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Category Archives: Saugatuck
“06880” readers know Fred Cantor as an avid commenter, with a keen eye for Westport’s history, and a passion for its present and future. He’s also a multi-talented writer, movie and play producer, and attorney
The 1971 Staples High School graduate has had health issues, so for the past few years he and his wife Debbie have spent winters in Southern California. They were there last year, when the pandemic (and his doctor’s advice) turned a few months’ stay into more than a year. It was the longest time he’d been away from Westport since moving here at age 10.
After 17 months, Fred and Debbie are back. Here’s what he sees.
The first thing that grabbed our attention coming off Exit 17 was the empty train station parking lot. We had read about the large number of people working at home, but that was an eye-opener.
Yet then, almost instantly, there were old welcome sights: the approach to the distinctive Cribari Bridge — with early signs of spring (daffodils in full bloom) — and just past the bridge, 19th-century homes with yards fronted by quintessential New England stone walls or wrought-iron fences.
I don’t think Debbie and I crossed a bridge over a river once in our area of SoCal— and certainly not a bridge on the National Register of Historic Places — even before the pandemic, when we did more driving. Southern California has much natural beauty, but in the area of Orange County where we rented, numerous rivers and streams are certainly not among them.
And historic 19th century homes — well, they did not exist there. Some of those towns were created in the 1960s or later.
Westport’s historic homes, stone walls, rivers and meandering tributaries — such as can be seen along Ford Road — are among the sights I missed the most.
Forsythias blooming all around Westport were another “welcome home” sign; that too was much rarer in our part of SoCal.
Heading to the beach, I had to stop at Joey’s By The Shore at its new location. I hoped to see Joey after all this time. but he’s away.
That reinforced my feelings that, while many of us embrace longtime local establishments, it is largely the proprietors we really have such warm feelings about. That was certainly true when the Nistico family switched its restaurant operation from the Arrow to the Red Barn.
Walking across the street to Old Mill Beach instantly reminded me why that has long been a personal favorite. It’s not only beautiful; it’s often serene, as exemplified by a couple quietly reading their iPad and newspaper on a nearly empty beach.
When I was away I stayed in touch with Westport friends via email, texts, social media, occasional phone calls and Zoom.
I followed local Westport news via “06880,” so in certain respects I didn’t feel 3,000 miles away from what was happening here. By contrast, I vividly recall the summer of 1964. I was at camp in Pennsylvania, and learned of my Little League team winning the Minor League World Series a week after the fact, when I received a letter from my parents with a clipping from the Town Crier.
The most difficult thing about being so far away was not being able to see our 93- and 95-year-old moms. Daily phone calls and occasional FaceTime calls didn’t quite suffice.
So that first weekend back in town generated a teary reunion hug between Debbie and her mom. It was coupled with a culinary discovery: delicious mini-babka at the new Kneads Bakery, which we all enjoyed at their outdoor dining area.
That first weekend back also generated our first experience with traffic. At 4 p.m. Saturday there was a big backup on Bridge Street toward Saugatuck. Traffic crawled on 95, spilling over onto local streets.
Other than on the single-lane canyon road leading to Laguna Beach, we never experienced major backups in SoCal. The main local roads have 3 lanes in each direction — with an additional two left-hand turn lanes at major intersections.
During that traffic tie-up on Bridge Street I witnessed an “only in Westport” moment (and something I had never seen in close to 60 years here). Moving right by the traffic on a highly unusual mode of transit were two cyclists on penny-farthings (you can look it up🤨).
Seeing that, I knew for sure I was back in Westport!
This morning’s story about the Saugatuck Harbor Yacht Club’s claim that it owns not only the land under its water — but the water itself — drew a reaction from readers. A few pointed out special circumstances.
One reader — who asked not to be identified — emailed:
In fact, the yacht basin is privately owned. While the general rule is that the state has jurisdiction over tidal and navigable waters like this, as is the case with both the Cedar Point and Compo yacht basins, the Saugatuck yacht basin was deeded to the yacht club by the Governor of Connecticut, I believe when it was proposed to be dredged out or shortly after.
The reader sent a land record map of the basis. Note 2 on the bottom right shows that none of the other lots facing the yacht basin (Duck Pond) have “any riparian, littoral or other rights to said pond or the waters therein.”
The reader notes that the lots never relinquished those rights. Rather, they were created out of land that did not previously have waterfront access, and were created with the stipulation that they would not have access after the basin was dredged.
The same reader sent a second map (below), adding:
The residential properties facing the yacht basin each have deeds that refer to another map recorded with the town. The deeds refer to the parcels being owned, subject to the notes on this map, including the section calling out each lot as having no rights past their property line with the yacht club.
Evan Stein wrote in the comments section that the Saugatuck Shores homeowner who had been warned of trespassing (via kayak) by the yacht club had not Googled deeply enough.
Evan provided a link to a 2008 tax assessment appeal to the town by Saugatuck Harbor Yacht Club. Evan then cites relevant details from the ruling:
The subject property consists of 5 parcels aggregating to 14.68 acres of land, 10 acres of which are the land submerged beneath the body of water known as the Duck Pond, which serves at the plaintiff’s yacht basin.
The subject property is not waterfront property in the classic sense, as it is not on the waterfront of Long Island Sound. A boater must navigate from the Duck Pond boat basin through a dredged channel, past the Cedar Point Yacht Club, past the town mooring fields and the town marina in order to reach the open waters of Long Island Sound.
Harbormaster Bob Giunta responded too. He remembers as a child watching Kowalsky Brothers creating the yacht club, by excavating land.
So it appears that yes, Saugatuck Harbor does indeed own both the land underneath its basin, and the water itself. They do seem to be within their rights to restrict access to it, even by homeowners on its shore.
However, that does not settle the question of whether they should.
Matthew Mandell writes:
I used to do a lot of whitewater rafting. Many of these rivers ran through paper company land. While we could navigate the river freely, we could not set foot on the shore, unless it was an emergency. Often the company had a dam that generated its power. Deals were worked out to open the dam for an hour to create the bubble of water for rafting. Others were spring melt runoff.
Regardless of land/ownership the yacht club should act more like the paper companies and allow use.
And Deb Alderson raises an interesting point:
If the yacht club owns the land under the Duck Pond, then do the other homeowners around the Duck Pond own waterfront property, or do they own landlocked property with water views?
It used to be that property taxes were bumped up by about 10% for waterfront property. If those properties are paying a premium for waterfront property, they may have a case for a reduction in their taxes. It’s worth asking the question.
As 2020 began, downtown Westport looked bleak. Boarded-up storefronts, empty parking spots, questions about its very future — Main Street and environs were grim.
When COVID struck, downtown looked even bleaker. More stores closed. Fewer people strolled. The cancellation of big events like the Fine Arts Festival seemed like one final cruel blow.
Yet to the surprise of many, life sprouted amid all the real and metaphorical death.
GG & Joe opened in an out-of-the-way Parker Harding corner. Their acai bowls and pastries were instant hits.
Plywood and butcher block paper came down. New stores opened.
Two restaurants — Capuli and Basso — opened to rave reviews. Two bookstores — one new, one used — opened too, within days of each other. Two gelato shops announced their arrival. A highly regarded bakery will soon move in on Church Lane.
Counterintuitively, downtown has come back.
And no one is happier than Maxx Crowley.
He’s an unlikely champion for Main Street. He’s young (a 2010 graduate of Fairfield Prep). He worked in New York City, in advertising and real estate. He’s single. You wouldn’t figure him for a suburban guy.
But he comes from a storied family. His father Steve is the “S” in SCA Crowley, a residential and commercial real estate services firm. Since starting work in September with them, Maxx has jumped head first into the downtown renaissance. He’s already a co-vice president of the Westport Downtown Merchants Association.
Despite his youth, Maxx remembers “exciting stores,” Onion Alley with its rooftop music, and mom-and-pop shops like Liquor Locker.
He recalls took when chain stores — even big names like Nike and Banana Republic — swooped in. “They took some of the character” of Main Street away, he admits.
COVID was “a weird perfect storm” for Westport, Maxx says.
“There was a lot of loss. People died. Businesses closed. Restaurants struggled.”
But the virus drove people out of New York. Westport welcomed a surge of newcomers. And people who already lived here — but spent 12 hours a day, 5 days a week working elsewhere — suddenly had time to focus on their town.
They walked. They biked. They picked up coffee and lunch, clothes and furniture in places they had never known about.
Landlords struggled. Rents — quite a bit north of $100 a square foot — took a significant hit. But some of those same landlords also realized this was a time for a re-set. They lowered rates, and looked for new tenants. And those were not always the same-old, same-old national brands that could be anywhere.
Some landlords lowered their rents, or accepted late payments. Some offered a few free months, or help with certain expenses.
It was not easy. COVID or not, landlords still have their own fixed costs: taxes, insurance, maintenance and more.
Commercial real estate is “a relationship business,” Maxx says. Relationships often extend far. When one landlord sees another succeeding, they want to be part of the action.
Downtown has many things going for it, Maxx says. One key element is walkability.
“I can park my car. I get my coffee at GG & Joe. I cross the street to Savvy + Grace. My kid” — he doesn’t have one, but you get the point — “goes next door to Brandy Melville.”
That’s not the case in other parts of town. Anyone wanting to cross from Stop & Shop to the cute Peggy’s Cottage Irish store across the street takes his life in his hands.
But the right business in the right spot can succeed anywhere. Maxx points to Terrain: “a beautiful, redeveloped place. No one minds driving there.”
He’s bullish on both Compo Shopping Center too. “Torrey (Brooks, the landlord) is phenomenal,” Maxx says. “He builds relationships with all his tenants.”
There are vacancies there right now. Maxx is hopeful that a “memorable store” comes into the spaces previously occupied by Olympia Sports and Compo Barber Shop.
He also thinks the shopping plaza at the foot of the Sherwood Island Connector — with Restore Cryotherapy, among others — has great visibility.
Further east on the Post Road, Maxx has mixed feelings about Amazon Go, the automated grocery store that’s the rumored replacement for Barnes & Noble.
“People will always want to talk to the butcher and the deli guy. But it’s exciting to see a brand like Amazon come to Westport. There aren’t many Amazon Gos on the East Coast.”
And at the Southport border, Maxx notes that the Home Goods shopping center always has solid occupancy.
The one piece missing from downtown Westport, he says is “experiential” places. He cites the lack of restaurants on Main Street (though a new one will at some point replace Tavern on Main). “In a perfect world,” Maxx adds, “the ice rink would move from Longshore. And music always brings people together. We might not have bars with bands anymore, but they played on Church Lane last summer. That was great. And what about a stage downtown?”
He’d also like to see downtown connected, somehow, to Saugatuck. “So many great stores across the river don’t get the attention they deserve,” he says.
“Europe has pedestrian bridges. It’s a beautiful walk along the river. This isn’t Amsterdam. But a bridge or two couldn’t hurt. Can you imagine having dinner at Bartaco, then walking across a bridge — without traffic whizzing by — to have a gelato on Main Street. Then you window shop, and run into friends. That’s a real downtown.”
Meanwhile, Saugatuck itself is filled with “wonderful, local restaurants and markets and shops. Viva and the Duck are anchors. It’s very walkable. There will always be activity there.”
The “ultimate connection” to downtown, he believes, is Longshore and Compo. A restaurant at the beach — and a shuttle between there and downtown — would be “amazing.”
Though not yet 30, Maxx says he has “always” been excited about downtown. Now he sees newcomers getting excited too.
All over town.
Westport is getting ready for Easter weekend.
A Sunday sunrise service is set for 6 a.m. at Compo Beach, between the cannons and the pavilion. It’s co-hosted by 4 churches: Saugatuck, Greens Farms and Norfield Congregational, and United Methodist. All participants are asked to please wear masks!
Also on Sunday, Saugatuck Congregational will hold a “drive-in” worship in the parking lot, at 10 a.m. The service — featuring live music, drama and Easter reflection — will be broadcast to car radios. Sit in the comfort of your car, or bring a beach chair and “tailgate.” The service will also be livestreamed on Facebook and YouTube. Click here for details.
And tomorrow (Good Friday, 11:30 a.m., Branson Hall), Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church will screen the choral piece “The Last 7 Words of the Unarmed.” It will be followed at noon by an intergenerational neighborhood walk. Following a liturgy of Stations of the Cross, it will focus on racial justice and reconciliation. Participants will make a small loop around downtown Westport, stopping at various locations to pray and reflect.
It’s April — and that means National Distracted Driving Month.
The Westport Police Department is joining with the Connecticut Department of Transportation Highway Safety Office in a month-long “U Drive. U Text. U Pay” campaign.
So put down your phone — this month, and every month. The first offense will cost you $150. Then it’s $300 the second time. And $500 for the third and subsequent violations.
But if it gets to that point, you shouldn’t be driving at all.
The daffodils all along Prospect Road are blooming beautifully.
And if you know someone who has been bullied — or helped prevent bullying — they’re yours for the taking.
Melissa Ceriale — the owner, with her husband John, of an 8-acre oasis midway down the street — invites anyone who knows people in the categories above to clip a bouquet, and give it to them.
NOTE: Please take them only from the roadway in front of #11, 13, 21 and 25 Prospect Road — and not from the gardens themselves!
In other nature news: Last night, a huge dead tree on the big hill at the south end of Winslow Park, not far from the North Compo parking lot, came crashing down — smack across the walking path.
Bob Cooper says: “I’ve had my eye on it for a couple years, but this was sooner than I expected. It appears the lower end was rotting inside.”
The Westport Youth Commission is one of our town’s great, under-the-radar groups.
Thirty members — 15 students, 15 adults, all appointed by the 1st selectman — meet monthly. They talk about teen needs, plan projects and programs, and (this is huge) provide high schoolers with a great experience in leadership.
Of course, every year members graduate. So the YAC is looking for students now in grades 8-11 (and adult members) to serve for the 2021-’22 school year. Freshmen join a special committee, before joining the board officially as sophomoes.
The appointment process includes an application, and at least one letter of recommendation. The deadline is May 14. Click here for the application. For more information, call 203-341-1155 or email email@example.com.
The Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge is the scene for just about everything. Political protests, Memorial Day parades, fishing — you name it, it’s happened there.
Though this scene Tuesday evening was probably a first:
Aquarion has announced its 2021 mandatory sprinkler irrigation schedule.
They say: “The schedule helps conserve water supplies by reducing overwatering of lawns and gardens through a maximum 2 days per week schedule. The purpose is to ensure that local water supplies remain sufficient for critical needs such as human consumption and fire protection.
“Lawns and gardens can thrive on reduced watering. By encouraging roots to grow deeper into the soil, they’re able to absorb more moisture and nutrients, even during dry spells. Customers may continue using drip irrigation, soaker hoses and hand-held watering at any time.”
The schedule begins today, and is based on the last digit of your street address.
If your address ends in an even number, or you have no numbered address, you can water only on Sundays and Wednesdays, from 12:01 a.m. to 10 a.m., or 6 p.m. to midnight.
If your address ends in an odd, number, you can water only on Saturdays and Tuesdays, same times as above.
For more information, click here. NOTE: Some residents may qualify for a variance. For example, if you’ve installed new plantings or sod in the spring, you arw allowed to water more frequently to help get plants established.
MoCA Westport’s new exhibit, “Smash,” is dedicated exclusively to the videos of
It opens to the public tomorrow (Friday, April 2). Reservations are available through the website, On Free Fridays, reservations are not required, and admission is free. Click below for a sneak peek:
The Westport Library’s Verso Studios are certainly versatile.
Starting April 12 (7 p.m.), it’s the focus of a Video Production hybrid course. The instructor is the Library’s own Emmy Award winner, David Bibbey.
The first 4 sessions are virtual. The final 2 are in-person. Participants will learn how to use professional video and audio recording equipment, lighting, and live switching/recording/streaming equipment. Participants can also serve as live crew for video shoots.
The cost is $150. To register, click here.
With all the talk about vehicular traffic on a renovated or rebuilt William F. Cribari Bridge, no one has thought about what would happen if a super tanker got caught nearby.
Evan Stein has it figured out:
And finally … today is April 1.
The Planning & Zoning Commission seldom hears “thank you.”
Their decisions are often controversial — or humdrum.
But this month’s unanimous vote to extend outdoor dining until further notice was met with effusive praise from restaurant owners throughout town.
From Tutti’s to downtown (where the other day all the well-spaced tables outside Basso were filled) — and even spots like Sherwood Diner — outdoor dining has been an important lifeline during a difficult time.
If neighboring property owners give consent, restaurants can use otherwise unusable setbacks, as Rizzuto’s has done with their popular igloos.
They can use adjacent property too, as Rive Bistro does.
Restaurants can even request Board of Selectmen permission to put tables in street parking and on sidewalks. Railroad Place (Romanacci, Tarantino, Harvest) and Church Lane (Spotted Horse, Manna Toast) are prime examples of town-restaurant cooperation.
The application process is simple. It’s managed by P&Z director Mary Young, with support from fire marshal Nate Gibbons, to ensure the safety of patrons and staff.
As the weather gets better, more outdoor dining options are sure to appear.
And who knows? They’re so popular, the P&Z may decide to keep them, long after the pandemic ends.
This is usually the time of year when we sign up for beach stickers, handpasses and the like.
In this year of COVID, the Parks & Recreation Department says:
Spring and summer are just around the corner. Our team is hard at work getting things ready to open up our facilities and provide programs!
We plan to provide offerings that we were unfortunately unable to offer last year due to COVID-19. Please anticipate modifications while we follow best practices and state guidelines as we strive to create safe environments for all facility users and program participants.
Keep watching for more information later this month on programs, beach emblems and more! Stay safe!
Despite the loss of signature fundraisers like the Yankee Doodle Fair, the Westport Woman’s Club held strong to its 114-year tradition of helping local organizations in need.
Last year, the WWC concentrated its donations on groups that offer COVID-related help. They include
- Bridgeport Rescue Mission
- Center for Family Justice
- Circle of Care
- CLASP Homes, Inc.
- Department of Human Services
- Domestic Violence Crisis Center
- Family & Children’s Agency, Inc.
- Filling in the Blanks
- Food Rescue Us
- Homes with Hope
- Malta House, Inc.
- Rowan Center
- Town of Westport: Department of Human Services Visiting Nurses & Hospice of Fairfield County Westport Volunteer EMS
Fingers are crossed for a Yankee Doodle Fair this year. But whether there is a full, scaled-down version — or none at all — the Westport Woman’s Club will find a way to make Fairfield County a better place for all.
Spring is (almost) here. But to ensure that diners feel comfortable outdoors, Rizzuto’s is adding personal igloos.
Much warmer than the Inuit variety, they’ve got personal electric heat and lights.
They should be available this weekend. Let’s hope they’re the least snowy igloos we’ve ever seen.
Earthplace is the place for all things environmental. And March is the time for Earthplace to spring into new programming.
A few offerings:
- Teen Volunteer Club
- Talking $hit in Westport (recognizing scat! — Tuesday, March 16, 7 p.m.)
- “Restoring Soil to Fight Climate Change” (Zoom seminar — Thursday, March 18, 7 p.m.)
- Family Campfire (Saturday, March 20, 4 p.m.)
- Environmental Book Club (“The Genius of Birds” — Wednesday, March 31, 7 p.m.)
- Nature Trivia (Thursday, April 22, 5 p.m.)
- Science in a Box program (for 2 participants)
- Summer camp registration
Click here for details.
The “blue light” mystery has been solved.
On Tuesday, “06880” ran a photo of a mysterious sight photographed by Nancy Vener, from Saugatuck Shores. Other readers sent similar photos:
Ever-vigilant Wendy Crowther found this statement from NASA’ Keith Koehler:
A 3-stage suborbital sounding rocket was launched in the afternoon on March 3, for the Department of Defense from NASA’s launch range at the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.
The launch was to study ionization in space just beyond the reaches of Earth’s atmosphere.
After flying to an altitude of several hundred miles and about 500 miles offshore, the rocket’s payload released a small quantity of vapor into the near-vacuum of space. There is no danger to public health or the Earth’s environment from the vapor release.
In other words: It’s just vapor. Or so they say …
MoCA Westport’s spring Exhibition, “Smash,” premiers April 2. It’s devoted exclusively to the videos of contemporary artist Marilyn Minter.
Both grandiose and intimate, in settings throughout the museum’s galleries, Minter’s videos will be exhibited together for the first time in a public institution. Seeped in lush imagery and moving between figuration and abstraction, his works encapsulate feminism, pleasure, voyeurism and notions of beauty, desire and chance.
Her custom-designed AMC Pacer –featuring an interior, surround viewing of her work “Green Pink Caviar,” will also be exhibited for the first time.
Click here for more information.
It’s not too early to think about Easter — well, the catering part, anyway.
Mystic Market across from the train station is early out of the box. Their appetizers and platters (artichoke jalapeño dip in a bread bowl, charcutier board…), salads, soups (carrot giner, potato leek), brunch quiche, breads, sides, dinners (roasted pomegranate lamb, potato-encrusted Chilean sea bass, roast beef tenderloin, salmon filet, beef lasagna…) and desserts) must be ordered by April 1.
I’ll take one of everything, please …
The March/April issue of Westport Magazine is out now. It’s a look at “fresh starts for spring, like salons, skincare, what’s happening, and the local real estate market,
Also featured: outdoor spaces, from batting cages and home farms to a 16-foot firepit, across from a swimming pool’s transparent outer wall.
Westport Magazine is available at Barnes & Noble, Balducci’s, Whole Foods and CVS.
And finally … on this day in 1963, Patsy Cline was killed in a plane crash in Tennessee. One of the first country music artists to cross over into pop, she was 30 years old.
Love outdoor dining? Think it’s too intrusive?
On Thursday, March 11, the Planning & Zoning Commission holds a public hearing. They’ll consider a text amendment that would continue outdoor dining for over 80 restaurants — which would otherwise expire March 31 — until further notice.
The text amendment would also be expanded to include certain retail businesses.
The March 11 meeting will be livestreamed at 6 p.m. on www.westportct.gov, Optimum channel 79 and Frontier channel 6020.
Comments can be emailed before the meeting to PandZ@westportct.gov, or during the meeting to PandZComments@westportct.gov. You can offer live testimony during the meeting if you request a link from firstname.lastname@example.org by noon on March 11.
Speaking of the P&Z: Did you know that Westport has digitized its back-office land use permit process?
Users can search for and view records — free! — by clicking here. It even comes with a handy how-to tutorial:
The last Farmers’ Market of the winter is an important one.
On Thursday, March 11 (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.), the Market partners with Sustainable Westport to replenish 2 food pantries: Homes with Hope’s Gillespie Center, and Christ & Holy Trinity Church. Both are running low.
Non-perishable items (canned goods, rice, beans, pasta, jams, sauces, etc.) can be dropped off at Farmers’ Market (Gilbertie’s Herbs & Garden Center, 7 Sylvan Road).
It’s rare to see canned food at the Westport Farmers’ Market. A week from tomorrow, it will be a very lovely sight.
The other day, Positive Directions hosted Senator Chris Murphy, State Representative Jonathan Steinberg and 1st Selectman Jim Marpe.
They joined Westport Human Services, Kids in Crisis, Mid-Fairfield Child Guidance, NAMI and Fairfield Public Schools for a discussion on behavioral health needs during COVID and beyond.
Senator Murphy heard ideas he’ll bring to Washington. Other leaders shared best practices. Click here to learn more.
Seth Van Beever is a proud son of Saugatuck.
Actually, a proud great-great-grandson. His great-great-grandfather, James Barnes Sr., was the first tender for what is now called the William F. Cribari Bridge.
Seth has followed the debate over the 133-year-old bridge’s future closely. So when he saw a photo of an innovative solution — a road in the Netherlands goes under the water, so boats can sail above it — he thought of us.
That’s thinking waaaaay outside the bridge — er, the box.
We dodged a bullet Monday.
High winds throughout Connecticut led to 18,000 power outages statewide. As of last night, there were still 4,600 Eversource customers without power.
Here in Westport, we had outages in only 3 scattered, small locations. As of last night, the only folks still without power here wee on Pheasant Lane, off Meeker Road.
Nancy Vener took this photo from Saugatuck Shores. Stony Point is on the left; Longshore, on the right.
But what’s that blue light? She said it showed up on several photos, at different heights. If you know, click “Comments” below.
Juanita Watson — a 30-year Westport Public Schools employee — died last Thursday. She most recently worked in Pupil Services.
And finally … on this day in 1931, President Hoover signed a congressional act making “The Star Spangled Banner” our official national anthem.
For decades, it was sung the same way. During the 1968 World Series, our Weston neighbor Jose Feliciano broke tradition with this version.
The national anthem has never been the same.