Tag Archives: 1st Selectman Jim Marpe

Westporters Push Against Cancer

The Levitt Pavilion was packed yesterday — with push-up people.

The view from the Levitt Pavilion stage.

Hundreds of men, women and kids — from super-jacked to usually sedentary — did as many push-ups as they could in an hour.

First Selectman Jim Marpe banged out his. So did Chief of Police Foti Koskinas. And Paul Newman’s grandson.

Chief of Police Foti Koskinas and Push Against Cancer founder Andy Berman.

Which was fitting, because all the money raised goes to the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, the fantastic getaway for boys and girls with cancer and other serious diseases. It was founded, of course, by Westport’s own Paul Newman.

The 9th annual Push Against Cancer raised well over $120,000 — a record. That makes nearly $500,000 since the event began.

Congrats to founder and mastermind Andy Berman. To the many police and firefighters who helped make it happen.

And, of course, to everyone who participated — and feels very, very sore today.

(Hat tip: photographers Sabine Foreman, Andrew Kindt, Adam Vengrow)

[OPINION] Developer: In Wake Of Hiawatha Court Decision, We Plan 187 Units

In the wake of a Superior Court judge’s ruling that Westport grant conditional approval for a sewer line extension — the first step toward construction of a large housing complex on Hiawatha Lane, off Saugatuck Avenue next to I-95 Exit 17 — the developer in the lawsuit has issued a press release.

Summit Development says:

A 14-year effor to create a moderate-income housing community in the Town of Westport took a major step forward after a State Superior Court judge ordered the town to grant a conditional approval for a sewer line extension to serve proposed new development on Hiawatha Lane in the Saugatuck neighborhood.

In a ruling issued May 7, Judge Kenneth Shluger ordered the town to extend an existing municipal sewer line 1600 feet to serve the proposed development. The judge said the town’s Water Pollution Control Authority has abused its discretion by delaying the extension. The town’s 3-member governing Board of Selectmen serves as the commissioners of the Authority.

The town has maintained that it could not consider extending the sewer because a failing sewer line and related pumping station that would serve the site are inadequate to handle the additional sewage effluent the new housing would generate, and further said that an existing town policy precluded it from issuing conditional approvals.

The developer, Summit Saugatuck LLC of Southport has maintained since early 2016, when it negotiated a joint venture agreement with the Westport Housing Authority to build 155 units, that the town was not only authorized but obligated to issue a sewer extension approval conditioned upon the completion of the sewer and pump station upgrades.

In 2016, the Public Works Department set the schedule for the upgrades, which are now nearing completion. Summit’s property met all the criteria for receiving sewer service, including being within the Sewer District, and that the town’s sewage treatment plant having ample capacity.

Summit’s attorney, Timothy Hollister, said the judge’s decision supports Summit’s position that the town’s interests are fully protected by granting the extension conditioned on the upgrade being completed, and that the town produced no evidence that it has a long-standing policy against issuing conditional approvals. “There is no such policy,” he said.

Felix Charney, president of Summit Development, said: “The judge found that the town has been using the sewer system upgrade as a way of delaying creation of the moderate-income housing that is so desperately needed in Westport. In 2016, the town encouraged us to partner with the Westport Housing Authority and we came up with a great plan for 155 units including 70 moderate-income units. But when we presented the very plan the town had encouraged, the Town Board dropped its support and hid behind the sewer line issue as the way of blocking the development. Now, with the Housing Authority having lost its financing opportunity, we are proceeding on our own.”

Summit’s new proposal: 187 units.

Summit’s revised plan will feature 187 studio, 1- and 2-bedroom apartments with 30 percent for moderate income households having maximum rent and household income restrictions for 40 years. The 8-acre site is centrally located with access to local stores, restaurants and services.  The community will be a transit oriented development (TOD), as it is within easy walking distance of the Saugatuck train station.

Westport First Selectman Jim Marpe has been quoted saying that the court decision will have “very little practical impact on the proposed project’s timetable.”

Charney responds: “For years we have offered compromises, all of which have been rebuffed by the town. We have a great location near the train station, are in a neighborhood where there are other multi-family apartments and are using a classic New England-style architecture that fits beautifully within the community. The real question boils down to whether Westport wants to be an inclusive or an exclusive community?”

He said Summit had offered the town a series of smaller proposals including the one in partnership with the Westport Housing Authority, but the town chose to not commit.“They left us no alternative but to turn to the courts.”

Carol Martin, executive director of the Westport Housing Authority, said the authority supports the private sector developing housing in the town. “We have reached the point where we are no longer accepting additional applicants signing up with us. With approximately 1,000 names already on the list, there’s no point. We applaud private sector developers like Summit who are willing to step in and help to address the huge need we have in Westport.”

Judge Rules Against Town In Hiawatha Sewer Case

Development of multi-family housing in Saugatuck moved one step closer to reality yesterday.

Superior Court Judge Kenneth Schluger announced his ruling: The town should grant an application to extend the town sewer, to serve a proposed development on Hiawatha Lane.

Two years ago, Summit Development proposed building 155 rental units on 5.34 acres. Hiawatha Lane is currently a narrow road accessible by West Ferry Lane off Saugatuck Avenue, between I-95 exit 17 and the railroad station parking lot.

Hiawatha Lane includes many rental properties — and some of the lowest housing prices in Westport. The land was originally developed to house immigrant workers who built the railroad.

Housing would include 85 market-rate units, and 70 “affordable” units, as defined by Connecticut’s 8-30 g regulation.

A rendering of the proposed Hiawatha Lane development.

The court ruled that the extension request should be granted, subject to a condition that a construction permit not be issued until repair work to the force main under the Saugatuck River, and Pump Station #2, was complete. The Public Works Department anticipates construction will be done by late summer.

The Westport Board of Selectmen — acting in their capacity as the Westport Pollution Control Authority — had denied one request for the sewer extension because repair work had not yet begun, and a second request because construction was not yet finished.

The court said that the WPCA could in fact grant conditional approval, provided no work begins until the repair work is done.

Hiawatha Lane is a narrow street, filled with homes that are modest by Westport standards. It’s accessible only via West Ferry Lane off Saugatuck Avenue, next to the I-95 eastbound entrance/exit ramp.

1st Selectman Jim Marpe said, “I am disappointed by the decision. But even if the court had ruled in the town’s favor, the WPCA would have no discretion to deny Summit’s application after the improvements and repairs … were complete and certified. Ultimately, the court’s decision will have very little practical impact on the proposed project’s timetable.”

#GregStrong

When Patty Strauss’ son Greg suffered a traumatic injury last month — he broke his back cliff-jumping, but lost his right foot below the knee — all of Westport rushed to help.

We should. In over 20 years as town clerk, Patty has helped nearly everyone here.

Folks in Town Hall were especially affected. She’s just one official among many, but her work is important to every department. Her warmth and generosity has impacted every office.

Everyone loves Patty.

On Friday, nearly everyone in Town Hall wore Virginia Tech colors: maroon and burnt orange. Greg graduated from there just 4 months ago, and was working  his dream job — crewing on a Caribbean yacht — when he was injured.

Showing the Virginia Tech colors for Greg Strauss.

They added messages of encouragement and inspiration. Those are small gestures, but they boosted Greg’s spirits — and of course Patty and her husband Ed’s too.

#GregStrong — started by Greg’s cousin — has caught on. Patty’s assistant Colleen Tarpey ordered stickers that will be sold soon.

Many Town Hall employees and Westporters have contributed to a GoFundMe campaign, for Greg’s mounting medical expenses. We’re all giving back to Patty, in whatever way we can.

Even non-employees sent best wishes.

1st Selectman Jim Marpe — wearing Virginia Tech orange — joined the chorus of encouragement.

Students, Selectmen Speak In Hartford On Bump Stock Bill

More than a dozen Westporters traveled to Hartford today. They testified before the Judiciary Committee, supporting a bill that bans bump stocks and related rifle accessories.

Alert “06880” reader Jaimie Dockray reports that at least 11 students were at the state capitol. Lily Kane testified. Kaela Dockray submitted written testimony. She and her mom had to catch a train to Washington for tomorrow’s March For Our Lives.

First Selectman Jim Marpe and Third Selectman Melissa Kane both testified. “They were awesome,” Jaimie Dockray says.

“The chairman of the committee asked their party affiliations, knowing they are on opposite sides of the political spectrum. When asked if they agreed on this issue, they emphatically answered ‘yes.’ They said their only problem was keeping their combined testimony to under 3 minutes.”

Lily Kane is interviewed at the Capitol. (Photo/Jaimie Dockray)

Kudos!

Over 1,700 Westporters are still without power. Restoration continues slowly.

Wednesday’s storm — the 2nd in 5 days — took its toll on much of New York and New England.

But as we’re recovering from that double whammy, let’s realize how good we actually have it.

Our public officials and town employees really earned their pay this week. In no particular order, we owe huge thanks to:

Westport Police Department. They’ve been vigilant in responding to calls, assessing damage, helping work crews, and keeping the town safe and secure. They’re stretched thin — but every man and woman on the force responded. (NOTE to impatient citizens: Those traffic barricades are up for a reason. Click on the video from New Jersey below — but beware. It’s gruesome.)

Westport Fire Department. At the height of the storm Wednesday night, they answered literally hundreds of calls. From live wires and fallen trees to actual fires, they covered the town. They were often the first eyes on an incident, and they coordinated expertly with other town offices. On Thursday and through today, they’ve kept going. Their red trucks — and the firefighters on them — are a truly welcome sight. And they seem to be everywhere.

Public Works Department. They’re the guys who are actually out there, working all day and night. They plow the roads, remove the trees, and do all the other dirty work that enables the rest of us to carry on with our lives. It’s tough, demanding, physical work. And they haven’t had a break in days.

First Selectman Jim Marpe. He’s the man at the top. His calm, efficient yet commanding presence has inspired everyone else — at the emergency operations center, and in the field — to do their jobs. Jim believes in public service, and he makes sure every public official serves the town well.

Everyone else in emergency operations too. I don’t know everyone’s names. But quietly and effectively, they managed back-to-back storms with professionalism and care.

Superintendent of schools Colleen Palmer. She had to make difficult, irrevocable, damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t choices about closing school.  That comes with the territory. But she went above and beyond, communicating often and clearly about how and why she made those decisions. Today she threaded the needle — opening school, but not penalizing students for absences, and postponing all tests and quizzes. She “weathered” criticism with grace — and kept thousands of youngsters safe.

School maintenance staffs. They shoveled tons of heavy snow, and did all the other work, to ensure that schools could open today. They were there at the height of the storm. No one saw what they did — but today we noticed how much they did.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten other key men and women in town. If you know anyone I’ve missed, click “Comments” below.

Public Works takes care of downed trees. Police put up barricades. It takes a village to help our town weather 2 storms since last Friday. (Photo/Janette Kinnally)

Watch Press Conference On Staples Incident Here

THANKS to the Town of Westport’s Facebook page for providing this video (livestreamed by Jonathan Kaner). It includes 1st selectman Jim Marpe, superintendent of schools Dr. Colleen Palmer, Staples High School principal James D’Amico, and Westport police chief Foti Koskinas. 

Superintendent, 1st Selectman React To Florida Shooting

This morning, Superintendent of Schools Colleen Palmer sent this message to families of all Westport students:

Yesterday, waves of shock and profound sadness permeated all schools in our country as again we heard about another school shooting. One official reported in the press that this was the 18th school shooting in 2018, and it was one of the most deadliest in terms of loss of life.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the community of Parkland, Florida as it grieves the loss of its loved ones and struggles to come to terms with this horrific event.

Schools are the heart of any community, housing its most vulnerable citizens when in operation. On any given school day, we have 21% of our Westport residents sitting in our classrooms. Ensuring that our schools are safe and secure for our students and staff remains our preeminent goal.  Nothing supersedes keeping your children safe – nothing.

With the level of emotional upset felt in our community by the recent news in Florida, there have been some parent inquiries about our school security. While it would not be appropriate to share details of our overall plans in this communication, it is important to know that our District has comprehensive safety and security plans in place at each of our schools that have been reviewed by our first responders. We work in a strong partnership with all of our first responders, and Chief Koskinas and I regularly communicate, as we did last evening, whenever there are events that can have a ripple impact in our community.

Our District trains staff how to be prepared and to keep our students safe in any event that we may encounter, from a high-impact weather event to an active shooter situation. Every school routinely conducts lock down drills and other emergency drills. Ironically, Staples High school had informed its students earlier this week that in homeroom today the school would be reviewing its lock down procedures for a scheduled drill after the break. The school will continue with its preparation for this drill, but has modified the presentation to be sensitive to recent events.

We will continue to review and reflect upon all of our security measures to remain prepared and to enhance any deterrents to school violence. This past Monday, a team of administrators, District security staff, both our Police Chief and Deputy Chief, and a representative of our Board of Education conducted a site visit to a neighboring school district that employs School Resource Officers. SROs are specially trained police officers assigned to work directly in schools to support school safety. Having a School Resource Officer in our District for 2018-19 has been under review for the past few months, as well as other ongoing initiatives. We are constantly seeking to assess every aspect of our security program. Our safety plans don’t just sit on a shelf, but are discussed, reviewed, and improved on an ongoing basis as we gain new information.

While much of our work on school safety and security is behind the scenes, we never stop seeking to improve our approaches, protocols, and training to support the well-being of our students and staff. In response to parent requests for more information, we will provide a presentation on school security in the upcoming weeks.

Please do not hesitate to contact your student’s school administrator if you have specific questions or concerns related to the safety of our schools.

In addition, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe released this statement:

On behalf of all Westport residents, I would like to offer my heartfelt prayers and condolences to the residents of Parkland, FL. The senseless mass shooting at the Stoneman Douglas High School has devastated dozens of families. It has also vaporized the dreams, hopes, and futures of so many promising teenagers who were lost. All Westporters are terribly saddened and heartbroken over the tragic events.

Unfortunately, gun violence such as this can happen anywhere, as the 2012 Sandy Hook school tragedy constantly reminds us. Parkland, FL has a population size similar to Westport, and was recently named one of Florida’s safest cities.

In Westport, our police department continues to take proactive measures, in coordination with the Westport Public Schools, to protect the safety and security of our students and staff.  Our police officers and school staff regularly receive training to prepare for, and respond to, similar crises.

But that is not enough. Congress must pass legislation that protects our youth and all citizens with reasonable and common sense gun regulations consistent with Second Amendment rights. There is absolutely no excuse for our national leaders to ignore this problem again.

 

Board Of Ed Takes ALS Hot Pepper Challenge

The other day, Jim Marpe took the ALS Hot Pepper Challenge.

Last night — rising to the 1st selectman’s challenge — it was the Board of Education’s turn.

Superintendent of Schools Colleen Palmer and the 7 board members each ate a habanero or jalapeño — at the same time pledging money for research into the devastating disease. Challenging others to do so raises even more funds.

Westport has gotten involved thanks to the Haberstroh family. Department of Human Services program specialist Patty Haberstroh was diagnosed with ALS last fall.

Board members challenged an array of prominent Westporters, including Senior Center director Sue Pfister, library director Bill Harmer, the entire Board of Finance — and Grammy/Tony/Emmy-winning songwriter Justin Paul.

Check out the video below. (Spoiler alert: It does not include the money shot — what happened after the educators ate their peppers. Hopefully, a quorum remained to conduct business.)

(Click here for the Haberstrohs’ hot pepper challenge donation page.)

Aquarion Douses Daily Watering

It was a weird time for Aquarion’s announcement: a rainy day, a week or so before winter begins.

But the water company chose today to say that due to an “ongoing precipitation deficit,” it will introduce permanent 2-day-a-week water limits on in-ground irrigation systems and above-ground sprinklers.

The program will take effect “during the 2018 watering season.” Residents may continue to use drip irrigation, soaker hoses and hand-held watering devices at any time.

Aquarion will also ask golf courses to reduce water use by 10%.

The Westport restriction is similar to those in place in Darien, New Canaan, Greenwich and Stamford for the past 18 months.

Aquarion says that the 4 other localities where restrictions are in place have already saved 860 million gallons of water. The company adds that lawns and gardens thrive on reduced watering. Roots grow deeper into the soil, absorbing more moisture and nutrients — even during dry spells.

Beginning next month, Aquarion will conduct public presentations in Westport to provide the rationale and expected benefits, and describe the actual process.

Westport’s water consumption is “well above average,” Aquarion officials say.

The restrictions come as some North Avenue residents oppose the utility’s proposed new water tanks across from Staples High School.

First selectman Jim Marpe says:

Aquarion must be clear on its agenda for Westport. I know that Westport residents will be willing to do their part to conserve water if our local supply is truly vulnerable. However, if we are looking at 2 new water tanks that take into account an increase in water usage, Aquarion must be forthcoming with its calculations. We need to understand the relationship between having another public utility structure in town with the requirement to reduce water utilization.

 

The irrigation schedule will be based on the last digit of street addresses. Even- numbered homes — and those with no number — can water on Sundays and Wednesdays; those with odd numbers can water on Saturdays and Tuesdays. All watering is restricted to before 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m.

Variances are available in certain circumstances — for example, if new plantings or sod have been installed.

For more information — including how to landscape and garden with less water — click here.

Balloons show the height of Aquarion’s proposed water tank on North Avenue.