The lead “06880” story this morning — about the future of the Baron’s South property — noted a public meeting set for tomorrow. The purpose of the session is to discuss a potential rezoning of a portion of the land.
The meeting — called by the Planning & Zoning Commission’s Zoning Regulation Revision Subcommittee — has been changed to Wednesday (July 28, 12 noon).
Members of the public can attend the virtual session via Zoom. Click here for the link.
Public comments can be made during the meeting. Comments can also be sent prior to the meeting to PandZ@westportct.gov.
Vegetation surrounds a Baron’s South pathway. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)
Longtime residents and Westport Preservation Alliance founders Morley Boyd, Wendy Crowther, Helen Garten and John F. Suggs are passionate about honoring and saving Westport’s historic structures and open spaces. Over the years they’ve served on many town commissions and committees
Though Baron’s South — the town-owned property between South Compo Road and Imperial Avenue, not far from the Post Road and downtown — has always been on their radar screen, they are now very worried about its future. They write:
What should we do with Baron’s South?
This question has haunted the wooded, hilly, 22-acre parcel in the heart of town since we acquired it in 1999.
In 2016 it was zoned as passive open space. Shortly thereafter, an extensive tree removal project took place, and a landscape plan was commissioned but never finalized. Since then, the town has largely ignored the property.
As a result, Baron’s South is rarely visited by the public. The weeds are taller than the deer, and the former pathways are disappearing behind encroaching overgrowth.
Vegetation surrounds a Baron’s South pathway.
In fact, many Westporters don’t even know where Baron’s South is.
Now the Planning & Zoning Commission is considering rezoning swaths of the property for active, organized recreation. This could mean bocce courts, swimming pools, even new buildings.
These are worthy ventures. But aren’t there already plenty of places in Westport to get active? And wasn’t the goal of the “open space” designation to permanently preserve and conserve this unique, centrally located piece of green infrastructure so that all Westporters could enjoy its quiet and natural beauty?
There’s no doubt that Baron’s South needs an infusion of energy. But why isn’t harnessing passive energy the goal?
Let’s form a town and citizen-driven cooperative to direct resources and passive energy toward the restoration and conservation of this incredibly special property. With the guidance of local environmental organizations like Earthplace, Wakeman Town Farm and Sustainable Westport, let’s engage children, parents and grandparents to work side by side to gradually remove debris and invasive plants, install beneficial native plants and trees, create pollinator meadows, improve the park’s many entrances, and build pervious paths to lead us to its interior rooms.
Golden Shadows, the home of former property owner Baron Walter Langer von Langendorff.
Along the way, we and our kids can learn to notice and appreciate the park’s wildlife and beneficial insects, rather than fear them. We can learn the value of native plantings, water conservation, biodiversity, and sustainability. We can come to understand the negative impacts of monocultures, climate change, pesticides and herbicides.
Passive open space requires active management and attention. Re-committing ourselves to this goal is the change that is needed.
As anyone who has ever done yardwork or gardening knows, the work can be as physically challenging as any ball game and as meditative as yoga. Bring your energy, your calm, your curiosity, your children and your save-the-planet sensibilities to bear on this great park.
Let’s save Baron’s South for a better good — the good that comes from quiet places, thoughtful passive-use planning, hard work, and the wisdom of Mother Nature.
The next meeting of the Zoning Regulation Revision Subcommittee takes place via Zoom at noon tomorrow (Tuesday, July 27). The public can participate. To get the Zoom link, call 203-341-1076 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Want to learn more about Baron’s South? Click here for stories from the “06880” archives.)
Wildlife amid the growth at Baron’s South. (Photos/Wendy Crowther)
A few days ago, the New York Timesran a story about the Archive of Contemporary Music. The non-profit houses one of the world’s largest collections of popular music: over 3 million recordings, plus music books, memorabilia and press kids.
There are “shelves upon shelves upon shelves of vinyl records and CDs, signed Johnny Cash records… boxes of big band recordings, world music and jazz and original soundtracks.”
It also holds the bulk of Keith Richards’ famed blues collection. (He’s on the board of advisers.)
But rising TriBeCa rents are forcing the mammoth collection elsewhere. They’ve got until June to find a new space.
Nile Rodgers — the record producer and co-founder of the band Chic — is also on the Archive’s board.
Which raises an intriguing idea, first proposed by alert “06880” reader Jeff Mitchell. With those 2 luminaries so involved — and living in Westport and Weston, along with other great recording artists like Michael Bolton and Jose Feliciano, not to mention our long musical history of legendary concerts from Bo Diddley to the Doors; REO Speedwagon writing 157 Riverside about their time here; Johnny Winter and Joe Cocker recording and rehearsing in Westport — why not invite the Archive of Contemporary Music to set up shop here?
I’m (semi) serious. We already have a Museum of Contemporary Art (formerly the Westport Arts Center). a Westport Museum for History and Culture (most recently the Westport Historical Society), plus the Westport Country Playhouse (unchanged after 90 years). This would be one more cultural attraction.
Where would they go? That’s for wiser heads than mine to decide. But we do have an unused building sitting smack in the middle of Baron’s South.
And we keep talking about all those vacant stores on Main Street…
New home of the Archive of Contemporary Music? (Photos/Chip Stephens)
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.
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.
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:
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.
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