Nearly 40 years ago, a group of women gathered at Selma Miriam’s 29 Hiawatha Lane home. Their idea of a vegetarian restaurant — and feminist collective — became Bloodroot. Today, it’s still around. Miriam’s still involved.
Hiawatha Lane is still around too, and Miriam still lives there — for now, anyway. But the neighborhood is in the crosshairs of a proposed housing development. Miriam sends these thoughts:
Developer Felix Charney is back trying to foist 155 multiple housing units onto a little dead-end street: Hiawatha Lane Extension.
This flawed project was rejected at least 3 times already by the Planning & Zoning Commission, as well as other town agencies.
A rendering of the proposed Hiawatha Lane development.
While the practicality and cost of putting in sewer lines and fixing pump station #2 remains unresolved, and no one has yet evaluated the assault on inland wetlands in this area of swamp land between I-95 and the railroad tracks, the biggest impact is that the warren of streets comprising Old Saugatuck (the only naturally formed working-class neighborhood of homeowners in Westport) would be destroyed by the increased traffic from 155 new units.
But besides the misery to us locals, imagine the effect at the intersection of Route 136 (Saugatuck Avenue), Exit 17 off I-95, Route 33 (Riverside Avenue) and other roads leading to the railroad station. A nightmare for anyone needing to travel these roads.
So how come this developer, turned down 3 times before, now has the support — worse, the encouragement — of the 1st and 2nd selectmen? Even more questionable is the support of the Westport Housing Authority, which is apparently eager to help finance Felix Charney’s previous financial mistakes by using public funds (taxpayer money) as a bailout. Is this greed or stupidity, or both?
Of course they may say they want to ward off the threat of the state’s infamous 8-30g law, which lets developers build any size housing development they want in defiance of local zoning ordinances, if the local board has rejected applications that include 30% of “affordable” units in the development proposal. However, any prior existing affordable housing is not counted. So it becomes okay to destroy an historic, working-class neighborhood in order to build 155 units and call 70 units “affordable.”
Hiawatha Lane is a narrow street, filled with homes that are modest by Westport standards. It’s accessible only via West Ferry Lane off Saugatuck Avenue, next to the I-95 eastbound entrance/exit ramp.
This is a numbers game that we — that is, Westport — can never win as long as developers continue building higher and ever higher-end housing. We can never catch up!
But it is incomprehensible that the Westport Housing Authority does not get it, and is willing to sacrifice a well-established, historic working class community and waste tax dollars to support this developer’s project.
And so, as a remedy, I offer a fantasy, a sort of (tongue-in-cheek) “modest proposal”.*
Let’s pretend the wetlands will not be disturbed while the area is over-built. Let’s pretend sewers can be provided (from where? paid for by whom?). Let’s pretend that the beginning of Hiawatha Lane Extension could be “walled off,”protecting Hiawatha Lane, Davenport Avenue, Dr. Gillette Circle, and most importantly, Saugatuck Avenue, Exit 17 and the train station access.
Hiawatha Lane extension is shown by an arrow, on this Google Map image. It’s below I-95. The entrance is via West Ferry Lane, which is off Saugatuck Avenue (diagonal road on the right side of the image).
Let’s pretend we could get Norwalk to change its mind and allow Charney’s development to exit through to Norwalk from Hiawatha Lane Extension through the old Norden property. Alternatively, the development could have its own exit onto I-95, since an access road already exists. Finally, let’s pretend that taxpayers would not be expected to reward Charney’s fiscal irresponsibilities.
Ridiculous? Yes! The best decision would be to turn down this project application again. Keep this kind of building on main roads that already have sewers, traffic controls, and no wetlands.
A big question remains: Why have Selectmen Marpe and Kaner invested their efforts in this project? And why is the Westport Housing Authority blind to the problems intrinsic to helping this particular developer?
Is it greed or stupidity or both?
*with apologies to Jonathan Swift