Tag Archives: Baron’s South

Photo Challenge #238

At first glance, last week’s Photo Challenge was impossible.

Molly Alger’s shot showed some beautiful wineberries. They looked delicious — and it seemed they could be anywhere.

Lurking in the background, though, was a small part of a building.

It was easy to miss. But Andrew Colabella saw it — and recognized it as part of Golden Shadows, Baron Walter Langer von Langendorff’s 1950s-era “mansion.”

Today, we’d call it a “house.” It’s still there, on the now-town-owned property called Baron’s South.

Click here to see the photo. To see it in real life, use the South Compo Road entrance (or walk through from Imperial Avenue). Most people don’t know, but the park is open from dawn till dusk.

Here’s this week’s Photo Challenge. If you know where in Westport you’d see this, fire away!

(Photo/Lee Scharfstein)

[OPINION] Good News — And Not So Good — At Baron’s South

Alert “06880” reader, historian and preservation advocate Morley Boyd writes:

In April, I raised environmental and safety concerns about the appearance of a large pile of fill at Baron’s South. The mysterious mound, estimated at roughly 5,500 yards, was discovered in what had once been a meadow dotted with mature trees.

Upon closer inspection I noticed that material in the mound included asphalt, jagged shards of metal, tires, pieces of what appeared to be asbestos cement pipe, plastic containers and the shattered remains of a toilet.

Earlier this spring, Morley Boyd photographed debris in the fill behind the Senior Center.

While erosion prevention netting had been placed across one side of the mound, gullies had formed anyway, and the entire top was exposed. Runoff was visibly headed to drains connected to nearby Deadman’s Brook, a tributary of the Saugatuck River.

Runoff from the fill heads toward Deadman’s Brook.

After learning that the fill had been excavated from a nearby construction site associated with the now completed Senior Center expansion project, I wondered what else might be in the fill. Had it been tested? And why was it there in the first place?

First, I reached out to those whose homes abut the park to see what they knew. After learning the homeowners had been told by the Senior Center project manager that the giant mound was permanent, I made private inquiries about the fill with town officials.

The site of the fill (just south of the Senior Center) is shown by a red arrow (bottom) in this Google aerial image.

When that inquiry went unanswered, the story appeared on “06880.” Shortly thereafter, in reaction to public outcry, the town retained the services of Steve Edwards, recently retired director of public works. He was charged with having the fill professionally tested for the presence of toxic substances.

My concerns proved valid. The recently released toxicology report indicates that the material contains DDT, traces of petroleum byproducts, and a level of arsenic that exceeds state standards for human exposure.

Because of the toxicology report and public pressure, the town has now agreed to remove all of contaminated fill (ideally within the next few months, according to the current director of public works), and restore the meadow to its previous condition.

Morley Boyd says that 6 feet of fill was dumped into the meadow near the Senior Center. (Photo/Morley Boyd)

At Tuesday’s Board of Selectmen meeting, town officials said the tree warden has prepared a replanting plan for the site, including new trees.

In the meantime, residents hope that the toxic pile, which remains fully exposed in the midst of a public park, will be cordoned off to safeguard the health and safety of visitors.

On the whole, this is good news. The town deserves credit for taking responsibility. Still, a number of unanswered questions remain — notably, why did this happen?

The approved site plan for the construction project did not permit the area in question to be disturbed, and the project’s contract included a specific line item for hauling away any excess fill.

Further, many question the wisdom of the town’s proposed plan for reusing the contaminated fill: a parking lot project at the Greens Farms railroad station.

Although the toxicology report — consistent with state guidelines — recommends that the contaminated fill be buried beneath several feet of clean fill if it is to be moved and reused, there is an apparent regulatory conflict.

While state standards for the use of fill are more relaxed, Westport’s are quite stringent. They specifically do not allow the use of fill containing “petroleum based products or materials.”

Since the Baron’s South fill has been shown to contain — in addition to other toxins — chunks of asphalt, it remains unclear how the town can use the fill at the Greens Farms train station and also comply with its own regulations.

If there is any doubt as to whether or not this contaminated fill can be safely remediated for reuse in a public space, wouldn’t the wisest solution be to just dispose of it at a proper facility?

Whatever ultimately happens to the toxic fill, the good news is that a quiet corner of Westport’s “Central Park” will soon return to its natural state. And that’s in large part due to the vigilance and concern of the “06880” community.

Photo Challenge #230

Last week’s Photo Challenge was straightforward.

Molly Alger’s image showed a handsome stone pillar. It’s flanked by a road on one side, and a long, hilly driveway on the other. (Click here to see.)

Westporters drive by it all the time. It’s on South Compo Road, near Park Lane.

Many folks don’t know, though, that it’s the main entrance to Baron’s South.

We — as a town — own that great 22-acre property between South Compo and Imperial Avenue. It’s open sunrise to sunset. Now you know how to get into it.

Andrew Colabella, Seth Braunstein, Jonathan McClure and Amy Schneider already know. They correctly answered last week’s Photo Challenge.

Today’s Challenge honors the many Westporters who have given their lives, while serving our country. If you know where you’d see this inspiring plaque, click “Comments” below.

HINT: It’s NOT at Veteran’s Green, opposite Town Hall. But you should go there tomorrow, immediately after the Memorial Day parade. The brief ceremony is moving, and important. And there you’ll see many plaques with the names of Westporters killed in action. But not this one.

(Photo/Jay Dirnberger)

Hinoki False Cypress: The Sequel

Yesterday — as part of coverage of the fill at Baron’s South, behind the Westport Senior Center — “06880” reported that a Hinoki False Cypress that had been removed from nearby, replanted elsewhere on the site, and is now dead — had been judged the state’s #1 Golden Hinoki False Cypress.

That report was wrong.

The reader who sent the link to the database of Notable Trees — compiled by the Connecticut College Arboretum — did not dig deep enough.

As alert reader Cole Palmer notes, while the #1 Golden Hinoki False Cypress is indeed in Westport, it was not at Baron’s South. A photo elsewhere on the Connecticut College Arboretum site shows it clearly in a cemetery:

(Photo/Marty Aligata, taken August 31, 2014)

However, the Baron’s South tree was handsome in its own right. Alert “06880” reader Wendy Crowther noticed it in January 2015, and took this shot:

(Photo/Wendy Crowther)

And although this specific tree might not be the actual #1 on the Notable Trees list, it is still — in its new location, near Fairfield County Bank — quite dead.

“06880” apologizes for the error.

Baron’s South Fill: The Sequel

On Monday, “06880” posted a story about Baron’s South. Reader Morley Boyd had written — and sent photos — describing construction material from the recent Senior Center modernization project that had been dumped in the southwest meadow. He said that demolition debris was mixed with the fill; that there was evidence of soil erosion, and that mature trees had been removed from the site.

Yesterday, another concerned reader sent an update. This reader noted that the Baron — Walter Langer von Langendorff of Austria, who founded Evyan Perfumes in the 1930s, bought the estate in 1967, and lived there until his death in 1983 — had planted and nurtured diverse species of trees on his 32-acre wooded, hilly property, between Compo Road South and Imperial Avenue.

Among the “legacy trees’ was a Hinoki False Cypress. It grew robustly and beautifully in a protected valley.

It was judged the state’s #1 Golden Hinoki False Cypress, on a list of Notable Trees compiled by the Connecticut College Arboretum. It was not located where the construction occurred.

Tree warden Bruce Lindsay and Planning & Zoning Commission member Al Gratrix went to great lengths to ensure that the tree — which had been designated for relocation — would be given special attention by the contractor, so it could thrive.

The Hinoki was replanted at the crest of a hill, bordering the Fairfield County Bank parking lot. The “06880” reader who visited yesterday reports that the tree is brown, dry and dead.

After replanting, the Golden Hinoki False Cyprus appears dead. This photo was taken yesterday.

Not far away, the reader says, there is plenty of construction debris in the fill.

The runoff appears headed toward Deadman’s Brook, and the Saugatuck River.

Baron’s South: Town Officials Reply

Yesterday, “06880” posted reader Morley Boyd’s comments about Baron’s South. He said that construction material from the recent Senior Center modernization project had been dumped in a nearby meadow. He was concerned about debris in the fill, soil erosion, and the removal of trees.

Morley wondered why the material was placed there, whether it has been tested, when it will be removed, and where it will go.

Today, 2 town officials responded.

Jen Fava — director of Parks & Recreation — says:

Mr. Boyd’s characterization of an “illegal dump site” including a “host” of objects is greatly exaggerated, misleading and a misrepresentation of the actual conditions.

The decision was made by the Center for Senior Activities Building Committee to store the fill on site temporarily for use in other projects within the town and/or on the Barons South property.

A closeup of the rear of the dumped fill on Baron’s South. (Phots/Morley Boyd)

This fill was taken from on site in order to accommodate the Senior Center expansion. The fill, as taken from its original location, contains rocks and soil, as would be expected, but it is all from the Baron’s South property.

Mr. Boyd’s description also made it sound as though truckloads of debris have been dumped.  This is simply not the case.  There are a few pieces of metal and other debris, but not in quantity, as implied by the description.  The items in question are being removed.

With regard to the “mature trees” that were removed, this was done in consultation with the tree warden. Only a few trees were removed, which were not in the best condition and were identified to be taken down as part of the future plan for this site.

Alicia Mozian, Department of Conservation director, adds:

I inspected the site last night. It is fully stabilized and the erosion controls are in very good shape. I saw no evidence of silt/sediment on the driveways leading down toward the waterways.

Filling In An Earth Day Puzzle

Happy Earth Day (again)!

My post today earlier today about living shorelines” may have made you feel all warm and earth-fuzzy. You might even be motivated to take a walk at some open space in town.

Great! Just avoid part of Baron’s South.

Alert “06880” reader/local activist Morley Boyd recently noticed that 1,000 or so yards of construction material — from the recent Senior Center modernization project — have been dumped in the southwest meadow.

Morley Boyd took this photo — and outlined the approximate footprint of the excavated fill at Baron’s South.

It includes, he says, both fill and demolition debris: rusty pipes, sharp metal objects, chunks of concrete and asphalt, plastic garbage bags, shattered plastic containers, rubber tires, bricks and more.

Morley says that trapped, standing water at the rear of the dump area abuts residential property. He sees “considerable evidence” of soil erosion across the top section of raw, unprotected construction rubble and fill.

Debris in the Baron’s South landfill. The Senior Center is on the right. (Photos/Morley Boyd)

He also believes that a number of mature trees were removed from the site, to accommodate what he says is a grade raised by 5 or 6 feet.

 

Morley wonders why the material was placed there, whether it has been tested, when it will be removed, and where it will go. He has written to town officials, and awaits a response.

Sorry, Senior Center!

That’s what I get for relying on tipsters.

A few minutes ago, I posted a story referring to the Post Road East street that appeared seemingly overnight between the Sunoco and Mobil stations, opposite the Westport Country Playhouse:

Based on an email I had received, I wrote that it created new access to the Baron’s South property.

It does. But only if you go through the Senior Center.

Former 2nd selectman Avi Kaner notes that the road is part of the Senior Center enhancement project.

Happy trails!

Scott Smith Discovers Westport’s Hidden Gems

Scott Smith is an alert “06880” reader, a longtime Westporter and an ardent outdoorsman. He writes:

If you ask Westporters to comment on our community’s natural charms, chances are most would cite the dazzling string of beaches and coastal places: Compo Beach, Sherwood Mill Pond, Gray’s Creek and Burying Hill. If pressed, they might claims Sherwood Island too.

Others would tout the Saugatuck River, from the fly fishing shallows along Ford Road to the impoundment of Lees Pond, and the tidal stretch through town leading to the mouth at Longshore and Cedar Point. Cockenoe Island gets a shout-out, too, especially from those with the nautical means to visit it.

Fishing off Ford Road (Photo/Richard Wiese)

But plenty of other places across Westport beguile with bucolic beauty. Many of these underappreciated open spaces are in the midst of a welcome renaissance, sparked by renovation efforts from those who love and tend them.

I’m talking about the town parks, preserves, land trusts and wildlife sanctuaries that constitute our remaining inland open spaces. Over the past year or two, I’ve visited quite a few. I always come away thinking how fortunate we are to be able to trod upon them.

“06880” has covered these developments over time, noting singular efforts and improvements. But if you step back and tally them all up, it’s quite an impressive list, covering virtually every part of town.

Over in Old Hill there’s the Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum. I toured it a couple of seasons ago with its caretakers, including Lou Mall and tree warden Bruce Lindsay. They’re spearheading its transformation from an untended patch of blow-downs and invasive vines to a fetching enhancement to the adjacent Earthplace facility.

Dead creepers line a Wadswworth Arboretum trail.

Coleytown has the Newman Poses Preserve, which affords a wonderful walk through meadows along the Saugatuck stream and through upland woods. Having the memory of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward and their family as you traipse along is a nice bonus. Their neighbors — and the Aspetuck Land Trust — get credit for giving us that open space.

Right near downtown there’s the blossoming of long-neglected Baron’s South, another town-led reclamation project with even brighter prospects in store as a nature-driven arts campus.

A path in Baron’s South. (Photo/Judy James)

And just down Compo, off Greenacre Road, is the hidden gem of the Haskins Preserve, my longtime favorite place for a weekend stroll.

Haskins Preserve’s dogwoods and daffodils — a lovely combination.

I have “06680” to thank for cluing me in to my newest place to take a hike: the Smith Richardson Preserve in Greens Farms. I’ve long known about the 2 parcels north of I-95. The Christmas tree farm off Sasco Creek Road is where I chop down a tree every year. I consider it in part my annual donation to the Connecticut Audubon Society, which manages the farm and the open space across the road.

But I had no idea of the separate property just across 95, a 36-acre parcel stretching from Sasco Creek all the way to the playing fields behind Greens Farms Academy off Beachside Avenue.

I walked it the other day, taking advantage of frozen ground to course through fields that are in the midst of being cleared of smothering vines and other invasive species.

It’s an impressive project, even if the space is hard by the highway and Metro-North rails. Hemmed in by neighboring houses big and small, and what looks to be a refuse depot managed by the railroad or state, the area has the look of a pocket-size Central Park in the making, with Olmstedian trails that wind through woods, and alongside meadows and ponds. I can’t wait to see how the property develops, with its ambitious new plantings and clearings, and whether the caretaking crews can keep the tick-haven invasives at bay.

Smith Richardson Preserve (Photo/Scott Smith)

These public/private corners of our community are all discovered places, at least for me. When I visit them, either with my dog or solo, I’m often the only one around. I like the solitude, and question why I’d even want to spread the word about them. Parking is often a pinch, and I’m not even sure about the proper access to the new Smith Richardson preserve behind GFA’s sprawling athletic fields.

But these largely hidden local natural spaces deserve recognition, and our support for the groups that manage them — the town, Aspetuck Land Trust, and the Connecticut Audubon Society — whether by check or volunteer hand.

Separately and together, they all make Westport a wonderful place to live and to explore.

Leonard Everett Fisher: Back In Charge, Backing The Arts

In 1965, Ruth Steinkraus Cohen began organizing a community-wide arts council.

But the Westport philanthropist/activist focused primarily on music. Noted illustrator Leonard Everett Fisher urged her to include the visual arts.

Cohen had been invited to testify in Hartford, on hearings about establishing a statewide arts commission. She invited him to come along.

Those discussions led to the formation of the Westport Arts Council — one of the first in any town, anywhere. Cohen served as chair. Fisher was an original board member, and its 2nd president.

But the executive director was “a total failure,” Fisher recalls. “We never got much traction.”

He turned his energy to the Westport Library. He served 3 terms as president, and helped plan the “new” building, on the landfill site near the Levitt Pavilion.

Leonard Everett Fisher

The Westport Arts Center, meanwhile, developed and grew on its own. Fisher — busy with his professional and personal life — had little to do with it. He showed his works occasionally. But, as he admits, “I was not a great contributor.”

A while back, then-director Helen Klisser During offered Fisher a one-man retrospective. It was well deserved. In his 70+ year career, Fisher illustrated 250 books for young readers; designed 10 US postage stamps, and had his works shown in the Smithsonian, the New York Public Library, Yale, the New Britain Museum of American Art, and in museums around the world. He’s listed as one of the 2000 Outstanding Artists and Designers of the 20th Century.

The show brought him closer to the WAC. But he still had no time for the board.

A year ago, artist Ann Chernow called. She said that 1st Selectman Jim Marpe had a plan for Golden Shadows — the main house on the town-owned Baron’s South property.

Marpe asked 3rd Selectman Helen Garten to head up a committee to explore restoring the decrepit house as a Westport Artists Museum. Other groups had their eyes on the property too.

The Planning & Zoning Commission eventually gave tacit approval to an arts campus on Baron’s South. But commissioners did not want to deal with multiple entities.

Golden Shadows: the centerpiece of the Westport Arts Center Baron’s South plan.
(Photo/Wendy Crowther)

The Westport Arts Center agreed to take over the museum plan. Who better to help than Fisher?

So — at 93 years young — Fisher has joined the Westport Arts Center board.

If all goes well, he says, the WAC/Baron’s South project can be completed a year from now.

Fisher is in excellent physical shape. His mind is clear and sharp.

“So long as I put one foot in front of the other, this gives me energy and excitement,” he says.

“What we’re doing is wonderful for the town. I think people will be very surprised at what they see.”

At which point Leonard Everett Fisher will do what he’s done ever since moving here, more than half a century ago. He’ll turn his attention to a new project, benefiting the arts and all the citizens of Westport.