Tag Archives: Cathy Walsh

2 More P&Z Members Resign

Chip Stephens’ resignation last night from the Planning & Zoning Commission surprised many Westporters. The 3-term member — and native Westporter — has taken a new full-time job in Maine.

But his resignation was bracketed by 2 others. Al Gratrix resigned hours earlier, after 7 years as a full commissioner, and the past 4 as an alternate.

This afternoon, former chair and 13-year member Cathy Walsh submitted hers too. 

All 3 are Republicans. Jon Olefson is the lone Republican remaining, on what should be a 7-member board. By statute, the remaining commissioners choose the trio’s replacement. All must be registered Republicans.

Today, Stephens offers these tributes to his fellow former P&Z members. 

Al is the poster boy; the jack of all trades. He brought wisdom, understanding and service to the commission.

He knows the regulations and how they related to the applications at hand. He is well versed in all building technicalities, codes and everything else, and he gave his wisdom and guidance to all his fellow members.

From left: Al Gratrix, Cathy Walsh, Chip Stephens.

Additionally, he co-chaired the Enforcement Sub-Committee that dealt with all types of offenses and issues that went against the rules that 95 percent of time are followed, but when broken must be addressed, fixed or handed to lawyers.

Al also held a volunteer position on the Tree Board for 3 years. He earned expertise as a Trumbull firefighter and policeman, a part-time builder, and through various degrees in biochemistry and environmental biology.

Al initiated the Westport Evergreen Land Initiative, which helped create the beautiful Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum adjacent to Earthplace.

Al and his vast knowledge of planning, zoning, conversation and landscaping will be sorely missed by the commission, the staff and most of all Westport. Please thank Al for his service. And if you see his wife Nancy Austin around town, thank her for her patience and support of his time spent for our town.


Cathy, meanwhile, was the non-partisan leader as chair, and even more so when not in her official role.

She is smart, savvy, and always had her say, win or lose (she did not lose very often).

She led the commission on town character, local land knowledge, landscaping and planning initiatives that faced almost every submission, study or issue that came up.

Cathy, along with Al, Jack Whittle and I, spearheaded the Save Baron’s South open space project. She created over 6 open space park designations, maintaining sparse valuable open land in Westport for all.

Cathy Walsh and Chip Stephens, at a Planning & Zoning Commission meeting.

She got her smarts and strengths from her upbringing in Pennsylvania steel country, and her hard-driving success trading steel as a profession.

Her local smarts come from her relationships and many friends in Westport and statewide. Fairness and firmness is always Cathy’s modus operandi.

Although she is thorough and fair in her deliberations and decisions, you don’t want to mess or cross Cathy.

On her soft side, Cathy is a huge proponent of outdoor dining and dancing events.

Cathy co-chaired the landscape committee with Al Gratrix, sat on the Downtown Plan Committee, the Saugatuck Transit District Plan Committee, and dozens of other plans and committees. She always won the most votes when she ran.

Westport will be hard pressed to replace Cathy. Hopefully she will stick around and help newbies as they come aboard. After all, she still has her full-time steel business, and 2 daughters and their 6 kids.

You better thank Cathy when you see her around town!

Norden Place Distribution Center Application Withdrawn

East Norwalk residents — and their neighbors around the corner in Saugatuck — are breathing easier today.

Almost literally.

Developers of a 330,000-square foot distribution center proposed for Norden Place have withdrawn their application.

Norwalk’s Zoning Commission was scheduled to discuss the plan tonight. The meeting has been canceled.

Artists’ rendering of a distribution center.

The warehouse and distribution facility included 19 loading docks. It would generate up to 190 truck trips a day, and more than 350 trips by car.

According to “Nancy on Norwalk,” owners promised to keep traffic to the hours of 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. — “to the extent commercially practicable.”

Much of that traffic would spill onto Route 136. In Westport — around the corner from Norden Place — that’s Saugatuck Avenue. A few yards away in Norwalk, it’s called Winfield Street.

Westporters were also concerned about truck drivers mistakenly getting off I-95 Exit 17 — rather than 16 — and becoming stuck under the railroad bridge.

The proposed Norden Place warehouse and distribution center is shown in yellow. Truck routes are also marked.

The proposal generated tremendous opposition, including a petition signed by more than 1,700 people.

Westport 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, Planning & Zoning director Mary Young, the full Planning & Zoning Commission and Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce president Matt Mandell were among the most vocal opponents.

In December, P & Z members Cathy Walsh and Chip Stephens presented a letter to Norwalk’s planning board. They said:

East Norwalk and Saugatuck operate as one ecosystem. We share the same air, water, roads and traffic. We have extensive shared service agreements in place for EMS, fire and police.

Both towns have made substantial progress toward increasing our sustainability, walkability and safety by investing in sidewalks, crosswalks and roadways. This project runs contrary to our  collective long term goals and will negatively impact the health, safety and welfare of the residents of our community.

(To read more, click here for the “Nancy on Norwalk” story)

The Waiting Is The Hardest Part

The scene tonight at Democratic headquarters …

(Photo/Eli Debenham)

(Photo/Eli Debenham)

… and Rizzuto’s, where Republican Town Committee treasurer Joe Sledge, First Selectman Jim Marpe, Second Selectman Avi Kaner and State Representative candidate Cathy Walsh peered at results:


(Photo/Chip Stephens)

Important Info — Floodplain Damage

The following information — from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection — was sent to all municipal officials. It was forwarded to “06880” by Cathy Walsh, chair of the Westport Planning & Zoning Commission, on behalf of the entire P&Z.  She says:

The highlights are the 100-year flood plain, 3-foot substantial damage clause and the $30,000 grant.  The key for homeowners is “document everything.  Photos of high water/high water marks are invaluable. So are photos of pre-existing sea walls.”

The P&Z staff are discussing the options internally as to how to stream line the process for homeowners to rebuild.  I’ve asked them to come up with recommendations as to how best streamline the process for homeowners. We will put this on the agenda for the November 8 P&Z meeting.

The other important issue concerns seawalls.  Larry Bradley is working with the DEEP commissioner to streamline that process also.  We want the public to know what’s going on but at the same time please allow us to do our leg work.

The DEEP memo follow:

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, many structures have been damaged by coastal flooding, high winds, fire from downed electrical wires, or fallen trees.

All Connecticut municipalities participate in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Under the NFIP, structures located in the mapped 100-year floodplain that have sustained substantial damage must be brought into compliance with your community’s floodplain management regulations or ordinance as if it is new construction when they are repaired or reconstructed, including the requirement that lowest floor be elevated to or above the base flood elevation.

The NFIP defines substantial damage as damage from ANY origin sustained by a structure whereby the cost of restoring the structure to its before-damaged condition would equal or exceed 50 percent of the market value of the structure before the damage occurred. Work on structures that are determined to be substantially damaged is considered to be a substantial improvement, regardless of the actual repair work performed. The definition of market value is included in your local floodplain management zoning regulations or flood ordinance. Usually, market value is defined as the appraised value of the structure, excluding land value.

Before issuing permits for repairs, local permit officials must determine whether damage to a structure located in the 100-year floodplain qualifies as “substantial damage”. Community officials often have difficulty determining whether buildings are substantially damaged. This difficulty is magnified after a disaster where a large number of buildings have been damaged and there is a need to provide timely substantial damage determinations and issuance of permits so that reconstruction can begin.

In coastal areas that experience tidal surge, a general rule of thumb is that if 3 feet or more of flood water has entered the first floor living space (not the basement), the structure has likely hit the substantial damage threshold. The Substantial Damage Estimator Manual listed below contains helpful damage category spreadsheets in Appendix E. While doing field inspections, it may be helpful to do a preliminary assessment using spreadsheets using a “stoplight” screening for each structure (green – not substantially damaged, yellow – borderline, red-substantially damaged). More detailed calculations can be done in the future before the structure is repaired.

There are many Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) publications that can assist local officials with the topic of substantial damage. Below is a list of these resources and link to website.

Substantial Damage Estimator (FEMA P-784 CD) and User’s Manual and Workbook http://www.fema.gov/library/viewRecord.do?id=4166

Answers to Questions About Substantially Damaged Buildings (FEMA 213) http://www.fema.gov/library/viewRecord.do?id=1636

Substantial Improvement/Substantial Damage Desk Reference (FEMA P-758) http://www.fema.gov/library/viewRecord.do?id=4160

Managing Floodplain Development through the NFIP, Unit 8 (IS-9) http://www.fema.gov/pdf/floodplain/is_9_complete.pdf#nameddest=sub-damage

When buildings undergo repair following a substantial damage determination, it is an opportunity for the community to reduce future damage to these vulnerable structures through compliance with community floodplain management regulations.

If a local official determines a structure is substantially damaged, Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) coverage is part of most standard flood insurance policies. If eligible, ICC provides for up to $30,000 to help property owners who have been substantially damaged bring the home or business into compliance with community floodplain regulations or ordinances. This can include elevation, demolition or relocation of a residential structure, or flood-proofing a non-residential structure. Claims for ICC benefits are filed separately from your claim for contents or building loss. Below is a link to FEMA’s website with more information in ICC. http://www.fema.gov/plan/prevent/floodplain/ICC.shtm

Dancing With The Westporters

Cathy Walsh has spent 22 years in Westport. She chairs the Planning and Zoning Commission. Professionally, she’s a steel trader.

But her obsession is dance.

Cathy Walsh

She dances whenever she can. She takes lessons and classes, then hops from studio to studio to dance even more. If she had her way, every Westporter would dance everywhere. Including the streets.

The other morning  — as her laptop chirped with incoming email notifications, undoubtedly about big steel trades — she took me on a tour of Westport dance spots. Virtually, that is — by computer websites.

Our first “stop” was Studio 44. The cleverly named dance and fitness center (the address is 44 Main Street, on the 3rd floor of the old Klein’s building — get it?) offers hip hop classes taught by the “amazing” Brian Herman.

“Westport moms” fill the studio every morning and afternoon, Cathy says. They come for the music, and the chance to dance. They stay for the camaraderie.

A Latin grooves class at Studio 44.

Owner Candy McCarthy throws “incredible” parties, and puts on similarly spectacular performances, adds Cathy. There’s wine, cheese, big crowds and plenty of networking. The studio is filled with “normal people, crazy people,” she says.

It was on to The Dance Collective. Located on Post Road West, across from Settlers & Traders, it’s where Enrique Alarcon and Amanda Parton teach “terrific” modern dance.

“When I became single, I wondered what people do in Westport,” Cathy says, pausing in her “tour.”

“Then I discovered the Fred Astaire studio in Norwalk. I took 12 lessons a week. Ballroom dancing was my new social network. It became a common bond with people, beyond talking about our kids.” She loves Fred Astaire’s Friday night dance parties.

Cathy and others can “easily dance 2 hours a day,” she says. “It lifts your spirit. It’s magical. It’s totally head-clearing.”

Dance Collective dancers perform at Westport Country Playhouse.

The next stop on Cathy’s computer was Intensity. Just over the line in Norwalk and owned by Westporter Clair Mason, it’s where Cathy goes to see Marcello Deaguero mount a huge stage, turn on disco lights, and pump up a couple of dozen women with a high-energy Zumba workout. At 8:30 a.m.

If the local dance scene seems heavily female, it is. “Every once in a while, you see a guy,” Cathy says. That rare species feels the same joy she does, she notes.

Men do like ballroom dancing. “CEOs do it — in secret, on Saturday mornings,” she explains.

Her passion for dance takes her all over the state. On the last Saturday of every month, 200 people wearing gowns and tuxes descend on the Greek Orthodox Church in Bridgeport for a ballroom event. They range in age from 20s to 80s. Westport is well represented, Cathy says.

Notably missing from the Westport dance scene are teenagers. Why not?

“That’s a good question. It would be fabulous for them.”

A Bill Fischer contra dance scene. Cathy Walsh would love to see something similar come to Westport.

Cathy thinks they — and many other Westporters — would be inspired by outdoor swing dancing in the summer. “All you need is a wooden floor and a DJ. You could do it somewhere in Saugatuck, Sconset Square, or the space by the old Inn at National Hall. Or even downtown.”

She has someone in mind: Bill Fischer, a New Haven-based contra dance caller who opens up his barn to people who just walk in and dance.

“I really want him to come here,” Cathy says. “He could bring fiddlers. We’d close down Main Street. People could bring their kids, have dinner, walk around and just dance.”

Our tour was over. It was time to get back to steel trading. But Cathy’s enthusiasm was undiminished.

“I get so tired of being entertained,” she says. “I just want to do.”

And dance.