Category Archives: Saugatuck

Mike Rea Explores A First Selectman Run

Growing up on Evergreen Avenue, Mike Rea attended almost-in-his-back yard Bedford Elementary School.

His alma mater now serves as Town Hall. And Rea is trying to figure out whether he wants to work there full time.

He’s done many things since graduating from Staples High School in 1970. Rea helped found Festival Italiano, was a Parks and Recreation Commission chair, headed the Bedford Middle School building project, spent 12 years on the RTM, and now serves as vice chair of the Board of Finance.

He’s formed a committee to explore a run for first selectman. If he enters the race, he’ll challenge incumbent and fellow Republican Jim Marpe.

“For years, people have asked me to run,” Rea says. “I owe it to myself to see if the interest is out there now.”

Mike Rea (left) after his first Board of Finance victory. On the right is current 2nd selectman Avi Kaner.

A Bronx native who came to Westport at age 4, Rea has long been active in town. Soon after his Staples graduation, he opened Mr. Sandwich — a popular lunchtime restaurant — on Bay Street.

He attended Norwalk Community College at night. He married Carla, spent a brief time in real estate, and for the past 34 years has worked for Gen Re. He’s currently vice president of corporate services and global real estate.

His first political activism came before he was a teenager — for the Democrats. “Thelma Ezzes and Ruth Soloway got me to sell tickets for a JFK memorial concert,” he recalls. “Thelma always said I slipped through Democratic fingers.”

He later joined the Young Republicans, and became state national committeeman. He chaired the Republican Town Committee, and was a 2-time John McCain delegate at national conventions.

Mike Rea at the 1978 Republican state convention. In the background is longtime political leader Ed Capasse.

When Rea’s sons Michael and Alex were young, an earthquake devastated Italy. Rea was part of a Westport group that raised $250,000 to help, then brought 21 youngsters and their mayor from a small town to Westport.

The Sons of Italy rose from that group. They sponsored the Italian Festival, a summertime Saugatuck staple for over 25 years.

Mike Rea (left) with the Sons of Italy group, at an early Festival Italiano.

When his boys played sports, Rea got involved in a project to build more athletic fields. First Selectman Doug Wood appointed him to the Parks and Recreation Commission. Wood’s successor Joe Arcudi named Rea chair.

Under his direction, Parks and Rec helped develop Wakeman Park, renovated Ned Dimes Marina and brought a skating rink to Longshore.

Gene Cederbaum — a Democratic Board of Education member — recruited Rea to head up the Bedford Middle School building project. Rea and his group — including “fantastic volunteers” like Russ Blair, Howard Lathrop and Joe Renzulli — “brought new construction techniques and accounting principles, and combined them with state and local educational specs and budgets,” to produce a handsome school on a former Nike missile base.

Rea is proud that another Democrat — Wally Meyer — called him “Mr. On Time and Under Budget.”

In his 6 terms on the RTM, Rea chaired the Finance and Environmental Committees, and served on the Ethics Committee. “I really enjoyed the give-and-take from ‘the citizens’ podium,'” he says.

Mike and Carla Rea (2nd and 3rd from right), with their children and granddaughter.

He left the RTM to run for Board of Finance. Rea was elected twice, in 2011 and 2015, when he was the top Republican vote-getter in town.

So why might he challenge a fellow party member for the top spot?

“Why not?” he replies. “I wouldn’t run against Jim. I’d be running for Westport, and myself.”

His exploratory committee will examine whether issues like the condition of the beach, and finance and planning, are areas he could address.

“I’m a business guy, a facilitator, a project manager,” Rea says. “That’s my wheelhouse. It’s not a question of bad management now. It’s a question of, could I do better? When you commit large sums of expenditures to education, parks facilities and public works, you have to make sure you’re doing it right.”

Rea calls Marpe “a very capable, nice, down-to-earth guy. I really like him. He’s not doing the job wrong. I just think with my years in public service, and my skill set that augments the first selectman’s job, I might do better.”

Rea also says he’s friendly with Jonathan Steinberg, the Democratic state representative who is exploring his own run for first selectman.

Rea concludes, “I like people. I love Westport. I think I’d be good for the town. This is just the first step on a journey.”

That journey started decades ago at Bedford Elementary School on Myrtle Avenue. It may wind its way back there, in November.

(Tomorrow: Jim Marpe talks about his campaign for re-election.)

Fleishers Craft Kitchen Closes; Butcher Shop Still Cuts It

Fleishers Craft Butchery co-founder and co-owner Ryan Fibiger posted this note on his website:

“I’m truly saddened to be closing Craft Kitchen. It’s been my place of worship for more than 3 years, and my kids have been raised on Chef Emily’s food. We have the most amazing staff in the business who have showcased how to prepare and serve REAL food for our loyal and generous patrons and friends. The restaurant and staff have been integral to teaching people how to prepare Meat Raised Right.

“However, we’ve always been a butcher shop first. We think that it’s time to get back to our roots and refocus on providing a truly remarkable customer experience.

“In the coming months you can expect to see us double down on the quality and customer service you’ve come to expect from Fleishers, with an added focus on convenience for busy families. We want to be the trusted advisor for anyone who chooses to eat meat, and it’s absolutely imperative that we teach people why they should care and to make it available (and convenient) for everyone.”

Ryan Fibiger, at work.

Fibiger said that with over 10 wholesale restaurant clients in Fairfield County, Fleishers Craft Butchery offers abundant options of ground beef, sausage, bones, offal and more. He adds:

“The culinary scene has come a long way in just a few years. We used to be one of a handful of restaurants that would even consider serving chicharonnes, beef fat fries or oxtail stew. We had to be our own outlet. Now we’re joined by a community of restaurateurs who recognize that buying well-raised meat isn’t just the right thing to do — it tastes better, too.

“We’re proud to call Chef Emily Mingrone a true friend, who demonstrates the passion and creativity necessary to design a menu celebrating our whole animal philosophy. Working alongside Emily over the years has been nothing short of an inspiration. From themed dinners to killer brunches, it was truly our pleasure to have her at the helm. Expect big things from Emily as she starts her own venture later this year.”

Chef Emily Mingrone

(Hat tip: Marcy Sansolo)

Historic Building Few Westporters Know About Is Saved

It’s ironic: Though no one in Westport stops at stop signs, they were invented by a Westporter.

So were pedestrian crosswalks, traffic circles, 1-way streets, taxi stands and pedestrian safety islands.

All were the brainchild of William Phelps Eno. And for many years, his worldwide traffic institute was headquartered on Saugatuck Avenue.

We pass by the handsome, 11,000-square foot brick and stone 1938 building near the Norwalk line without knowing its history.

That history came quite close to being obliterated — much like pedestrians were, before Eno came along.

The Eno Foundation building on Saugatuck Avenue.

The building and land were on the market. LandTech — Pete Romano’s engineering and design firm situated 2 minutes away (without traffic) on Riverside Avenue — designed a standard suburban use of the land. Their plan knocked down the Eno building, and subdivided the 4+ acres of land into 4 contorted 1-acre lots, with less than half an acre of open space.

But then they applied the open space subdivision regulations. That gave them 3 lots of 1/2 acre each — perfect for homes of 3,000 square feet, designed for empty nesters.

Using a section of the Planning & Zoning regulations for historic structures — offering relief from coverage, setbacks and non-conformities — LandTech preserved the Eno building on a full acre lot, with nearly 1.5 acres of open space.

On Thursday night, the P&Z considered the plan. After hearing comments from commissioners, approval seems likely.

Let’s hope they give it the green light.

LandTech’s plans for the Eno property. The foundation building is on the right, with a circular driveway in front. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

 

Time To Make The Donuts

Crazy about donuts?

Donut Crazy is here!

The 4th store in the small chain — replacing Steam on the eastbound side of the train station — was expected to open October 1. Finally, the big day has arrived.

Ribbon-cutting is set for 11 a.m. tomorrow. Right now, there’s a soft opening.

As in glazed, powdered, coconut, Bavarian creme…

A young customer is one of the first to enjoy Donut Crazy. (Photo/John Karrel)

 

Friday Flashback #30

After years of discussion, we’re no closer to a plan for renovating, remodeling, removing or just leaving in place the William Cribari (Bridge Street) bridge.

The last major work was done about 30 years ago. At the time, a temporary span was built just north of the structure.

If you were around then, you remember how well it worked. If you weren’t — well, here’s how it looked:

bridge-street-bridge-temporary-from-1980s

Mansion Clam House (now Parker Mansion) is at the extreme left, in the center of the photo. Bridge Street — hidden under a canopy of trees — is at the top. Ketchum Street — with its then-distinctive hump — is at the lower right.

And no — this is not fake news. This image was not Photoshopped!

Jesup Hall Reinvigorates Downtown Dining

Westport’s dining scene takes another giant step forward next week.

And it does so with a gentle nod to the past.

Jesup Hall opens Tuesday, in the old Town Hall.

If you don’t know where that is: It’s the building with one restaurant already: Rothbard Ale + Larder.

And if you don’t know where that is — it’s the building next to Restoration Hardware. Opposite Patagonia.

The facade still says

The facade still says “Town Hall” (sort of). Starting next week though, 90 Post Road East will be known as Jesup Hall.

Though it served as Town Hall (and, for many years, police headquarters) from its construction in 1907 through the 1970s, the Revivalist structure with a stone facade is often ignored.

Now — thanks to talented restaurateur Bill Taibe — it will once again be smack in the middle of downtown action.

Taibe — who owned Le Farm in Colonial Green, then opened The Whelk and Kawa Ni in Saugatuck — had been eyeing the Charles Street property that most recently housed the Blu Parrot (before that, Jasmine and the Arrow).

But the deal did not work. When he heard the historic town hall was available, he knew it was perfect.

“It’s got great bones,” Taibe said last night, at a preview opening. “It’s in downtown Westport. With Bedford Square opening up across the street, there’s a lot going on here. This is a fantastic place to be.”

Interior designer Kate Hauser — who worked with Taibe on the Whelk and Kawa Ni — has created a warm, welcoming environment in a very interesting space. With a long bar on one side, communal tables in the middle, and smaller tables (including a circular one) on the other side, Taibe envisions Jesup Hall as an all-day destination. He’ll serve lunch and dinner, plus — a first for him — Sunday brunch.

Owner Bill Taibe, at a corner table. Patagonia can be seen through the windows, across the Post Road.

Owner Bill Taibe, at a corner table. Patagonia can be seen through the windows, across the Post Road.

Chef Dan Sabia — most recently at the Bedford Post Inn, who has worked with Mario Batali and Jean-Georges Vongerichten — specializes in large cuts of meat, and loves vegetables. The fennel, kale salad, cauliflower and lamb served last night were especially noteworthy.

As with all of Taibe’s restaurants, local sourcing is important. “It will be seasonal, honest food,” Taibe says.

Taibe opened his first Westport restaurant — Le Farm — 7 years ago. “I really feel part of the town,” he says. “I adore it. It’s been so good to me.”

He felt a responsibility to the building, he says. But calling his new restaurant Town Hall — as some people suggested — did not feel right. Then he thought about nearby Jesup Green. He researched the family. So Jesup Hall it was.

One of the communal tables at Jesup Hall. Last night, it was used for a buffet dinner.

One of the communal tables at Jesup Hall.

Taibe makes sure all his employees know where they are — and who Morris Jesup was. He’s the grandson of Ebenezer Jesup, who owned the property we now call Jesup Green (and a nearby wharf). Morris funded the Westport Library (its original location, on the corner of the Post Road and Main Street, was dedicated in 1908, just a couple of months after he died).

He also helped found the Young Men’s Christian Association — the national Y organization — and was a major contributor to the Arctic expeditions of Robert Peary, the Tuskegee Institute and the American Museum of Natural History (which he also served as president).

The space has some challenges. There are two entrances — but one is set back from the Post Road; the other is in back, off the parking lot.

That’s fine. In the summer, the front patio will be filled with tables, making for a lively outdoor scene.

Jesup Hall may even share some outdoor space with Rothbard. “I love those guys,” Taibe says, of the downstairs restaurant, which serves Central European and German fare. “They’ve been so supportive the entire time we were building our space.”

Other downtown restaurant announcements are coming soon. But right now, the 2 words to keep in mind are: Jesup Hall.

(Hat tip: Dorothy Curran)

Saugatuck Night Lights

Lynn U. Miller had dinner last night at Parker Mansion.

If you or I were there, we would have eaten, chatted, maybe glanced out the window of the former Mansion Clam House.

Not Lynn. The wonderfully talented photographer — who knows Westport better than just about anyone — snapped this shot:

(Photo copyright Lynn U. Miller)

Click on or hover over to enlarge. (Photo copyright Lynn U. Miller)

She calls it “Saugatuck Night Life.”

I call it beautiful.

Photo Challenge #112

“06880” readers really know their onions.

Well, their coal, anyway.

Last week’s photo challenge showed an old coal bin, on a couple of yards of rail track.

It’s right on the Saugatuck River, behind Saugatuck Sweets. Gault Energy put it there when Saugatuck Center was being redeveloped (in part by their company) several years ago. It pays homage to the long-ago days when boats brought coal up the river to Gault’s headquarters. The coal made part of its journey by rail, before being delivered to Westport customers. Click here for the photo.

Seth Schachter answered correctly, within 4 minutes of the posting. He was followed quickly by William Adler, Daniel Cummings, Virginia Tienken, Robert Mitchell, Peter Flatow, Jamie Roth, Linda Amos, Seth Goltzer, Josh Moritz and Brandon Malin. Congratulations to all (and thanks to Saugatuck Sweets, whose treats are the reason so many folks are down by the river in the first place).

This week’s photo challenge comes courtesy of John Videler. Coincidentally, he grew up right across the river from where the Gault coal bin now sits.

But his image shows a different place entirely. If you know where it is, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/John Videler)

(Photo/John Videler)

 

Coming Round The Bend? High-Speed Rail Line May Slice Through Saugatuck

It pays to read what the government puts out.

Lawmakers are fond of sticking something on page 1218 of proposed bills that turn out to be a windfall for one constituent who runs a casino, owns a farm or wants to sell something in China.

Department officials, meanwhile, put out studies about future projects. Take this recent one from the Federal Railroad Administration, about high-speed transportation from Boston to Washington.

Speeds of 200 miles an hour sound great!

Of course, we’d need new rail lines.

Whoooosh!

Whoooosh!

According to “NEC Future” — NEC meaning Northeast Corridor — a new 2-track infrastructure would begin in New Rochelle. It would run through coastal Fairfield County.

And it would terminate in Westport, west of the Greens Farms station.

This “preferred alternative” would be constructed “parallel to I-95, typically on embankment or aerial structure.”

According to Matthew Mandell — RTM representative, Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce director and Slice of Saugatuck founder — “we could be talking about a train running right along 95, above and over Tarry Lodge, Tutti’s, the Duck and out over the river.”

Or, he says, “maybe a bit more north through who knows what.”

A map in the "NEC Future" report, showing a possible high-speed rail line route. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

A map in the “NEC Future” report, showing a possible high-speed rail line route. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

First Selectman Jim Marpe is on the case. He wrote a letter to the Railroad Administration, noting “extreme concern” — at minimum — in Westport about the possible route.

Marpe cited impacts on coastal resources, property owners and the Saugatuck neighborhood.

Mandell says, “While this may be decades away, so was 95 at some point — and look what it did.”

(Click here for the entire “NEC Future” report. For the appendix only — with maps — click here. Hat tip: Scott Smith)

Coalition For Westport: Study Saugatuck Carefully!

Recently, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe appointed a Saugatuck Transit Oriented Development Steering Committee. The group is charged with developing a master plan for that ever-changing retail/restaurant/residential area.

The Coalition for Westport — a non-partisan group originally formed to seek election to the Planning & Zoning Commission — commended Marpe for establishing the committee, then sent this note to co-chair Mary Young:

The time is right for the Saugatuck area to be carefully studied. It is attractive to residents, visitors and developers for a variety of reasons: It is the historical root of Westport; it provides attractive access to the river; it is a destination for foodies and perhaps most importantly, it is a primary transit hub.

What is more, many of the buildings in the area defined as Saugatuck in the Town Plan of Conservation and Development retain features of their original design and construction, despite having been repurposed.

In the 1920s, Esposito's gas station stood on Charles Street. Today it's Tarry Lodge.

In the 1920s, Esposito’s gas station stood on Charles Street. Today it’s Tarry Lodge.

The challenge for land use agencies and planners is a classic balancing act: What shall be saved and what replaced? Do we envision the area as a 2nd downtown? Or, as seems lost likely and most prudent, do we encourage/require a mix of controlled residential (including multi-family and affordable housing within walking distance to the train station) and commercial development which respects the scale and character of the neighborhood?

The Coalition believes that Saugatuck should retain its historical heritage and small town character. Therefore we support an expanded and enhanced neighborhood concept rather than the idea of a 2nd downtown. We come down squarely in favor of a mixed-use plan favoring residential expansion and enhanced essential services — local businesses, to cater to the requirements of the residential population that will need a pharmacy, hardware store, market and other essential services not now present in the area, which can be provided in a “mom and pop” form without competing with Main Street retail. We also foresee new retail and dining services that would attract additional visitors.

One area that can and should be developed for those types of commercial uses is Railroad Place. This can be done without sacrificing the architectural features or facades at the easterly end of the street which are deemed worth preserving. A drop-off lane could also be created for the station.

The Coalition recommends that the remainder of the square block (with the possible exception of the office building) be devoted to a mix of housing types — 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom apartments and townhouses, both rental and condos — with adequate parking and passive open space. An appropriate percentage should be truly affordable.

Land Tech has already developed plans for a mixed-use development at a new Railroad Place. Mario's is, of course, now Harvest restaurant.

LandTech has already developed plans for a mixed-use development at a new Railroad Place. Mario’s is, of course, now Harvest restaurant.

To address the ever-present need for additional railroad parking, we urge adoption of a “Transit District” zoning regulation that provides an incentive to private developers to create parking to be administered by the town, in exchange for increased (but controlled) development density calculated in accordance with a regulatory formula.

Saugatuck residents will need relief from additional vehicular traffic. Therefore both additional visitor and commuter parking should be created — most efficiently at, above or below grade in the ordinary course of construction.

The Coalition would also support traffic flow rerouting plans that would alleviate congestion without any major construction or disruption for residents.

We encourage the new Saugatuck Steering Committee and P&Z to adopt a plan that implements these thoughts, and to coordinate efforts to arrive at a consensus to be formalized in the 2017 Town Plan of Conservation and Development.