Category Archives: Westport life

Here’s The State Of Westport

The state of the town is strong.

The state of our schools is too.

Those verdicts were delivered by 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and Board of Education chair Candice Savin yesterday.

A large, inquisitive crowd packed the Westport Library. The 3rd annual State of the Town meeting was sponsored by our 2 Rotary Clubs.

Marpe began by citing 2 newly improved facilities: the library itself, and the Senior Center.

He also mentioned that Westport has the highest life expectancy in Connecticut, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Our neighborhood averages range from 82 years all the way to 89 (Old Hill area). Who knew?!

1st Selectman Jim Marpe, at yesterday’s “State of the Town” meeting.

Among the 2019 accomplishments, Marpe pointed to:

  • New accessibility projects at Compo beach, and environmentally friendly turf fields
  • Wakeman Town Farm improvements
  • Sasco Brook’s de-listing from the state register of impaired waterways
  • The town’s new mobile-friendly website
  • The Police Department’s innovative technology and equipment, including increased capability to respond in a crisis, and the groundbreaking Tesla 3 patrol car
  • Improvement projects at our 2 railroad stations
  • A 7% decline in Fire Department 911 calls, in large part due to proactive efforts in schools and the construction industry

The Westport Fire Department has made a determined effort to educate Westporters about fire safety.

  • Ongoing investments to upgrade commercial properties downtown and on the Post Road
  • 3rd Selectwoman Melissa Kane’s leadership of improved town wayfinding
  • 2nd Selectwoman Jen Tooker’s leadership of the “Westport Means Business” series
  • Commitment to be a NetZero community by 2050; rebranding “Sustainable Westport”; the RTM’s legislation on replacing single-use plastics; adding new solar energy capacity; switching 1,300 street lights to LED bulbs, and a “Zero Food Waste Challenge,” which includes a free pilot program for dropping off food waste at the transfer station (beginning April 1).
  • Consolidation of police, fire and EMS public safety dispatch centers with Fairfield
  • Automating building and land use processes with the Planning & Zoning, Building, Conservation, Public Works, Health District and Fire departments.

Building in Westport is becoming easier, with enhanced communication among town bodies. (Photo/Jaime Bairaktaris)

Of course, there are challenges. Marpe mentioned:

  • Traffic. He, the police and Public Works are scheduling RTM district public meetings to identify practical, realistic solutions.
  • Affordable housing. We have 3 years left on our moratorium under the 8-30g state statute.
  • The need to enhance Longshore, and other town facilities
  • Keeping the tax mill rate flat, as it has been for about 5 years. Marpe noted that financial reserves are at or ahead of “our conservative targets,” and that pension and post-employment benefit assets are “very well-funded.”

Marpe concluded his prepared remarks by noting:

Westport is and will continue to be among the most attractive towns in the tri-state area to raise a family, educate children, create and grow a business, and retire.

We are a truly rare and wonderful combination of a small, charming New England town committed to celebrating our past and preserving our history, and also a cutting-edge community that fosters innovation, creativity and progress.

Westport preserves its past and looks to the future, says 1st Selectman Jim Marpe. (Photo/John Videler for VIdeler Photography)

Board of Ed chair Savin said that the Westport School District is “strong, and getting stronger,” in areas like academics, arts, special education and athletics.

She noted the district’s focus on social and emotional health, safety and security — and combating vaping.

Among the challenges: reopening Coleytown Middle School, the budget, and the search for a new schools superintendent.

She said the board and community must “continue to invest in students, professionals and infrastructure.”

Board of Education chair Candice Savin’s presentation included slides like these, showing renovations to Coleytown Middle School.

Moderator Jeff Wieser then read questions from audience members.

Marpe was asked about his biggest budgetary challenge. “The capital forecast — school and town projects,” he said.

Regarding empty storefronts on Main Street, he pointed to new businesses coming in, along with “mom and mom” stores owned by local residents. He noted that the P&Z wants to improve efficiencies of town processes, and praised Regency Centers — owners of several large Westport shopping areas — for recent upgrades of their properties.

Marpe also said that the Downtown Merchants Association and Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce are working hard to attract new businesses.

Asked about the relationship with the Westport Museum for History & Culture, the 1st selectman said that the town no longer stores records there, eliminating a $7,500 storage fee. He said that although this year the town helped fund the Museum’s First Light celebration, he was “troubled” when he realized some of the money went toward employees’ salaries.

“We are working with them to recover that portion” of the funds, he said.

However, Marpe added, “the tone of a lot of comments (on ‘06880’) were not what Westport is about. It was like cyber-bullying. I appeal to residents to step back. You’re talking about people who live down the street from you.”

Regarding traffic, Marpe said the most significant impact comes from Waze. He acknowledged frustration with timing of Post Road lights, and said the town is in “regular communication” with the state Department of Transportation.

When the highways get crowed, Waze sends drivers through Westport.

As for Joey’s at the Shore, Marpe described the town’s 30-year relationship with the former beach concessionaire. He said they parted ways “without hard feelings.” An RFP has been issued for Compo, the skating rink/pool and golf course halfway house.

Seven or eight “well qualified” responses have been received. Bids will be open this week, and Marpe is optimistic that the new concessionaire will continue Joey Romeo’s “warmth, style, sensitivity and food.” He warned though that it may not be “fully operational” by the start of beach season.

In response to Board of Ed questions, Savin said that there are contingency plans in case CMS is not ready to reopen next fall; that pushing school start times back 30 minutes for all schools will be on the February 3 and February 10 agendas, and that declining enrollment is more challenging at the middle school level (because of the team approach) than in elementary schools and Staples High.

When the meeting was over, the town officials were not through. Members of the audience continued to ask questions. Marpe and Savin kept answering them.

Stay-At-Home Moms Gets Up And Go

Plenty of Westport moms work outside the home.

Plenty of others don’t.

For women who move to here with young children — sometimes leaving the workplace — meeting others in their situation can be hard.

Nearly 2 years ago, newcomer Nathalie Jacob tackled the problem. With Sonam Sethi and Samreen Malik — who had similar ideas — they created a Facebook group. “Westport Stay-at-Home Moms” brings mothers of babies and toddlers together.

There certainly is a need. Nearly 400 members meet for play dates, trips, Moms Night Outs, potlucks at the beach and more.

A recent outing, with moms and kids …

The newest event is Play2Give. These are play dates at which the mothers help their children do activities for charity. For the holidays, moms and toddlers picked out food at a supermarket, and packed it up for donations.

“What we have in common is that we all have children of a similar age,” Nathalie says. “We’re enjoying this amazing new stage in our lives as parents of babies and toddlers.”

“Many of our own parents live far away. Through this group, we’ve made friends who feel like family.”

… and another …

Members mirror the diversity that is part of Westport, but not always seen. They come from more than 30 nations — the UK, Italy, Serbia, Australia, Greece, India, Russia, China, Brazil, Kazakhstan, Guyana, South Korea, Paraguay, Jamaica, you name it — which adds great energy and variety to activities.

Moms in nearby towns are welcome. So are working mothers — and fathers. They’ve even formed a sub-group. “Yo DAD” gets together once a month.

A pleasant surprise: “Not just the moms, but our husbands and kids have become close as well,” Nathalie says. “It feels like an extended family, where our kids have a ton of ‘cousins and aunties.’

“We celebrate holidays together, watch each other’s kids in emergencies, and even travel together. We all feel at home, because we have created a family in Westport.”

… and moms alone, at Via Sforza.

Anyone can design or host a play date or event, anywhere they choose — “their home, a playground, the aquarium, wherever,” Nathalie explains.

“We all vote on big decisions, like the group’s rules. Everyone always has a say and a voice.”

Feedback is great. One woman says the group helped out of a shell of loneliness. Another says she has met her closest friends, who help her feel “connected, support and loved. A third called it “life-changing — no exaggeration. I met the most amazing moms, with equally amazing toddlers.”

Moving to the suburbs can be tough. Moving without the tether of outside work can make it even tougher.

Say what you will about Facebook. For hundreds of women, its Westport Stay-at-Home Moms group makes the move work.

Vani Court Fire Victim Needs Clothes And More

Yesterday’s house fire on Vani Court was devastating.

A renter lost everything — except his grandfather’s Purple Heart. (That’s the good news. When he told firefighters it was in the still smoldering house, they retrieved it.)

But that was all they salvaged. Jason needs to start over from scratch. He was at a job interview — wearing a thin sports coat — while the house burned down. Even his warm winter coat is ashes.

Jason is a size large in clothes, size 10 in shoes.

He also has an 8-year-old girl and 6-year-old boy. 

Concerned Westporters are collecting clothing, toiletries, small household items, kids games, crafts and monetary donations. There is no need for furniture yet; he has nowhere to put it. (He is staying at a hotel; his children are with their mother.)

There’s another big ask: He needs a car too.

Donations can be dropped off at 18 Bulkley Avenue South (behind Stop & Shop). Funds can be Venmoed to @Jason-milanese, donated via Facebook (click here), or checks (made out to Jason Milanese) can be dropped off at the above address, or mailed there (to Monica Ryan).

Every little bit helps!

Jason’s grandfather’s Purple Heart – saved by Westport’s firefighters. (Photo/courtesy of Facebook: Westport/Fairfield Community)

(Hat tips: Kami Evans and Monica Ryan)

Biking Into 2020

Bicycle safety is not a new topic. 

But we’re entering a new year (and decade). Alert — and worried — “06880” reader Angela Ryan sends these thoughts. As we turn the calendar page, let’s pledge new behaviors on our roads too.

Angela writes:

My husband came home from work today shaking. This has happened several times a year for the past 10 years.

He commutes by bike to the train, for his job in New York.

He is a conscientious rider. He stops at lights and stop signs, and uses hand signals. He is very visible, with lights on the front and back of his bike.

Yet he is repeatedly harassed by drivers. Vehicles speed past him at aggressive speed because he rides between parked cars and the lane of traffic.

Drivers shout obscenities at him, and honk because they have to yield to him on a turn. Vehicles race past him approaching the light in front of Dunkin’ Donuts at the end of the Cribari Bridge, just to be stopped when the light turns read.

He is doing nothing wrong. In fact, he is helping the town and environment by riding his bike. He is freeing up space at the railroad parking lot for another commuter to use.

I wish that commuters (and bikers) would remember basic rules of the road:

1. Bicycles have a right to be on the road.
2. Bikers must be visible to drivers, and use hand signals to communicate their intentions.
3. Bikers must stop at stop signs and stop lights, just like drivers.
4. Drivers must allow 3 feet when passing bikers. They cannot pass a biker and make a right turn unless it is safe for the biker.
5. Bikers must drive on the right side of the road (except for certain circumstances).
6. Bikers are allowed to ride two abreast, but not more.
7. A “vulnerable user law” states that people who drive a car and use reasonable care, but still cause the death or injury of a vulnerable user (like a biker) can be fined.
8. There is no room to pass a biker on the Cribar Bridge. So there is no need to yell obscenities at my husband if he rides in the middle of the lane. He has nowhere else to go.

I know people are passionate about whether or not we should make biking easier in Westport. All I can say is that the gains communities see in expanding biking far outweigh what they lose.

Although I would be happy to see biking expanded in Westport for the greater good of us all, this is not why I am writing. I just ask that drivers be reasonable and patient to riders, especially those who adhere to all the rules of the road.

They have as much right to be on the road as you.

Everyone Talks About Traffic: The Sequel

Earlier this month, an alert, frustrated and very gridlocked “06880” reader wrote an opinion piece about traffic.

He noted some of the worst jams in Westport, and recommended the creation of a special town traffic czar an task force to examine the issue. Dozens of readers replied. Their comments ranged from “it’s even worse than you say” to “get over it.”

This week, the reader — who asked to be identified as “GS” — is back.

This time, he has one specific solution.

It’s a spot seldom mentioned when we discuss traffic woes. But it’s bad.

I-95 Exit 18 northbound getx jammed at rush hour. Cars creep up the hill; the backlog often spills all the way down the ramp, causing delays on the highway itself.

GS’ idea: Put a stoplight at the top of the exit, at the Sherwood Island Connector.

Exit 18, at the Sherwood Island Connector.

“Keep it green 85% of the time, for drivers coming off the exit,” he says. After all, virtually no one ever waits at what is now a stop sign, heading east to Sherwood Island State Park. (Even in summer, most traffic to the park comes off 95 northbound.)

Making Exit 18 more attractive would cause more drivers to get off there — easing the current congestion at Exit 17, and into Saugatuck, GS says. Waze and other traffic apps would notice, keeping drivers on 95 to Exit 18, instead of telling them to get off at 17 because of I-95 congestion ahead.

“It’s not a lot,” he admits. “But every little bit helps.”

It’s an interesting idea. So here is today’s “06880” challenge:

Come up with your own.

What little tweaks can you suggest, to ease traffic in Westport?

Where would you put a light, a stop sign, a turning lane? Where would you remove something that actually hinders the flow?

Be creative! Think outside the box! The sky’s the limit!

And if you think this is, um, pie in the sky: Think again.

These ideas will go right to our new task force and traffic czar.

Once they’re appointed, of course.

What Would Mr. Rogers Think?

It’s the holiday season. Many Westporters hang wreaths on their doors. They string lights on trees or fences. Some place candles in every window.

Well, it’s also impeachment season. One Westporter has let his views be known. He lives at #1 High Point Road — the very first house, on the longest cul-de-sac in town. A neighbor writes:

Typically, this house displays a “God Bless President Trump” banner. Recently a new one was added: “Merry Christmas from President Trump.”

The  banners are an eyesore but harmless. The most recent one is offensive.

It says “Democrats, impeach this” — with an arrow pointing to a hand displaying the middle finger.

I drive past it no less than 6 times a day with my children. A neighbor has already talked to Town Hall. Their response was, “this is a civil matter. There is nothing that we can do.”

I know. It’s freedom of speech. But this has crossed over into being inappropriate and offensive.

“06880” wants to know: What do Westporters think? We all recognize and appreciate the First Amendment. Where does it intersect with neighborhood life? Is this actually inappropriate — or just aggravating, because the homeowner’s politics differ from his neighbor’s? Is the middle finger truly offensive, in this day and age? Westporters already display yard signs during election season — is this a valid extension of that, or somehow beyond the bounds of neighborly norms?

Feel free to weigh in on those questions. Please be civil, and do NOT veer into a discussion of the pros and cons of the impeachment issue itself — that’s not what this post is about. Comments not addressing the “neighborhood” issue above will be removed. And remember: All “06880” commenters must use full, real names. Thank you!

Town Prepares For 2020. Phone Book Distributors Race Backward To 1979.

It’s the holiday season. But alert — and peeved — “06880” Gil Ghitelman just found an unwelcome “gift” underneath his mailbox.

One shot from Imperial Avenue …

The Yellow Pages — or, in this case, Blue Pages — are baaaaaack.

“Any business that wastes its money foolishly advertising in this, whose time has long passed, doesn’t deserve my business,” Gil writes.

“And the town ought to fine the distributors.”

In fact, the town already addressed this issue. Two years ago — thanks to excellent work by resident Morgan Mermagen, RTM representatives Liz Milwe, Jeff Wieser and Matthew Mandell, and assistant town attorney Gail Kelly, all phone book distributors in Westport agreed to these conditions:

  • All plastic bags used during delivery will be made with 20% post-consumer recycled content. This will be noted on the bag.
  • A new opt-out notice — showing the website www.YellowPagesOptOut.com — will cover 30% of one side of the bag.
  • A letter to the town, announcing a pending distribution by any company, will be done 90 days prior to any event, and 30 days prior to a cut-off for being able to opt out of that (and future) distributions.
  • All books will continue to have a notice on the front cover about the opt-out, with the same URL.
  • Within 14 days after delivery, the distribution company will return through the route, picking up any unclaimed bags within view.
  • A report will be sent to the town each year, noting how many people have opted out.

I’m not sure whether the distributor of the current Yellow Blue Pages adhered to these regulations. Gil had already tossed the “gift” by the time I emailed them back to him.

(Click here for the full 2017 “06880” story on phone book distribution.)

… and the house next door. (Photos/Gil Ghitelman)

Another Guy Behaving Really Badly

The other day, I posted a story about a man who — upset at the traffic on Greens Farms Road — repeatedly parked his car perpendicular across both lanes, blocking everyone.

Now comes another transportation-related report — this one involving trains. An alert — and very irate — “06880” reader writes:

I ride the train every day. I notice from time to time when I get off at Greens Farms that someone leaves a huge pile of papers scattered on the floor for someone else to pick up. I always think to myself how terrible it is. I wonder how could someone be okay with doing this?

A few weeks ago I sat on the outside seat. I had to get up to let someone off at the Saugatuck station. As I did, a man also exited from the row right in front of me. Sure enough, there was the pile of papers.

This guy reads both the Wall Street Journal and New York Times.

I nicely asked if those were his papers. He looked at me and said “yes.”

I asked if he was going to leave them all over the floor for someone else to pick up.

He looked at me again. He again said “yes.” Then he walked off the train.

I passed the story along to my business partner, who got off at Greens Farms with me.

Last night my business partner sat across from the same guy, who did the same thing.

Apparently every day, he leaves his mess for someone else to clean up.

In this day and age, while many of us are talking about privilege, and how to teach our kids to do the right thing, this is a sad reminder that some people just don’t care.

[NOTE: The reader sent me a photo. The man appears to be in his 50s; he’s average height, average build, and wears glasses. His hair is graying at the temples. I have decided to take the high road — not the below-the-tracks road he travels — and not post it here. — Dan Woog]

On Greens Farms Road, A Vigilante Traffic Stop

It’s no secret — unfortunately — that when I-95 backs up, Greens Farms Road can be an alternate route.

Neighborhood residents don’t like it. But — in this age of Waze and other traffic apps — there’s nothing they can do about it.

That did not stop one man from trying.

Alert “06880” reader Josh Stein reports:

Driving southbound yesterday on Greens Farms Road, I came upon a car parked perpendicular across both travel lanes.

I thought there was an accident. I ran up to the car, and was greeted by a man who said he represents the Greens Farms Association.

I’m sure he doesn’t. But, Josh continues:

He said was protesting through traffic. Dozens of cars were stopped.

A less congested view of the area on Greens Farms Road where a vigilante stopped traffic yesterday.

When Josh returned home, the same thing happened. He called the Westport Police Department. They arrived quickly.

Apparently, Josh says:

This guy has been doing this all week. The police are aware of him.

He actually accelerated and aimed his car at me this second time. He has a large dog in his back seat. The first time he blocked both lanes of traffic, he was in front of 286 Greens Farms Road. This second time he was in front of 350 Greens Farms Road or thereabouts. He told the officer he lives on Greens Farms Road, in the 300s.

No, we don’t like what Waze is doing to our town.

But there must be better “ways” to address the problem than this.

[OPINION] A Conversation About The Cribari Bridge

Frank Accardi moved to Westport in 1993. He’s seen a lot — and spent a lot of time by (and on) the William F. Cribari Bridge. He writes:

At this time of year, out-of-town holiday guests pile into cars. We take them to the beach, Longshore, and all those other lovely places in this town we call home.

Lunching downtown, they get a view of the river. A bit of Main Street shopping is on the agenda too.

Local friends are introduced all around: kind, friendly and warm-hearted.

We drive by parks and the library, modern schools and old churches, bike paths and boat slips. Inevitably, guests fall in love with the town just as we have.

Sometimes they get a chance to literally ride through history.

We tell them: The oldest hand-cranked open span bridge in the state is after the next light.

It’s on the National Registry of Historic places.

Reflections on the Cribari Bridge (Photo/Tom Wambach)

The turn is made. The chatter quiets.

The bridge is just ahead. Just as quickly, the short span is crossed .

But it is inevitable that they see what we see every day.

The dents, the rusty disrepair and desuetude, all made sadder by the brightness of Al DiGuido’s lights and the generosity of his spirit.

Thankful that no one experienced an oncoming landscaping truck at the same time, conversation eventually picks up.

But never about the bridge.

You want to explain that there is history, engineering, boats and truck traffic patterns to consider. But you don’t.

Safely at home, someone takes you aside and says, “Maybe from now on you should go the long way around, son.”

You say, “Don’t worry. I’m sure they will figure it all out soon.”

Won’t they ?