Tag Archives: Coalition for Westport

“Downtown Future” Forum Set

It’s a hot Westport topic, right alongside the future of Coleytown Middle School, bathrooms at South Beach, and ospreys.

“What’s up with downtown?” we ask.

We jabber about Main Street vacancies, online shopping, high rents and the new Norwalk mall.

We pine for the old mom-and-pop shops — or snort that those days are long gone.

Those were the days. Right?

The Coalition for Westport discusses that too. Members talk about attracting retailers like grocery and hardware stores, book shops and pharmacies; about 2nd-floor apartments; about a movie theater, cafes and other attractions that draw nighttime crowds.

To get a discussion going, the Coalition is sponsoring a forum. “Let’s Talk About Downtown and the  Future of Main Street” is set for next Monday (May 13, 7 p.m., 24 Elm Street — in Bedford Square, next to HSBC Bank 56 Church Lane, the Visual Brand office).

Panelists include Joseph McGee, Business Council of Fairfield County vice president for public policy and programs; David Kooris, deputy commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, and a representative of the downtown business community.

All Westporters — and stakeholders — are invited.

The event is free.

So is the parking.

[OPINION] Coalition For Westport Praises Saugatuck Committee Leaders

Alert “06880” reader — and co-chair of Coalition for Westport — Ken Bernhard writes:

As a member of the local political party Coalition For Westport, which focuses on planning and zoning issues, I attended today’s (the last) meeting of the Saugatuck Transit Oriented Design Master Plan Steering Committee.

The Committee was established 14 months ago by First Selectman Jim Marpe to submit a report to the state regarding proposals for the future of the 68 acres called Saugatuck. Having followed the progress of the Committee, I expected there to be some heated exchanges as the final summary was proposed for review and comment.

In earlier meetings, strong personalities had articulated remarkably divergent opinions. Many observers feared that an agreement was unlikely.

For over a year, a committee has discussed the redevelopment of Saugatuck.

To the rescue — after what appeared to be a rocky beginning from one member who wanted to raise anew conflict issues — came the committee’s leadership. Thereafter, with the always steady guidance and direction of the co-chairs (Planning and Zoning director Mary Young and volunteer Craig Schiavone), the meeting continued with the difficult chore of building consensus for the wording of a general summary of goals, discussions, recommendations and findings.

At the end, the committee was successful, and authorized the co-chairs to proceed.

It is important to note that the one consistent variable throughout these past months has been the professionalism of Mary Young and Craig Schiavone.

On more occasions than can be counted, they were patient when being challenged by emotional outbursts from both committee participants and members of the public. They were fair and objective while overseeing the discussions of the stakeholders including neighborhood residents, commercial property owners, commuters, retailers, and a multitude of opinionated citizens promoting different visions for the area’s future.

From the air, Saugatuck looks quiet.

In the end, they brought the proverbial “herd of cats” to a successful outcome, with most everyone pleased with the collaborative effort. It was a remarkable achievement, and both Mary and Craig deserve great credit for a job well done.

The Coalition For Westport congratulates the Saugatuck Committee on completing its work in a timely fashion. Further, the Coalition hopes that the Planning and Zoning Commission will now begin the task of changing its regulations to accommodate efforts to improve parking, traffic control, sidewalks, streetscapes and more.

Change is inevitable.  The question is whether the community will participate in, and lead, those changes.

Coalition: Let’s Notice P&Z Proposals

The North Avenue water tanks. The Daybreak property. The excavation behind Compo Acres Shopping Center.

All 3 proposals — and many others — were legally noticed by Westport’s Planning and Zoning Commission.

But not many Westporters read the teeny-tiny, buried-in-the-back legals in newspapers like the Norwalk Hour.

Or subscribe to email notifications from the town.

Or open the letters that get sent to the nearest neighbors.

Some neighbors were surprised by excavation work done in 2014 behind Compo Acres Shopping Center.

The P&Z knows this is an issue. They’re exploring additional ways to spread the word about upcoming applications.

The Coalition for Westport hopes to push them along.

The ad hoc, town development-focused group has filed a proposed text amendment with the P&Z. It would require posting a physical sign on any property subject to upcoming debate. It would be similar to the signs erected by restaurant owners when they request a liquor permit.

The P&Z will discuss the Coalition’s idea on February 1, at Town Hall.

You’re reading about it here because it’s not yet law. Also, because you don’t read the Hour. 

Plus, there’s no property on which to put a sign about it.

Coalition For Westport: Study Saugatuck Carefully!

Recently, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe appointed a Saugatuck Transit Oriented Development Steering Committee. The group is charged with developing a master plan for that ever-changing retail/restaurant/residential area.

The Coalition for Westport — a non-partisan group originally formed to seek election to the Planning & Zoning Commission — commended Marpe for establishing the committee, then sent this note to co-chair Mary Young:

The time is right for the Saugatuck area to be carefully studied. It is attractive to residents, visitors and developers for a variety of reasons: It is the historical root of Westport; it provides attractive access to the river; it is a destination for foodies and perhaps most importantly, it is a primary transit hub.

What is more, many of the buildings in the area defined as Saugatuck in the Town Plan of Conservation and Development retain features of their original design and construction, despite having been repurposed.

In the 1920s, Esposito's gas station stood on Charles Street. Today it's Tarry Lodge.

In the 1920s, Esposito’s gas station stood on Charles Street. Today it’s Tarry Lodge.

The challenge for land use agencies and planners is a classic balancing act: What shall be saved and what replaced? Do we envision the area as a 2nd downtown? Or, as seems lost likely and most prudent, do we encourage/require a mix of controlled residential (including multi-family and affordable housing within walking distance to the train station) and commercial development which respects the scale and character of the neighborhood?

The Coalition believes that Saugatuck should retain its historical heritage and small town character. Therefore we support an expanded and enhanced neighborhood concept rather than the idea of a 2nd downtown. We come down squarely in favor of a mixed-use plan favoring residential expansion and enhanced essential services — local businesses, to cater to the requirements of the residential population that will need a pharmacy, hardware store, market and other essential services not now present in the area, which can be provided in a “mom and pop” form without competing with Main Street retail. We also foresee new retail and dining services that would attract additional visitors.

One area that can and should be developed for those types of commercial uses is Railroad Place. This can be done without sacrificing the architectural features or facades at the easterly end of the street which are deemed worth preserving. A drop-off lane could also be created for the station.

The Coalition recommends that the remainder of the square block (with the possible exception of the office building) be devoted to a mix of housing types — 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom apartments and townhouses, both rental and condos — with adequate parking and passive open space. An appropriate percentage should be truly affordable.

Land Tech has already developed plans for a mixed-use development at a new Railroad Place. Mario's is, of course, now Harvest restaurant.

LandTech has already developed plans for a mixed-use development at a new Railroad Place. Mario’s is, of course, now Harvest restaurant.

To address the ever-present need for additional railroad parking, we urge adoption of a “Transit District” zoning regulation that provides an incentive to private developers to create parking to be administered by the town, in exchange for increased (but controlled) development density calculated in accordance with a regulatory formula.

Saugatuck residents will need relief from additional vehicular traffic. Therefore both additional visitor and commuter parking should be created — most efficiently at, above or below grade in the ordinary course of construction.

The Coalition would also support traffic flow rerouting plans that would alleviate congestion without any major construction or disruption for residents.

We encourage the new Saugatuck Steering Committee and P&Z to adopt a plan that implements these thoughts, and to coordinate efforts to arrive at a consensus to be formalized in the 2017 Town Plan of Conservation and Development.

Coalition For Westport: P&Z Can’t “Reject Progress”

Denise Torve — chair of the Coalition for Westport — weighs in on the Planning & Zoning Commission’s 6-1 defeat of a proposal to build senior housing on the Baron’s South property. Saying the P&Z “may have nailed the coffin lid on the subject of senior housing,” she writes:

In the 2013 campaign, the Coalition spoke often of an active, not static vision for Westport that considered the needs now and in the future, of all Westporters. Instead we have a commission that seems bent on obstruction. It is comprised for the most part of individuals who, in spite of their explanations to the contrary, are dedicated to the reactionary philosophy that change is bad and Westport must be “preserved” in its original state. The rejected proposal for senior housing and recreational facilities on town-owned land would have been a plus for seniors, a positive motivation for the developer and brought significant revenues to the Town.

The public response of P&Z commissioner David Lessing, who was the sole vote in favor of the text amendment, made for interesting reading. It’s also déjà vu. Lessing’s views mirror CFW’s platform of last year’s campaign. Indeed, the Coalition was founded on the idea that Westport was in dire need of a Planning & Zoning Commission that would proactively plan for the future. The Coalition issued an urgent call for a P&Z that provides a “framework for planned and controlled growth.”

The senior housing project was first proposed 6 years ago by then-First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, and strongly supported by our current First Selectman, Jim Marpe. In order to save this project the P&Z must be willing to enter into discussion and dialogue with the Selectman’s Office, the Board of Finance and other officials. Otherwise, 6 sitting P&Z commissioners will have undermined 6 years of work and the hopes of many Westport seniors.

We support the Selectman. We echo his thoughts on the subject and call for efforts to begin immediately to craft a solution. If the best use of Baron’s South is a facility for people to use, enjoy and remain in Westport, we as a community must resolve to make it happen.  As it stands we have no new facilities for a significant segment of our population, and we have no new revenue. So much to gain and so little achieved.

An artist's rendering of the now-rejected senior housing complex on Baron's South.

An artist’s rendering of the now-rejected senior housing complex on Baron’s South.

The Coalition stands for a P&Z that is engaged, and against one that is merely reactive and dedicated to preserving Westport in a fossilized state. Yes, we live in a town with a unique character. Yes, that character should be preserved. But no, that does not mean we should reject progress, improvements and benefits that inure to various segments of our population and to the town as a whole. Our elected officials must keep an eye to the future, and plan for the needs of both our current and future residents. Westport must remain attractive for us and to generations that follow.

Coalition for WestportThe Coalition stands for open discussion, free of partisanship about projects that affect the quality of life and value to Westport. We reject intra-agency back-biting and competitiveness. We reject motivations that diverge from anything but the best interests of the Town and its residents. In the 2013 campaign CFW referred often to the consequences that would ensue from a 7-member P&Z, all of whom were endorsed by the one party that is opposed to new development. Westport missed an opportunity last year to have a P&Z comprised of a number of non-partisan members – Republicans, Democrats, Independents. Hopefully, this will be rectified in the next election.

With the downtown development project moving swiftly along, ably led by Melissa Kane of the Downtown Steering Committee, the P&Z must take a proactive role and listen to the entire community and not focus on the views of one group. The Downtown project cannot follow in the path of Baron’s South.  Westporters deserve more from our elected officials.

New Party Time In Westport

Though Election Day is far away — right now, it’s far more important to make it to spring — politics is always in season.

In Westport, the news is a new political party. The Coalition for Westport just became our town’s 4th official party, joining Democrats, Republicans and Save Westport Now.

Coalition for WestportThe party focuses on “activities that impact on downtown improvements,” Baron’s South, the Compo Beach Site Improvement committee, the proposed library and Westport Arts Center projects, and beautification efforts throughout the community, plus transportation issues that relate to each of those.

Chairman Mike Nayor and CFW member Denise Torve attended the 1st Downtown Steering Committee meeting as observers, and spoke. They’ll also attend Planning and Zoning Commission meetings, and report back to the CFW.

The party was formed when “it became apparent that dissatisfaction existed with the level of progress being undertaken in town,” Torve says. “Projects were discussed for years, and nothing happened.” She was a member of the Downtown Merchants Association from 2001-04, and says many of the ideas talked about then are still debated.

Downtown Westport is one focus of the new political party.

Downtown Westport is one focus of the new political party.

“There was also a concern that  Westport would go the way of over-development, and the path chosen seemed to be that of least resistance: do nothing,” Torve adds.

“No one in the Coalition favors large-scale development. We advocate for growth that respects the past and embraces the future.

“We plan to voice support or opposition when appropriate. In the long term, we would like to see a P&Z that plans as much as it zones. We support a P&Z that provides a framework for planned and controlled growth, one that can guide developers and residents. We have a role to play with respect to the continued evolution of our town, and we plan to do so.”

Partying With The CWP

Over 40 Westporters are planning Westport’s next party.

Before you get too excited, though: It’s a political party, not a kegger.

The group — including Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters — has filed papers in Hartford for official recognition. The name of the party is Coalition for Westport.

Michael Nayor

Michael Nayor

Former Planning and Zoning Commission member David Press, and former P&Z alternate and RTM member Michael Nayor, lead the process.

They believe that town government — particularly the P&Z — is “more focused on preservation than looking forward,” says Nayor, an attorney and Westport resident since 1977.

Though the coalition “values the past, and all the wonderful things about Westport, we can’t ignore enhancing and improving what we have,” he adds.

Despite several studies, and ongoing work by the Downtown 2020 committee, Nayor says “no one is taking the ball and running with it. The town has to be proactive, not just reactive, when something comes before the P&Z.”

Asked for specific examples of projects the CWP supports or opposes, such as an eldercare facility on Baron’s South, Nayor says, “We don’t have an agenda. We don’t have a stand yet.”

The entrance to the Baron's South property -- one of many Westport planning issues.

The Baron’s South property: one of many Westport planning issues.

Will the new party address issues beyond planning? What about budgets?

“Save Westport Now” — another Westport party — “focuses solely on planning and zoning,” Nayor counters. “We will focus on that too. But I think we have a more positive view of improving and enhancing the facilities here. I’m aware of what Save Westport Now opposes. I don’t really know what they favor.”

So what does the CWP favor?

“Give us time,” Nayor asks. “We’re a fledgling organization. Save Westport Now has been around for 30 years. Our primary focus is to support real public dialogue of issues, and make residents more aware of what’s going on.”

An aerial view of downtown Westport. It occupies a small section of town, but looms large in planning debates.

An aerial view of downtown Westport. It occupies a small section of town, but looms large in planning debates.

This fall, the party will run 1 or 2 candidates for the P&Z. If any one receives more than 1% of the vote, the CWP will be allowed to cross-endorse candidates in the next election.

“We’re very excited,” says Nayor. “We hope to be very influential. Town government can’t just react to applications that come in. It has to guide, through planning, where Westport will be 10, 20 years from now. No more kicking the can down the road.”

(For more information on the Coalition for Westport, click here.)