A 6-year battle to prevent the construction of 15 luxury homes on the White Barn property — once the site of Lucille Lortel’s theater — has ended.
The 15.4 acre site in Norwalk’s Cranbury neighborhood, on Westport’s border, has been sold to Able Construction. Norwalk Land Trust had tried to raise funds to purchase the site, and add it to a 5-acre easement it holds.
Westporters, including the Partrick Wetlands Preservation Fund, were part of a long-running drama involving the property — and Lortel’s stage (which, though actually in Norwalk, used a Westport address from 1947 to 2002).
Lucille Lortel, outside her White Barn Theatre.
Some hoped to save a legendary structure. For more than 50 summers, the White Barn Theater produced works by avant-garde playwrights like Sean O’Casey, Eugene Ionesco, Archibald MacLeish and Edard Albee.
The barn and an adjacent house had deteriorated extensively, and were eventually torn down.
Others were concerned about the environmental and aesthetic impacts of a new housing development on the wooded site.
As part of the Saugatuck River Watershed drainage basin, the property impacts the quality and quantity of drinking water for the area.
Norwalk Land Trust said that donors to the campaign will be reimbursed “with profound gratitude for supporting our initiative to protect this acreage with its abundant plant life, as a wildlife refuge and for the sheer scenic beauty.” (Hat tip: Matthew Mandell)
Proposed development on the White Barn property. (Courtesy of “Nancy on Norwalk”)
Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission gave thumb’s-up last night to 2 hotly debated proposals.
By a 5-2 vote, the board approved 9 housing units at 500 Main Street (the old Daybreak Nurseries 2.18-acre site near Merritt Parkway Exit 42).
In a scaled-down version of its original plan, Able Construction will be able to build 2 2-family homes, and 5 1-family homes. All will be restricted to owners 55 and over.
The Planning & Zoning Commission approved 9 housing units for this site.
Late in the evening, the P&Z voted 4-2 (1 abstention) to allow a medical marijuana dispensary at 1460 Post Road East. The spot — around the shopping center corner from the old Pier 1 Imports — was most recently occupied by Coco Spa.
The applicant — Bluepoint Wellness — must still be approved by Connecticut’s Department of Consumer Protection.
If approved by the state, this will be the site of Westport’s only medical marijuana dispensary.
The P&Z denied 4 other medical marijuana proposals, all on the Post Road: the former Bertucci’s restaurant; a site near the Southport border (Stanton Miles/Jennifer Furniture); the old DXL menswear/Blockbuster store, and the Academy of Dance building.
Reasons for those denials included safety, traffic, lack of parking and location relative to zoning regulations.
Able Construction filed an application with the Planning & Zoning Department yesterday to build 9 units on the former Daybreak property, near Merritt Parkway Exit 42.
As before, the units are 2,000 square feet, with 2 bedrooms. All will be restricted: The owner-occupant must be 55 years or older.
One thing has changed. Plans now call for only one entrance and exit, on Weston Road. A cul-de-sac eliminates one of the reasons cited by neighbors in previous hearings: potential traffic hazards with an entrance on Main Street.
Plans for the Daybreak property. Weston Road is at the top; Easton Road and Main Street run diagonally from the upper left.
Able believes the market is there for Westporters who want to downsize from larger homes.
Under current 1/2-acre zoning, builders could construct 4 houses, of a few thousand square feet and with several bedrooms.
Or someone could propose an 8-30g project (multiple units, some of which are deemed affordable housing) on the site.
Plans for a typical unit proposed for the former Daybreak property.
Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission took action last night on one contentious issue, and heard from a herd of residents on another.
By a vote of 4-2, the board denied a proposal by Able Construction to build 11 homes at the former Daybreak Nurseries site on Main Street, near Weston Road. The units would have been restricted to people age 55 and older.
Neighborhood opposition, traffic concerns and possible soil contamination were among the major objections raised, before the vote.
Able Construction hoped to build 11 units of housing.off Main Street and Weston Road.
Residents also voiced strong opposition to proposals for 2 medical marijuana dispensaries on the Post Road. One is for the now-shuttered Bertucci’s restaurant, near the Sherwood Island Connector; the other is at the former Blockbuster video rental store near North Maple Avenue.
Among the opponents: 1st Selectman Jim Marpe.
No vote was taken. The P&Z will hear more from the public on April 5.
The former Bertucci’s — site of one of the proposed medical marijuana dispensaries.
The Daybreak property, after the nursery and landscaping business closed.
New owners hope to build 12 housing units — age-restricted, generating minimal traffic — on the 2 1/4-acre site. They’ve spoken with town officials, and adapted their plans several times to meet traffic and other concerns.
Still — on the eve of Thursday’s Planning & Zoning Commission meeting — opposition remains.
The owner is Able Construction. During the past 25 years, the firm has built over 80 houses in town. Some are new; others are historical renovations, like 268 Wilton Road. They’re also redoing the old Three Bears restaurant — now Chabad — on Newtown Turnpike.
Able Construction owner Peter Greenberg (right) and partner Johnny Schwartz.
Able bought the Daybreak property at a foreclosure auction. At the time, owner Peter Greenberg admits, he had no clear plan for the land.
He could have built 4 gigantic homes on the 1/2-acre-zoning land. Or he could have put a grandfathered business — like a nursery or landscaping company — there.
“There” is important. The property fronts Main Street, near the heavily trafficked, highly visible and bizarrely complicated intersection with Weston and Easton Roads.
The area — including the now-vacant Daybreak site — is an important gateway to Westport. It’s a first impression for anyone arriving from the Merritt Parkway, and an early look for drivers from Weston and Easton.
Originally, Greenberg and Able partner Johnny Schwartz talked with town officials about putting a coffee shop or service station there. They also considered mixed-use — perhaps retail, with apartments or multi-family housing on a 2nd floor or behind.
The last of Daybreak Nursery was carted away in March.
The property is not served by a sewer. Greenberg asked if Able could pay to extend outside the blue line. The town said no.
Planning and Zoning members were interested in the possibility of smaller homes. But no town regulations encouraged developers to build such cluster-type housing.
Able proposed creating an overlay zone. Current zoning permitted 4 houses. Typically, Greenberg says, they’d be 5,000 square feet each, with 6 bedrooms.
Instead, his firm designed 8 2-bedroom homes, of 3,000 square feet. The total number of bedrooms was the same — 24 — but, Greenberg says, 2-bedroom homes would not typically sell to couples with children.
No kids means fewer in-and-out vehicle trips. No stop-and-start bus stops. And no additional children entering the school system, at a cost of nearly $20,000 a year.
The P&Z balked. 3,000 square feet was not small enough. The national average is 1,600 square feet. (Of course as Greenberg notes, “Westport is not average.”)
Able went back to the commission. Architect Bill McGuiness — who designed the Kensett community in Darien — envisioned 12 2-bedroom homes, averaging 2,000 square feet. None would be more than 2,400.
Designed for an older population, the homes included elevator shafts. Most of the living would be on the 1st floor, with sloped roofs and virtually no attics. Five duplexes would share a common wall. Two would be single-family units.
Front and rear views of an attached duplex.
P&Z liked the idea. But they asked Able to include an affordable or age-restricted component
Able proposed that 7 of the 12 units be limited to buyers 55 and older. (Greenberg says he’s willing to make it 100% age-restricted, if needed.)
The “smaller home development” text amendment was accepted. Public hearings were held, and a traffic engineer hired.
Able spent the past 8 months finalizing plans, and getting permits.
Views of one of the detached homes.
But at a hearing 3 weeks ago, neighbors voiced strong opposition. Major concerns were raised about traffic at that very dizzying intersection.
Greenberg notes that when Daybreak had up to 800 trips a day — including customers, employees and landscaping trucks — there were 5 driveways in and out of the property. He sited the new driveway — 1-way in, 1-way out — as far from the intersection as possible. (It’s the same direction as 1-way Daybreak Lane, to avoid cut-throughs by drivers seeking to avoid the 4-way stop.)
Able looked at ways to improve the intersection. They learned that a decade or so ago, the state Department of Transportation wanted 3 roundabouts — one there, and 2 others at the Exit 42 ramps. But Wassell Lane was a stumbling block. According to roundabout standards then in place, it was too close to other roads to feed into the mix.
Now, however, standards have changed. Wassell Lane could work. Greenberg says that town officials have contacted the state DOT about reopening discussions. They have not yet heard back.
A roundabout proposal that includes Wassell Lane. Click on or hover over to enlarge.
According to Greeenberg, a traffic study shows that at peak times, 3,000 cars an hour pass through the intersection. He says that Able’s new development will add less than .05% to the mix.
“Right now, taxes on Daybreak are about $30,000 a year,” Greenberg says. “If these 12 units are built, we figure Westport would get $180,000 a year.” He proposes that the town earmark some of those increased taxes for Westport’s contribution to intersection improvements.
“There’s no land left in Westport,” he adds. “We buy houses. We knock them down, and build new ones. That’s our business.
“But we hear from people all over town that after their kids are grown, they don’t want a big house. They want to stay in Westport, in a smaller one. These houses would help.”
Able Construction’s Daybreak site plan. Click on or hover over to enlarge.
He says his company has done everything to address concerns. A Phase II environmental study found no herbicides or pesticides left over from the nursery. There were, however, petroleum products in the soil. Greenberg promises to stockpile the soil during construction, and dispose of it if needed.
“We’re part of this town,” he says. “We want to do the right thing.”
The P&Z hearing this Thursday (Town Hall auditorium, 7 p.m.), is one of the last stops on the road to a permit for the Daybreak development.
“This property has been unsightly for years,” Greenberg says. “It’s at a very impressionable intersection. We want to put this property to work. We’ll build smaller houses, so people can age in place. It’s something the town wants, and needs.
“The P&Z told us they want more diversity in housing in Westport. This gets us closer to that.”
Three years ago, Chabad Lubavitch of Westport bought the old, abandoned Three Bears Restaurant. An “06880” story — including neighbors’ complaints of renovation work done prior to the permitting process — drew a record 217 comments.
Three years later, Chabad is preparing a moderate expansion plan. All is going smoothly — so well, in fact, that neighbors are ready to toast “L’chaim!”
Chabad Lubavitch’s home — the old Three Bears, as seen from Newtown Turnpike.
Though it’s called “Chabad of Westport,” the local branch of the international group serves Weston, Wilton and Norwalk too. The old Three Bears property — at the intersection of Wilton Road and Newtown Turnpike — is centrally located for all 4 towns.
It was Chabad’s 1st true local home. The organization — whose aim is to enhance Jewish life through programs, social services and worship — had rented a variety of sites for 18 years, including Ketchum Street, the Westport Woman’s Club and Camp Mahackeno.
Chabad has flourished. It runs a religious school, teen and adult programs, and a summer camp (at Coleytown Elementary School). Recently, they hosted a festive Purim party.
Another view of Chabad, looking toward Wilton Road.
The new addition will enhance Chabad’s services — and the neighborhood — say Rabbi Yehudah Leib Kantor and Peter Greenberg (a Chabad member and partner in Able Construction, who is doing the project at cost). The architect is Robert Storm.
The historic nature of the building — including, importantly, its street-facing facade — will be protected. New construction will be in “the New England vernacular” — fieldstone and shingles — blending in with what’s already there.
The additions and renovations — enlarging the current 9,000 square feet by 4,000 more — will take place in the back. A new 300-person sanctuary will double as a function hall for holiday events, and bar and bat mitzvahs (right now, Chabad rents the Westport Woman’s Club.) The religious school will be housed in the lower level.
A rendering of the addition, as seen from Newtown Turnpike.
Also planned: a new lobby, kitchen and elevator. The interior of the existing building will be “freshened up,” Greenberg says.
The 100-car parking lot entrance closest to Wilton Road has been closed. That should ease traffic by the light.
The back of the parking lot, meanwhile, will be raised slightly, to protect nearby wetlands.
Another rendering — parking lot view.
Chabad has already presented plans to Westport’s Flood and Erosion Control Board. Ahead are more panels, including Conservation, and Planning & Zoning.
A variance for coverage will be needed from the Zoning Board of Appeals. This is routine, Greenberg says, for nearly every church, synagogue, school and commercial property.
“This is a community project,” the rabbi notes. Funding comes entirely from area residents. Feedback from neighbors has been very positive, he and Greenberg say.
Chabad hopes for approvals within 3 to 4 months, with construction completed by next spring.
You’ve probably heard of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge: the video craze in which someone pours (or has poured) ice water over his or her head, and challenges others do the same within 24 hours. If not, they make a donation to fight ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).
Plenty of folks are doing it creatively, wetly and freezingly. The videos are clever and funny.
But you’d have to go a long way to top this, from Westporter Jake Sussman:
Jake dedicated his video — created with the help of Peter Greenberg, of Able Construction — to a contractor who died of ALS. Jake also donated $100 to the ALS Foundation.
He hopes his video goes viral. Feel free to pass it along — and take the Ice Bucket Challenge yourself, too!
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