Tag Archives: Danielle Dobin

Cross Street Settlement Reached; Smaller, Safer Housing Set

One of Westport’s thorniest housing controversies has been solved.

A proposed 6-story, 81-unit apartment complex between Lincoln and Cross Streets, off Post Road West will be scaled back to 68 units. It’s been redesigned almost completely, eliminating a section that would tower over homes on Riverside Avenue. Fire safety and parking concerns have been addressed to the satisfaction of Westport’s fire marshal.

And the developer includes 30% affordable housing.

Tonight, after weeks of negotiations between the Planning & Zoning Commission, the developer Cross Street LLC and neighbors, the P&Z voted 5-0 in favor of the settlement. Newly appointed commissioner Patrizia Zucaro abstained.

The settlement substantially lessens the impact on Lincoln Street, just south of Cross Street.

In October 2018, the P&Z unanimously rejected the 81-unit plan. Their concerns included fire access, traffic and historic preservation.

Cross Street LLC appealed. Last July, a Superior Court judge sustained the appeal.

However, discussions between the P&Z, the developer and neighbors — many of whom live in historic properties that are some of the most naturally occurring affordable homes in town, with on-street parking that would have been lost — bore fruit.

The Fire Department is now confident they could access and fight any fires there. The new version eliminates the looming design that would have altered the look of the neighborhood. On-street parking has been saved.

And the 30% affordable units will help Westport toward the state’s 8-30g mandate for increasing that housing stock.

“With this settlement, Westport has not just turned the page but closed the book on all outstanding 8-30g related litigation,” says P&Z chair Danielle Dobin.

“I want to compliment the Lincoln Street and Riverside Avenue neighbors for working collaboratively with the Commission under the most challenging of circumstances; the developer for choosing to redesign this project to be both fire safe and less physically imposing, and my fellow P&Z commissioners who worked together as a team to negotiate an amicable resolution to this litigation.

“The redesigned project will provide mixed income rental apartments within walking distance of schools and downtown, further diversifying housing in a central Westport location.”

[OPINION] Dobin: Consensus Housing Bill Will Move Westport Forward

Westport Planning & Zoning chair Danielle Dobin says:

Yesterday, the Connecticut House passed HB 6107. I’m delighted to report that the bill will have only a positive impact in Westport. Here’s a link: https://www.cga.ct.gov/2021/amd/H/pdf/2021HB-06107-R00HA-AMD.pdf

Highlights

The bill contains language specifically requiring towns to consider the impact of development on the Long Island Sound. This provides additional protection against overdevelopment in Saugatuck and around Main Street.

The bill contains language requiring towns to permit a diversity of housing types, which Westport already does in our zoning code. This will have a real impact in towns across Connecticut that still don’t allow anything other than single family homes.

Westport has added diverse housing in areas like 793 Post Road East. Homes are set back from the Post Road, between residential and retail areas.

I was thrilled to see that the bill creates a blue ribbon commission to look at affordable housing and zoning that’s mostly made up of legislators and various state level commissioners (e.g., Housing, DEEP, Transportation, etc.), as well as representatives from the COGs. Let’s work hard as a community to ensure this group creates something better than 8-30g.

Finally, we have an opportunity to replace 8-30g with a better bill that will incentivize a diversity of housing but not push only one type of housing – oversized apartment complexes – in areas that lack infrastructure, have huge traffic issues or are zoned for single family homes. This is the chance for statewide reform that we’ve been waiting for. I’ll keep everyone posted as opportunities to weigh in on this commission’s work arise.

One important provision of the bill exempts new accessory dwelling units and accessory apartments from counting as part of overall dwelling units for 8-30(g), meaning that permitting ADUs won’t count against Westport’s compliance with the statute.

The bill requires towns to permit ADUs but also provides an opt-out mechanism for towns where these units aren’t the right fit for infrastructure, soils, et.. In Westport, we already permit ADUs in every single family zone so this provision doesn’t impact us.

The bill limits parking requirements to 1 space/studio or one-bedroom or 2 spaces/2-bedroom or above but provides an opt-out.

There’s a requirement for 4 hours of commissioner training per year. There’s no draconian penalty for non-compliance.

More excellent news is that the harmful provisions requiring every town in Connecticut to have the same as of right multifamily zoning without parking around train stations and main streets stayed out of the bill. 

Danielle Dobin, Westport Planning & Zoning Commission chair.

In my opinion this is a 180 degree improvement from the original SB 1024 bill. I’m relieved that Westport can now focus on drafting a strong affordability plan in keeping with our infrastructure, soils, traffic concerns and plans for sustainable development.

Many, many thanks to all of you who have reached out since last summer with your thoughts and especially to those of you (shoutout to Matt Mandell, Jim Marpe and Representative Stephanie Thomas) who testified with me in front of the P&D Committee. Thank you so much Representative Steinberg for ceding me your time to testify against SB 1024. It’s been a long road but common sense prevailed.

I hope you’ll all join me in thanking Representatives Steinberg and Thomas, and Senators Hwang and Haskell for advocating so strongly for thoughtful reform. This is a consensus bill that will move CT forward.

Roundup: Vaccines, Zoning, Schlaet’s Point, Ospreys …

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Not every “06880” reader lives in Westport. Sarathi Roy notes: “New York or New Jersey residents can book COVID vaccine appointments in their home state or in Connecticut.”

Here is New York state information:

A few days ago, “06880” posted a comprehensive list of Connecticut vaccine options, thanks to Sarathi’s HR department. Click here for information on CVS, Walgreens, Yale New Haven Health, Stamford Health and VAMS sign-ups.

In addition to that list, Sarathi adds:

  • Check your town’s website for information and clinics available only to residents. You may be able to register in advance or receive a call for available appointments or excess doses.
  • Connecticut’s  Vaccine Assist Line (877-918-2224) operates 7 days a week, from 8am-8pm. Agents can schedule appointments at state-run clinics. If you call early and are given the chance to leave a message, you should. They accept a certain number of messages each day, then call those people back throughout the day to assist in booking appointments. Once the maximum number of calls for the day has been reached the message option is turned off.
  • You can now search additional locations, including supermarkets and local pharmacies. A great tool to see who is administering the vaccine in your area is Vaccinefinder.org. Search a zip code, make note of the providers nearby, then search for booking websites.
  • Here are a few of the more common ones:
    Rite Aid

ShopRite

Big Y

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Did you miss last night’s webinar on the many housing bills making their way through the state’s General Assembly, and their possible impact on Westport?

Planning and Zoning chair Danielle Dobin gave a comprehensive overview. Our 4 local legislators — Senators Will Haskell and Tony Hwang, and Representatives Jonathan Steinberg and Stephanie Thomas — tackled the pros and cons. Viewers asked questions. It was a wide-ranging, engaging 80 minutes. (And I would say that even if I had not served as moderator.)

It’s now available to watch — or re-watch — at your leisure. Click here for the link.

Everything you wanted to know about zoning — including sewers — and more.

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One of the few positive parts of the pandemic: Many more Westporters have had time to walk.

Because we practice social distancing, we’re not always on the sidewalk. And — as Tammy Barry’s photo of Hillspoint Road at Schlaet’s Point shows — the result is some barren patches where grass once grew.

I’m sure saltwater flooding had something to do with t too.

(Photo/Tammy Barry)

Here’s hoping the town can find some resources to bring this beautiful stretch of waterfront back to what it once was.

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CNN anchor (and Westport resident) Alisyn Camerota’s last day on “New Day” is today. The show was filled with many nice tributes. Yesterday, co-host John Berman started things off (click here to see).

Alisyn is not going very far — just a few hours later. She’ll anchor CNN’s weekday coverage with Victor Blackwell.

Congratulations, Alisyn, on your new gig — and the chance to sleep in a little longer. (Hat tip: Seth Schachter)

Alisyn Camerota

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Today’s osprey report comes courtesy of Chris Swan.

He wants Westporters to know that there are 3 platforms near Sherwood Island State Park.

One is in the saltmarsh behind the Nature Center, midway to the last house off Beachside Common.

The second is in the saltmarsh on the eastern shore of Sherwood Mill Pond, several hundred feet above the Compo Cove homes. It’s visible from the path on Sherwood Island’s western edge, above the fire gate to Compo Cove.

Both platforms are occupied by returning osprey pairs.

A 3rd location can be seen from the saltmarsh shore of the northeastern corner of the Mill Pond, looking west. This was erected last fall. No osprey pair has yet staked their claim.

A 4th platform is at the entrance to Burying Hill Beach, in the marsh across New Creek. Chris has watched it for 10 years, but has never seen it occupied.

He thinks it’s too low. He believes old utility poles make the best platforms — citing the ones at Fresh Market, Longshore’s E,R. Strait Marina, and Gray’s Creek.

Chris should know: He spent his professional career with Eversource.

The newest osprey platform in Sherwood Island Mill Pond. A house on Grove Point is visible behind it. (Photo/Chris Swan)

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Congressman Jim Himes holds a Facebook Live session today (Wednesday, April 7) at 3 p.m. He’ll discuss how constituents can benefit from the American Rescue Plan. Click here to watch live. To watch later, click here.

Congressman Jim Himes

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And finally … on this day in 1940, Booker T. Washington became the first African-American depicted on a US postage stamp.

In November 1944, Booker T. Jones Jr. was born in Memphis. He was named after his father, Booker T. Jones Sr., a high school science teacher — who himself was named in honor of Booker T. Washington, the educator.

 

Zoning Reform Bills: Forum On Zoning Set For Tuesday

NOTE: A technical glitch prevented some readers from receiving today’s first “06880” post. Here it is. Apologies if you already got this.

One of Connecticut’s hottest topics is zoning reform. Action in Hartford will have a direct impact on Westport.

It’s not easy making sense of the fast-moving legislative action. A number of bills are moving toward votes.

“06880” is here to help.

This Tuesday (April 6, 6:30 p.m. Zoom), Westport Planning & Zoning Commission chair Danielle Dobin hosts an in-depth discussion of the bills that have advanced to the full legislature. The focus will be on what they mean for our town.

Danielle will be joined by Westport’s 4 legislators: State Senators Will Haskell and Tony Hwang, and Representatives Jonathan Steinberg and Stephanie Thomas.

And I’ll be the moderator. Click here to register.

Meanwhile, Danielle Dobin sends this report, on the status of several bills:

Senate Bill 1024: As-of-Right Multifamily With No Parking

The original proposed language of this bill rezoned all towns (with a population of over 7,500) in Connecticut to permit as-of-right market rate fourplexes within .5 miles of that town’s primary train station, and triplexes around Main Street corridors. Density of 15 units per acre would be permitted.

“As-of-right” means there would be no public hearings or comment around these new developments. Towns would be explicitly prohibited from requiring any off-street parking for the new units. The P&Z would have been required to conserve sewer capacity for the new as-of-right development instead of utilizing it for larger mixed use, mixed income projects (like Belden Place and Saugatuck Center) with affordable units included.

The Belden Place apartments by the Saugatuck River, off Main Street near Parker Harding Plaza.

Examples of streets that would have been impacted with new as-of-right multifamily – up to 15 units per acre with no parking for the new residents — include St. John’s Place, Evergreen and Myrtle near Main Street, and Stony Point, Davenport, Eno Lane and Burritt’s Landing near Saugatuck.

The original bill also included a litigation-enabling statute that invited constant lawsuits from anyone, regardless of whether they have filed an application for development, against towns regarding inadequacies in a town’s zoning code.

This bill was advanced out of committee without the very harmful provisions that would have limited future opportunity for the development of mixed income multifamily and supportive housing in Westport. The mandate to permit as-of-right multifamily without parking in single family neighborhoods has been removed.

Danielle Dobin, Westport Planning & Zoning Commission chair.

There is language requiring some changes to Westport’s zoning code, and language permitting freely rentable Accessory Dwelling Units) by administrative approval.

Westport is revising its own ADU regulations with a proposal for a text amendment scheduled for April 8 that has already unanimously approved by the P&Z Affordable Subcommittee.

Also included is language exempting ADUs from the overall unit count for 8-30g calculations. This means permitting ADUs will not set back Westport’s compliance with 8-30g.

There is also language setting out a working group to design an optional model zoning code for the state. Right now, the proposed working group has no representatives from suburban towns.

NOTE: Yesterday Sara Bronin, the main proponent behind SB 1024, said that she and her team are working to have the as-of-right multifamily without parking inserted back into the bill before it is voted on by the full legislature.

House Bill 6107: Zoning Enabling Act Changes 

This bill, part of the Partnership for Strong Communities legislative agenda, prohibits consideration of the word “character” in zoning decisions. The Westport P&Z does not utilize “character of the community” in their decision-making. Westport’s special permit standards look at height, massing, etc., and the as-built aesthetics of streets.

This bill creates a working group to examine affordable housing statewide. A modernization of 8-30g (now 30 years old) could come out of this.

This bill has some of the same language as SB1024 requiring changes to Westport’s zoning code, but never included a litigation enabling provision.

NOTE: It’s critical to ensure the as-of-right multifamily without parking isn’t tacked onto this bill before it is voted on by the full legislature.

House Bill 6611: The Fair Share Plan

Unlike SB 1024, this focused on creating more affordable housing across Connecticut. It proposes a completely different process than 8-30(g) (though as drafted now it does not replace 8-30g) to determine the amount of affordable housing each municipality should create, and leaves it to each town to create a 10-year plan for achieving this “Fair Share” goal.

I have a call scheduled with staff from the Open Community Alliance, who proposed this bill, to better understand the requirements and impact to share at Tuesday’s session. SB 1024 garnered so much attention, it’s important that this bill – proposed by longtime advocates for affordability in Connecticut – finally receives a fair hearing.

Among Westport’s affordable housing options: Sasco Creek Village.

Senate Bill 6570: Transportation

The Transportation Committee, under Senator Will Haskell’s leadership, has advanced a bill that requires towns to look at state-owned land near transit stations in their 8-30j affordability plans, and empowers the Department of Transportation to utilize 5 lots from across the state to plan for mixed income housing, while retaining all existing parking spaces.

This bill initially contained the similar as-of-right multifamily language as SB 1024, but it was removed. This language is designed to help fully built-out towns (like Westport) leverage state-owned property for housing, including cottage clusters and townhomes (much like the Westport Housing Authority is working to create on the DOT land off Post Road East and West Parish. Westport’s innovative approach has created a template for towns across the state.

A number of other bills advanced as well. They will be reviewed during  Tuesday’s discussion. But these are the big ones to watch.

Zoning Reform Bills: Forum On Westport Set For Tuesday

One of Connecticut’s hottest topics is zoning reform. Action in Hartford will have a direct impact on Westport.

It’s not easy making sense of the fast-moving legislative action. A number of bills are moving toward votes.

“06880” is here to help.

This Tuesday (April 6, 6:30 p.m. Zoom), Westport Planning & Zoning Commission chair Danielle Dobin hosts an in-depth discussion of the bills that have advanced to the full legislature. The focus will be on what they mean for our town.

Danielle will be joined by Westport’s 4 legislators: State Senators Will Haskell and Tony Hwang, and Representatives Jonathan Steinberg and Stephanie Thomas.

And I’ll be the moderator. Click here to register.

Meanwhile, Danielle Dobin sends this report, on the status of several bills:

Senate Bill 1024: As-of-Right Multifamily With No Parking

The original proposed language of this bill rezoned all towns (with a population of over 7,500) in Connecticut to permit as-of-right market rate fourplexes within .5 miles of that town’s primary train station, and triplexes around Main Street corridors. Density of 15 units per acre would be permitted.

“As-of-right” means there would be no public hearings or comment around these new developments. Towns would be explicitly prohibited from requiring any off-street parking for the new units. The P&Z would have been required to conserve sewer capacity for the new as-of-right development instead of utilizing it for larger mixed use, mixed income projects (like Belden Place and Saugatuck Center) with affordable units included.

The Belden Place apartments by the Saugatuck River, off Main Street near Parker Harding Plaza.

Examples of streets that would have been impacted with new as-of-right multifamily – up to 15 units per acre with no parking for the new residents — include St. John’s Place, Evergreen and Myrtle near Main Street, and Stony Point, Davenport, Eno Lane and Burritt’s Landing near Saugatuck.

The original bill also included a litigation-enabling statute that invited constant lawsuits from anyone, regardless of whether they have filed an application for development, against towns regarding inadequacies in a town’s zoning code.

This bill was advanced out of committee without the very harmful provisions that would have limited future opportunity for the development of mixed income multifamily and supportive housing in Westport. The mandate to permit as-of-right multifamily without parking in single family neighborhoods has been removed.

Danielle Dobin, Westport Planning & Zoning Commission chair.

There is language requiring some changes to Westport’s zoning code, and language permitting freely rentable Accessory Dwelling Units) by administrative approval.

Westport is revising its own ADU regulations with a proposal for a text amendment scheduled for April 8 that has already unanimously approved by the P&Z Affordable Subcommittee.

Also included is language exempting ADUs from the overall unit count for 8-30g calculations. This means permitting ADUs will not set back Westport’s compliance with 8-30g.

There is also language setting out a working group to design an optional model zoning code for the state. Right now, the proposed working group has no representatives from suburban towns.

NOTE: Yesterday Sara Bronin, the main proponent behind SB 1024, said that she and her team are working to have the as-of-right multifamily without parking inserted back into the bill before it is voted on by the full legislature.

House Bill 6107: Zoning Enabling Act Changes 

This bill, part of the Partnership for Strong Communities legislative agenda, prohibits consideration of the word “character” in zoning decisions. The Westport P&Z does not utilize “character of the community” in their decision-making. Westport’s special permit standards look at height, massing, etc., and the as-built aesthetics of streets.

This bill creates a working group to examine affordable housing statewide. A modernization of 8-30g (now 30 years old) could come out of this.

This bill has some of the same language as SB1024 requiring changes to Westport’s zoning code, but never included a litigation enabling provision.

NOTE: It’s critical to ensure the as-of-right multifamily without parking isn’t tacked onto this bill before it is voted on by the full legislature.

House Bill 6611: The Fair Share Plan

Unlike SB 1024, this focused on creating more affordable housing across Connecticut. It proposes a completely different process than 8-30(g) (though as drafted now it does not replace 8-30g) to determine the amount of affordable housing each municipality should create, and leaves it to each town to create a 10-year plan for achieving this “Fair Share” goal.

I have a call scheduled with staff from the Open Community Alliance, who proposed this bill, to better understand the requirements and impact to share at Tuesday’s session. SB 1024 garnered so much attention, it’s important that this bill – proposed by longtime advocates for affordability in Connecticut – finally receives a fair hearing.

Among Westport’s affordable housing options: Sasco Creek Village.

Senate Bill 6570: Transportation

The Transportation Committee, under Senator Will Haskell’s leadership, has advanced a bill that requires towns to look at state-owned land near transit stations in their 8-30j affordability plans, and empowers the Department of Transportation to utilize 5 lots from across the state to plan for mixed income housing, while retaining all existing parking spaces.

This bill initially contained the similar as-of-right multifamily language as SB 1024, but it was removed. This language is designed to help fully built-out towns (like Westport) leverage state-owned property for housing, including cottage clusters and townhomes (much like the Westport Housing Authority is working to create on the DOT land off Post Road East and West Parish. Westport’s innovative approach has created a template for towns across the state.

A number of other bills advanced as well. They will be reviewed during  Tuesday’s discussion. But these are the big ones to watch.

Bus Shelters: The Sequel

This morning’s story on Westport’s (lack of) bus shelters should have noted some of the people who have pushed the issue to the forefront.

Westport Planning & Zoning Commission alternate Neil Cohn started the Economic Growth Subcommittee, and reached out to 3rd Selectwoman Melissa Kane. As subcommittee chair, he made this a P&Z-sponsored text amendment. 

The initiative is part of the P&Z’s broader approach of looking at many types of equity.

Pippa Bell Ader and Jennifer Johnson have worked on the issue for a long time too.

In addition, P&Z chair Danielle Dobin made an important comment at last night’s meeting. She noted that women waiting on the side of the road, waiting to wave down buses after a long day at work, face an additional hazard besides bad weather and safety.

Too often, men driving by honk, yell out crude invitations and remark on their bodies.

“It’s terrible. But we can do something about it,” Dobin said. “Shelters don’t just protect against wind and rain. They also reduce street harassment.

This is not a Westport bus shelter. It’s located at Lexington, Kentucky. There, says former Westporter Fran Taylor, the city initiated an art/design competition, called Art In Motion..Clever and beautiful bus shelters emerged, including solar panels. Lexington used federal funds as seed money.

Why Is Westport So White? The Discussion Begins.

The title was provocative: “Why is Westport So White? What Can You Do About It?”

The speakers were heartfelt. Their list of examples was long, at a meeting last night that covered topics like long-ago real estate practices, current zoning regulations, and the roles of schools and police.

The event — organized by a group of residents ranging from long-timers to newcomers, as well as TEAM Westport — drew a crowd of about 75 (outdoors and socially distanced) to MoCA Westport. Another 25 or so joined via Zoom.

Black residents spoke of their experiences as a very small minority, in a very white town. In one compelling example, Ifeseyi Gale was confronted by a suspicious family when she pulled into a driveway to pick up an item.

Ifeseyi Gale addresses the crowd at MoCA.

2020 Staples High School graduate Natasha Johnson — now a Wharton student — sent a recorded message that recounted many painful experiences, starting in elementary schools.

Many speakers described their love for the town. For example, TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey noted Police Chief Foti Koskinas’ grace and calm, and applauded new Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice’s openness to hearing about what can be done differently and better, in terms of diversity and inclusion.

But they did not shy away from demanding that the town do a better job in race relations.

A white student described a survey, in which recent Staples grads were asked about their preparation for living in a diverse society. Many noted that they had been led to believe the world is color-blind — but it is not.

TEAM Westport sponsors an annual high school essay contest. Past prompts have included micro-aggressions, and taking a knee protests. TEAM Westport has spent has spent nearly 2 years working with the school system on a framework including training, hiring, curriculum and staffing that would address diversity and inclusion. Winners of the 2019 TEAM Westport essay contest are (from left) chair Harold Bailey, and Chet Ellis, Angela Ji, Daniel Boccardo and Olivia Sarno.

Planning and Zoning Commission chair Danielle Dobin discussed how the lack of diverse housing impacts who lives here. She urged elimination of Westport’s cap on multifamily housing — which limits the total number of those units to 10% of total town dwellings, many of which are age-restricted and do not allow families — along with removing a restriction on “accessory dwelling units” with full bathrooms and kitchens. Permitting property owners to rent guest cottages, or create separate private living space, would expand housing stock and increase affordability and diversity.

Over the past few months, the entire country has talked openly about race. Organizers expressed hope that last night’s event will be an important beginning — not a one-time event — for their town.

P&Z, Town Provide Detailed Info Re Restaurant, Retail Reopening

On the eve of the first day of reopened restaurants, Westport’s Planning & Zoning Department has released extensive guidelines — and an application form (click here) for restaurants and businesses hoping to be up and running soon.

Town officials promise to expedite applications from restaurants and retail outlets. No business — including restaurants that offered outdoor dining prior to COVID-19 — can reopen until the form is completed and approved.

Outdoor dining guidelines — in the form of Frequently Asked Questions — were prepared by P&Z Commission chair Danielle Dobin, with feedback from the town attorney’s office, Westport Weston Health District, Police and Fire Departments, and the ReOpen Westport Advisory Team.

They are clear, comprehensive, and cognizant of the needs of owners, employees, patrons and residents. They say:

What’s the process for seeking approval for outdoor dining?

Complete the Outdoor Dining Application (llink above), then
submit to PandZ@westportct.gov, attn.: Mary Young, Planning & Zoning
director, who will circulate to other Town Departments, as applicable. There are
no fees for this application.

Do I need to hire an architect or engineer?

There is no need to hire any outside consultants. The application is very simple. You can use a drawing made by hand, old plans or even a printout from Google
Maps to indicate where you would like to locate your outdoor dining area. Please
indicate dimensions of the outdoor area proposed, size of any tents proposed, etc.

Sherwood Diner prepares for outdoor dining. (Photo/Dan Woog)

What’s the timeline?

Once your application is determined to be complete by the Zoning Office, you will receive a response informing you that your application has been approved,
amended or denied within 10 business days. If you do not receive a response
within 10 days then your application is deemed approved.

Can I appeal if denied?

Yes. You may appeal to the Planning & Zoning Commission which will discuss
your appeal at its next scheduled meeting.

Do I have to apply even if I already have an approved outdoor dining area from the town?

Yes. Even if you already have an approved outdoor patio, you must complete the
application to ensure the patio meets current state and local requirements.

Where can I put the outdoor dining area?

The outdoor dining can be located anywhere that meets fire, police and health
requirements. This means it can potentially go in your parking lot or even in the
parking lot of a nearby or adjacent building, as long as the owner of that property
agrees. It can even potentially be located within the setbacks as long as you are
sensitive to neighboring uses, especially any residential uses adjacent or nearby.
Your proposed plan will be carefully and quickly reviewed by the Zoning Office.

If I put the outdoor dining in my parking lot, where will people park?

If you intend to use part or all of your parking lot for outdoor dining, you must
ensure there is parking nearby for both patrons and your employees. Please
include this information in your application.

Can I create a combined outdoor eating area with some other restaurants in my same building or area?

Yes. Please feel free to collaborate on a plan with your neighboring restaurants.

What if there is a town-owned lot, park or street nearby that would be helpful for me to utilize for outdoor dining? Can I request that a street be closed?

Yes. You can request permission to utilize town owned property on the
application, including sidewalks, streets, parks and parking lots. These requests
will be evaluated by the local Traffic Authority, and police and fire
departments. As this process may take longer than 10 days, consider making this
an alternative request. You are not limited to making one request.

The owners of Harvest, Tarantino’s and Romanacci Xpress met last week, to discuss the best use of Railroad Place.

Am I required to build a platform for the outdoor dining tables to sit on?
No. There is no requirement to build a platform as long as your seating meets
ADA requirements.

Am I required to provide a tent, awning or umbrellas or can the outdoor dining be uncovered?
There is no requirement to provide covered outdoor dining. The outdoor dining
can be open to the air.

Do I need any state approvals to open?
Yes. You must self-certify with the state before opening and before the Zoning
Office may approve your application. Here is the link for the application.

How big of a dining area am I permitted to create? Is it the physical size of
the area or occupancy that matters or both?

You can potentially serve up to 50% of the number of patrons typically
accommodated at your restaurant pre-COVID. However, all state and local social
distancing rules must be observed, and the police, fire and health departments must approve of the outdoor dining area’s size, configuration and location.

How far apart must tables be located?
Seating and tables must be arranged to maintain at least 6 feet of distance between customers. You must ensure tables are at least 6+ feet apart. If customers are sitting in booths or seating is fixed, groups of customers must still be 6+ feet apart. This may require keeping some booths or seats empty. Distance shall be measured from the closest chair at one table to the closest chair at another table.

The state of Connecticut has provided these instructions for restaurants that hope to reopen.

Where should hand washing or sanitizing stations be set up? What should be provided?
Hand sanitizer shall be made available at entrance points and common areas.

Can patrons utilize the bathrooms inside my restaurant?
Yes. However, they must put their mask on before leaving the table. Management should keep in mind there is a requirement to install visual social distancing markers to encourage customers to remain 6 feet apart (e.g., the entrance to the restaurant, lines to be seated, lines to make payments, lines to use the restroom).

Are patrons required to wear masks when they are not eating/drinking?
Customers are required to bring and wear masks or cloth face coverings that
completely cover the nose and mouth, unless doing so would be contrary to his or her health or safety due to a medical condition or when eating in the restaurant. The masks should also be worn while entering and/or leaving the facility, or leaving the table to use the restroom.

Are staff required to wear masks at all times?
Yes. All employees are required to wear a facemask or other cloth face covering
that completely covers the nose and mouth, unless doing so would be contrary to
his or her health or safety due to medical conditions. Employees may utilize their
own cloth face covering instead of that provided by their employer if they choose.
Additionally, gloves are required for table servers, and they must be replaced
frequently. Gloves and eye protection are required when using cleaning chemicals. Kitchen workers shall follow FDA guidelines on use of gloves where appropriate.

If a patron isn’t complying with health standards, such as not wearing a mask or standing too close to a different table, how should we handle this?
We are all in this together! The complainant should ask to speak to the manager or establishment owner on-site who should immediately ask the patron to comply with the safety protocols or leave. If compliance is not obtained, restaurant patrons, employees, and/or owners can contact the Westport Police non-emergency line to report any issue (203-341-6000).

Are restaurants required to seat only parties with reservations? Are
restaurants required to keep a log of everyone for potential contact tracing?

It is strongly recommended that you require patrons to reserve tables in advance to assist with any necessary contact tracing and to minimize having people waiting for tables. In the event a patron or employee becomes ill, contact tracing will be facilitated by strong record keeping. It is recommended that you keep a log of all walk-in customers for this reason as well.

Can restaurants create a designated waiting area?
No. Restaurant should take the contact information of people waiting to eat and
should call or text the patrons when their table is ready. You may not designate a
waiting area, and your staff should actively discourage patrons from waiting at the restaurant to be seated.

How frequently must the bathrooms be sanitized and is there a
recommended sanitizing solution or product?

Bathrooms should be cleaned frequently, implementing use of a cleaning log for
tracking. Sanitizing solutions and/or products need to follow federal guidelines (CDC, EPA) on what specific products to use and how:
• Use products that meet EPA’s criteria for use against SARS-CoV-2 and that
are appropriate for the surface. Prior to wiping the surface, allow the
disinfectant to sit for the necessary contact time recommended by the
manufacturer. Train staff on proper cleaning procedures to ensure safe and
correct application of disinfectants.
• Disinfectants are irritants and sensitizers, and they should be used
cautiously.
• Avoid all food contact surfaces when using disinfectants; these surfaces
should be sanitized instead.
• Clean and disinfect common areas, high transit areas, and frequently touched
surfaces on an ongoing basis (at least daily) and more frequently if used
more often. Clean and disinfect shared objects after each use including but
not limited to: entrances and exits, payment devices (e.g., PIN pad)
and chairs.
For more details regarding the Governor’s Re-Open Connecticut
standards, click here.

(For direct links on the town’s official P&Z page, click here.)

Restaurant Reopenings: What’s On The Menu For Westport?

This Wednesday — May 20 — marks the day Connecticut restaurants can reopen for more than curbside takeout and delivery .

There are restrictions: For example, outdoor dining only is permitted; there is no bar service. Tables must be 6 feet apart.

That should be good news for owners, employees and diners. The restaurant industry has been one of the hardest hit by the coronavirus.

Le Penguin’s mascots are making it through the pandemic. Like restaurant owners all over town, their owners are figuring out how to adapt to new state reopening regulations. (Photo/Marcy Sansolo)

But don’t expect a rush of al fresco options 2 days from now. Several steps — beyond simply configuring space (and ordering single-use menus) — must be taken first.

Westport Planning & Zoning chair Danielle Dobin notes that Governor Lamont has temporarily suspended municipal laws regulating outdoor dining. So instead of the traditional permitting process, restaurateurs here must submit a simple application to P&Z director Mary Young.

Westport Police and Fire Department officials, along with the Westport Weston Health District, must sign off on each application. Restaurants that already have outdoor dining must apply too, ensuring they comply with revised health regulations.

Romanacci already has an outdoor dining permit. Under new regulations, tables — shown here last year — now must be 6 feet apart. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Lamont’s executive order “provides tremendous flexibility to restaurants looking to create an outdoor dining space,” Dobin says.

“Normal requirements for parking and setbacks have been waived. Restaurants can even explore using neighboring properties or parking lots, so long as the owners of those properties approve of the plan.

“Residents should expect restaurants all over the state to create larger outdoor dining areas than in the past. Our outdoor restaurant spaces will often look and feel a bit different.”

Sherwood Diner prepares for outdoor dining. (Photo/Dan Woog)

You won’t hear a lot of live music, however. Previous noise regulations remain in effect.

Dobin says that the board of selectmen are also looking at “the creative use of certain town roads to facilitate outdoor dining and outdoor shopping.”

Matthew Mandell, executive director of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce, is the restaurant liaison for the ReOpen Westport Advisory Team. On Friday he led a Zoom call, with over 3 dozen restaurant owners.

Restaurant owners and town officials joined a conference call on Friday.

“Our restaurant owners are committed to providing a safe environment for their guests,” Dobin says.

“There is no rush to reopen. Many owners will take their time. I hope that all of our residents are supportive and patient with our fabulous Westport restaurants, as they find their way in this new world.”

“This is not a race,” Mandell agrees. “Slow and steady will win this one. The goal of ensuring health and safety for customers, staff and owners will ultimately lead to everyone’s success.”

As restaurants announce openings, lists compiled by the Chamber of Commerce and OneWestport will be updated regularly.

The owners of Harvest, Tarantino and Romanacci met on Friday, to discuss the best use of Railroad Place.

Spectacular New Site Makes Helping Local Businesses Easy

For the past few days — as the rippling cascading effects of COVID-19 on the local economy have become apparent and frightening — many Westporters suggested ways to help.

One of the best is to purchase gift cards from local stores, restaurants, salons, gyms and the like.

A group of friends approached Danielle Dobin with the idea. She loved it. Like the others though, she wondered: Who needs help? How can I contact them? Who even sells gift cards?

Danielle — who in her spare time chairs Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission — brainstormed with them. Their solution : a website showcasing all the spots in town that need help, with clickable links to every one.

James Dobin-Smith

Then her family and theirs — the Weilguses, Kamos, Cammeyers, and the Posts and Rutsteins (you know those last 2 from the WestportMoms.com platform) — got to work.

Over the past few days they tracked down dozens of local stores, restaurants and service providers. They compiled tons of information.

And they handed it all to Danielle’s son James Dobin-Smith.

The Staples High School freshman is a member of Staples Players. He’s an honor student, keenly interested in world affairs. But he had absolutely no background in web design.

No problem! He’s smart, creative, and a digital native. Almost instantly, James taught himself.

The result — rolled out just moments ago — is OneWestport.com. It’s visually appealing, chock full of links, and insanely easy to use.

The homepage of OneWestport.com.

All you do is click to purchase gift cards online (or by phone or email, if no online option exists). You can use them tomorrow, or months from now. (One added feature: the hyperlinks take you directly to the gift card page. It’s truly one click — you don’t have to search for it yourself on a business website.)

From sporting goods to sushi, furniture to flowers, paintings to pasta, and clothing to cupcakes, Westport retailers sell everything and anything.

Nearly 200 places are listed, by category: Clothing/Jewelry, Fitness, Salons, Nails/Spas, Miscellaneous (Compo Flowers, Earth Animal, Age of Reason, Rockwell Art, Splatterbox, Stiles Market, The Toy Post, Westport Hardware, Bungalow, photographers).

Age of Reason is a great place to use a gift card right now. Kids need items for education and entertainment. And the store offers free delivery.

The Restaurants category can keep you busy (and well-fed) until this crisis is over — no matter how long it lasts. It includes places you might not otherwise think of, like Aartisan Chocolates and The Cake Box.

(It’s also a great way to order takeout or delivered meals, from those restaurants, delis and markets that offer them.)

“Purchase a gift card today for use in the future to purchase a birthday gift, an anniversary gift, or simply an everyday purchase for your family,” OneWestport suggests.

“Our local retailers need to make payroll, cover their expenses, and pay rent.  Buying gift cards now for use later can help our local businesses manage this near-term cash-crunch and ultimately weather this uniquely challenging storm! Together, we can make the difference for our local retailers!”

As extensive as the families’ work has been, they know it’s not complete. They’ll update the website daily, until school restarts. To add a business to the resource, email jamesdobinsmith@gmail.com.

This is these Westporters’ gift to the town. OneWestport does not profit from any purchases, in any way. All gift cards go straight — and fully — to the retailer, restaurant or service provider.

It’s the gift that will keep on giving. And helping save our town.

Oh, yeah: If you liked the awesome cover photo — a drone shot of downtown by John Videler — you can purchase it (or any of his work too). Just click here!