Category Archives: Saugatuck

Photo Challenge #225

Once upon a time, there was a thriving post office in Saugatuck.

A couple, actually. The first was at Desi’s Corner. Then it moved across Riverside Avenue, to the building now anchored by Bistro Du Soleil restaurant.

For a while the PO operated out of a pathetic little trailer, in the back of a Saugatuck Avenue parking lot.

It’s in fancier digs now — though not by much — at the corner of Franklin and Ketchum Streets.

The sign outside was last week’s Photo Challenge (click here to see). Martin Gitlin, Michael Calise, Molly Alger, Mark Jacobs and Moira Eick all knew the answer.

But what about the sign’s initials: “DBU”?

Do they stand for “Don’t Bother Using”? “Do Be Understanding”? “Definitely Bad Usefulness”?

Nope. According to Michael Calise, this is a “Post Office Box location only.” He thinks DBU stands for Destination Box Unit.

That makes sense, though it is not particularly grammatical. After all, a couple of miles away — at the cramped, main post office in Playhouse Square — there is a sign saying “No Dogs Allowed. Service Dogs Welcome.”

And so it goes. This week’s Photo Challenge is much more scenic. Click “Comments” below  if you know where in Westport you would see this:

(Photo/Tracy Porosoff)

Mystic Market Meets The Community

I love writing stories that welcome new businesses to Westport.

They’re often about the owners: their backgrounds, what got them here, the challenges they’ve faced — that sort of thing.

I don’t usually profile store managers.

But I also don’t usually find a manager with a back story like Dave Griswold’s.

The man who runs Mystic Market — Saugatuck’s new kitchen/eatery that’s earning raves in the old Blu Parrot/Jasmine/Arrow space — grew up in a military family. He went to 10 schools, before graduating from a fine arts academy.

Then he trained in ballet, and did a conservator with the American Ballet Theatre. He danced with Alice Cooper, and at Madison Square Garden for the New York Liberty.

David Griswold: ballet dancer …

After that, came … the US Army.

Griswold was a diesel mechanic in Afghanistan and Kuwait. He was also in charge of morale-building, getting soldiers out of their barracks to mix and mingle. During the service he finished his degree in business management.

… and service member.

All of those experiences — arts, problem solving, team building — serve him well as he helps develop Westport’s next favorite spot.

Griswold moved to Saugatuck last March, as Mystic Market prepared its new space. He commuted to their Old Saybrook store for months. Finally — with the local store open — he can enjoy his new home town.

One of the things he likes best is the “thriving arts culture.” He wants Mystic Market to be part of it too.

They’re donating to the Artists Collective of Westport‘s May 4 studio tour. He bought 5 tickets for his team to the April 27 “Gatsby Return” party at Longshore’s Pearl restaurant.

David Griswold (center) and his Mystic Market team.

Mystic Market’s leadership team will also be out in force on Earth Day, cleaning up the neighborhood.

“We all want to be part of the community,” Griswold says. “We want to be hands-on, giving back just as much as we want people to discover us, and be here for us.”

He also wants Mystic Market to be “the first great job for teenagers.” There’s nothing better, he says, than for students to learn the values of work, in an open, inviting space like his.

Griswold doesn’t know it, but his store’s ancestor — the Arrow restaurant — did exactly that, for generations of long-ago kids.

The iconic spot in the heart of Saugatuck pulses with new, 21st-century life. Westporters — old and young, natives and newcomers alike — should be thrilled.

 

Today’s Really, Really Poor Parking Job

There are several signs on Saugatuck Avenue, all noting the 10′-11″ height of the underpass ahead.

This driver* decided to see for himself.

(Photo/Andrew Colabella)

He was not injured. He’s fine.

His job security might not be.

*And he’s hardly the first one.

(Photo/Andrew Colabella)

(Photo/Jennifer Johnson)

 

Hiawatha Lane: 150 Years Of History

This Thursday (April 11, 7 p.m., Town Hall), the Planning & Zoning Commission holds another hearing on the long-running, often-amended, quite-controversial proposal to build a 5-building, 187-unit housing complex on Hiawatha Lane. The application is made as an 8-30g, meaning some of the units will be “affordable,” as defined by state regulations.

But the road — wedged between I-95 Exit 17 and the railroad tracks — has long been where owners and renters find some of Westport’s least expensive prices.

Homes on Hiawatha Lane.

Hiawatha Lane has a very intriguing history. Here’s a look at how the neighborhood developed — and a little-known fact about its deeds.

In the late 1800s, train tracks for the New York, New Haven & Hartford Rail Road tracks sliced through what today would be considered prime property.

Laying those tracks was a back-breaking effort. The physical power was provided by thousands of men, who immigrated to America from all parts of Italy.

When their work was done, some of those laborers settled close to the tracks in Saugatuck. They built a tight-knit community — as well as churches, stores, a vital small business economy, and their own homes. Some still remain.

Families with names like Vento, Stroffolino, Cribari, Nistico, Anastasia, Luciano, Sarno, Caruso, Fabbraio, Pascarella, Penna, Giunta, Valiante — and many more — settled in Saugatuck, and helped it grow.

They built all of Westport, as barbers, stone masons, restaurateurs, store owners, carpenters, police officers, firefighters, town employees, lawyers, teachers, and in many other professions.

In the 1920s — when Italian immigrants made Saugatuck a thriving community — Esposito’s gas station stood on Charles Street. Today it’s Tarry Lodge.

Three and four generations later, many of their namesakes still live in Saugatuck, or elsewhere in town.

In the mid-1950s, another transportation revolution plowed through town: I-95 (known then as the Connecticut Turnpike).

Many of the same families who had forged the railway built the new highway system. It was a source of national pride — but also a massive disruption to the lives of those living in its path.

Churches, stores, meeting places, roads and many homes were demolished.  Westport’s Italian community was bisected. Roads like Indian Hill and Hiawatha Lane were cut in half by the highway. Longtime neighbors were suddenly displaced.

I-95 under construction. The photo — looking east — shows the toll booth near Exit 17, with Hiawatha Lane on the right. The Saugatuck River bridge is in the distance.

But some Westport philanthropists saw what was happening. The area between the rail tracks and I-95 — today known as Hiawatha Lane and Extension, Davenport Avenue and Indian Hill Road — was subdivided into parcels. They were then deeded to many of the displaced Saugatuck families, for as little as $1.

Julia Bradley deeded most of those properties, which still stand today. The Bradley family put a specific restriction on each deed. It stated that each house should remain in perpetuity, as one single-family house on each plot.

Ever since, the neighborhood has remained a unique place, providing affordable, low-cost home ownership.

Of the 187 units proposed by Summit Saugatuck LLC, only 30 percent are deemed “affordable” by state Department of Housing standards. They will be small 1- and 2-bedroom rentals — replacing the homes that are there today.

Sixty years after the turnpike came through, many longtime families and close neighbors who have lived next to it may again be displaced.

Coming Soon To Saugatuck: More Pizza

Exactly one year ago yesterday, Julian’s closed its Saugatuck location.

Two months from now, the Riverside Avenue spot will reopen — again as a pizza-and-more place.

The new owner is familiar: Parker Mansion, the restaurant next door.

Manager Kevin Conte told “06880” yesterday that the 2 operations will be separate.

At the 2016 Slice of Saugatuck, the line to sample Julian’s pizza ran past Parker Mansion.

The new place — still unnamed – will serve beer and wine, and frozen yogurt and/or Italian ice cream.

While primarily takeout, tables will be set up in front, and possibly on the side.

Conte also plans tables in back, by the dock area. Diners from the pizza restaurant — and Parker Mansion — can eat back there, enjoying the beautiful river view.

He hopes to open June 1.

(Hat tip: Pete Romano)

Pic Of The Day #714

One sign on Riverside Avenue points to “Additional Parking,” behind Garelick & Herbs, Match Burger Lobster and Fleisher’s Craft Butchery. The other says “Do Not Enter.” Go figure. (Photo/Dan Woog; Hat tip/Eric Burns).

Ned Lamont Has To Go

Alert “06880” reader/Donut Crazy fan John Karrel was minding his own business, drinking an iced coffee and sitting on a sofa in the sugar-laden shop on the eastbound side of the train station around 3 this afternoon.

All of a sudden, in walked Governor Lamont, with 2 of his security detail.

Was he there for a strawberry frosted sprinkle donut? A cinnamon sugar cake? Perhaps one with shamrocks (special for St. Patrick’s Day week)?

Maybe the state’s chief executive was checking on the progress of our Transit Oriented Design Master Plan Committee?

Nope.

The governor had to use the restroom.

As he was leaving — without ordering — John chatted him up. They exchanged pleasantries.

No one else recognized him.

Par for the course, when it comes to Fairfield County and Hartford politicians?

Or crazy?

Have you seen this man? John Karrel did.

“Main To Train Study” Wants You

If you’re a normal Westporter, you’re probably all meeting-ed out.

So I’m presenting this without editorial comment.

The town of Westport hosts a public information meeting next Monday (March 25, 7:30 p.m., Town Hall room 201). The subject is the “Westport Main to Train Study.”

That’s the project to identify improvements to vehicle, bike and pedestrian safety and circulation on the Post Road and Riverside Avenue. The idea is to create better connections between downtown and the train station, and “promote non-motorized transportation choices.”

The meeting — the 3rd of 5 planned during the study — is open to residents, business owners, commuters and “other local stakeholders who are concerned about transportation in Westport.”

For more information the Westport Main to Train Study, click here.

Post Road East and Riverside Avenue. The “Main to Train” study includes the often-gridlocked intersection.

[OPINION] Larry Weisman: Westport Needs Form Based Zoning

Larry Weisman, his wife (author/journalist Mary-Lou) and their children moved to Westport in 1966. A partner in the Bridgeport law firm of Cohen & Wolf, he’d just finished a stint with the Lawyers Constitutional Defense Committee, defending SNCC workers in Louisiana and Mississippi.

In 1969, Weisman and Manny Margolis won a First Amendment case in the US Supreme Court. They represented Westporter Timothy Breen, a Staples High School graduate who had lost his student deferment after protesting the Vietnam War.

Larry Weisman

In 1979 Weisman moved his practice to Westport, concentrating on zoning law. He has represented the Gorham Island developer, the Gault Saugatuck project, the Westport Library, Aspetuck Town Trust, Compo Beach playground effort, and many other significant projects. 

He is a member of the Coalition for Westport. Most recently, he co-chaired the board of Fairfield County Hospice House, which recently opened a county-wide facility.

Weisman has watched with interest — and alarm — as Westport has grappled with a host of zoning issues. In his mind, the entire foundation of our zoning regulations is wrong. Here’s his solution.

Form Based Codes (FBCs) are an innovative way to manage growth and shape development in a way that reflects a specific idea of what a town should look like. They are intended to promote a mix of uses tailored to the needs and desires of a community.

FBCs are not intended to change existing residential neighborhoods, but to bring new life to business and commercial areas and town centers.

Rather than simply regulating development and density as we do now, Form Based Codes concentrate on relationships between public and private spaces, and the way streets and buildings interact in form and scale to create attractive neighborhoods.

Form Based Zoning is more concerned with the appearance of buildings and their relationship to public spaces and surrounding streets than with the uses of those buildings. The intent of this approach is to improve the appearance of buildings and streetscapes, and avoid the unintended consequences of haphazard development by providing a coherent vision which takes variety and appearance into account.

Many Main Street stores share a common setback.

For example: I can imagine Main Street populated by a mixture of apartments and smaller stores serving residents’ needs, with varying setbacks along both sides of the street to create a more interesting streetscape. I would add cafes and a movie theater to create activity in the evenings and contribute to a sense of community. I imagine the westerly side of Parking Harding Plaza as a park with a playground and other amenities.

Your notion of what Main Street should be may differ from mine. But somewhere from the welter of ideas a consensus will emerge, and an FBC would facilitate its translation into reality.

FBCs have been used to good effect in Manchester, Connecticut, to revitalize an outmoded highway commercial center in the Broad Street area, and on Cape Cod’s Buzzards Bay and Eastham, to create village centers after being bypassed or divided by new highway construction.

An FBC requires a comprehensive plan for the area in question. It lays out streets and public spaces, and suggests a variety of building forms and how they relate to those spaces, promoting a mix of uses and emphasizing the over-all appearance and “character” of the area.

Although we talk endlessly about the “character” of Westport, it is abundantly clear that there is no agreement as to what that “character” is.

For those of us who have lived here for many years it may mean a longing for the past, while for newer arrivals it may mean what Westport looked like when they got here. But most of us recognize “character” when we see it, and we value it in places like Provincetown, Nantucket, the fishing villages of Maine, and the islands of the Caribbean where we vacation. “Character” is more a matter of appearance than anything else.

A summer evening in Provincetown.

But no matter how you define “character,” most of us would agree that our current way of doing things — by strict application and enforcement of an ever-expanding set of restrictive regulations — has produced some undesirable and unattractive results that adversely affect our quality of life.

An FBC requires that we reach consensus as to what we mean by the “character” of Westport, so we can create a comprehensive plan which designates different building forms based on that consensus about the desired appearance and physical character of each part of town. This requires a series of public meetings and surveys with widespread citizen participation. It’s a heavy lift to be sure, but I am confident that done properly, a widely held vision for the future will emerge from the welter of ideas on the subject.

The next step is to work toward the desired result by enacting regulations which are not based on uses or density considerations alone, and which do not value uniformity, but emphasize design considerations, massing of structures, and how they relate to and interact with surrounding streets and public spaces.

For example, in an FBC frontage requirements on the same street might differ for buildings devoted to similar uses to add interest and variety and to avoid the monotony of a wall of boutiques, as on Main Street at present.

There are any number of things that we could do to make the streetscape and the pedestrian experience more interesting, attractive, and interactive, but first we need to discard old notions of zoning by division into districts and strictly regulating use and density, and understand that zoning regulations should be used not only to impose limitations and restrictions, but as effective planning tools with built-in design parameters.

The plaza between Saugatuck Sweets and The Whelk is an excellent example of an innovative use of space.

We need to acknowledge that there is real value in encouraging creativity by relaxing restrictions and providing guidelines and incentives to build in accordance with the community’s vision of what a given area should look like and how it should function.

Westport has suffered too long from lack of planning and lack of a coherent vision for areas such as Main Street and Saugatuck Center. The P&Z, overburdened as it is by new applications and enforcement responsibilities, has demonstrated a disinclination to engage in meaningful long-term planning, as witness the wholly unimaginative and inadequate 2018 Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD), as well as the costly studies gathering dust on shelves in the Town Hall.

At the same time, our zoning regulations are sorely in need of comprehensive revision. They are a mix of restrictions on development — some necessary and some, such as parking requirements for medical uses, excessive — and ad hoc reactions to individual cases that have only limited application. They can be difficult to understand and are susceptible to differing interpretations, which leads to inconsistent application. It is my hope that we will one day undertake revision of the zoning regulations, and that when we do, that we give serious consideration to the merits of an FBC.

This is the right time to rethink our priorities, to reform our practices, and to create a coherent vision for our most important neighborhoods, preserving what is worth preserving, planning for orderly, attractive and livable growth and instilling “character” into our most visible and important neighborhoods. A Form Based approach will go a long way toward achieving those goals.

New Saugatuck Story Lab Is The “Write” Place

For nearly 10 years, a suite of offices sat empty on the top floor of 21 Charles Street — the building opposite Tarry Lodge. That’s odd. It’s just a few steps from the train station, there are great restaurants all around, and the view is spectacular.

But the space is now rented. There’s a story there. In fact, there are countless stories.

The new tenant is Fairfield County Story Lab. It’s the brainchild of Carol Dannhauser, a journalist and writing teacher who loves both the written word, and the people who write it.

Carol Dannhauser enjoys working on one of Story Lab’s inviting couches.  

After 30 years with (among others) the New Haven Register and New York Daily News — and a freelance career in books, magazines and documentaries — Dannhauser realized that although writing is a solitary act, writers need solidarity.

She had a nice home office. Yet she’d head to Panera or Starbucks to work. She liked the background buzz. But even with a cup of coffee, she could not sit there forever.

“I was looking for ‘my people,'” Dannhauser says. “There are great writing studios in Westport” — in fact, she’s co-founder of the Fairfield County Writers Studio, elsewhere in the Charles Street building — “but they’re all about teaching,  not actually writing. I wanted a place where people could write, connect and prosper.”

She knows this town is filled with real writers: novelists, playwrights, journalists, children’s book authors, poets — you name it. She figured, “If you build it, they will come.”

She did. And they did.

Working in one of the common areas …

Dannhauser, her husband, and her business partner Diane Salerno spent 5 months renovating the 2,5oo-square foot space. They worked from Dannhauser’s vision: Give writers every type of accommodation they could imagine.

And even some they couldn’t.

There are all kinds of configurations: rooms with desks. Sofas. A quiet room (NO TALKING ALLOWED!). A deadline room (for an extra $100 a week you can lock the door, and race to finish that book or TV project.)

The cafe/kitchen — a corner room with great lighting and a killer view — is stocked with cheese, cookies, coffee, tea and a microwave.

A community room is perfect for a book club meeting, or book launch party.

… and the community room.

There’s also an interview room, a phone room and storyboard room, where groups of creatives can plot ideas. Of course, free WiFi is everywhere.

An attorney offers pro bono advice once a month on issues like copyrights and royalties.

A grand opening recently drew 100 people, including best-selling authors and 1st Selectman Jim Marpe. Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce president Matthew Mandell was there too. He’s excited that Story Lab will draw folks to Saugatuck. And — because you can’t sit and write forever — they’ll get up, go outside, and patronize nearby shops and restaurants.

As well as Mystic Market. The new store in the old Blu Parrot/Arrow had opened just a few days earlier. The market welcomed their new neighbor with a huge plate of cookies.

It’s open from 4 a.m. to 1 a.m. Hey, even writers need to sleep.

(Story Lab memberships range from a day rate to every day for a year, with several options in between. For more information, click here.)

The quiet room is QUIET!