Tag Archives: Cockenoe Island

The Saugatuck: A Cooperative Thrives On Bridge Street

Westport does not have a nickname. But if we did, we might be called “The Land of Lawsuits.”

Westporters like to sue. The town won a lawsuit to prohibit construction of a nuclear power plant on Cockenoe Island (yay!). Neighbors lost a suit to prohibit construction of the Compo Beach playground (yay!).

Neighbors also threatened to prohibit Positano restaurant from putting a few tables on an outdoor patio near Old Mill Beach. As a result, the restaurant moved. A private home now rises in its place (boo!).

Lost in the mists of time is another lawsuit. In 1985, 64 residents of Bridge Street and nearby roads sued to prevent the conversion of what was then Saugatuck Elementary School into multi-unit housing.

Three years later, a settlement was reached. The agreement limited the project to 36 owner-occupied, age-restricted units.

(Photo courtesy of SmartMLS Inc.)

Today, The Saugatuck is a true success story. One of Westport’s most affordable residences lies a short walk from thriving Saugatuck Center and train station, and not much further from Compo Beach.

The attractively renovated red brick building graces Bridge Street between South Compo and Imperial Avenue.

Residents have formed a tight-knit, active community. It’s hard to imagine the neighborhood without it, in fact.

None of that could have been predicted in 1984. Westport’s school population was declining. Burr Farms Elementary was torn down. Hillspoint Elementary turned into daycare. Bedford El became Town Hall. Greens Farms Elementary School housed the Westport Arts Center.

When the lawsuit was settled, plans were drawn up to convert the school that generations of Saugatuck residents attended. It dated back to the early 20th century, when the original wooden building was called the Bridge Street School.

It took several years, but 17 1-bedroom and 19 2-bedroom apartments were built in what were once classrooms, the library and auditorium. Because Saugatuck had been a classic elementary school, each unit features large windows and high ceilings.

Units at The Saugatuck feature large windows.

Those surroundings are familiar to at least one current resident — and several others in the past. They attended Saugatuck El as kids. Living there now is very different — but also quite familiar.

Joe Veno has lived in The Saugatuck for more than 20 years. As a youngster, he walked to the school from his Franklin Street home. He played basketball in the playground — now a parking lot — and baseball in what is now a quiet back yard.

The Saugatuck is a cooperative. The Town of Westport owns the land, and holds a 99-year lease on the property. But the Cooperative owns the building.

Members must be at last 62 years old (at least one, in the case of married couples), able to live independently, and their income must be below the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority’s guidelines for homeowners at 80% of area median income. Importantly, there are no limits or restrictions on assets.

To ensure affordability, the resale price is linked to the average increase in income for individuals living in the area.

Three units are currently for sale. A 2-bedroom, 1 bath apartment is listed at $222,282; 2 1-bedroom units have listing prices of $179,800 and $168,300. (Inquiries can be directed to the property manager: 203-226-1570.)

Those are far below other Westport prices, because of the original affordable housing prices implemented in the 1990s, and the strict resale cap/formula that limits how high prices can climb.

A view of The Saugatuck’s back yard.

A cooperative’s rules are are more stringent than in a condo, particularly in areas like rentals. Saugatuck units must be their owner’s primary residence.

One of the great perks of The Saugatuck is Shaun Cullen, a part-time super.

Residents include longtime Westporters who have downsized, and no longer want the responsibilities of a home and yard.

Other residents have moved to The Saugatuck from elsewhere, to be close to their children and grandchildren in Westport.

Most Saugatuck residents are retired, from careers including Wall Street, Madison Avenue, refuse collection and tile installation. At least 2 — an accountant and a contractor — are currently working.

The vibe is friendly. Neighbors chat easily, in the community room, mail room and hallways.

The cooperative is governed by an executive board. They and other residents organize a variety of activities: movie nights, supper at the beach, a jazz keyboardist and Labor Day picnic.

A recent party in the community room.

It’s hard to imagine Westport today without the Compo Beach playground — or to visualize the town, had a nuclear power plant been built on Cockenoe.

It’s just as hard to imagine what Bridge Street would be like without The Saugatuck. How great that the neighbors who sued more than 30 years ago cooperated in a settlement that led to a co-op.

FUN FACTS: 1) During the Depression, the WPA commissioned Westport artist Robert Lambdin to paint a 7-foot high, 20-foot long mural: “Pageant of Juvenile Literature.” For years, it hung just inside the main entrance to Saugatuck Elementary School.

In 1992, when the town finally began to convert the old Saugatuck El to senior housing, the mural was slated for demolition.

A group of art-lovers — including Mollie Donovan, Eve Potts and Judy Gault Sterling — set out to save the work. Within a month they raised $40,000. That was enough to remove the mural, conserve it, and reinstall it at its new home: The Westport Library. 

It stayed there for more than 2 decades. When the transformation project was announced, and a suitable spot could not be found for the work, Westport arts curator Kathy Motes Bennewitz and members of the Westport Public Art Collection searched for a large wall, with plenty of foot traffic.

They — with architect Scott  Springer — found it, at Staples High School. Now, the enormous, eye-catching mural hangs proudly near the auditorium lobby, just a few feet from the Staples library.

2) When Saugatuck was an elementary school, Pete Seeger — at the time, blacklisted as a folk singer — performed on its auditorium stage. 

Pic Of The Day #828

Yesterday’s rainbow, as seen from Bartaco … (Photo/Erik Ostbye)

… and the Levitt Pavilion, for the great concert by Our Native Daughters … (Photo/Claire Bangser)

… and over Cockenoe Island (Photo/Sharon Lipper)

Pics Of The Day #819

One view of Cockenoe Island …

… and another. (Photos/William Weiss)

Pic Of The Day #806

Into the Cockenoe water! (Photo/Heidi List Murphy)

Pic Of The Day #792

Cockenoe Island, from Daryl Hawk’s boat. (Photo/Miggs Burroughs)

Pic Of The Day #735

Compo by drone: beach, cannons, jetty, with Cockenoe Island in the distance. (Photo/John Videler for Videler Photography)

Pic Of The Day #586

Cockenoe Island, from Compo Beach (Photo/Michael Tomashefsky)

36,000 Feet

The other day, Sean van Beever was flying here from Florida, via Bradley Airport Hartford.

Suddenly, the clouds broke. The 3rd-generation Westporter looked out his window. At that very moment, he noticed the unmistakable outlines of Cockenoe Island, Compo Beach, Old Mill and the Sherwood Mill Pond.

Quickly, he pulled out his phone. The result is a remarkable photo, from 36,000 feet in the sky.

(Photo/Seth van Beever)

A Night On Cockenoe Island

The other day, alert — and adventurous — “06880” reader Seth Schachter headed out to Cockenoe Island. 

He’d been there often. This time though, he camped out overnight.

The experience was so special, he offered to share it with “06880” readers. He writes:

A few weeks earlier, I had reserved our camping location through the town Conservation Department. There are only 4 spots available. A shout-out to Emily Wadsworth, who was so friendly and helpful at Town Hall.

A Westport friend and I loaded up our kayaks. It was Saturday afternoon, and we headed to the state boat ramp underneath I-95.

And they’re off!

My friend had done this once before. His lightweight camping and cooking gear all came in handy.

After our 45-minute paddle, we checked in at the “front desk” (aka unloaded our kayak at the beach), and set up camp.

Home for the night.

We then enjoyed the large “swimming pool” in our back yard, and the incredible views and sounds that surrounded us.

The “yard.”

The sunset; the constant sounds of wildlife (Cockenoe is a nesting ground and habitat for threatened and endangered birds); the almost full moon; the morning sunrise — it was all amazing.

(We did not get to see a humpback whale, unfortunately!)

Sunset on Cockenoe.

The island was beautiful. It was a great time. That Cockenoe could have housed a nuclear power plant — so close to Compo Beach — is hard to fathom. The hard-fought, successful lobbying by Westporters in the late 1960s is very much appreciated.

Driftwood at night.

I hope these photos help recap some of the magic that enveloped us on this 1-night journey so close to mainland Westport.

I look forward to my next overnight experience on Cockenoe. If the opportunity presents itself, others should do the same!

The view in the morning. (Photos/Seth Schachter)

A map of Cockenoe Island on the Town of Westport website shows the 4 reservable campsite.. Numbers 2, 3 and 4 all point toward Compo Beach and the Westport shoreline.

Whale’s Tails

This morning’s sighting of a humpback whale in Long Island Sound between Compo Beach and Cockenoe Island has drawn plenty of attention. (Click here  for a great WestportNow video.)

It also brought this email from alert “06880” reader and RTM member Wendy Batteau. She writes:

In another slice of my life, I work with the Maritime Aquarium (and also the Ocean Alliance). Regarding the whale, I received the following email from folks at the Aquarium:

Whales fall under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. There are federal restrictions on how closely you are allowed to approach them.

We do not want everyone in Fairfield and New Haven Counties with a boat to go chasing after this animal. We do not want boaters hurt, and we do not want this whale to be hurt.

One of the 3 humpbacks that turned up in the Sound 2 years ago was killed “by blunt force trauma,” probably in a collision with a sailboat.

If someone has videos or photos, please forward the images to Dave Hudson, John Lenzycki and Dave Sigworth: jlenzycki@maritimeaquarium.org; 
dhudson@maritimeaquarium.org;  dsigworth@maritimeaquarium.org.

Photos or video of the underside of the whale’s tail would be especially helpful. The pattern on the underside of every humpback’s tail is unique, and seeing it may help to identify the whale.

This is not the same whale spotted this morning off the coast of Compo. It is, however, a humpback whale.