Pic Of The Day #366

It rained the other day. Predictably, shoppers left their carts everywhere — including in the middle of 2 parking spots. Hey, it’s wet out — let these carts be someone else’s problem! (Photo/Marcy Sansolo)

Drag-gone: The Sequel

Earlier today, I ended my story on the move of Dragone Classic Motorcars from Post Road West to Orange by suggesting the 11,000-square foot property might be the site of a medical marijuana dispensary.

Some readers took me seriously.

I was kidding! It’s directly opposite Kings Highway Elementary School. You’d have to be smoking some heavy stuff to believe that would fly in this town.

But here’s something to consider.

Word around town — from reliable sources — is that a developer has closed on the former classic car showroom. He’s got his eye on the property next door too — where Villa del Sol planned to move.

Why? He wants to build 8-30(g) affordable housing there.

As in, 150 or more 2-bedroom apartments.

The former Dragone property and its neighbor, on Post Road West.

There’s already a plan in the works for the other side of Post Road West — the former “blighted homes” site on the crest of the hill heading downtown. That’s on the Planning and Zoning Commission agenda, for 81 8-30(g) units.

For a while, most Westport zoning battles have been waged on the other side of the river.

Westward ho!


After nearly 8 years in Westport, Dragone Classic Motorcars has driven off from the Post Road.

It’s not rent. It’s not lack of interest. The popular vintage auto dealer just needed more space.

A lot more space.

There was 11,000 square feet in the Westport showroom, and another 10,000 square feet in a Bridgeport restoration facility. Vice president George Dragone hauled himself — and Packards, DeSotos, Bugattis, T-Birds and more — back and forth, several times a day.

The Dragone showroom in Westport.

They’re consolidating everything in a 66,000-square foot building in Orange. That’s great news for them.

But not so great for their many loyal Westport customers.

“I hope they’ll continue coming to Orange,” Dragone says. “I still have a lot of connections to Westport. I was just at the Historical Society, in fact.

“But we needed a larger facility. We couldn’t show off our cars the way we wanted to.”

The site on Post Road West, across from Kings Highway Elementary School, has a storied automotive history. The Small Car Company — a Volkswagen dealer — moved in around 1959. Dragone took over from its successor, Saab of Westport.

There’s no word yet on who will move in there. Maybe a medical marijuana dispensary?

Unsung Hero #44

When the 7th annual Maker Faire takes over Westport this Saturday (April 21), there will be something for everyone.

A record 12,000+ attendees — tech lovers, crafters, educators, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, science geeks, artists, authors, students and exhibitors — will share what they’ve made, see what others have created, teach, learn, be inspired, and inspire others.

And have tons of fun.

It’s a massive undertaking. Planning began the moment last year’s Maker Faire — which drew “only” 10,500 people — ended.

Hundreds of volunteers make it happen. But none of it would be possible without Mark Mathias.

Mark Mathias

Westport’s event– part of a worldwide movement (and of all 772 Maker Faires in 44 countries, among the top 5% in attendance) — was his brainchild.

In September 2011, his kids were fascinated by the New York Maker Faire.

Seven months later — thanks to Mathias’ work with the Westport Library, Sunrise Rotary and Downtown Merchants Association — we had our own “Mini Maker Faire.”

The “mini” is long gone. Now — with activities spread across the Library, Jesup Green, Taylor parking lot, Bedford Square, Town Hall and Veterans Green — it’s as maxi as it gets.

But the Maker Faire is not Mathias’ only local contribution. He’s in his 15th year on the Board of Education; is an active member of Saugatuck Congregational Church (with a particular interest in their mission trips), and when his daughter Nicole was at Staples High School, he was an avid supporter of the music department.

Mathias — whose professional background is in IT — is president of Remarkable Steam. The non-profit promotes innovation and creativity in the areas of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math).

This is Mark Mathias’ busiest time of year. Hopefully, he’ll take a few moments out of his hectic day to accept our thanks, as this week’s Unsung Hero.

Robots galore at last year’s Maker Faire.

(For more information on Westport’s Maker Faire, click here. To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

Staples Lacrosse Sticks Up For Soldiers

James Hazelip does not live in Westport. But the US Army combat veteran — who deployed twice to Iraq — considers this his adopted home town.

He’s seen the kindness, care and generosity of Westporters personally, on visits with 2 non-profits: Sticks for Soldiers and Catch a Lift.

“Sticks” uses lacrosse to raise funds to support wounded vets and their families. Catch a Lift provides gym memberships and home equipment, fitness programs and motivational peer support to post-9/11 combat-wounded military personnel.

Staples lacrosse players wear special pinneys for the “Sticks for Soldiers” game. (Photo/Shelley Burger Sports)

In the past year, Hazelip has been to Westport twice. Both times, he says, “I met amazing people. They really care about and take action for the welfare of our service members and veterans.”

This Saturday (April 21), Hazelip returns the love. He’s the keynote speaker at Staples High School’s 7th annual Sticks for Soldiers event. After the girls’ 4 p.m. game, and before the boys’ 6 p.m. contest, Hazelip will deliver inspiring remarks to the football stadium crowd.

James Hazelip

He’s got quite a story. PTSD nearly cost Hazelip his life. He struggled with substance abuse, gained 100 pounds, and spent more than a month in a coma. Speaking to Westporters is part of his journey to rebuild his life.

That’s not all he’ll do. The Army vet will also address the Wrecker boys team in the locker room before and after their game.

A Navy lieutenant who served on 4 destroyers during her 15-year military career will speak to the Staples girls team too.

Staples lacrosse coaches, and their PAL counterparts, have planned an important afternoon. The ceremony between the boys and girls games includes presentation of the colors, and remarks by Sticks for Soldiers president Jeff Casucci.

The 2016 Sticks for Soldiers lacrosse game at Staples included a speaker and color guard — and this intriguing double image. (Photo/ Shelley Burger Sports)

During halftime of both games, PAL youth teams will play scrimmages.

A suggested minimum donation of $5 raises funds for Sticks for Soldiers. Proceeds from food and drink sales will also benefit the organization.

Whether you’re an avid lax fan or have never seen a game, te sure to “stick” Saturday on your calendar. You’ll welcome James Hazelip back to Westport — and help many other soldiers too.

(To donate to Sticks for Soldiers, click here. For more information on Saturday’s event, email edward.iannone@gmail.com)

Whittingham Cancer Center: Care With A Hometown Heart

Tony Menchaca’s 2006 colonoscopy was clean. With no family history of colon cancer, he was happy to wait 10 years for his next one.

But when he saw blood in his stool in 2013, he had another procedure. Diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer, a foot of his colon was removed at Norwalk Hospital.

The disease had spread to his lymph nodes. He faced 6 months of chemotherapy.

Tony Menchaca

Tony — a Westporter since 1990, whose 3 boys earned fame as Staples High School wrestlers — had a choice. He could undergo chemo at world renowned Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York, or at the much smaller Whittingham Cancer Center at Norwalk Hospital.

His surgeon, Dr. James McClane, described the value of a local center. It was important, he said, to think about ease of access, and the personalization of a smaller facility.

Tony chose Whittingham. Four years later — and cancer-free — he is very pleased with his experience.

“I got super treatment,” Tony says. “The level of expertise is comparable to New York. And the amount of caring was phenomenal.”

(Whittingham Cancer Center recently affiliated with Memorial Sloan Kettering. MSK medical and radiation oncologists are now onsite at Norwalk Hospital.)

Over 6 months, Tony underwent 12 rounds of chemo. He’d go in on Monday, for 3 hours of infusion. On Wednesday, he returned to have his pump disconnected. The next day, he went back for a booster shot.

Tony drove himself to his appointments. He did not want his wife Sara or his kids hanging around the infusion suite.

However, the setup encourages loved ones or friends to be there during treatment. “If you want people around, it’s great,” he notes.

Whittingham Cancer Center

Tony’s oncologist, Dr. Richard Frank, was very accessible. “I always saw him,” Tony says. “He’s a great guy, and like most of the doctors there, he’s local.”

So local, in fact, that he plays sax in the popular doctor-dominated rock band DNR.

“I may not have had that level of exposure to a physician in a larger cancer center,” Tony says.

But, Tony says, the heart of Whittingham is its chemo suite infusion nurses. They’re the ones he spent most of his time with. He can’t say enough about their expertise and concern.

The real eye-opener, though, was “the value of a local cancer center. If he spent 6 months commuting to chemo, Tony believes his recovery would have been far harder.

Even before his diagnosis, Tony had ridden in the CT Challenge, a bike ride fundraiser for cancer survivors. He’s now done it 7 times.

His other major effort is Whittingham’s 3K walk and 5K run. It’s doubly special this year: the 15th annual event for the cancer center falls on the 125th anniversary of Norwalk Hospital.

It’s Saturday, May 5 at Calf Pasture Beach. That’s just a couple of miles from his Westport home, so of course Tony will be there.

It’s not like he has to go all the way to New York for exercise.

Or excellent, life-saving cancer care.

(For more information on the Whittingham Cancer Center Walk & Sally’s Run, click here.)

Pic Of The Day #365

This red fox is a regular in the Greens Farms neighborhood. Today he was spotted on the stone wall by the cemetery at Hillandale Road. (Photo/Allison Feuer)

Medical Marijuana: A Dispensary Q-and-A

David Lipton is a lifelong Westporter. He’s part of Bluepoint Wellness, which this Thursday (April 19, 7 p.m., Town Hall) is on the Planning & Zoning Commission agenda for its applicaton to open a medical marijuana dispensary at the present site of Coco Spa, behind the old Pier One store at 1460 Post Road East.

Lipton is also CEO of Advanced Grow Labs. Based in West Haven, it’s one of 4 state-licensed producers of medical marijuana.

Officials have opened up a Request for Application for 3 to 10 new dispensaries statewide. They may or may not pick a Westport site. There are now 5 applications here.

Lipton offers this information about medical marijuana dispensaries not to advance his own application, he says, but to explain the entire process.

Who can enter a medical marijuana dispensary?

To enter a medical marijuana dispensary in Connecticut you must be a registered patient with the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection.

Who is the DCP?

The DCP is the regulatory agency that controls the medical marijuana program, as well as all food and drugs manufactured and sold in Connecticut.  They oversee licensing all patients and their caregivers, all dispensaries, all producers, and all employees at the dispensaries and producers.

How do you become a registered patient?

To be a registered patient you must be diagnosed with one of the following conditions:

Adults: Cancer, glaucoma, positive status for HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, intractable spasticity, epilepsy, cachexia, wasting syndrome, Crohn’s disease, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, sickle cell disease, post-laminectomy syndrome, severe psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ulcerative colitis, complex regional pain syndrome, cystic fibrosis, cerebral palsy, irreversible spinal cord injury, terminal illness requiring end of life care, and uncontrollable intractable seizure disorder.

Patients under 18: cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, severe epilepsy, terminal illness requiring end of life care, uncontrollable tntractable seizure disorder.

So it’s not a traditional retail shop or pharmacy where anyone can visit?

To enter a dispensary, you must be registered with the state, and have both a DCP-generated ID and a state photo ID.

The Bluepoint Wellness dispensary, in Branford. Advanced Grow Labs is partnering with Bluepoint on an application for a Westport location.

How do you register with the DCP?

If you have a qualifying medical condition, your physician can register you with the Department of Consumer Protection on the DCP licensing website (biznet.ct.gov). As a physician-recommended patient you then register on the state’s licensing site, which asks detailed questions. You must provide proof of residency, a passport-style photo, and a $100 application fee. If approved, the DCP issues you a patient ID card, which you use to enter the dispensary. You must register with a specific dispensary in the state. You cannot go randomly to any dispensary.

How many dispensaries are there, and where are they located?

Currently there are 9 licensed dispensaries for the 25,000+ registered patients. There is an open RFA (Request for Application) to add 3 to 10 additional dispensaries so they are more readily available to patients throughout the state. Right now, some patients drive a long distance to access a dispensary. There are 2 in Milford, and 1 each in Bethel, Branford, South Windsor, Hartford, Bristol, Uncasville and Waterbury. The DCP may award just 3 new licenses, or up to 10.

I hear a lot about Westport picking 2 to 4 dispensaries. Will that happen?

This is part of the misinformation that has confused everyone. The answer is no. Westport does not select the dispensary. Westport approves the zoning for a dispensary through P&Z. The licensing is awarded by the DCP in Hartford after reviewing all the applications received. They are hefty applications, so this takes quite a bit of time. It involves a great deal of background checks, narratives, and details from the potential operators of the dispensary, who must prove to the state that they are highly qualified to safely and securely operate a dispensary.

So why are  people talking about 4 dispensaries coming to Westport?

Again, this is misinformation. The town population in Westport is 26,000. If at all, the DCP would only approve 1 dispensary in a town of that size — and they may not select Westport at all. But if they do, it means the applicant has proven to the DCP through their application that they are qualified to safely and successfully operate a dispensary.

Compassionate Care — a medical marijuana dispensary in Bethel.

How does DCP decide on how they will award a license?

The DCP uses a scoring system. The highest score is 2000; the minimum is 1500. It is a very competitive process. Applications often end up being more than 1000 pages, with detailed answers to very in-depth questions.

Will a dispensary damage the perception of how Westport is viewed?

No dispensary in Connecticut has brought any issues or problems to the towns in which they are located. In fact, they bring consumers to the towns who spend money at locations other than the dispensaries – restaurants, shops, etc. A dispensary sells merchandise just like CVS or Walgreens. They sell product that comes in an orange dram, sealed, just a prescription from your pharmacy. Everything is highly secure.

Will a dispensary disrupt the town of Westport or bring criminal behavior?

Again, this is misinformation. There has not been one incident of a problem in any of the towns where there are dispensaries. These are just patients, just like the people going to CVS to get medicine. They want to get in and out the door. It is just like any other errand by any other person.

Will it cause odor?

You won’t even know it’s there. There are no odors emitted by the dispensary. This isn’t like Colorado or California. All the medicine is packaged in drams or sealed in plastic bags. Nothing is open. There is no looking in jars at medicine. It just like the medicine you pick up at CVS. There won’t even be a sign that says “dispensary” on it. It is a very discreet operation.


Maker Faire Adds Governor Candidates

On Saturday, downtown Westport will teem with more than 12,000 Maker Faire-goers. Intrepid, curious, creative and resourceful, they’ll listen, ask questions and learn all about technology, arts and crafts, food, robotics, art, transportation and a whole lot more.

Curiosity is also a hallmark of the electoral process. Already, 31 people have filed to run for governor of Connecticut this fall. That’s a huge number — and it mirrors interest across the country in the upcoming midterm elections.

Eighteen of those candidates will be at the Maker Faire. From 12:30 to 2 p.m. at Town Hall, they’ll share their visions and dreams for the state. The Gubernatorial Forum is sponsored by Westport’s League of Women Voters, in conjunction with Maker Faire.

Hopefuls include Democrats, Republicans, independents and unaffiliateds. They come from all across Connecticut.

Two of the 31 candidates are from Westport. Marisa Manly (unaffiliated) will have the shortest trip of anyone. Republican Steve Obsitnik could also have walked there, but has a conflict and can’t make it.

The forum is free, and open to the public.

Every year, Westport’s Maker Faire gets bigger. This year it reaches all the way to the governor’s mansion.

Staples Books Its Own Final Four

Earlier this month Villanova, Michigan, Kansas and Loyola held America spellbound, as they battled for the NCAA Division I men’s basketball championship.

But that was nothing compared to the halls of Staples High School. There, it was a fight to finish for the first-ever title of Favorite Book Ever.

Who would win? Weeks of voting had whittled 64 contenders down to the Final Four: Fahrenheit 451, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, The Great Gatsby and To Kill a Mockingbird.

Just like in San Antonio, the semifinals produced an intriguing mix of old standbys and surprising newcomers. Some top seeds won; others advanced through upsets.

The contest was organized by Mary Katherine Hocking. A few years ago, the English teacher saw a similar idea on Pinterest.

But which books? She found Business Insider’s “100 Books to Read in a Lifetime” — and used the top 64.

Those choices may be less controversial than that used by the NCAA selection committee.

Or more. There are a lot more great books than good Division I men’s basketball teams.

The top 4 seeds were — in order — To Kill a Mockingbird, Pride and Prejudice, The Diary of Anne Frank and 1984.

Like the NCAA’s tournament, the rest of the field was all over the map. The Old Man and the Sea, Huck Finn, Night, Hamlet, The Giver, Frankenstein, Catch-22, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Color Purple, Anna Karenina, Lord of the Flies — all (and dozens more) had a chance to advance.

Game on!

Hocking sent email blasts to students and staff. She used Twitter and Instagram too. The Staples library’s Twitter feed, the TV show “Good Morning Staples,” the school paper Inklings, and colleague Rebecca Marsick’s Instagram also helped spread the word.

Hocking had no idea who would respond. It was, she admits, a somewhat nerdy concept. But votes poured in.

Each round drew more interest. In addition to regular email updates from Hocking, an enormous bracket in the English hallway stirred plenty of conversation.

“Students seemed really engaged,” she says. “They were eager to find out what was next.”

She expected the Lord of the Rings trilogy to advance far. It’s a popular book (and film) series. But it fell in the Sweet 16 to Fahrenheit 451.

“That was a surprise,” Hocking says. “Far fewer kids have read that one.”

From the first round on, To Kill a Mockingbird was the team to beat. It kept winning, by huge margins.

Favorites, of course, don’t always win.

But Harper Lee’s 58-year-old novel about prejudice and integrity in a small Southern town knocked off the much more recent Harry Potter fantasy.

That set up a highly anticipated championship match, between 2 American classics: Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby.

Did F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Westport connection propel him to victory? Or, in these days of great focus on racial inequality, did Staples voters go with that dramatic tale?

And the winner is ……………….






To Kill a Mockingbird.

It’s a worthy champion.

But it won’t be back to defend its title next year.

Unlike basketball Final Four, Hocking is looking for 64 entirely new contenders.

Perhaps the best young adult books of all time? Or the best non-fiction works?

Bring it!

The Final 4, on display at Staples High School.