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.
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.
The 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.