue and Cross Highway. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

In the WHS exhibit, Greenberg explains, “the smart and concerned folks of Westport” will establish a new “Farm Zone.” New homes — on the edges of main roads — will surround working farms.

Everyone will pitch in to help traditional farmers. Produce would be available at indoor/outdoor markets. Greenhouses would further support independent sustainability.

Some historic homes will be repurposed to house farm workers and town employees. Others will be retrofitted for day care, crafts and lecture halls.

Main roads will be kept, but “infill” roads — all our lanes and cul-de-sacs — will be eliminated. Pedestrian and bike trails will take their place.

Housing will be clustered in new “quadrants.” Higher density of units and elimination of secondary roads will dramatically increase open space, used for recreation, biking and hiking trails and sculpture gardens. Kids could play — and get dirty.

New homes — modular, for ease of construction and minimization of waste — will emphasize efficiency and quality, not size.

Mike Greenberg’s houses, as shown in the Westport Historical Society’s “06880 + 50” exhibit.

Power comes from solar, wind, geothermal “and sources not yet invented.”

Greenberg created a sample “quadrant,” now mounted on the WHS exhibit wall. It’s bounded by the post Road, Long Lots, North Avenue, Roseville Road and Cross Highway.

“As a citizen of the planet, I am excited that the way we live now will not be the way we live in the future,” says Greenberg.

“The people of Westport will be leaders in making this concept into a reality.

“Now is the time to meld the past with our future. We have to move away from this wasteful, unhealthy present. We have to move as if our lives depend on it — because they do.”

A more detailed view of the Roseville/Long Lots/North Avenue/Cross Highway quadrant (above). Click on or hover over to enlarge.