Tag Archives: Dewey Loselle

Airbnb Floats Into Town

It’s a cliche: No one knows what goes on behind closed doors.

We may wonder about the secret lives of our neighbors. But here’s one thing we probably never imagine they do: Rent out rooms, suites — even their entire home — to strangers.

Yet that seems to be Westport’s newest cottage industry (ho ho). Airbnb — the list-and-rent lodging website — has over 1,500,000 offerings, in 34,000 cities and 190 countries.

A couple dozen are right here in Westport.

Most are near Compo Beach. A few are close to downtown. Others are spread throughout town: Roseville, Green’s Farms, Sturges, Newtown Turnpike.

"Compo Beach Beauty" is Airbnb's most expensive Westport listing.

“Compo Beach Beauty” is Airbnb’s most expensive Westport listing.

The most expensive Airbnb property (“Compo Beach Beauty,” with “views, views, views”; 2 decks, 4-5 bedrooms, 80-inch TV and “private courtyard”), rents for $1,000 a night — with a minimum 14-day stay. There are no reviews yet.

The least expensive place is touted as a “Private Room in Luxury Home” ($75).

Most of the listings cite Westport’s amenities: water, shops, restaurants, “theatre,” tennis, golf, hiking, proximity to New York and Boston (“2 hours” away).

One specifically mentions The Whelk, Tarry Lodge and Black Duck, adding, “the day pass for the pools overlooking the Sound is $10 were anyone to ever ask to see a pass.”

Another — with property backing up onto 8 undeveloped acres – noted that “deer, fox, coyote, red tailed hawks as well as cardinels, bluejays, squirrels and assorted standard wildlife are our neighbors.”

Not all Airbnb properties are on land. This offer is for a "sailing yacht."

Not all Airbnb properties are on land. This offer is for a “sailing yacht.”

The most intriguing offer — “Romantic Perfection on the Sound” ($175) — is for a “perfectly appointed sailing yacht.” Amenities include a freezer, fridge, Wifi, sterling and crystal. The owner makes clear that the rental is for “space on the mooring buoy, not a cruise, charter or otherwise.” Pick-up at the train by motorboat is a special perk.

One satisfied renter comments about the boat: “Josh truly made us feel like we lived in a movie for a weekend. This is a definitely must do, and will do again! P.S. I need that recipe for apple pancakes.”

That’s the thing about Airbnb. Some renters go all out for their guests. The owner of “Walk to town – cul-de-sac” ($100) says, “We are casual and easygoing. We will provide assistance as needed. If you are looking for privacy, we honor that as well. We have enjoyed all of our guests and was enlightened by some of the life stories.”

This Airbnb property is just half a block from Compo Beach.

This Airbnb property is just half a block from Compo Beach.

Others stay away. One renter writes, “Didn’t meet the hosts but they were incredibly accommodating and courteous of all aspects of our stay from afar. Had a bed roll available for our daughter too. Their son Tom was a great stand-in and took good care of us.”

If the mention of actual names seems intrusive, that’s the way Airbnb rolls. Some of the Westporters listing on the site use full names, and give detailed descriptions of their lives.

One says: “Married with 2 children, one in college at Carnegie Mellon, one lives in Manhattan and has a job as a associate buyer. Husband is a Physician in Westport. Basically an empty nester except for  holidays and summer.”

Another moved here from Paris 2 years ago, to open a business in the pet industry that she runs from home.

Here's an Airbnb photo for the French woman who works from home.

Here’s an Airbnb photo for the French woman who works from home.

A third is a feng shui design consultant. That’s why, she says, “it is important that our home environment is beautiful and balanced and welcoming.” She works at home, so she’s around during the day to help guests.

Renters run the gamut too. They range from the person here on a working vacation (his Airbnb spot reminded him of an English cottage, “but all the conveniences of our time”), to visitors preferring a home to a hotel, to young people passing through.

I don’t know the age of the guest who writes admiringly, “they even had a beer tap on the back patio” — but clearly he loved his Westport Airbnb experience.

All of which raises the obvious question: Is Airbnb legal here?

Town operations director Dewey Loselle checked with attorneys, and Planning & Zoning.

“We do not have a specific ordinance or zoning regulation” about this model, he says.

“If someone wanted to open a formal bed and breakfast inn in a residential district, that would require a zoning approval.” (Not long ago, such a proposal on Turkey Hill South was turned down, because it was a full-time “business use” in a residential zone.)

Westport has no regulations prohibiting short-term rentals of homes -- or of one room in a house, like this.

Westport has no regulations prohibiting short-term rentals of homes — or of one room in a house, like this.

A regulation or ordinance prohibiting short-term rentals of private property, with the owner present or not, would be “a slippery slope to start down,” Loselle says.

“As you know, many Westporters rent out their houses for the summer. Or it could be for half of the summer, or one month or even a week or two.

“Some people swap their houses for a week or two with someone in, say, France or Italy,” he concludes. “Where do you draw the line on what is acceptable or not?”

Sounds like a good answer. I myself am not willing to share my condo with a stranger, even for money.

However, a couple of nights on that sailing yacht sounds very, very cool.

(To see all Airbnb’s Westport listings, click here.)

 

 

Surprise! Merritt Parkway North Avenue Bridge Repairs Taking Longer Than Expected

In what is definitely not stop-the-presses news, “06880” has learned that when school opens August 27, all of North Avenue will not — as had been promised — be open to all traffic. It’s been closed since June near the Merritt Parkway, where bridge reconstruction is taking place. Detours — to Weston Road or Bayberry Lane — are required.

The major thoroughfare — home to 4 of Westport’s 8 schools — will have a stopgap measure. One lane will be open, with traffic flowing in alternate directions.

The Merritt Parkway  North Avenue bridge, before reconstruction.

The Merritt Parkway North Avenue bridge, before reconstruction.

In response to a query by “06880,” town operations director Dewey Loselle says:

The state Department of Transportation has run into unexpected issues with the extent of bridge deterioration discovered, which is making their repairs more extensive and taking more time than had been anticipated. The original timetable had them being able to finish the project by September based on the conditions known at the time.

With the opening of school approaching we have been working closely with DOT on the issue. We have told them that the current  detour routes are not viable alternatives for our buses, and not having access to the bridge would cause serious and unacceptable disruption to our school bus schedules, likely causing severe delays of students arriving at schools.

Another view of the Merritt Parkway North Avenue bridge.

Another view of the Merritt Parkway North Avenue bridge.

DOT has listened to our concerns and has repair crews working around the clock on the bridge work.  The current plan is for enough of the repairs to have been made so that we can safely have 1 lane open on the start of school on August 27th. We would also have police officers at each end of the bridge, facilitating traffic during the morning and evening rush hours by alternating the traffic flows. This way school buses, parents transporting children to school and commuters will all be able to cross the bridge, hopefully with minimal delay.

The bridge will still be closed at night so they can work on the final repairs more expeditiously. DOT is still working out the final details, but this is the plan. Yes, the bridge will not be totally finished, but having 1 lane access with police traffic direction will be a big improvement over the current situation, and much better than the alternative of having to rely on the detours. We are hoping that this will keep school bus delays to a minimum.

“06880” has learned that the police will be paid by the contractor — who will then apparently be reimbursed by the state. It also seems that the one-lane situation will last through mid-October.

The contractor — of course, the low bidder — has a disincentive clause in the contract for not having the bridge open by mid-August. Is half-open actually “open”?

Let the negotiations begin.

DOT logo

Town Hall Is Out To Lunch

At noon today, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and town operations director Dewey Loselle decided to take their Town Hall office staff to lunch.

It’s Thursday, so what better spot than the Westport Farmers’ Market?

Rear: Town operations director Dewey Loselle, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe. Sitting: Administrative assistant Janet Suchsland, office manager Eileen Francis.

Rear: Town operations director Dewey Loselle, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe. Front: Administrative assistant Janet Suchsland, office manager Eileen Francis.

No word on whether they went for pizza, seafood, Spanish omelets, tapas, quiche, hot dogs or burritos — all available every week, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Westporters need not worry about the lunchtime excursion, Marpe says. “We’ve got people covering the phones.”

Melissa Kane: Downtown Westport Must Be Both “Soulful” And “Economically Vibrant”

You can’t say Melissa Kane doesn’t have roots in Westport.

The newly appointed chair of the Downtown Steering Committee — she takes over from Dewey Loselle, who is now town operations director — spent summers here, beginning when she was less than a year old.

From that summer of ’69 on — when her parents brought her out from Manhattan — she has loved what she calls “my favorite place in the world.” Her downtown memories include Ship’s, the movie theaters (“I saw ‘ET’ there!”), and Bobbie’s Ice Cream (now L’Occitane), where Melissa served homemade scoops as a summer job.

Melissa Kane remembers when Ship's restaurant (background) anchored downtown.

Melissa Kane remembers when The Ships restaurant (background) anchored downtown.

Her boyfriend Jonathan nailed his marriage proposal: It was on a Compo Cove sandbar, which he knew she especially loved.

Melissa and Jonathan moved here nearly 12 years ago, 3 weeks after their daughter Lily was born. (She has an older brother, George). She quickly got involved with A Child’s Place, where she met her first group of “incredible people.”

She is one of Westport’s extraordinary volunteers: with the Westport Library trustees, Booked for the Evening and Friends group; Young Women’s League; Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection, Westport Arts Center,a nd Green Village Initiative.

Melissa Kane

Melissa Kane

Kane did all that while starting MKK Designs, a floral company that specializes in weddings and special events. throughout Fairfield County. Before moving to Westport, she worked in non-profit development and PR for a variety of social service providers, and others. She also was a food and entertainment columnist.

Her activism in town affairs led to an interest in the RTM. (“I actually liked the meetings!” she laughs.) She was elected to the governing body in 2011. She ran for 2nd selectman last November.

She and running mate Helen Garten lost to Jim Marpe and Avi Kaner, but Marpe was impressed with her focus on community-building, along with her expertise in conservation and sustainability. He appointed her to the Downtown Steering Committee shortly after the election, and named her chair when Loselle took his new post.

So what does all this mean to the future of downtown Westport?

“We have to make sure downtown is a soulful place for everyone who lives here,” Kane says.

To do that, she notes, “we’ve got to leverage the power of every organization in town. We have to include Town Hall, and we have to promote more public/private partnerships.”

Melissa Kane wants to involve all stakeholders in deciding the future of downtown Westport.

Melissa Kane wants to involve all stakeholders in deciding the future of downtown Westport.

She promises to continue Loselle’s focus on transparency and inclusion. After what she calls an “unprecedented” effort to reach out to as many constituencies as possible — a survey runs through July 13 — she looks forward to the committee’s next phase.

They held their 2nd “Visioning Workshop” on Monday. Ahead on July 21 at Town Hall: a series of presentations, by consultants, of survey results and workshops. That will be followed by open committee meetings and work sessions. Then comes a multi-day charrette, for even more public involvement.

“We’ll be involving all the stakeholders: residents, town officials, the Downtown Merchants Association, the library, Arts Center, Cinema Initiative, Bedford Square developers — you name it,” she says.

So what is Kane’s vision for downtown?

“As chair, that’s not important,” she says. “But what I am firm about is this. I never want to compromise the soul of Westport. Downtown must represent what’s real and authentic, and wanted by Westporters. But ‘soulful’ goes hand in hand with ‘economically vibrant.’

“Right now, we’re heading along the path toward that.”

 

Dewey Loselle’s New Post: Town Operations Director

First Selectman Jim Marpe has named Dewey Loselle to the new position of operations director for the town of Westport. Loselle’s current post in the Marpe administration is chair of the Downtown Steering Committee.

Dewey Loselle

Dewey Loselle

A bipartisan search committee made the recommendation.The group was led by Pete Wolgast, former executive assistant to First Selectman Doug Wood. Wolgast said, “the high quality of applicants for this opening was amazing. As it turned out, Dewey has all of the experience and ability to be an outstanding success in his new role. I am certain that he will be a huge benefit to the First Selectman in his goal of improving the operations of Westport’s town government.”

Search committee member and former Board of Education chair Don O’Day added, “I was very impressed with all of the candidates and the decision on whom to recommend was not easy … We chose Dewey based on his very impressive resume, his considerable knowledge of Westport’s governing structure, and his recent work leading the Downtown Steering Committee. He has shown he can get things done while reaching out to as many people as possible.”

Loselle has over 30 years of experience in local and state government, including division chief for the New York City comptroller evaluating programs and agencies, NYC assistant commissioner for budget and finance in NYC, a government consulting principal/partner, and on the Westport RTM. He has conducted over 100 consulting engagements with state and local governments helping improve performance and functionality.

Loselle has served as a consultant for the state of Connecticut, and municipalities such as Greenwich and Stamford.  He was a member of Governor William O’Neill’s Thomas Commission, which studied ways to make state government more effective and efficient.

Loselle’s educational background includes a BA in government (magna cum laude) from Boston University, and a masters in public administration from New York University (with concentrations in public policy and finance).

Jeff Block: Downtown Survey Is Flawed

The Downtown Steering Committee is conducting a survey, with a wide variety of questions. “06880” reader Jeff Block thinks there are problems. He writes:

The Downtown Steering Committee (DSC), under the guidance of urban planning consultant RBA, has made available a public survey intended to glean from Westport residents a vision of what the town could look like in the future.

The intention is sound. However, the survey and the data-gathering process are flawed. To date there have been 500+ responses to the survey, which is available both electronically and in hard copy. The survey specifically targets responses from Westport residents, but there are no controls or requirements that can be used to identify that the person filling out the survey is in fact from Westport. Additionally, the DSC cannot prevent individuals from inputting more than one response to the survey.

Downtown Westport: the subject of planning, and a survey.

Downtown Westport: the subject of planning, and a survey.

During the initial issuance of the electronic survey, committee members realized that people could send the survey in multiple times. One DSC member actually noted that he had submitted it on at least 2 occasions.

The DSC revisited their process and built in a control using the computer device’s IP address, to prevent anyone from answering the survey more than once from the same device. However, anyone with more than one device, for example an iPad, mobile phone or additional computer, could submit as many surveys as devices available.

Since there is no requirement to identify respondents, it is impossible to know how many times an individual may have submitted multiple surveys, and more importantly if the person responding is even a Westport resident.

The data gathered to date cannot be relied on. In view of the facts, the DSC needs to respect its goal of public transparency, bite the bullet, revisit their processes and reissue the survey, incorporating a tested set of well designed controls.

Downtown Westport comprises a very small section of town. But its impact -- economic, aesthetic and psychic -- is huge.

Downtown Westport comprises a very small section of town. But its impact — economic, aesthetic and psychic — is huge.

Dewey Loselle and Melissa Kane — general chair and public outreach chair of the committee — respond:

It is disappointing that there are a number of erroneous facts, misinformation and misguided conclusions circulating that give a false impression about the validity and utility of the survey.

1) More than 7​5​0 completed on-line surveys have been received in roughly 2 weeks. This is a very high response rate in such a short time. We have reached out to all kinds of community organizations — over 50 in total — and asked them to urge their memberships to participate in the survey.  We have already received a very high level of cooperation and support from many of the organizations. Clearly, Westporters are very interested and are engaging with the process.​

2) The survey is meant to capture general sentiments, values, and the ideas of Westport residents regarding the future of downtown. It is also meant to get Westport residents to think about downtown, their relationship with it and their vision for the future of downtown, and encourage them to be engaged in the planning process.

The survey does not represent a vote or a referendum on any downtown issues. The responses to questions are purposely structured to avoid the use of “yes/no” questions. The responses provide a spectrum of choices (e.g., “very important,” “somewhat important,” “I don’t know,”) that reflect individual priorities and preferences among an array of issues.

A gem, hidden in plain sight downtown. Survey questions ask about Westport's use of the riverfront.

A gem, hidden in plain sight downtown. Survey questions ask about Westport’s use of the riverfront.

3) No one can send in a response more than once from the same device. A safeguard permits only 1 response per IP address.  Early on we allowed testers (and a few early responders) to change their responses to a previously submitted survey.  This, however, still only allowed for 1 survey to be counted.

While it is ​possible that someone could submit more than 1 response from a different device, we believe this to be unlikely. It is difficult enough to get people to respond to the survey once.

Similarly, we believe the concern that many out-of-towners will respond to be a non-issue.  What ​would be ​the motivation? There are opportunities for non-Westporters to comment on the process on our website, as well as through a separate Downtown Merchants Association survey.  The law of large numbers posits that valid survey respondents will overwhelm any ​few potential ​miscreants who enter an additional survey from another device, as well as anyone from out of town who ​might ​decide to respond.

Should Main Street be a pedestrian mall?

Should Main Street be a pedestrian mall?

4​) Every survey involves tradeoffs depending on the topic, level of security needed, cost ​and participation rate desired.  We considered asking people to provide their first and last names and address, but felt that might discourage many from taking the survey. We decided to ask (optionally) for the name of the street on which a respondent lives. We balanced the idea of capturing personal information with the need to get people engaged, encouraged to respond and motivated about this planning process.

5)  We have the ability to review and compare individual survey entries. We will flag open-ended responses that appear to be unusually similar, or that have conflicting responses, and evaluate them more closely to determine if any of them should be rejected. Results of the survey will be presented in a public forum and published on our website along with other relevant studies, project deliverables and surveys.

We believe this fully explains the transparency of this survey, and the common sense processes​ ​and controls.  There is no reason to reissue the survey.

We urge every resident who has not yet taken the survey to do so. The Your Downtown survey is available at  www.westportdowntownct.com.

Dewey Does Downtown

Bedford Square. The library. Westport Arts Center. The Levitt. The new movie theater. National Hall. Save the Children.

Those projects — costing $200 million or so — are all in the pipeline. Some are more advanced than others. But even if just some come to fruition, the look and feel of downtown is about to change dramatically.

Hard to believe that Westport has never accepted a detailed, operational plan for downtown development.

Or even commissioned its own traffic study.

After being sworn in as 1st selectman in November, Jim Marpe formed a Downtown Steering Committee. Adding members from various sectors — architects, elected officials, members of the Planning and Zoning Department, the Public Works director, representatives of the Historic District Commission and Downtown Merchants Association, plus a downtown resident — he gave them the charge: Pick up where the Downtown 2020 group ended.

Downtown Westport comprises a very small section of town. But its impact -- economic, aesthetic and psychic -- is huge.

Downtown Westport comprises a very small section of town. But its impact — economic, aesthetic and psychic — is huge.

“We have diverse views and opinions,” says the committee’s new chairman, Dewey Loselle. “We’re not stacked in any one particular way. I think that gives us legitimacy in everyone’s eyes, and a means to move ahead.”

The committee has already contracted with the RBA consulting group. As they analyze their traffic and parking study — all previous ones have been conducted by developers — they’ll examine all sides of the issue. Does downtown Westport have enough parking? Too much? Is it in the right places? Should we charge for spots?

That analysis will lead to design questions. If we move parking away from the river, for example — opening up green space — does that mean we should deck the Baldwin lot?

The committee will then look at how downtown can become “more vital,  functional, aesthetically pleasing and pedestrian-friendly,” Loselle says.

They’ll also study streetscape issues: sidewalks, lights, public spaces. And, of course, traffic patterns and flooding.

Mitigating frequent flooding is an important concern for the Downtown Steering Committee.

Mitigating frequent flooding is an important concern for the Downtown Steering Committee.

The goal is to have a draft plan ready in 6 to 8 months. Then comes the real debate: how to get everything done. What are the priorities? Who will take charge? Where will the funds come from?

All meetings will be open to the public. Important design workshops are also planned, where Westporters can look at different lighting fixtures, facades and sidewalk motifs, and provide input.

And there will be charrettes — open sessions where participants brainstorm collaboratively in small groups. (Parks & Rec sponsored a very successful charrette in November, as part of its Compo Beach study.)

Dewey Loselle

Dewey Loselle

“We want everyone to participate — not just the same people you see all the time,” Loselle says.

“They’re great citizens and volunteers. But we’re interested in people who are not always engaged in the town, because they have young kids or are very busy. They’re the ones who will be here for many more years. They’ll really be impacted by this. We need to hear their voices too.”

With “high citizen participation and acceptance,” Loselle says — including collaboration with 2 other entities, the Downtown Planning Subcommittee of the P&Z, and the Historic District Commission’s Village District Steering Committee — “I’m very excited that we can make this succeed.”

In fact, this may be downtown Westport’s last chance at success.

“We have a real opportunity here,” the chairman notes. “If we can’t get a master plan done now, we probably won’t for a long time to come.”

He pauses.

“We can guide what’s going on. Or we can let it happen to us.”

The iconic view of downtown Westport. All Westporters are invited to enhance the area, for years to come.

The iconic view of downtown Westport. All Westporters are invited to enhance the area, for years to come.

Public Protest Dooms Proposed Post Plaza Plan

Some powerful voices roared last night, as the Zoning Board of Appeals considered an application for a new entrance/exit from the Post Plaza Shopping Center onto South Morningside Drive.

The proposed driveway — referred to by some proponents as a benign-sounding “curb cut” — would be built directly opposite the Green’s Farms Elementary School bus exit. Hundreds of area residents fought the idea, citing safety concerns.

The main entrance and exit for Post Plaza Shopping Center. The entrance and exit would be at the rear, on South Morningside Drive.

The main entrance and exit for Post Plaza Shopping Center. The entrance and exit would be at the rear, on South Morningside Drive.

Opponents included State Senator John McKinney, who represents Green’s Farms in Hartford, and presumably had other things to do — hours earlier, he announced he’s running for governor.

First selectman candidate Jim Marpe also blasted the proposal.

But some of the strongest words belonged to Joan Constantikes. In 1971 she helped lead the original fight against an entrance/exit there — before construction of the shopping center even began.

Calling the design “selfish and aggrandizing, which would endanger the entire neighborhood,” the octogenarian said (in a letter read by RTM member Dewey Loselle):

It is never too late to do the right thing, and the same issues exist now as existed back then: Do you put the desires of a business group before the needs and safety of school children?  I sincerely hope that the kinds of people who joined our cause back then will come to the fore again, and that right will prevail.

More than 4 decades after she began, Joan Constantikes still battles for children.

And still wins.

The ZBA denied the application.

Unanimously.

40 Years Later, Green’s Farms Renews Shopping Center Battle

In 1971 the owner of a 6-acre vacant lot on the Post Road, between South Morningside and Church Street, proposed a new shopping center.

It would include a supermarket, drugstore, retail shops and 366-seat movie theater. Plans included a driveway on the southern part of the property — directly on South Morningside. Directly opposite Green’s Farms Elementary School.

The Green’s Farms PTA swung into action. They quickly got 700 signatures — from all over town — on a petition that claimed the driveway would be hazardous to children. (The PTA was not against the shopping center itself.)

Their protests led to a new traffic plan. For 4 decades, traffic from (then) Waldbaum’s and the Post Cinema, and (now) Barnes & Noble and Pompanoosuc Mills, has exited only onto the Post Road and Church Street.

The main entrance and exit for Post Plaza Shopping Center.

The main entrance and exit for Post Plaza Shopping Center.

But everything old is new again. This Tuesday (July 23, 7:30 p.m., Town Hall) the Zoning Board of Appeals will consider a zoning variance. It’s a request — you knew this was coming — for a new commercial driveway to be built in the rear of the Post Plaza Shopping Center, onto South Morningside. Directly across from the Green’s Farms School bus exit.

Owners estimate that 20% of shopping center traffic — cars, commercial vehicles, and delivery and garbage trucks — would use the new driveway.

RTM members John Suggs, Dewey Loselle and Matt Mandell are not pleased. They’re concerned about safety — particularly at school pickup and drop-off times, when vehicles parked on both sides of Morningside make sight lines difficult.

A truck navigates through cars parked on both sides of South Morningside Drive...

A truck navigates through cars parked on both sides of South Morningside Drive…

Morningside is also clogged for events like plays, Back to School Nights and softball games.

Opponents point out too that Westport prohibits the construction of a driveway within 400 feet of a school driveway. That ordinance was waived in January by the Board of Selectmen. No RTM member or  Green’s Farms Association member attended the meeting. The selectmen have been asked to rehear the matter for several reasons, one of which was that the public notice was “deficient.”

The State Traffic Administration — which in 1971 forbid construction of the driveway, thanks in part to the PTA petition — has been asked whether it is legal for the town to now permit the driveway, without seeking state approval.

...and a bus squeezes through, while a student crosses the street.

…and a bus squeezes through, while a student crosses the street.

Back in 1971, Green’s Farms PTA president Penny Heatley said, “We want to be certain that there will be no access to South Morningside Drive across from the school, even if the present owners were to sell out to somebody else in a year or two.”

Or even if the current owners, 40 years later, decided to try the same thing.