Tag Archives: Chip Stephens

Chip Stephens Announces State Rep Run

Democrat Jonathan Steinberg — the 5-term state representative for District 136, which covers most of Westport — has a Republican challenger.

Chip Stephens — like Steinberg, a Staples High School graduate — says:

It is with great hope and expectations that I announce my candidacy for Westport’s 136th Representative District in the Connecticut State Assembly.

As a 50-year resident of Westport, and elected Planning and Zoning Commissioner for 3 terms, I have been honored to serve and enjoy our town. My campaign is to bring to Hartford a positive message of hope, and a strong need for working together to fix the broken financial state.

My mission is to join a new effort to cooperate and innovate. My experience in local issues is fairly well known, and my advocacy has been built on supporting our great schools and organizations. I have a long record of giving back to my town, and my contributions have touched on many issues, organizations and many residents.

Chip Stephens

I will give Westport my best effort to win and serve in a positive and constructive direction. Issues and answers will lead my campaign, with no tolerance for negativity and name-calling.

Over the next weeks, I will be forming a campaign group and a platform.With both, I will strive to be inclusive of all ages, political views and those who want a better Westport and a smarter working Connecticut.

I want to hear from any and all Westporters who want to join my vision: that all politics are local. The best way to make positive change is to work together for the benefit of the town. Specific granular issues and answers will be discussed as I move forward with my campaign.

I hope this message finds my Westport friends and families well, and seeing the light beyond today’s historic challenging issues. Better days are close, thanks to our healthcare workers and scientists. Stay safe, stay well!

Chip Stephens is serving his 3rd term on Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission. He has been its chair, and also chaired the Village District Regulation, Superstorm Sandy Recovery Regulation, and other committees.

Stephens moved to Westport in 1960, and graduated from Staples in 1973, He earned an MS in microbiology, and works as a medical sales executive. He has coached Staples wrestling, PAL football, baseball and basketball. In Westport, he has worked for the preservation of Bedford Elementary School (now Town Hall), Cockenoe Island and open space. 

Podcasts A-Plenty

Today is Podcast Day at the Westport Library.

Chip Stephens

At noon, yours truly introduces “06880: The Podcast.” Once a month, I’ll chat with an intriguing Westporter. We’ll talk about life in this wild, wacky, wonderful place we call home. Today’s guest is Chip Stephens: native Westporter, longtime Planning and Zoning Commission member, civic volunteer, and great raconteur.

Then at 6 p.m., Lindsay Czarniak and Marysol Castro chat for the weekly Persona podcast.

Lindsay Czarniak

Czarniak was the first anchor to serve as solo host for ESPN’s SportsCenter. She’s now a studio host for Fox Sports’ NASCAR coverage, and a sideline reporter on NFL games.

Castro is the in-stadium voice of the New York Mets, the first Latina in that role for a Major League Baseball team. She has been a weather anchor on “Good Morning America,” and “The Early Show,” as well as a reporter on ESPN.

Marysol Castro

Both podcasts will be available later in a variety of formats, including the library website and its social media. The Persona app can be downloaded wherever you get your podcasts.

The public is invited to both events, at the Library Forum.

 

[UPDATE] Remembering Barbara Stephens

Services for Barbara Stephens are set for this Thursday (December 19), 10 a.m. at Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. Chip Stephens writes:

Barbara Stephens left us this morning in body, but not in spirit.

Her family all made it in time to say goodbye. She died peacefully in her sleep, in her bed, in her home.

It was 59 years ago this month that she moved to Lone Pine Lane with her late husband, Ron, and 3 young children: Chip, Kevin and Donna. (Dee Dee arrived later).

Barbara Stephens with her son Chip, and grandchildren Dean and Bryn.

Barbara’s first job as a Westport mom was chief cook and bottle washer, Compo Beach summer lover, and kid taxi driver (a popular, common and very underpaid occupation in the 1960s).

She moved on to bigger things as a teller and manager at the old Westport Bank & Trust, then as a legal assistant at the law firm of Laux and Grant.

She loved local sports, particularly watching her kids play baseball, softball and Pop Warner football. Barbara was a very passionate mom at Staples football and wrestling matches. Her most prized award — one she often boasted about — was presented at a wrestling banquet by Coach Saul Pollack: The Loudest Fan Award.

Barbara was an active volunteer with Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, the Westport Republican Party, and at Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopalian Church.

She loved trips to Maine, sitting by the lake in Readfield. Her favorite picture was taken this past July on her 84th birthday. She sat on the deck of the Maine house overlooking Torsey Pond on a glorious summer day, watching the Yankees streaming on TV, listening to the resident loons.

Barbara Stephens, watching the Yankees by the lake in Maine.

Soon after her birthday she took ill. After a month in rehab she moved back to Lone Pine as a hospice patient. She gained strength and thrived in her last months with 2 more visits to Maine, seeing her great-grandchildren baptized, and enjoying visits and texts from her 9 grandchildren.

Barbara visited Compo last Monday, and took a grand ride around town before falling ill and passing away late Friday night. Her family was by her side.

Barbara Stephens was a true Westporter. She will be remembered by many whose lives she touched.

The family has asked that donations in her name be sent to support her favorite blog, which was her great source of joy and favorite online local news: “06880” (click here for details).

Barbara Stephens with her first grandchild, Charlie, and first great-granchild, Charlie Jr.

Signing Off On The ’19 Election

As election season heats up, Planning & Zoning Commission member Chip Stephens sent this email to all political parties in town: Democrats, Republicans, Save Westport Now and the Coalition for Westport.

“Let’s see if it works,” he says hopefully.

As P & Z enforcement officers, Al Gratrix and I have worked hard to keep illegal signs at bay. We try our best to keep legal signs, like campaign signs, in proper and legal places, and hope to keep campaign signs away from restricted areas.

Here are the simple rules we hope all will respect:

  • Please do not place where signs will block traffic views
  • Do not place within parks or beaches
  • Schools are restricted, but some do not enforce; placement is at your risk
  • Do not place on state or interstate roads (during the past few years, the state has removed these signs weekly)
  • Try not to trash the public-sponsored gardens
  • Try to limit 1 sign per intersection
  • Finally, try to practice civil signage: Don’t place your sign directly on another’s sign. Instead, offset your sign, or move it a few feet away.

NOTE : P & Z will not remove campaign signs. Please don’t call the office; it was not us.

Every year, a few people who don’t like signs or are just bad apples take signs down

Look around where a missing sign was. Often you will find it lying nearby. If state crews removed the sign, you may find it in the sand shed in the state truck property across from Sherwood Diner. (You are allowed to reclaim your signs if they are there.)

Please use common sense, as if it was your property. It is your town, so please try to follow the rules.

Thanks, and good luck to all,

Meanwhile, alert “06880” reader — and Westport voter — Matthew Murray writes:

So who’s Joe?

(Photo/Matthew Murray)

I can’t tell whether he’s a Republican, Democrat or from Mars. It has me intrigued, but I’m not going to vote for him.

He is also quite prolific with his sign placement — though every corner is a bit much.

Name That Lot!

You may have heard the name Sigrid Schultz.

A pioneering female war correspondent, broadcaster and author who risked her life to expose Nazi secrets to the world, she hid her Jewish heritage from the likes of Hitler, Goering and Goebbels, whom she loathed but entertained in her Berlin home for the sole purpose of extracting information.

Sigrid Schultz

After Schultz and her mother fled Germany, they bought a house and barn at 35 Elm Street. When Sigrid died in 1980, the town demolished her home to expand the Baldwin parking lot.

This famous woman has remained largely unknown in her adopted hometown. But that may change soon, if a Downtown Plan Implementation Committee recommendation to name the new Elm Street parking lot — the one next to Bedford Square, created by the demolition of Villa del Sol directly opposite the Baldwin lot — is approved by the Board of Selectmen, acting as the town’s Traffic Authority.

Then again, it may not be named the Sigrid Schultz Parking Lot.

DPIC member Dewey Loselle suggested celebrating former Public Works head Steve Edwards. The longtime but low-key director nixed that idea.

Another suggestion was to honor the residents of 22 1/2 Main Street — the African American boardinghouse that went up in flames (probably arson) nearly 70 years ago. The location was adjacent to the new parking lot.

It might be tough coming up with an appropriate name — “22 1/2 Main Street lot” would be too confusing for the Elm Street address.

But that hasn’t hasn’t stopped one Westporter from taking a second look.

Chip Stephens grew up here. As a Planning & Zoning Commission member, he attends DPIC meetings. He wants to make sure the name of the new lot reflects town sentiment — not simply the will of one committee.

Pete Wassell

Perhaps, he says, the lot should be named after the Wassell brothers. Harry, Bud and Pete were all killed within 15 months of each other, during World War II.

Or, Stephens says, maybe there are other Westporters we should consider.

So let’s have a townwide discussion, right here on “06880.” Click “Comments” to offer suggestions, and debate the ideas.

Sure, it’s only a parking lot. But, as Stephens notes, “it will be there forever.”

FUN FACTS: So who is this Baldwin that the other Elm Street lot is named for? Herb Baldwin — a former first selectman. 

And on the other side of Main Street, Parker Harding Plaza is named for co-sponsors Emerson Parker and Evan Harding. Fortunately — considering the state of that parking lot — everyone has forgotten those two.

36 Elm Street was demolished in January, to make room for a new parking lot next to Bedford Square. (Photo/Jen Berniker)

 

P&Z Signs Off: The Sequel

I was busy this afternoon, posting a story about the Planning & Zoning Department’s decision to remove all illegal signs from town-owned property.

Chip Stephens and Al Gratrix were busy too.

They did the actual removal.

The P&Z Commissioners — call them the “De-Signers” — uprooted several dozen offending placards, all over town. Many were in otherwise handsome traffic islands and gardens, like those at the eastern end of the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Post Road bridge. (Regulations concerning such signs have been in place since at least 2002.)

A small bit of Chip Stephens and Al Gratrix’s haul.

They’re not finished.

Every illegal sign — even those for beloved institutions like the Westport Library book sale — is fair game, Chip says.

(Photos/Chip Stephens)

Westport’s streetscape is changing. The signs are everywhere.

 

Aquarion Water Towers: P&Z Member Responds

On Monday, Chip Stephens saw an “06880” post announcing that 1st selectman candidates Jim Marpe and Melissa Kane would meet with North Avenue residents concerned about Aquarion’s plan to build 2 water tanks on North Avenue.

As he read it, the Planning & Zoning Commission member saw red.

In an email to “06880,” Stephens responds:

The North Avenue water tanks are not a campaign issue. To say they are shows little respect for the hard work to date addressing needs and concerns, and no attention to facts.

The P&Z spent 4 months reviewing and working on this. We came to our conclusion based on facts from Aquarion, neighbors and public safety officials. For example:

The current steel tank dates back to the 1950s. That was before Staples High School was built on North Avenue, back when we hosted Nike missiles in town, and before many large housing developments — including the the current tank’s neighbors — were built. Homes are now bigger, and there are  more of them. Multifamily housing complexes did not exist then. They do now, and they are increasing.

The current tank is way past its freshness date. Steel rusts, and degrades. The tank needs to be replaced. That is a given.

The Aquarion water tank, during recent pump station construction.

As part of a gravity feed system,, the tank needs to be at its current elevation or higher. Different locations, including Bayberry or Bedford Middle School, were looked at. But that would entail new piping, and other neighbors being offended.

All the numbers calculated in the needed capacity were scrutinized, revised, reviewed and argued over. The fire chief, water experts and all other experts agreed that with Westport’s growth and larger schools, businesses and multi-family complexes, and the safety of Westport, these volumes of water must be served.

Westport’s water come from Fairfield. The needs are ours. Norwalk has its own water authority, not linked to Aquarion. Weston has no public water (which is scary, with failing wells and tainted quality).

Any decision by P&Z could be overturned by the state utility regulators, and most likely would have been if the application was denied. Water utilities are required to work with towns, but ultimately have broad power to locate their resources. Phone, electricity, rail all do what they want, with no requirement to listed to affected neighbors (though sometimes they do).

The neighbors have valid and pressing concerns. They got much attention from Aquarion, with multiple meetings. Many of their issues were heard. Not all were fully addressed — but Aquarion did try to accommodate higher plantings, color of tanks, very slight lowering of height, and promises to consider traffic and noise better than the previous pump project.

Remember, this is a public utility. Relocation, reworking and/or rebuilding the distribution system pipes and pumps — or any other major change — would involve major costs. These would be carried by Westport public water users, resulting in significantly higher water bills. And good luck finding that location with high enough elevation, and where all neighbors welcome the tanks with love and understanding for the greater good.

P&Z and local officials tried to hard to do our best, working with the parties. Regulatory, financial and logistical issues are hard to fight. And when it comes to the water system, there is no way to alter the laws of gravity and physics.

Stephens, Steinberg Snipe Over Affordable Housing

Recently, the Connecticut General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to loosen the restrictions of 8-30g — the state’s affordable housing standards, which incentivize municipalities to make 10 percent of their housing stock be “affordable.”

(Westport has a long history with 8-30g. Some affordable housing units here were built before the 1990 date on which state standards are based. Developers have proposed large buildings on small lots, marking a few units as “affordable.” Some observers have called those proposals “blackmail.” Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission has denied several such proposals already. They approved one, on Post Road East.)

A proposed 4-story rental property at 1177 Post Road East.

The vote — 30-6 in the Senate, 116-33 in the House — makes it easier for towns and cities to reach “moratoriums,” and in some cases increases those moratoriums beyond the previous 4 years. (For an in-depth analysis of the measure from CTMirror, via WestportNow, click here.)

Governor Dannel Malloy vetoed the bill. The Senate overrode the veto by the closest 2/3 margin possible — 24-12. The House overrode it 101-47.

Local reaction was swift.

Westport Representative Jonathan Steinberg said: “I’m going to tell people in my town, ‘Put up or shut up.’ Build the units. Get to the moratorium. Stay on that path.”

That infuriated P&Z member Chip Stephens.

He emailed an “open letter” to Steinberg:

We got your message.

How dare you grandstand and throw your fellow town officials and residents under the bus last night:

“Steinberg said he plans to take an unwavering message to his town’s leaders — act.

“As far as I’m concerned, I’m going to tell people in my town, ‘Put up or shut up. Build the units. Get to the moratorium. Stay on that path,’” Steinberg said. Only after they have been given that chance, he said, can leaders “talk about whether or not 8-30g is working.””

I suggest you consider that your town officials have worked long and hard on affordable housing, both 8-30g qualifying, and more importantly quality affordable housing as Hales Court, Sasco Creek, Canal Park and other IHZ and multifamily components.

Canal Park offers affordable housing for seniors, near downtown. Because it was built before 1990, it does not count for points under 8-30g standards.

In passing the newest 8-30g complex on Post Road East we will have our first moratorium application ready as soon as the developer completes the project and gets his CO.

Next time you crawl up on that stump and blow hot air directed at your town, think hard before letting your common sense filter down hurling inflammatory and demeaning comments at Westport. We hear and we will remember.

Steinberg fired back:

I have fought for 7 years to amend 8-30g to make it easier for Westport to achieve a moratorium, while you have done very little.

How dare you lecture me on this statute when all I stated that it’s now on towns to take advantage of this new opportunity to get to a moratorium and avoid developer predation.

You have real gall calling me out, given your abject failure as a Commissioner representing Westport’s interests.

I’m responsible for giving you a tool to protect our town. Shut up and get it done.

Like the 8-30 g/affordable housing debate, this political dialogue will continue.

State Representative Jonathan Steinberg (left) and Westport Planning & Zoning commissioner Chip Stephens.

Daybreak’s Last Day

Easter and Passover are coming. Alert “06880” reader — and Staples High School Class of 1973 grad — Chip Stephens is thinking about those holidays, and the flowers associated with them:

Back in the 1960s there were many greenhouses — Fillow (on Clinton Avenue), Daybreak (on East Main Street), Parsell’s (now the new “Geiger” retail and residential complex), and the Flower Farm (South Turkey Hill, now Flower Farm Road).

Daybreak Nurseries, back in the day.

They all grew their own flowers. And they all had big annual flower displays.

The community event — combining art, nature, retail and people of all ages — was a much-anticipated treat for my family. I remember walking through those hot, humid greenhouses, viewing the previews of spring flowers and the summer that would follow.

After church — usually Palm Sunday — we drove to every florist. Each greenhouse was filled with geraniums (soon to be handed out at churches to kids), Easter lilies, hyacinths and many other fragrant flowers.

Families wandered through the greenhouse labyrinths, enjoying coffee, donuts and treats provided by the owners. It was a wonder walk, heightened by displays like Daybreak’s waterfalls.

Today the last of those great greenhouses — Daybreak — is being carted away to the dump.

The last of Daybreak Nursery gets carted away, earlier today.

With the arrival of spring, I’m considering the loss of all those greenhouses, and their replacement by McMansions. How do we balance that, keeping the character of Westport that many enjoyed growing up, and many others move here for?

Let’s welcome both spring and the new, while incorporating and saving the treasures and memories of Westport that remain.

A Modest Traffic Proposal

News that culvert work will close Compo Road North between Cross Highway and Main Street beginning Monday — for 30 days* — has raised the specter of even-longer-than-usual delays from Coffee An’ to the take-your-life-in-your-hands Main Street/Weston Road/Easton Road intersection. And, of course, on side streets.

Alert “06880” Westporter Chip Stephens has a simple, why-didn’t-I-think-of-that?! solution:

Open Cross Highway to 2-way traffic, from North Compo to Main Street.

This short stretch of Cross Highway is now one-way. Temporarily opening it to two-way traffic could ease construction-related delays.

This short stretch of Cross Highway is now one-way. Temporarily opening it to two-way traffic could ease construction-related delays.

It’s not unheard of. Back when Chip — a 1973 Staples High School graduate — was a kid, traffic flowed both ways there. Now it’s eastbound only.

The temporary fix would not solve all of Westport’s traffic woes.

But it couldn’t hurt.

*Official estimate. If you believe that, I have a North Avenue Bridge to sell you.