Tag Archives: affordable housing

Westport Housing: How Are We Doing?

Laws like 8-30g have shined a spotlight on affordable housing. There’s a hot debate on how well each Connecticut town and city does. It’s hard to say, particularly because the statute does not include housing built before its enactment in 1990.

A 2017 law requires all municipalities to adopt an affordable housing plan. The deadline was June 1, 2022.

Fairfield County’s Center for Housing Opportunity has released a scorecard, rating plans for 17 towns and cities here. Rankings cover 4 areas: plan submission, planning process, housing needs assessment, and action and implementation.

Two cities led. Stamford was first, followed by Danbury. (Bridgeport is not listed; apparently they have not filed a plan.)

Westport, Fairfield and Bethel tied for third. We had 55 points, out of a possible 100.

We were followed by Weston, New Canaan, Greenwich and Stratford (all tied). Next came Brookfield; then a tie between Easton, Redding, Wilton, Monroe and Newtown. Finishing last were Sherman and New Fairfield.

Among Westport’s new affordable housing:136 Riverside Avenue. for adults with disabilities.

Westport earned 5 points for submitting a plan, but 0 because it was submitted late (June 27).

The “planning process” question earned us 7 out of a possible 15 points. We had 14 out of a possible 30 for “housing needs assessment,” and 29 out of a possible 45 for “action and implementation.”

Click here for more details. Click here for the full story, reported first by Connecticut Mirror.

Want to know more? Fairfield County’s Center for Human Opportunity sponsors an evening of conversation September 28 (6:30 p.m., Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church).

Moderated by Hearst Connecticut Media columnist Huge Bailey, the panel includes Westport Planning & Zoning Commission chair Danielle Dobin, Stamford Mayor Caroline Simmons. Mark Barnhart (director of Fairfield’s Office of Community & Economic Development, and Desegregate CT director Pete Harrison.

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Local Zoning: A Suggestion, Not A Promise

In the past few days, 2 major news outlets shined a harsh spotlight on Connecticut’s housing crisis.

The New York Times and Connecticut Magazine focused on major battles over affordable apartments in Fairfield, New Canaan and Greenwich. Westport was spared media scrutiny — unlike 3 years ago, when Pro Publica zeroed in on our town.

It may not be entirely luck.

Housing — who lives and builds where, and what it costs to do so — is an American problem. It’s particularly thorny in a state like Connecticut, where a centuries-old tradition of municipal autonomy (and exclusion) smacks up against changing demographics, diverging economics, and polarizing politics.

Westport officials — particularly the Planning & Zoning Commission — are often in the crosshairs of debates over affordable housing (a squishy term, for sure).

But in many ways, zoning decisions are no longer in local hands. To understand the current debates, it’s important to know who controls what.

At the heart of the issue lies “8-30g.” The innocuous-sounding state statute allows developers to override local zoning regulations if less than 10% of a town’s housing stock is “affordable.” For new construction, at least 30 percent of the units must be “affordable” to households earning 60 to 80 percent of state or area median income (whichever is less),” and deed restricted for 40 years.

Towns can apply for a 4-year moratorium if they can show “affordable housing equivalency points” equal to 2 percent of their housing stock. During the moratorium, towns can rezone, encourage mixed-income housing, or work with developers to build projects together.

Significantly, 8-30g applies only to housing built after the year it was enacted: 1990. Towns like Westport and Fairfield do not get credit for affordable housing units built before that date. Currently, only 31 of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities meet the 8-30g threshold.

Just as significantly, 8-30g overrides virtually all local regulations — height, density, location, anything really except public safety or environmental concerns.

Westport has had several 8-30g battles, including Summit Saugatuck’s current 157-unit development on Hiawatha Lane Extension (settled after 20 years of litigation), and a proposed 7-story, 48-unit project at the Wilton Road/Kings Highway North intersection (later scaled down, and defeated in court).

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. New Canaan is currently grappling with a plan to build a 5-story, 102-unit development — 30% affordable — that would replace one 10,000-square foot home on a 3-acre lot. The area is currently zoned for single-family homes.

A proposed 5-story, 102-unit project in New Canaan … (Artist rendering courtesy of Arnold Karp_

… would be built at 751 Weed Avenue, on the site shown in orange. (Tyler Sizemore, courtesy of Hearst Connecticut Media)

Westport Planning & Zoning Commission chair Danielle Dobin warns that a similar project could be proposed here.

“Do we want to plan for mixed-income housing?” she asks. “Or do we want developers to do it on any lot in town? And I mean any lot.”

She says that while residents in the Cavalry Road neighborhood have been upset about the aesthetics of a new bridge, they should realize that a developer could purchase a couple of adjoining 2-acre lots, and propose an intensive project there.

Under 8-30g, he would have every right to do so.

“There is a housing crisis in Connecticut,” Dobin notes. “Skyrocketing prices help sellers. But they make it more expensive to live anywhere — not just Westport, but everywhere.” Home buyers and renters in many occupations — teachers, police officers, firefighters, CVS and Stop & Shop workers, and plenty more — find it increasingly difficult to live any place.

“Westporters should understand that because of state law, local zoning is a suggestion. It’s not a promise,” Dobin says.

“When we bought our first house in Coleytown, we thought intense development would be impossible. Well, it is possible.”

Local zoning laws may not protect development, even in areas zoned for single-family homes.

Just how possible depends on many factors. Dobin says the P&Z is working to manage as many of them as they can.

One of the biggest fears of new development is increased traffic. Under 8-30g, that’s not an area of discussion.

To Westporters, who know that a 10-minute trip can now stretch to 30, it is a quality of life issue. To affordable housing advocates, it’s inconsequential.

Some residents blame new apartment buildings for increasing traffic woes. Dobin is not sure.

She cites apps like Waze, which reroutes cars from highways onto local roads; the change in school start times, which forces parents to pick children up themselves to drive them to after-school activities, and more people working from home, which puts more cars on the streets throughout the day.

There are many reasons for increased traffic in town. (Photo/David Waldman)

In the long debate over the Hiawatha Lane project, increased traffic in an already clogged area loomed large for locals. But 8-30g rendered discussions moot.

That Summit Saugatuck development changed forms many times. Originally 40 units, it ballooned to 187 when it became an 8-30g proposal. Eventually, the town and developer settled on 157.

“I see that as a lesson: Litigating doesn’t always leave us in a better place,” Dobin says.

She favors a collaborative approach, in which “developers work with the town, to plan right-sized projects.” That means, she says, “2- or 3-story buildings, with a mix of studios, and 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom apartments.”

Collaboration has resulted in such buildings as 1177 Post Road East, where 30% of the units are affordable and whose renters include older Westporters who downsized, a school principal and state senator; the Westporter, at foot of Long Lots Road, and Belden Place, a “beautiful” downtown apartment with 20% affordable units.

Belden Place is the site of new apartments.

Dobin says that beyond “affordable” units, market-rate apartments are still less expensive than single-family homes.

“These are our neighbors,” she says, citing a recent divorced mother who can afford to remain here only because of the new apartments.

Dobin notes that 1480 Post Road East, at the former site of a septic tank company, enjoyed the support of neighbors living on the private road directly behind. Neighbors also supported the current renovation of the Men’s Wearhouse property, near Colonial Road.

“Residents come in with concerns about height and traffic,” Dobin says. “If it’s within our purview, we can have a real say. Sometimes though, it isn’t.”

There can be tradeoffs. Developers can propose off-site affordable housing, as was done with The Mill on Richmondville Avenue (which included the renovation of a historic home on Riverside Avenue, where all the units are affordable for adults with disabilities, and most are deed restricted to asssist people at the 40% state median income level), and Bankside on Wilton Road (with off-side affordable housing on Church Lane).

136 Riverside Avenue. now housing adults with disabilities. Off-site affordable housing is part of the new Mill project.

The P&Z is approving projects like these for 2 reasons, Dobin says: “Because it is the right thing to do, and because in the state of Connecticut we have no option not to. The question is this: Who do you want to be in charge of the process, the P&Z or an outside developer?

“We understand reality. We’ll do our best to plan appropriate housing, in a bipartisan way that works for neighbors and doesn’t make traffic too much worse.”

Westport’s new apartments “are not massive developments,” Dobin says. “This is not Stamford. But if we don’t do this, there will be 8-30g proposals like Harbor Point, or Metro Center in Fairfield. Those are 10 or 12 stories. That’s massive.”

She adds, “If we don’t plan proactively for diverse housing, developers will do it for us. And they’ll do it with much larger buildings, in areas not designed for it and with no public transportation.

Dobin has heard complaints from residents who hate Westport’s new apartments. But, she says, “many more people tell me they understand what the P&Z is trying to accomplish. They’re happy to live in a community that wants to create diverse opportunities, that’s welcoming and inclusive. Most people I meet are delighted to be in a town that rolls out the welcome mat to newcomers.”

The national spotlight will continue to shine on Connecticut’s housing crisis. Whether the focus is on Westport or not is, in many ways, up to us.

(For more information, click here for the Connecticut Magazine story; click here for the New York Times piece.)

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Roundup: Affordable Housing; Car Thefts, Traffic, Tax …

The Planning and Zoning Commission adopted a 5-year affordable housing plan last night. The bipartisan vote was 5-0, with 2 abstentions.

Highlights include:

Creating a new affordable community designed specifically for families.

• The formation of a town-funded Affordable Housing Trust Fund to direct resources towards future development of affordable housing.

• The immediate development of location specific plans for town-owned land to meaningfully expand and/or renovate existing rental housing/structures to create affordable housing, and potentially partner with nonprofits engaged in this work.

• Allocation of the approximately $1,700,000 in the town’s Real Property Fund to acquire land for future development of affordable housing.

• The deed restriction of existing town-owned rental properties so that they are affordable and remain affordable to renters.

• The adoption of a new zoning district at Powell Place to ensure that existing deeply affordable housing (40% State Median Income or less) can be more intensively redeveloped with flexible parking requirements reflecting the availability of public lots nearby.

There is much more in the 5-year plan. Click here for a full “06880” report.

Part of the 5-year affordable housing plan envisions a “model pocket neighborhood/cottage commons” design. (Courtesy of Ross Chapin AIA)

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You’d think by now everyone would have gotten the message.

Nope. Here’s the latest Groundhog Day news from the Westport Police Department:

On Saturday, several cars were broken into. All were unlocked. Go figure.

This often happens at night. However, these crimes occurred in late afternoon and early evening.

The WPD once again reminds Westporters to lock your cars and bring your keys or fobs inside. And never leave valuables — cash purses, wallets, electronics — in your car.

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The Police Department also offers this advice, for the June 30th fireworks:

Spectators should arrive early. Traffic delays are inevitable.

Compo Beach closes at 4 p.m. Only vehicles with fireworks passes can remain.  Parks & Recreation staff will collect passes. The beach should reopen to ticket holders by 5 p.m.

Vehicles with tickets can access the beach through South Compo Road only. Hillspoint Road south of Greens Farms Road will be open to residents who live south of that intersection.

Firework attendees should display their ticket prominently on the dashboard. It will be collected at the parking gate.

All ticket holders must be inside Compo Beach by 9 p.m.  No beach traffic will be allowed south of the Minute Man monument after that time.

Vehicles without tickets will not be allowed any further toward Compo Beach than the Minute Man.

Uber, Lyft or taxi users will be directed straight past the Minute Man, on Compo Road South. They can be dropped off at Soundview Drive. Return service will not be available until after 11 p.m., due to 1-way traffic leaving the beach.

When the fireworks end, there will be 2 lanes of 1-way traffic only on Compo Beach Road and South Compo, to the intersection of Greens Farms Road. Residents of that area returning from elsewhere should expect a delay of 1 hour or so.

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The fun doesn’t end with the fireworks. On Saturday, July 9, Westport Sunrise Rotary’s Great Duck Race returns. There’s a new location — Jesup Green — but the same family fun.

The day begins with a 10 a.m. Fun Fair in the Westport Library parking lot. Activities include a Nerdy Derby, face painting and bubble machines.

At 1 p.m. on Jesup Green, 3,000 plastic ducks will slide down a 160-foot sluice course. Each wears a number, matching a $20 raffle ticket. The first 10 ducks down the course win money for their ticket holders. First place is $5,000. Second place wins $1,000. The next 8 finishers get $500 each.

The event is a major Sunrise Rotary fundraiser. Proceeds support charitable endeavors in this area, the state and around the world.

Click here for tickets, and to learn more about Sunrise Rotary. 

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When Dick Lowenstein received his 2022-23 tax bill yesterday, he was surprised to see that the gross assessment had risen on his 2 vehicles. The dollar amounts were not huge, but the percentages were: 29% higher for his 2002 Lexus, 11% for his 2014 Honda CRV.

He called tax assessor Paul Friia. The immediate response: Gross assessment is based on standard information provided to the assessor. “Presumably, because of supply shortages, new car production has been delayed. Many people are instead buying used cars, which has driven up their value,” Dick reports.

I wonder what this Maserati will be assessed at next year. (Photo/Jerry Kuyper)

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Yesterday’s rain postponed the Remarkable Theater showing of “Caddyshack.” The new date is Monday, July 11 (8:30 p.m.; gates open at 7:30 p.m.).

Click here for tickets, and more information.

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Our “Westport … Naturally” feature is open to everyone. We run photos of anything “natural” in town: animals, birds, flowers, trees — you name it. If it lives, we want to showcase it.

We are especially interested in images from young readers. Today we welcome 15-year-old Benji Porosoff, who captured this scene:

(Photo/Benji Porosoff)

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And finally … on this day in 1969, the Stonewall riots began in New York. The uprising — sparked by a police raid on the Stonewall Inn gay bar — is considered the start of the LGBTQ rights movement.

Ten years later, Diana Ross commissioned Chic founder (and current Westporter) Nile Rodgers to create material for her new album. One song was inspired after he saw drag queens dressed as Diana Ross at a New York club. It is now considered an anthem of the LGBTQ community.

(“06880” is supported solely by readers. Please click here to contribute.)

5-Year Affordable Housing Plan Draft Released

The Planning & Zoning Commission has released the draft of the town’s 5-year Affordable Housing Plan. It was posted to the town website last night.

There is now a 35-day review period. It will include a Zoom community conversation, for feedback. The date and time has not yet been set.

The draft begins with a “Community Value Statement”:

To encourage the pro-active development and preservation of affordable (and below market rate) housing, including the development of affordable housing designed specifically to attract new families to Westport. The thoughtful creation of affordable housing is critical to ensuring a diverse community of residents in Westport.

With proper planning, new affordable development can be encouraged while preserving Westport’s charming small town feel, historic resources, green spaces and the suburban lifestyle that attracts residents to want to live in this community and raise their families here.

The issue of insufficient affordable housing is not unique to Westport and is not easily addressed in a community with such high land values, but this does not absolve us of the responsibility to create solutions.

Maximum monthly housing costs for “affordable units.” There are different requirements for different types of housing.

Then comes an “Executive Summary”:

Connecticut has become a very expensive place to live. Over the last decades, the costs of land, housing development, home building, and rent have risen faster than incomes. The town of Westport, like many Fairfield County communities that provide a suburban alternative to living in New York City, is zoned predominantly for single family homes.

For many years, the development of multifamily rentals and condominiums, accessory apartments and accessory dwelling units in Westport was limited. Multifamily units that were developed were often deed restricted for seniors
making it challenging for any families unable to afford a single family home to live in Westport.

Westport’s zoning regulations have changed and are continuing to change in order to foster the development of more affordable housing and provide opportunities for all demographic cohorts to live in Westport. Over the next several years, a significant number of new affordable units will be created in Westport based upon approvals and projects in the pipeline.

Accessory dwelling units have now been legalized. This is at 350 Greens Farms Road.

Action items to continue this momentum over the next 5 years include:

• Creating a new affordable community designed specifically for families, spearheaded by local elected officials with the assistance of the Department of Housing, on +/- 2 acres of state-owned land located in Greens Farms adjacent to public transit, grocery stores, retail and within walking distance of one of the State’s highest ranked elementary schools. Feasibility study funds have already been allocated by the Town using federal ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds.

• The formation of a town-funded Affordable Housing Trust Fund to direct resources towards future development of affordable housing.

• The immediate development of location specific plans for town-owned land to meaningfully expand and/or renovate existing rental housing/structures to create affordable housing, and to potentially partner with nonprofits engaged in this work. Potential properties include existing cottages at Longshore Park (260 Compo Road South), Linxweiler House (655 Post Road East), Adams Academy (15 Morningside Drive North), existing housing at Baron’s South (60 Compo
Road South) and the vacant lot adjacent to The Saugatuck (0 Bridge Street). Significant consideration should be given to the creation of pocket neighborhoods (small cottage/small home commons clusters).

A “model pocket neighborhood/cottage commons” design, courtesy of Ross Chapin AIA.

• Allocation of the approximately $1,700,000 in the town’s Real Property Fund to acquire land for future development of affordable housing.

• The deed restriction of existing town-owned rental properties so that they are affordable and remain affordable to renters.

• The elimination of zoning barriers to foster additional projects pursuant to Westport’s Inclusionary Housing Zone overlay by expanding the overlay zone and revising the regulations.

• The adoption of a new zoning district at Powell Place to ensure that existing deeply affordable housing (40% State Median Income or less) can be more intensively redeveloped with flexible parking requirements reflecting the availability of public lots nearby.

• Explore the process by which public funds can be used to “buy down” market rate units in approved/existing buildings to become affordable or more affordable, perhaps via the new Affordable Housing Trust Fund or existing Real Property Fund or both.

Westport’s progress toward achieving state-mandated 10% “affordable” 8-30g housing. Only units built after 1990 count toward the total.

• Explore opportunities to allow greater density in residential districts with a meaningful affordability component via the adoption of zoning code changes to permit historically contextual pocket neighborhoods with a shared commons when an antique home is preserved.

• The development of 225 multifamily units, including 70 affordable units as a result of the Westport Planning & Zoning Commission’s affirmative choice to settle several long-running lawsuits. Nineteen 3-bedroom units will be included because of the specific demand of the Westport Planning & Zoning Commission to address the needs of families seeking housing in Westport.

Not all affordable housing is in large buildings. 260-264 Riverside Avenue includes 9 units; 2 qualify as “affordable.”

• Focusing the commission & staff efforts on constantly reviewing new technology to create sustainable and inexpensive new construction via modular construction and prefab tiny/cottage home building. Advances in housing construction should be leveraged for development opportunities on town owned land and in order to incentivize developers to create aesthetically appropriate cottage communities around existing antique homes to ensure such homes are preserved.

The remainder of the 47-page report includes sections on “The Importance of Planning,” “Affordable Housing Basics,” “Existing Affordable Housing in Westport,” “Housing Needs Assessment,” Westport’s Current and Projected Population Profile,” “Current Strategies for Fostering Affordable and Below Market Rate Housing,” and “Implementation: The 5-Year Plan.” 

Click here for the full report. 

Two large affordable housing neighborhoods are Sasco Creek and Hidden Brook. A newer building, at the foot Long Lots Road, includes affordable units.

Roundup: Affordable Housing, Gilbertie’s, I-95 Noise …

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Last night’s meeting on a 5-year plan for affordable housing — co-sponsored by the Democratic, Republican, Save Westport Now and Coalition for Westport political parties — drew some interesting comments.

Among them: a proposal to install metered parking downtown. The proceeds — estimated to be $1 million or so annually — could be used to create a substantial affordable housing fund.

With Westport’s credit rating, the town could borrow $20 million.

1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker and Planning & Zoning Commission chair Danielle Dobin at last night’s Town Hall meeting on affordable housing. (Photo/Jimmy Izzo)

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A couple of months ago, “06880” gave a shout-out to Gilbertie’s Herbs & Garden Center. This year, Westport’s 2nd-oldest family business celebrates its 100th anniversary.*

At the time, they were beginning to plan a huge celebration. Now they’re ready to announce details.

The free bash is set for June 4, from noon to 5 p.m. at the garden center on Sylvan Lane South.

The very popular Mystic Bowie’s Talking Dreads will headline the bash. Reggae artists Kale Wale will warm up the crowd.

There’s a petting zoo for kids, and artisans and craft vendors for older folks.

Also on tap: a town-wide scavenger hunt too, with prizes. It will focus on the town’s most historic business, ending (of course) at Gilbertie’s.

Plus 3 food trucks, an ice cream truck and beer vendors.

Antonio Gilbertie — who arrived in Saugatuck in 1919 from Italy, and started out selling flowers from a Sylvan greenhouse — probably listened to opera, not reggae. But he’ll probably be looking down from above, with a proud smile.

*Who’s #1? Gault — by a long shot. The energy company was founded in 1863 — nearly 60 years before Gilberties!

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“06880” reader Jim McKay* wants to raise a ruckus.

His subject: noise.

Jim writes: “In 1958, I-95 sliced through Saugatuck, and other areas of Westport.

“A lot has changed since then. There’s more people, more traffic, more trucks. And more noise.

“The Connecticut Department of Transportation has a number of redesign plans for sections of 95. They include Greenwich, and Westport/Norwalk.

“A few days ago, under pressure from Greenwich town leaders and citizens, Governor Lamont asked CT DOT to revisit the Greenwich project and include possible noise mitigation plans.

“Now is the time for our Westport town leaders and citizens to demand equal revisions to the existing plans, to make sure it include noise mitigation.

“Noise has gotten worse. It will continue to do so. We have a unique opportunity to include noise mitigation before the project goes forward. It must be an incremental cost now — not a massive capital project 20 years in the future.”

*Not the sportscaster. He died in 2008.

Traffic — and noise — have increased since I-95 (then called the Connecticut Turnpike) neared completion in 1957,

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Staples Players’ production of “The Descendants” drew raves. Audiences old and (particularly) young delighted in a never-bef0re-seen production of Disney’s tale.

It’s a tradition for the high school troupe to raise awareness of important causes — and funds — at their shows. This year was especially important.

Costumed actors were on hand as audiences left the theater. It turned into a great photo opportunity for children, and their new high school heroes.

Their parents gave generously. Over 2 weekends, Players collected $8,400 for Save the Children’s Ukraine relief efforts.

Quinn Mulvey (Mal), and a new friend. (Photo/Kerry Long)

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On Saturday, a Westporter was out for a run. A few yards over the Fairfield line, where Old Road becomes Wakeman Lane, he spotted a car balanced on a stone wall, halfway into the woods.

That was bad enough. But the kicker is the bumper sticker.

It reads: “Please Be Patient. Student Driver.”

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There are matching grants. And then there are amazing matching grants.

Two anonymous donors have told Westport Country Playhouse they’ll match every dollar raised — up to $150,000 (!) — between now and June 30.

That’s great news, as the historic theater enters its 91st season. They’ve got an ambitious set of plays planned, and will leverage the funds for greatest artistic and educational impact.

Tax deductible contributions can be made online, by mail (Development Department, 25 Powers Court, Westport CT 06880), or by texting DONATE to 475-453-3553. To learn more about the perks of donating at various levels, click here. For more on this matching drive, click here.

A historic theater has a historic opportunity to raise funds. (Photo/Robert Benson)

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There are runners. And then there are amazing runners.

Monday’s New York Times included a story on Oz Pearlman. He’d just run 19 loops of Central Park — 116 miles — in a single day.

Because “06880”‘s tagline is “Where Westport meets the world,” there is (of course) a local connection.

The main photo showed Oz with a group of runners. Just to his right — wearing a blue-and-yellow hat, to match Oz’s Ukrainian-color outfit — was Alex Freedman.

Alex Freedman (blue and yellow cap) next to Oz Pearlman. (Photo/Hilary Swift for the New York Times)

Freedman — the 1996 Staples High School salutatorian — is now back in town, and running with the local Joggers Club. He is also a founding member of the Central Park Running Club. Both are led by another Westporter, Dave Menoni.

Freedman runs with a third group, the Henwood Hounds. That’s where he met Oz. Freedman joined in for “a small part” of Oz’s Central Park (and record-breaking) journey. (It was also a fundraiser for Save the Children’s Ukrainian relief. Oz busted well past his goal of $100,000.)

When he’s not outside, Freedman is the director of Advantage Testing of Westport,

Notice I resisted the impulse to say he “runs” the highly regarded educational counseling and private tutoring organization.

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Savvy + Grace’s new sign has brought color to that stretch of Main Street, and smiles to passersby.

Most probably don’t know that it’s the work of a noted artist.

Jana Ireijo is famous for her “vanishing murals.” Created with charcoal from wildfires, they are meant to disappear — just as the coral reefs, manta rays and other living things she portrays are, unfortunately, dying out.

Ireijo — a member of the Artists Collective of Westport — has created vanishing murals here. She drew a koala bear opposite Design Within Reach, and a sperm whale on a Winslow Park fallen tree trunk.

She’s worked far from Westport too — in Santa Fe and Maui, among other places.

The peonies on Jana’s Savvy + Grace sign is not meant to disappear. It’s just a colorful addition to a bright downtown spot.

PS: Savvy + Grace offers great custom and pre-made Easter baskets. Click here to see.

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Among his many civic efforts — all of them volunteer, pro bono — attorney Ken Bernhard is a state Department of Agriculture animal (victim’s) advocate. He appears in court proceedings involving animal cruelty cases.

At yesterday’s Westport Rotary Club meeting, he talked about his work. He connected animal abuse with spousal abuse and other crimes.

Bernhard noted:

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.

“When humans act with cruelty, we characterize them as ‘animals.’ Yet the only animal that displays cruelty is humanity.

“Animals are the real victims on this earth. They didn’t declare war, they don’t have weapons, and they don’t want to destroy humans or impose religion. Their only crime is they exist.”

Ken Bernhard, at yesterday’s Westport Rotary Club meeting.

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The Fresh Market ospreys get most of Westport’s love.

But they’re not the only ones in town.

Today’s “Westport … Naturally” feature is a two-fer. Here’s one of the Longshore ospreys:

(Photo/Patricia McMahon)

And a pair at Burying Hill:

(Photo/Alan Phillips)

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And finally … all his life, Julian Lennon refused to sing “Imagine.”

The only time he could consider singing his father’s signature song, he said, would be “the end of the world.”

The war in Ukraine is not that (yet). But it spurred John Lennon’s 59-year-old son to reconsider.

It is “an unimaginable tragedy,” he said. “As a human, and as an artist, I felt compelled to respond in the most significant way I could.”

He performed at a #StandUpForUkraine funddraiser in Prague on Saturday. The event raised $10 billion in pledges for Ukrainian refugees.

Imagine!

 

 

 

Roundup: Affordable Housing, Advisory Committees, Beach Grooming …

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Tonight (Wednesday) is the night for the first of 3 community conversations on Westport housing.

“Drafting Westport’s 5-Year Affordable Housing Plan” is set for 7:30 p.m. at Temple Israel.

The sponsor is the Westport/Weston Clergy Association. Moderators include Rabbi Michael Friedman, Pastor Heather Sinclair and Reverend John Morehouse.

Among Westport’s affordable housing options: Sasco Creek Village. Tonight’s meeting will explore what’s ahead.

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Bored?

Or just looking for a board to serve on?

Westport needs registered voters to serve on 5 advisory bodies:

  • Arts Advisory Committee: advises on the preservation of Westport’s legacy as an arts community, provides oversight of the Westport Permanent Art Collections, and helps increase visibility of the arts in town.
  • Maintenance Study Committee: the Committee recently completed studies of all major town buildings, and reviewed buildings recently purchased by the Town, or under consideration for purchase and/or demolition.
  • International Hospitality Committee: advises town officials about local activities related to the United Nations and international visitors.
  • TEAM Westport: advises town officials about achieving and celebrating a more welcoming, multicultural Westport community.
  • Wakeman Town Farm Committee: helps WTF serve as an educational demonstration center for sustainable living.

Registered voters seeking an appointment should click here for an application. It must be emailed (selectwoman@westportct.gov) or mailed (110 Myrtle Avenue, Westport, CT 06880) by April 15.

With few exceptions, non-elected members of town boards, commissions and committees are appointed by the First Selectwoman.

First Selectwoman Jen Tooker ways, “Westport’s electorate is dynamic and diverse. This community could not run successfully without the many citizens who willingly and enthusiastically give of their time to benefit us all.

“Among the many appointed boards, commissions and committees, there are a number of vacancies that may filled by the members of our community who seek an opportunity to volunteer, gain knowledge of their municipal government, and provide service to the town. Some boards have minimal commitments, others are more hands-on and skill-driven, but all play an important role in keeping our community strong and vibrant.”

Click here for a list of all town boards, commissions and committees.

Those alpacas didn’t fall from the sky. The Wakeman Town Farm Committee helps oversee activities there. (Photo/Cathy Malkin)

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It’s springtime.

Flower beds get mulched. Poodles get shorn. And Westport beaches get groomed.

Crews were out yesterday, smoothing the sand at Compo …

(Photo/Karen Como)

… and Old Mill.

(Photo/Matt Murray)

Meanwhile, work began on the Burying Hill jetty/groin restoration project.

(Photo/Chris Swan)

Our shoreline is beautiful.

Thanks to these folks, they’ll soon be even more beautiful.

And safer.

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Wayne Blickenstaff — aka “Blick” — was a key member of the Eighth Air Force, part of the England-based World War II air campaign against Germany.  Rising to lieutenant colonel, flying P-47 Thunderbolts and P-51 Mustangs, he flew 133 destroyed 10 enemy aircraft.

After the war, Blickenstaff settled in Westport. For many years, he was part of Famous Artists School.

Now he’s written a book. “Ace in a Day” will be published in September.

Amazon calls it “Blick’s honest and gritty personal memoir of his air war in Europe. His vivid writing places you in the cockpit as he and his comrades battle the enemy in the skies or attack ground targets across Europe. His account conveys a true sense of just how dangerous flying World War II fighters, in all weather conditions, really was.

“It was not just the enemy that could kill you. A moment’s inattention, overconfidence or simple mistake could be deadly. As a keen observer of character, Blick’s pen portraits of those around him, including many of those who sadly did not survive the war, offer a poignant and deeply moving tribute to those with whom he served.” Click here for more information. (Hat tip: Laurie Woog)

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Staples High School sophomore Grace Power has a big role in Amy Schumer’s new series “Life & Beth.” It debuted on Hulu this month.

Grace — who was part of last year’s Staples Players radio shows — is seen in 7 episodes, as “Young Liz,” the best friend of Amy’s younger version of herself.

The New York Times says: “The straightforward, emotionally grounded acting that much of ‘Life & Beth’ requires isn’t Schumer’s strength, but … Grace Power (is) also good as Beth’s best friend in the flashbacks.” (Hat tip: Nicole Mayr)

Grace Power

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This Sunday (March 27, noon to 5 p.m., 190 Main Street), the CAMP Gallery hosts “Sip and Shop for a Cause.” It’s a closing event for the current exhibition: “Not Dior’s New Look III.”

20% of the gallery’s commission will be donated to Fashion Fights Cancer. The organization provides design-oriented therapeutic programs to cancer patients, survivors and their loved ones.

In addition, all participating brands — Kristi Vosbeck, Rosie Assoulin, The Hidden Gem, Johnny Was, Boho Prep and Le Rouge Chocolates — will contribute a percentage of all event sales towards Fashion Fights Cancer, and efforts in Ukraine.

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No, it’s not the Serengeti. But these deer grazing locally — today’s “Westport … Naturally” feature — do have something to do with Africa.

They’re at Nyala Farm. The corporate headquarters between the Sherwood Island Connector and Greens Farms Road, just north of I-95 Exit 18, was once part of the vast Bedford estate.

E.T. Bedford’s son Fred gave the house and farm its “Nyala” name for the spiral-horned antelope that had captivated his attention during a safari.

(Photo/Nico Eisenberger)

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And finally … speaking of the Serengeti, and Africa:

Roundup: Affordable Housing, Ukraine Help, Punk …

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Affordable housing is an important topic in Westport. What’s Westport’s plan for it?

Tomorrow (March 16, 7 p.m. Town Hall),First Selectwoman Jen Tooker and Planning & Zoning Commission chair Danielle Dobin kick off the planning process for our town’s “Five Year Affordability Plan.” The public is invited.

For those who can’t attend, the event will be livestreamed at www.westportct.gov.

In other housing news, both Tooker and Dobin testified yesterday before the Connecticut General Assembly’s Planning & Development Committee. They spoke against House Bill 5429, which would permit up to 15 housing units per acre within a one-half mile radius of any train station in Connecticut.

For decades, Hales Court has offered affordable housing in Westport.

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Buck Rosenfield is one of those people who always lends Westporters a helping hand.

Now the 1976 Staples High School graduate is doing it for Ukrainian refugees — overseas.

He posted on Facebook:

“Tonight I worked at a cluster of medical tents. About 2,000 to 3,000 people have passed down this makeshift tent corridor from the Polish checkpoint at the border. There is everything here from pampers to candy, kids’ toys, gloves, clothing, and a human warmth that betrays the long lines and long waits to enter.

“I took a night shift so doctors could sleep. Unknown to me, the border stayed open to the checkpoint. Usually it closes around midnight. There were donated blankets in front of the med tents. I tried to cover children and babies as they passed our way. Their eyes and smiles needed no translation, at the the entrance of Poland from Ukraine.

“Mostly girls, women and children. Men between 16 and 60 must stay in Ukraine.

“Tomorrow will be different. We heard the sounds of a few explosions earlier. Two too many.” (Hat tip: Chip Stephens)

The scene at the Poland border. The 3 smaller lights are in Ukraine. (Photo/Buck Rosenfield)

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Here’s word of a Ukraine Relief Supply Drive nearby.

Medicine, warm clothes, toiletries, hygiene items, blanks, sleeping bags, sleeping mats, batteries, flashlights and baby items can be dropped off today and tomorrow (March 15-16), from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the POTOO garage lobby, 40 Richards Avenue in Norwalk. (Hat tip: Bob Weingarten)

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“Hey, punk!”

Yeah, you — punk fans.

MoCA Westport next exhibit is “Punk is Coming.” The group show features over 50 photographers, filmmakers and artists whose work defined the punk era in 1970s New York, London, Los Angeles and other cities around the world.

The exhibition includes never-before-seen videos and photographs, artworks created by the punk era’s musicians, and contemporary works heavily influenced by the movement.

An opening reception for the exhibition is set for Saturday, March 26 (6-8 p.m., MoCA Westport, 19 Newtown Turnpike). The public is invited. Click here for details.

Patti Smith and Fred Sonic Smith, in 1980. (Photo/Sue Rynski)

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Replacement of the Burying Hill Beach jetty is moving ahead rapidly.

Yesterday (below) equipment moved into place:

(Photo/William Weiss)

This morning, it was already at work:

(Photo/Art Schoeller, president, Greens Farms Association)

The site is set up to allow pedestrian access to the beach — and the ability to view construction, as it occurs.

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Some good news about David Hidalgo, the beloved local carpenter, handyman, home improvement guy extraordinaire from Costa Rica with 2 young kids, who has battled leukemia.

While he continues treatment, and prepares for a bone marrow transplant, he is working on a new business.

David’s sister and brother-in-law moved from New Jersey to Connecticut to be closer to David and his family. Ariel is a gardener and landscaper, who is eager to find new clients around here. He can do spring clean-ups, plantings, yard maintenance, weekly or biweekly mowing – whatever you need.

He will be guided closely by David, who understands the service level of people around here, and will ensure that clients are as happy with Ariel’s service as they have been with David’s work for many years.

Contact David Hidalgo (203 919-3321) or Ariel Blanco (732 288-3453) for details. (Hat tip: Jennifer Zorek-Pressman)

David Hidalgo and family.

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Staples High School sent one gymnast to the New England championship last weekend.

Mia Guster made the most of her chance. Placing 8th in the vault (9.45 score), 12th in the floor competiton (9.15) and in the top 30 for beam (8.9), she qualified for the high school national meet in Florida this June.

Congratulations, Mia! (Hat tip: Nancy Lally)

Mia Guster

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Speaking of sports: The Westport Weston Family YMCA hosted the Connecticut State Short Course 10/Under Age Group Championship last weekend. The host Water Rat swim team placed 1st place, out of 43 teams.

All 6 relay teams claimed spots on the podium. Individual results were strong too, with every swimmer recording a personal best in at least one event.

Next up: state championship for age groups 11-12 and 13-14 this weekend.

1st place in the 400 yard medley relay: Zadie Schatz, Avery Mihelic, Valentina Belyaev, Drew McInerney. (Photo/Christine Schatz)

Finishing 2nd in the 400 yard free relay, front row (from left): Lewis Meyers, Spencer Cheung. Top row: Miles Pearson, Luke McGuinn. (Photo/Sarin Cheung).

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Who doesn’t love alpacas. They — and sheep, chickens and many more animals — have a home at Wakeman Town Farm. And they’re the stars of today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo.

(Photo/Cathy Malkin)

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And finally … today is the Ides of March. So of course:

ARPA Request: Funds For Low-Density Affordable Housing

Westport will receive $8.4 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. Over $750,000 had already been approved for public health, tree trimming, network protection, bus shelters and COVID-related expenses.

This week the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) approved $1.3 million for the Burying Hill Beach jetty, and $200,000 for 12 local arts non-profits. In the pipeline: downtown enhancements.

Next Wednesday (February 9, 7:30 p.m., Town Hall auditorium), the Board of Finance will consider a request for $150,000. The funds would support pre-development activities for low-density affordable housing at Post Road East, by West Parish Road. The request includies architectural fees, engineering site work, surveys, and traffic and environmental studies.

The parcel is on state Department of Transportation land, adjacent to Walgreens. Vehicles and equipment are stored there now.

Part of the Post Road East site, between Walgreens and West Parish Road.

The request comes from Westport’s Department of Human Services.  It describes “approximately 20 or more multi-family housing units in a desirable location, without high-density 8-30g project proposals from the private sector, which would typically include and additional 80+ market-rate units.”

DHS says the ARPA funds would help Westport gain moratorium points “to curtail 8-30g applications, which often result in dense housing and zoning battles.”

The proposal adds that “access to quality, affordable housing creates jobs, enhances economic development opportunities, and helps address the long history of segregated communities in (Connecticut) by creating viable options for new families to live in Westport.”

Under state law, only 3.6% of the town’s housin stock currently qualifies as “affordable.”

The DHS proposal links the funding request with ARPA’s aim — to support state, local and tribal governments’ responses to, and recovery from, the pandemic — by noting that the higher-income households have weathered COVID “without significant income losses, low-interest rates, and housing supply constraints”; in fact, it says, home values have soared.

Meanwhile, “many low-income renters and homeowners struggle with lost employment and income and are behind on their housing payments.”

The Human Services report concludes, “it is challenging to fund this development through traditional HUD and CAFA sources because it is so small in scale. Without assistance from the Town — via ARPA or other funds — a project of this scale isn’t feasible.

“Today, we have an opportunity to create the type of housing needed in Westport — quality, affordable housing for families that is centrally located with access to transportation resources and meets our community’s needs.”

(The February 9 Board of Finance meeting will be livestreamed, for those unable to be at Town Hall. Go to http://www.westportct.gov; select the “How Do I?”” heading, then “Watch Town Meetings.” It will also be shown on Optimum Channel 79 and Frontier Channel 6020. Comments to be read during the public comment period may be emailed to BOFcomments@westportct.gov, with full name and address. Click here for the full agenda.)

Question Box #5

Our Question Box is once again full.

Here are the latest answers — to the best of my ability, anyway. I’m stumped by many of these queries. So readers: Please chime in with any additional information. Click “Comments” below.

And if you’ve got a question for our box, just email dwoog@optonline.net.

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I read a lot about “affordable housing” in Westport. What is considered “affordable,” and who sets the guidelines?

Guidelines are set by Connecticut General Statute 8-30g. Click here for the exact 2021 income limits, and rental maximums.

Housing limits at places like Sasco Creek Village are set by the state.

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Who hires the town attorney, and how much is he or she paid? (David Meth)

According to town attorney Ira Bloom, the First Selectman (or woman) appoints the town attorney. The budget for the position has various components:  retainer amounts for the town attorney and assistant town attorney; a component for labor and employment, and the contract services — the largest piece — which covers litigation and longer-term projects.

Neither Bloom nor the assistant town attorney, Eileen Lavigne Flug, are town employees, so they do not receive a “salary” per se from the town.

Town attorney Ira Bloom

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Is there a committee for the Baron’s South project, or a way to get involved? (Whitney Raith)

Baron’s South falls under the purview of the Parks & Recreation Department. Contact director Jen Fava (jfava@westportct.gov) to let her know you’re interested.

Baron’s South is a gem in the heart of Westport. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

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Also from Whitney Raith: Why are there so many dead-end private streets? Does this lessen the town’s road upkeep?

Now that’s something that I — as a native Westporter — never thought about.

My guess is it’s a function of how the town grew. As farmland was sold to developers, they built homes off the main roads. If the houses were behind each other, they needed a way to get to the main road. Because there was still undeveloped land behind, the new roads did not connect to others, so they became dead-ends (more delicately, cul-de-sacs [or “culs-de-sac”?]).

I’m sure the nature of people moving to town — seeking privacy, which “private” roads provide — had something to do with it too.

I don’t think it was a way for the town to avoid upkeep. But if my theory is wrong — or you’ve got other ideas — click “Comments” below.

In this 1965 aerial view, Staples High School is on the left. An arrow points to High Point Road. Located off Long Lots Road, and the longest cul-de-sac in Westport, it was developed in the 1950s.

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Was there a mini-golf course where Lansdowne is now located? I was also told that it previously was the dump. (Antonia Zegras)

Fore! The 33-acre Lansdowne condos — located on Post Road East, just west of Stop & Shop — were once the site of mini-golf, and a driving range. For a while, a Bedford Junior High phys. ed. teacher had a trampoline business — “Ed Hall’s Jumpin’ Gyminy,” or something like that — out in front too.

Plus a skating rink, which eventually morphed into the short-lived Nines Club discotheque, courtesy of orchestra leader Lester Lanin. (You can’t make this stuff up.)

That rink/disco lives on, as the Westport Tennis Club.

As for a dump: I recall stuff being dumped in the back of the driving range after the mini-golf complex closed, but I can’t swear to it. Readers: If you remember: Click “Comments” below.

Once a mini-golf course and driving range; now well-established condos.

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I drive up and down Long Lots Road several times a day. Almost always, I see a flock of hawks circling, always between Turkey Hill Road and Hyde Lane. Can any readers explain why? (Lawrence Weisman)

Hawk-lovers: What’s up (ho ho)? Click “Comments” below.

Not Larry Weisman’s hawk — but very cool nonetheless. (Photo/Lou Rolla)

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I know that Alcoholics Anonymous meets at the St. Luke Church stables on Long Lots Road. Were there actual stables there at some point? (Arthur Hayes)

I don’t know the answer. I’m sure some of our alert readers do. But I’m guessing there were. It doesn’t seem like a name that came from thin air.

The St. Luke Church stables. Were there once horses there?

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Is there anything new concerning the incomplete structure on Hillspoint Road diagonally across from Joey’s by the Shore, where a series of restaurants used to be located? (Paul Rohan)

Nope! Negotiations continue, following a cease-and-desist order for violations on the residence that was slated to replace (most recently) Positano’s.

Construction has been halted at 233 Hillspoint Road. (Photo/Dinkin Fotografix)

Do you have a question for the Question Box? Email dwoog@optonline.net. When it’s full, I’ll answer them.

Roundup: Vaccines, Zoning, Schlaet’s Point, Ospreys …

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Not every “06880” reader lives in Westport. Sarathi Roy notes: “New York or New Jersey residents can book COVID vaccine appointments in their home state or in Connecticut.”

Here is New York state information:

A few days ago, “06880” posted a comprehensive list of Connecticut vaccine options, thanks to Sarathi’s HR department. Click here for information on CVS, Walgreens, Yale New Haven Health, Stamford Health and VAMS sign-ups.

In addition to that list, Sarathi adds:

  • Check your town’s website for information and clinics available only to residents. You may be able to register in advance or receive a call for available appointments or excess doses.
  • Connecticut’s  Vaccine Assist Line (877-918-2224) operates 7 days a week, from 8am-8pm. Agents can schedule appointments at state-run clinics. If you call early and are given the chance to leave a message, you should. They accept a certain number of messages each day, then call those people back throughout the day to assist in booking appointments. Once the maximum number of calls for the day has been reached the message option is turned off.
  • You can now search additional locations, including supermarkets and local pharmacies. A great tool to see who is administering the vaccine in your area is Vaccinefinder.org. Search a zip code, make note of the providers nearby, then search for booking websites.
  • Here are a few of the more common ones:
    Rite Aid

ShopRite

Big Y

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Did you miss last night’s webinar on the many housing bills making their way through the state’s General Assembly, and their possible impact on Westport?

Planning and Zoning chair Danielle Dobin gave a comprehensive overview. Our 4 local legislators — Senators Will Haskell and Tony Hwang, and Representatives Jonathan Steinberg and Stephanie Thomas — tackled the pros and cons. Viewers asked questions. It was a wide-ranging, engaging 80 minutes. (And I would say that even if I had not served as moderator.)

It’s now available to watch — or re-watch — at your leisure. Click here for the link.

Everything you wanted to know about zoning — including sewers — and more.

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One of the few positive parts of the pandemic: Many more Westporters have had time to walk.

Because we practice social distancing, we’re not always on the sidewalk. And — as Tammy Barry’s photo of Hillspoint Road at Schlaet’s Point shows — the result is some barren patches where grass once grew.

I’m sure saltwater flooding had something to do with t too.

(Photo/Tammy Barry)

Here’s hoping the town can find some resources to bring this beautiful stretch of waterfront back to what it once was.

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CNN anchor (and Westport resident) Alisyn Camerota’s last day on “New Day” is today. The show was filled with many nice tributes. Yesterday, co-host John Berman started things off (click here to see).

Alisyn is not going very far — just a few hours later. She’ll anchor CNN’s weekday coverage with Victor Blackwell.

Congratulations, Alisyn, on your new gig — and the chance to sleep in a little longer. (Hat tip: Seth Schachter)

Alisyn Camerota

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Today’s osprey report comes courtesy of Chris Swan.

He wants Westporters to know that there are 3 platforms near Sherwood Island State Park.

One is in the saltmarsh behind the Nature Center, midway to the last house off Beachside Common.

The second is in the saltmarsh on the eastern shore of Sherwood Mill Pond, several hundred feet above the Compo Cove homes. It’s visible from the path on Sherwood Island’s western edge, above the fire gate to Compo Cove.

Both platforms are occupied by returning osprey pairs.

A 3rd location can be seen from the saltmarsh shore of the northeastern corner of the Mill Pond, looking west. This was erected last fall. No osprey pair has yet staked their claim.

A 4th platform is at the entrance to Burying Hill Beach, in the marsh across New Creek. Chris has watched it for 10 years, but has never seen it occupied.

He thinks it’s too low. He believes old utility poles make the best platforms — citing the ones at Fresh Market, Longshore’s E,R. Strait Marina, and Gray’s Creek.

Chris should know: He spent his professional career with Eversource.

The newest osprey platform in Sherwood Island Mill Pond. A house on Grove Point is visible behind it. (Photo/Chris Swan)

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Congressman Jim Himes holds a Facebook Live session today (Wednesday, April 7) at 3 p.m. He’ll discuss how constituents can benefit from the American Rescue Plan. Click here to watch live. To watch later, click here.

Congressman Jim Himes

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And finally … on this day in 1940, Booker T. Washington became the first African-American depicted on a US postage stamp.

In November 1944, Booker T. Jones Jr. was born in Memphis. He was named after his father, Booker T. Jones Sr., a high school science teacher — who himself was named in honor of Booker T. Washington, the educator.