Category Archives: Saugatuck

Cribari Bridge Disappears

Werner Liepolt — an alert “06880 reader/William F. Cribari Bridge neighbor/member of the Connecticut Department of Transportation Project Advisory Committee for a new, rehabilitated or (long shot) basically unchanged span — read with interest yesterday’s post about $40 million in possible funding for the project.

Then he noted with equal interest that the DOT has pulled (“temporarily?” he wonders) the Cribari Bridge project from its web page. (Click here for the error message.)

However, he does have 2 public documents — sent to Advisory Committee members — showing plans for the “restored” bridge. Here they are. Click on, or hover over to enlarge:

State: Here’s $40 Million For Cribari Bridge Rehab. Town: Not So Fast…

The state Department of Transportation today released a draft list of projects, under the 2021-24 Transportation Improvement Program.

Included is $20 million in fiscal 2023 — plus $20 million more in fiscal ’24 — for the “rehabilitation/replacement of state-town Bridge #01349, aka William F. Cribari Memorial Bridge.”

For those who haven’t followed the years-long saga, that’s the 133-year-old swing span over the Saugatuck River. It connects Riverside Avenue and Bridge Street.

One view of the William Cribari Bridge … (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

All projects on the list must be evaluated for air quality concerns. Because federal funding is also involved, national regulations — as well as state — must be adhered to.

The Cribari Bridge project may not necessarily be placed into the TIP. No decision is likely on the TIP until at least next summer.

First Selectman Jim Marpe said:

The town of Westport has not endorsed any plans for the Cribari Bridge, and awaits a conclusion to the CTDOT Environmental Assessment and Environmental Impact Evaluation.

As part of the EA/EIE, the DOT established a Project Advisory Committee, and met with this committee several times over the last year. DOT conducted a professional process, and I am confident they have taken away the community’s sentiments and concerns about the Cribari Bridge.

However, the town of Westport neither accepts nor rejects the CTDOT’s budgeted funding of $40 million over the 2 years until it is clear on the specific proposal for the Cribari Bridge, and the community agrees on which solution is the best for the town of Westport.

The Project Advisory Committee reviewed several alternatives for rehabilitation, including a no-build operation, and provided feedback to the DOT. No decision has been made.

The DOT continues to coordinate with other state and federal agencies, as well as various stakeholders, to consider specific concerns, such as impacts on historic properties.

… and another. (Photo/Katherine Bruan)

The DOT is expected to issue a preliminary environmental document early next year. There will then be a public hearing and comment period, after which the DOT will make a recommendation of a preferred design alternative. Review by the Federal Highway Administration and state Office of Policy and Management will follow, with a decision announced later.

Marpe added:

My staff and I will stay abreast of the air quality and environmental findings for the Cribari Bridge rehabilitation or replacement options. Thereafter, we will follow the development of the TIP closely. I am committed to keeping the residents and businesses of Westport informed in a timely manner about this very important project.

The Saugatuck: A Cooperative Thrives On Bridge Street

Westport does not have a nickname. But if we did, we might be called “The Land of Lawsuits.”

Westporters like to sue. The town won a lawsuit to prohibit construction of a nuclear power plant on Cockenoe Island (yay!). Neighbors lost a suit to prohibit construction of the Compo Beach playground (yay!).

Neighbors also threatened to prohibit Positano restaurant from putting a few tables on an outdoor patio near Old Mill Beach. As a result, the restaurant moved. A private home now rises in its place (boo!).

Lost in the mists of time is another lawsuit. In 1985, 64 residents of Bridge Street and nearby roads sued to prevent the conversion of what was then Saugatuck Elementary School into multi-unit housing.

Three years later, a settlement was reached. The agreement limited the project to 36 owner-occupied, age-restricted units.

(Photo courtesy of SmartMLS Inc.)

Today, The Saugatuck is a true success story. One of Westport’s most affordable residences lies a short walk from thriving Saugatuck Center and train station, and not much further from Compo Beach.

The attractively renovated red brick building graces Bridge Street between South Compo and Imperial Avenue.

Residents have formed a tight-knit, active community. It’s hard to imagine the neighborhood without it, in fact.

None of that could have been predicted in 1984. Westport’s school population was declining. Burr Farms Elementary was torn down. Hillspoint Elementary turned into daycare. Bedford El became Town Hall. Greens Farms Elementary School housed the Westport Arts Center.

When the lawsuit was settled, plans were drawn up to convert the school that generations of Saugatuck residents attended. It dated back to the early 20th century, when the original wooden building was called the Bridge Street School.

It took several years, but 17 1-bedroom and 19 2-bedroom apartments were built in what were once classrooms, the library and auditorium. Because Saugatuck had been a classic elementary school, each unit features large windows and high ceilings.

Units at The Saugatuck feature large windows.

Those surroundings are familiar to at least one current resident — and several others in the past. They attended Saugatuck El as kids. Living there now is very different — but also quite familiar.

Joe Veno has lived in The Saugatuck for more than 20 years. As a youngster, he walked to the school from his Franklin Street home. He played basketball in the playground — now a parking lot — and baseball in what is now a quiet back yard.

The Saugatuck is a cooperative. The Town of Westport owns the land, and holds a 99-year lease on the property. But the Cooperative owns the building.

Members must be at last 62 years old (at least one, in the case of married couples), able to live independently, and their income must be below the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority’s guidelines for homeowners at 80% of area median income. Importantly, there are no limits or restrictions on assets.

To ensure affordability, the resale price is linked to the average increase in income for individuals living in the area.

Three units are currently for sale. A 2-bedroom, 1 bath apartment is listed at $222,282; 2 1-bedroom units have listing prices of $179,800 and $168,300. (Inquiries can be directed to the property manager: 203-226-1570.)

Those are far below other Westport prices, because of the original affordable housing prices implemented in the 1990s, and the strict resale cap/formula that limits how high prices can climb.

A view of The Saugatuck’s back yard.

A cooperative’s rules are are more stringent than in a condo, particularly in areas like rentals. Saugatuck units must be their owner’s primary residence.

One of the great perks of The Saugatuck is Shaun Cullen, a part-time super.

Residents include longtime Westporters who have downsized, and no longer want the responsibilities of a home and yard.

Other residents have moved to The Saugatuck from elsewhere, to be close to their children and grandchildren in Westport.

Most Saugatuck residents are retired, from careers including Wall Street, Madison Avenue, refuse collection and tile installation. At least 2 — an accountant and a contractor — are currently working.

The vibe is friendly. Neighbors chat easily, in the community room, mail room and hallways.

The cooperative is governed by an executive board. They and other residents organize a variety of activities: movie nights, supper at the beach, a jazz keyboardist and Labor Day picnic.

A recent party in the community room.

It’s hard to imagine Westport today without the Compo Beach playground — or to visualize the town, had a nuclear power plant been built on Cockenoe.

It’s just as hard to imagine what Bridge Street would be like without The Saugatuck. How great that the neighbors who sued more than 30 years ago cooperated in a settlement that led to a co-op.

FUN FACTS: 1) During the Depression, the WPA commissioned Westport artist Robert Lambdin to paint a 7-foot high, 20-foot long mural: “Pageant of Juvenile Literature.” For years, it hung just inside the main entrance to Saugatuck Elementary School.

In 1992, when the town finally began to convert the old Saugatuck El to senior housing, the mural was slated for demolition.

A group of art-lovers — including Mollie Donovan, Eve Potts and Judy Gault Sterling — set out to save the work. Within a month they raised $40,000. That was enough to remove the mural, conserve it, and reinstall it at its new home: The Westport Library. 

It stayed there for more than 2 decades. When the transformation project was announced, and a suitable spot could not be found for the work, Westport arts curator Kathy Motes Bennewitz and members of the Westport Public Art Collection searched for a large wall, with plenty of foot traffic.

They — with architect Scott  Springer — found it, at Staples High School. Now, the enormous, eye-catching mural hangs proudly near the auditorium lobby, just a few feet from the Staples library.

2) When Saugatuck was an elementary school, Pete Seeger — at the time, blacklisted as a folk singer — performed on its auditorium stage. 

Like A Good Neighbor, Gault Is There

Last Saturday, Carolanne Curry noticed some workers bustling about in a West Ferry Lane parking lot near the train station. It’s owned by the town, but is a convenient spot for Gault customers.

After years of being on edge about potential development of Hiawatha Lane — her neighborhood — the longtime resident worried something was up.

The West Ferry Lane parking lot, after some work was done. (Photo/Carolanne Curry)

Something was up. But she needn’t have worried.

Yesterday, Gault Family Companies president Sam Gault replied to her email. He said:

Carolanne, thanks for reaching out. I offered to do a clean-up of this parking lot for the town, to make it look presentable for our neighborhood.

This has been an eyesore for many years (overgrown bush, dead trees, leaves, sand from plowing, etc.). The soil that you see is sand buildup over the years leveled out.

We have a few more trees [in poor shape] to take down. We are distributing wood chips over the entire area, and re-installing a nice black chain link fence that will disappear to the eye (as opposed to the rusted, dented, broken fence that was there).

This will upgrade the entrance to our neighborhood that has been neglected for years. Any questions, please reach out. If you want a tour, let me know.

The jury is still out on Summit Saugatuck’s proposal to build 187 units of housing nearby.

But the verdict is in on Gault. After 156 years in the area, they’re still at the top of their game.

Pic Of The Day #841

Train station tower (Photo/Tracy Porosoff)

Al Fresco At Romanacci’s

Plenty of commuters pick up dinner to go at Romanacci Express.

But many people also eat in, at the popular pizza-and-more spot directly opposite the train station

Now they can also eat “out” — literally — on Railroad Place.

The restaurant received a permit to use one parking spot directly in front for al fresco tables. The view is not quite Roman — but it’s pleasant, breezy, and great for people-watching.

The idea was encouraged by town officials, eager to enliven Westport’s dining scene.

Tarantino and Harvest may follow soon.

Pic Of The Day #837

Saugatuck River and the I-95 bridge, behind Saugatuck Sweets (Photo/Dan Woog)

Despite Denials, Hiawatha Lane Housing Proposal Still Lives

Folklore says that cats have 9 lives.

The proposed Hiawatha Lane housing development has been rejected 8 times by town officials.

Its developer is betting the 9th time’s the charm.

In June, Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission struck down Summit Saugatuck’s plan for 187 units on the narrow road nestled between Saugatuck Avenue and I-95 exit 17. Board members cited concerns about access by firefighters and first responders, as well as traffic and pedestrian concerns.

Applications for sewer connections were denied earlier, by the P&Z and/or Board of Selectmen, in July and September 2007; January 2015; July 2016, and February 2017.

A text amendment and zone change were voted down in November 2016. The text amendment, map amendment and zoning amendment request defeated this past June was the 8th request.

Every denial was unanimous.

Summit Saugatuck’s plan for Hiawatha Lane.

But Summit Saugatuck principal Felix Charney will be back again. Because the proposal is submitted as an 8-30g application — meaning it falls under the state’s “affordable housing” regulation — it’s been re-submitted. A public hearing is set for September 12.

The plan would include 130 market-rate units, and 57 deemed “affordable.” Hiawatha Lane already includes many homes that are among the most affordable in Westport.

The 8-30g statute mandates that 10% of a town’s housing stock be “affordable,” under a state formula. Westport is currently at 4%.

However, only units constructed after 1990, and those that are deed-restricted for 40 years, are considered. Most Westport units serving lower-income groups do not fall into either category.

In March, Westport received a “Certificate of Affordable Housing Completion” from the state Department of Housing. The result was a 4-year moratorium on 8-30g.

The moratorium was granted “based upon the significant progress Westport has made in supplying affordable housing,” 1st Selectman Jim Marpe. Yet the moratorium does not preclude more submissions, like the one Summit Saugatuck is proposing.

Summit Saugatuck and Garden Homes — another developer whose proposal to build on untenable land was denied by the town — tried to get the state to vacate the moratorium. Their petition was denied on Monday by Connecticut’s Department of Housing.

1177 Post Road East helped Westport earn a 4-year moratorium on 8-30g proposals.

The town has received “moratorium points” for these units:

  • Rotary Centennial House, 10 West End Avenue (6 out of 6 total units)
  • Bradley Commons, Bradley Lane (4 of 20)
  • Saugatuck Center, Riverside Avenue (5 of 27)
  • Bedford Square, Church Lane (5 of 26)
  • 20 Cross Street (3 of 10; a portion of all others also earn points)
  • Coastal Point, 1135 Post Road East (2 of 12)
  • 1177 Greens Farms, 1177 Post Road East (29 of 94; a portion of all others also earn points )
  • Sasco Creek, 1655 Post Road East (31 of 54)
  • Hidden Brook, 1655 Post Road East (4 of 39)
  • Hales Court (38 of 78).

As noted earlier, that does not count any affordable housing built before 1990.

(Hat tip: Carolanne Curry)

Bistro Du Soleil Serves Up Fine Food — And Art

There are 2 types of excellent restaurants in Westport:

The ones everyone talks about. You know what they are.

And the ones that don’t get much buzz at all. Like Bistro du Soleil.

Tucked away in a corner of the old Saugatuck post office — on Riverside Avenue just before the train station, next to now-departed Westport Auction — the Mediterranean-with-a-French-flair spot is beloved by everyone who knows it.

But not everyone does.

Bistro du Soleil is a family affair. Owner Maria Munoz del Castillo works alongside her parents, Soledad and Bernardo. They came to the US in the 1980s.

Soledad was trained as a French chef. Bernardo — a craftsman as well as a restaurateur — lovingly made every table, the outdoor seating and handsome wooden bar. He’s also a playwright and poet.

Bernardo Munoz del Castillo (right) hand-crafted this handsome wooden bar.

Bistro du Soleil is more than a great restaurant. Since it opened 2 years ago, over 200 local and international artists have had their work highlighted on the sunflower gold walls.

Next up: Peter Saverine. A public reception to meet him, see his art, and enjoy wine and treats is set for this Sunday (August 4, 4 to 7 p.m.).

Like Bistro du Soleil, Saverine is a strong believer in giving back. He wants his art to be affordable, so he’s priced it at $20 to $450.

One of Peter Saverine’s works …

When he offered to donate a portion of his sales to a local non-profit, Soledad asked him to choose one supporting women and girls. Saverine selected Project Return, the Homes with Hope facility on North Compo Road that helps homeless young women rebuild their lives.

Like Bistro du Soleil’s owner, Saverine has an intriguing background. Professionally he’s director of philanthropy at STAR, the non-profit serving area residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

But he’s also a self-taught artist. His seascapes capture familiar scenes along Long Island Sound, Cape Cod and Nantucket. Compo Beach is a frequent inspiration.

… and another.

Saverine also authored a children’s book about a mermaid: “Jenny’s Pennies — A Nantucket Tradition.”

Great food and wine; fine (and affordable) art; a wonderful cause — it’s all there Sunday.

Whether you’re a Bistro du Soleil fan or never heard of the place, this is a wonderful reason to stop by.

Pic Of The Day #833

Not Italy. It’s the Westport train station. (Photo/Breno Donatti)