Tag Archives: Hiawatha Lane

RTM Upholds Hiawatha Lane Settlement

In a one-sided vote on a two-decade battle, the Representative Town Meeting last night upheld the Planning & Zoning Commission’s decision to settle litigation regarding a 157-unit housing development on Hiawatha Lane.

The RTM decision was 30 to 2, with 1 absention and 1 recusal. Twenty-four votes — 2/3 of the entire RTM — would have been needed to overturn last month’s P&Z decision to settle 3 lawsuits brought by the developer, Summit Saugatuck. The special RTM meeting was held following a petition by over 60 electors.

This is Peter Gold’s report on last night’s special meeting, held via Zoom. He is an RTM member writing for himself, and not in an official capacity.

The RTM’s second meeting of the month considered overturning the Planning and Zoning Commission’s decision to permit Summit Saugatuck to build a 157- unit housing development, including 47 affordable units, at Hiawatha Lane. The Planning and Zoning Commission approved the development as part of a settlement of 3 lawsuits brought by Summit.

The suits seek to overturn the P & Z’s earlier denial of the project, revoke the town’s moratorium from the requirements under Connecticut statute 8-30g (which permits developers to disregard most town zoning regulations so long as their developments contain at least 30% affordable housing), and eliminate the town’s ability to approve sewer connections for developments.

The town has already been to trial on all 3 lawsuits. Absent approval of the proposed settlement, decisions in all 3 cases are expected shortly.

Artist’s rendering of one of the buildings at the Hiawatha Lane development.

Town attorney Ira Bloom explained there were 2 main questions for the RTM to consider. First: Should the town continue to control development by retaining its moratorium and the right to approve sewer connections? Equally important, he said, is how to “best balance the interests of the Hiawatha Lane neighborhood against the interests of the town as a whole.”

He stated that fire safety is the key issue in the case seeking to overturn the P & Z’s denial of the project. Summit’s proposed development meets all the requirements of the fire code. However, the P&Z initially rejected the proposed development on the advice of fire marshal Nate Gibbons, who felt additional safeguards — particularly a second access road to the site — were needed.

Fire safety concerns have been a major issue with the proposed Summit Saugatuck development.

Bloom said that recent cases where towns have sought safeguards over and above fire code requirements, including another Westport case involving a proposed development on Cross Street, have been decided in favor of developers. Courts have held that meeting the fire code requirements is enough to let the development proceed. Bloom said that the town does not have a high probability of winning this case.

Summit also challenged the 4-year 8-30g moratorium the Department of Housing granted the town 2 years ago. In March, the DOH notified the town that it intends to revoke the moratorium because it can no longer justify the moratorium points given for the Hidden Brook housing development. Without those points the town would not have enough points for a moratorium.

Based on settlement negotiations, the DOH told the town it is now “tentatively on board to keep the moratorium.” If the settlement is not approved, Mr. Bloom said the town will probably lose the moratorium, exposing the entire town to 8-30g affordable housing applications at many other sites.

The last suit challenged the current requirement that town approval is required for all connections to its sewer system. Westport denied a sewer permit. Summit sued and won; the town appealed and prevailed; Summit then appealed to the state Supreme Court. As with the other 2 cases, a decision  is on hold pending the RTM’s decision on the proposed settlement.

Danielle Dobin and Paul Lebowitz, the Planning and Zoning Commission members most involved in the settlement negotiations with Summit, explained the consequences of losing the lawsuits if the settlement is not approved and the benefits of the proposed settlement.

Though all P & Z commissioners sympathized with the plight of the Hiawatha Lane area residents affected by the proposed development, Dobin and Lebowitz said the P & Z felt the consequences to both the neighborhood and the town as a whole of continuing to oppose the development in court justified the settlement.

Summit Saugatuck’s site plan. I-95 is at the top; Saugatuck Avenue is at the right.

Under the settlement, all lawsuits would be dropped and could not be reinstated. This would preserve the town’s moratorium and ability to approve sewer connections, both crucial for controlling and guiding development in town.

Summit would build 157 units instead of 187 units, including 47 affordable units; eliminate one building from the project; include several 3-bedroom units for families, and provide additional fire safety features. It would also repair roads in the area, fix a culvert to eliminate flooding, and preserve open space.

A major concern of Hiawatha Lane area residents is the increase in traffic generated by the proposed development. Dobin explained that courts do not consider traffic congestion when deciding 8-30g cases.  First Selectman Marpe promised that the Board of Selectman, in its role as Traffic Authority, would work with the residents and the state Department of Transportation to take steps to mitigate the traffic.

It was noted that the Office of  State Traffic Administration would also need to approve the development, as it would be considered a major traffic generator.  However, OSTA approval would not be sought until after the settlement is approved or the lawsuits are resolved. If OSTA requests changes as a condition of its approval it is likely Summit would make such changes.

Several Hiawatha Lane area residents spoke against the settlement. They felt the P & Z did not negotiate hard enough; traffic and pedestrian safety issues were ignored; the existing affordable housing in the area should be preserved, and that residents displaced from their homes by the proposed development should be given priority for the new affordable units.

Dobin and Leibowitz explained why they thought the settlement was the best deal that could be obtained, pointed out that traffic and pedestrian issues are not considered under 8-30g, and that federal fair housing laws do not allow for preferential placement.

RTM members expressed sympathy with the Hiawatha Lane area residents, but felt their plight was outweighed by the town’s need to preserve the 8-30g moratorium and keep control over sewer access. Members also expressed a desire for the town to “do something” to assist the residents who would be displaced by the proposed development.

Many expressed their feeling that the town failed to adequately plan to meet the requirements of 8-30g over the past years as other towns — notably Darien and New Canaan, which have received several consecutive moratoriums — have done, leaving Westport in its current situation.

It was also pointed out that the settlement would have to be approved by the court, giving concerned residents one last chance to make their concerns heard.

Voting against the proposed settlement were Lou Mall and Carla Rea. Arline Gertzoff abstained, while Matthew Mandell recused himself.

Roundup: RTM & Hiawatha, Mercury & Cumby’s, Coral & Ospreys …

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This week, the Representative Town Meeting’s Planning & Zoning Subcommittee voted 5-1 to uphold the P&Z’s agreement with Summit Saugatuck, to build 157 units of housing — some of it deemed “affordable” — on Hiawatha Lane, near I-95 Exit 17.

The debate now moves to the full RTM. That meeting is set for June 8 (7:30 p.m., Zoom).

It will be livestreamed on http://www.westportct.gov, and shown on Optimum channel 79 and Frontier channel 6020.

Members of the public may attend the meeting by video. Send an email before or during the session to RTMcomments@westportct.gov, with your name and address. Meeting details will be emailed to you. Registered electors attending by video can comment (3-minute time limit).

Emails to all members may also be sent before the meeting: RTMmailinglist@westportct.gov.

Artist’s rendering of one of the buildings at the Hiawatha Lane development.

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Mercury just spent a ton of money to upgrade their gas station on Post Road East, near the Southport border.

Cumberland Farms must have come in with a great offer. Soon, Mercury will turn into Cumby’s.

No word on whether it will replace the smaller store near Sakura, or if Westport is doubling its Cumberland Farms count. (Hat tip: Matt Murray)

Mercury, at Post Road East and Bulkley Avenue South. (Photo/Matt Murray)

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Around here, Jana Ireijo is known for her role in the vanishing murals project downtown. (She drew a koala.)

Now she’s earning renown clear across the country.

The Nature Conservancy Hawaii commissioned her to create a vanishing mural of a coral reef on Maui. Parts are done in chalk, and are already washing away.

The project was timed to coincide with Earth Day and World Ocean Day (June 8). Click here to learn more.’=

Jana Ireijo’s vanishing Maui mural.

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Charlie Capalbo’s battles with cancer have inspired people around the world.

The 23-year-old Fairfield native — and grandson of Westport writer Ina Chadwick — beat lymphoma and leukemia. Now he’s facing off against leukemia again.

It’s a costly fight. And the need is great. Charlie’s dad lost his job at the beginning of COVID, and is just getting his new real estate career off the ground. His mom, Jen, has been working per diem. That’s now on hold.

Fortunately, Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask and radio personality Greg Hill have pledged to match every $1 donated — up to $20,000 each. That could mean a total of $60,000 to support Charlie and his family.

Click here to help. Then watch your contribution triple.

Charlie Capalbo (Photo/Dave Gunn)

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This week’s #FridayFlowers bouquet decorates an appropriate site: the Doughboy statue on Veterans Green, opposite Town Hall.

Hundreds of Westporters will gather there Monday, for the post-Memorial Day parade ceremony. The moving tribute will be extra special, thanks to the Westport Garden Club.

(Photo/Topsy Siderowf)

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Osprey update!

Carolyn Doan reports: “All is well at the Fresh Market nest. The female is up and around more. She faces inward, meaning she’s tending to something in the middle.

“I think I heard faint peeps while standing below, so presumably there are chicks! If so they are very small. We’ll have to wait to see their little heads.

“Yesterday the male brought home a fish. He patiently waited on his favorite branch for the family to wake up. Once there was enough activity, he swooped in with breakfast.”

(Photo/Carolyn Doan)

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“Westport … Naturally”: Today Lori Levine shares a shot of found a little fellow she found sunbathing in her back yard, on an Adirondack chair.

(Photo/Jan van Arsdale)

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Seen at Sherwood Island: Yeah, this means you!

(Photo/JC Martin)

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And finally … John Davis died this week, of complications from COVID. He was 66.

You may not recognize his name. But he was one of the real singers for the fake duo Milli Vanilli. They won a Grammy for their debut album in 1990, but lost it when news broke that the singers had not actually sung. Click here for a full obituary.

 

Roundup: Paving, Business, Smart People …

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Westport Means Business.

That’s the name of a Westport Library/Town of Westport-sponsored panel on June 3 (7 p.m., at the Library or via Zoom).

2nd Selectwoman Jen Tooker will lead a discussion with 3 great — and very different — local businesses.

Sam Gault of Gault Energy, Dr. EJ Zebro (TAP Strength Lab) and Gina Porcello (GG & Joe) will share “Stories from the Pandemic.” They’ll describe what they learned, how they survived — and how they’re thriving.

Click here to register.

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Speaking of business:

Westport photographer Nancy Breakstone lives a few minutes from Rive Bistro. It’s her go-to spot.

Yesterday she met a friend for drinks, at 5. Her husband was set to meet Nancy there for dinner, afterward.

But despite a dozen outdoor tables on the plaza — plus under a tent — Nancy called him and said: No go. The restaurant was booked solid. The waitress advised calling 3 days ahead.

That augurs well for outdoor dining in Westport this summer. Bon appétit!

Outdoor dining at Rive Bistro, on the water. The plaza tables have been filled, as well as the always-popular deck.

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Westport’s spring paving program is underway.

The Library and Senior Center parking lots are already done. Paving will continue through mid-June on these roads:

  • Railroad Place
  • Franklin Street
  • Ferry Lane
  • Partrick Road
  • Clinton Avenue
  • Saxon Lane
  • Timber Lane
  • Moss Ledge
  • Dawn Drive
  • Greens Farms Road
  • Maple Avenue North

Once those are done, several school properties will be paved:

  • Greens Farms Elementary
  • Long Lots Elementary (partial repaving)
  • Bedford Middle School entrance and Wakeman Farm Road
  • Coleytown Elementary

That project is a collaborative effort with the Westport Public Schools.

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Getting into Cornell University is hard enough. Graduating in the top 1% of one of its undergrad colleges is insanely difficult.

But Isabelle Amlicke did it. The Staples High School Class of 2017 alum earned recognition as a Merrill Presidential Scholar for that achievement.

Isabelle was deeply involved with Cornell Sustainability Consultants. No word on what’s ahead. But we’re sure it will be impressive! (Hat tip: Cecily Gans)

Isabelle Amlicke

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Speaking of Staples: 4 juniors have earned Superior Achievement in Writing awards. The honor comes from the prestigious National Council of Teachers of English.

Caroline Coffey, Matthew Genser, Maya Markus-Malone and Talia Perkins
were honored as among the best student writers in the nation. In addition to submitting a piece of “best writing,” contest entrants were asked to craft a piece in any genre that took readers inside a community that is important to them, and convey the beauty they see within it.

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Speaking of education: On Monday night, the Bedford Middle School team got together. They celebrate their win at the Connecticut Science Olympiad Tournament, and watched the national event.

Coaches Arthur Ellis, Daniel Cortright and Kathryn Nicholas received special recognition. Congratulations to all!

Sisters Annam Olasewere, Anwara Olasewere, and Ayaan Olasewere are part of Bedford’s state champion Science Olympiad team. All paced in the top 3 of their events.

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Today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo shows black swallowtails at Sherwood Island State Park:

(Photo/Elena Nasereddin)

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And finally … legendary Muscle Shoals drummer Jerry Roger Hawkins died last week. He was 75, and had suffered from numerous illnesses.

Producer Jerry Wexler called him “the greatest drummer of all time.”

Hawkins — a member of both the Swampers and Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section session groups — played on hits like “Respect,” ” “When a Man Loves a Woman” and “Mustang Sally.” As great as those songs are, listen again. Without Hawkins’ drumming, they’d have a lot less respect.  Click here for a full obituary.

 

RTM Subcommittee Upholds P&Z On Hiawatha Lane

The Representative Town Meeting Planning and Zoning Subcommittee voted decisively yesterday to uphold the P&Z’s agreement with Summit Saugatuck, to build 157 units of housing — some of it deemed “affordable” — on Hiawatha Lane, near I-95 Exit 17.

The vote was 5 to 1 to uphold the P&Z decision,, with one abstention. Member Matthew Mandell recused himself.

The meeting was required by law, following a petition by more than 60 electors in the wake of the P&Z vote earlier this month. The matter now moves to the full RTM, early in June.

Artist’s rendering of one of the buildings at the Hiawatha Lane development.

Roundup: RTM’s Petition, Martin Crouse’s Bench, UConn’s President …

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Town Clerk Jeffrey Dunkerton has certified a petition requesting that the Representative Town Meeting review the Planning & Zoning Commission’s settlement of a lawsuit, permitting Summit Saugatuck to build 157 units of housing on Hiawatha Lane.

The RTM has 30 days to render a decision.

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The saga of Martin Crouse’s memorial bench — first gone from Compo Beach, then located by Westport Police — is over. And the ending could not be better.

Martin’s wife Laurie reports that bench is back at its cherished spot near Ned Dimes Marina, after repair work by the Parks & Recreation Department.

It was delivered there yesterday. A new anchoring system will keep it there.

Laurie asked “06880” to thank Debbie Detmer and Ed Frawley at Parks & Rec, Westport police, and the many Westporters who offered support.

Westport Parks & Recreation staff secure Martin Crouse’s memorial bench.

Laurie Crouse, back at her favorite spot.

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The Remarkable Theater announces its schedule for Memorial Day week:

Thursday, May 27 (8 p.m.): “Private Benjamin” (“I wanna wear my sandals. And I wanna go out to lunch. I wanna be normal again.”)

Friday, May 28 (8 p.m.): “Finding Nemo” (In association with Sped*Net Wilton)

Saturday, May 29 (8:30 p.m.): “Rocky Horror Picture Show” (Special Best Costume contest)

Sunday, May 30 (8 p.m.): “Saving Private Ryan” (Special $25 Memorial Day price)

And don’t forget: “Happy Gilmore” tomorrow (Saturday, May 22, 8:30 p.m.).

Click here for tickets and more information.

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There’s a new interim president at the University of Connecticut.

And he’s a Westport resident.

Dr. Andrew Agwunobi and his wife Elizabeth (also a physician) moved here 2 years. He has served as CEO of UConn Health — a position he will continue in. He is the first person of color to be named president in the university’s history.

Click here for the full story.

Dr. Andrew Agwunobi

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Westport firefighters joined their brothers and sisters from across the state yesterday. Over 130 Connecticut fire departments, many first responder agencies, and fire departments from as far as Detroit gathered to pay respects to Firefighter Ricardo “Rico” Torres. He died last week battling a blaze in New Haven.

He leaves behind his wife Erica Martinez, and sons, due to be born in August. Click here for a fundraiser to support his family and unborn sons.

Firefighters at the funeral for Ricardo Torres. (Photo/Andrew Colabella)

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Today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo is not just a couple of horseshoe crabs.

They’re a pair that was rescued by MaryLou Roels, after being stranded by low tide. They look as good as ever.

(Photo/MaryLou Roels)

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And finally … on this day in 1927, Charles Lindbergh landed in Paris. It was the world’s first solo non-stop flight across the Atlantic Ocean.

Special Westport connection: Lindbergh and his wife Anne Morrow lived for several years on Long Lots Road, near the Fairfield border.

 

Petitioners Ask RTM To Review Hiawatha Lane Settlement

One week after the Planning & Zoning Commission agreed to a settlement with Summit Saugatuck — allowing a scaled-down 157-unit housing development to be built on Hiawatha Lane (off Saugatuck Avenue adjacent to I-95 Exit 17). seemingly ending 18 years of proposals and litigation — there is a new twist.

Earlier this afternoon — one day ahead of the filing deadline — a petition signed by over 60 electors was delivered to the town clerk. Lead petitioner Gloria Gouveia and Save Old Saugatuck leader Carolanne Curry presented the signatures.

If Town Clerk Jeffrey Dunkerton ascertains that there are at least 20 valid signatures, the petition will be forwarded to the Representative Town Meeting, as provided by the Town Charter. A public hearing would follow.

The RTM has 30 days from today to hear and decide the petition.

[OPINION] Hiawatha Project: An Unexpected Next Step?

Gloria Gouveia is a longtime Westporter. Since 1984 she has worked as a land use consultant, specializing in planning and zoning permit and subdivision applications, Zoning Board of Appeals applications, neighborhood opposition advocacy and Historic District compliance.

In the wake of Wednesday’s 5-0 Planning & Zoning Commission vote to accept a settlement with Summit Partners — allowing a 157-unit project to proceed on Hiawatha Lane, with modifications from the original plan — she writes:

Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” Although he was referring to a baseball game, the same can be said for the proposed 157-unit Summit development approved by the Planning & Zoning Commission Wednesday night.

Although a neighbor’s recourse in circumstances like these is usually limited to an expensive court appeal, the Summit matter is different. Along with approvals for construction and site development, the P&Z also approved a change of a zoning boundary.

Thanks to our early lawmakers, organizations like Save Old Saugatuck and Save Westport Now, as well as the many residents who opposed Summit’s plans, may have another opportunity to challenge the developer in a public forum: the RTM.

According to the Town of Westport Charter: “The Representative Town Meeting shall have the power to review any action by the Planning and Zoning Commission adopting, amending or repealing any zoning regulation or fixing or changing the boundary of any zoning district…”

To start the process, a petition endorsed by 2 RTM members or 20 electors of our town must be submitted to the town clerk. When transmitted to the RTM it will be scheduled for hearing, where all may be heard.

So to all of the disenfranchised residents of the Hiawatha Lane neighborhood, and all of those good citizens of Westport who oppose this Brobdingnagian development: Let us join together and rally once more to ask the RTM to reverse the Planning & Zoning Commission’s decision, and save old Saugatuck.

I reached out to town attorney Ira Bloom. He responded this afternoon:

“That is correct. A petition must be filed within 7 days following the public notice of a P&Z decision.” That notice was filed yesterday (Thursday, May 13).

Bloom added, “I will certainly look carefully at any petition that is submitted.”

I spoke with Planning & Zoning director Mary Young too. She noted that the full text of the Town Charter (quoted above) says: “Any action by the Planning and Zoning Commission adopting, amending or repealing any zoning regulation or fixing or changing the boundary of any zoning district, or a negative 8-24 report by the Commission [italics mine] shall be subject to review by the Representative Town Meeting.”

Young said that the P&Z decision Wednesday night was a positive report — not a negative one.

The zoning plan for Hiawatha Lane.

A few minutes ago, Gouveia added this information:

“Summit’s project will have to be reviewed by the Connecticut Department of Transportation.

“According to my reading of their permitting requirements, Summit is classified as a major traffic generator. Any project with 200 or more parking spaces meets that definition. Although housing projects with 100 cars or less are exempt, that is not the case with Summit. I can’t believe DOT is happy with any development likely to result in more backups on the exit ramps and onto I-95.”

“Also, the Planning Director may contact DOT about Summit’s approval. The DOT will immediately start the review process.”

Artist’s rendering of one of the buildings at the Hiawatha Lane development.

Hiawatha Lane Project Approved

One of Westport’s thorniest — and its longest-running — zoning battles ended last night.

Despite the strong objections of a number of speakers, the Planning & Zoning Commission affirmed a settlement reached after arduous negotiations. The vote was 5-0.

The development on Hiawatha Lane (adjacent to I-95 Exit 17) will now move forward — with modifications.

The agreement is contingent upon the state of Connecticut agreeing to continue Westport’s moratorium on 8-30g applications.

The size of the project has been altered. Safety concerns — including Fire Department access — have also been addressed.

For nearly 2 decades, Summit Saugatuck tried to build on land it owns off Saugatuck Avenue.

Summit Saugatuck’s site plan. I-95 is at the top; train tracks are at bottom.

Last night’s decision includes several key points:

  • The project was reduced from 187 to 157 units. 30% of the units would be deemed “affordable.”
  • “Building E” is eliminated entirely. Set off from the rest of the development, it would have been located across the street from several small single-family homes. The remaining buildings were consolidated.
  • Land intended for “Building E” will be used only for as-of-right development permitted by Westport’s zoning regulations. The developer agreed to never seek 8-30g approval for an apartment building on that site. This is binding on all successors.
  • Summit Saugatuck agreed to a number of improvements urged by the fire marshal, to compensate for the lack of a secondary access route.
  • Summit Saugatuck will provide evergreens, which they will maintain for several years, to screen homes now located adjacent to the development’s east side.
  • The developer will provide continuing public access — with posted signs — to the Norden conservation area for Hiawatha neighborhood residents. This is binding on all successors.
  • Summit  Saugatuck will rebuilt the Hiawatha Lane culvert, repave part of the road and repair other areas
  • In addition, the developer will withdraw or settle all litigation relating to the project “without qualification or exception,” including the challenge to Westport’s 2019 moratorium of 8-30g (“affordable housing”) construction.

Artist’s rendering of one of the buildings at the Hiawatha Lane development.

To a Zoom audience of over 70 people, town attorney Ira Bloom addressed the question of “why settle now?”

He offered 2 reasons. One is the “changing nature of the legal landscape, particularly with regard to 8-30g” (the statewide affordable housing mandate, which allows developments to override local zoning regulations, so long as 30% of housing is “affordable”). What was originally difficult for municipalities has become even more so.

“After 2 recent Westport cases, and others, it is now even harder to prevail. We believe our case has merits, but the trends are against us.”

Bloom added, “The P&Z decided to be proactive, to control our own destiny.”

A second challenge, Bloom said, was to Westport’s 4-year moratorium on 8-30g issues. Developers have brought legal action to stop the moratorium. “We want to maintain it,” Bloom noted.

The “not easy” negotiations with Summit ensure that the town will have 2 more years of the moratorium — time to help plan for more affordable housing — while also increasing our affordable housing stock, with this project.

P&Z chair Danielle Dobin cited the difficulty of balancing competing interests. “We believe the proposed settlement is in the best interests of all parties. It will result in a better outcome for Hiawatha neighbors, and the town, than would otherwise be achieved.”

Later in the night, she expanded on that idea. She said that if Westport lost in court, the ramifications would be “almost immediate.” Many more developments would come in — and, for example, the Summit Saugatuck project would revert to its larger size, with fewer safety restrictions — and other developments would be built all over town.

First Selectman Jim Marpe reiterated that the settlement “makes sense for Saugatuck and the entire community.”

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).

A parade of speakers addressed the commission, before the final vote. They spoke passionately about concerns including added traffic, the impact of 4-5 years of construction, limitations of one entrance and exit road, the destruction of some of already affordable homes, and the loss of a long-standing neighborhood.

Among the speakers was former P&Z chair Cathy Walsh, who angrily said the current P&Z “caved” to the developer. She said that settlement “goes against the core of good business sense, and is based on fear of the unknown. It is based on fear of future 8-30g applications.”

Another former chair, Chip Stephens, called the issue one of “fairness and compassion” for the people who built the town’s railroads and I-95, then became police officers, firefighters and restaurant owners.

“They were given small parcels, with deed restrictions,” he said. Earlier, land use consultant Gloria Gouveia had raised the question of deed restrictions placed on the Hiawatha houses when those parcels were given to workers decades ago.

Homes on Hiawatha Lane.

Carolanne Curry — a neighborhood resident, and leader of the Save Our Saugatuck group — said she was frustrated by the suddenness of the decision. She said the commission was “intimidated by lawsuits,” and felt “abandoned by the pursuit of [8-30g] points.” She also criticized town attorney Bloom, and Westport’s state legislators.

Michael Calise said he was “shocked at what’s been presented, and [the assertion that] it will be good for Westport….We need to tell our story, and bring it to Washington.”

Dobin addressed traffic concerns. “This commission cares about traffic. The state 8-30g does not, however, allow traffic to be a consideration in these decisions.”

John Suggs called the settlement “the ultimate betrayal of our community, and who we say we are.” He urged town officials to heed words of Winston Churchill: “Never, ever give in.”

P&Z commissioner Jon Olefson acknowledged that the Hiawatha location was “sub-optimal. We agree with everything that’s been said. This sucks.

“But none of us wrote this law. If I was in your shoes, I’d be saying exactly what you’re saying. But we are where we are. I hope the energy I heard tonight is directed at those in the state who can make broader changes. The P&Z will do that too.”

It had been expected that the P&Z would also announce a settlement of a proposed Cross Street project. However, negotiations have not been finalized.

(Click here for documents from last night’s Planning & Zoning session, including the full settlement agreement, and Hiawatha Lane site plan.)

Cross Street, Hiawatha Projects Settlements Near

Two of Westport’s longest-running — and thorniest — housing issues may soon come to conclusions.

RTM member and Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce executive director Matthew Mandell has been following the sagas of Lincoln/Cross Streets and Hiawatha Lane Extension for years. He writes:

Two major projects, both 8-30g*, have come to a negotiated resolution: Lincoln / Cross Street as well as Hiawatha.

Both will be presented to the public by the Planning & Zoning Commission this  Wednesday (May 12, 7 p.m., Zoom). There will be an outline of what each will be, and the public will be allowed to comment. It is anticipated that P&Z will then vote on each.

How did we get here? 

P&Z denied the Lincoln multi-story 80+ unit project, and was then sued by the developer. The judge ruled in favor of the developer. 8-30g cases are exceedingly hard to defend. Even though there were severe safety issues, the judge said the need for affordable housing essentially outweighed them.

The P&Z then worked with the neighbors and the developer to make the project more palatable. I was not in any of the meetings, so I too am waiting to see what has come out of it.

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

As for Hiawatha: P&Z, the Board of Selectmen, the Department of Housing and everyone else who ever said boo about this project was sued over this one. There were actually 7 lawsuits still pending after this 16-year battle.

With this negotiated settlement, all of them go away. Their ancillary issues, some of which could have been detrimental long-term to the entire town, will be gone as well.

While some of the suits might have been won, I am not sure all 7 would have. This was always an egregious project of 5 buildings with 187 units, where 10 naturally occurring affordable homes exist in the middle of an affordable neighborhood.

Homes on Hiawatha Lane.

This one is going to hurt. I can’t say more on the issue, but we will all see it when it comes public. I am very sad about this outcome, and really feel for the neighborhood. We all fought for 16 years against a developer and lawyer who only saw opportunity and not people.

In the end, it is the town that gets sued. It’s the town that negotiates for itself, and they make the call in these cases. A silver lining may be, with both of these projects the town would probably get another 4 year moratorium from 8-30g projects.

The Planning & Zoning Commission welcomes public comment at Wednesday’s 7 p.m. meeting. Click here for the Zoom link. The meeting ID is 816 5841 6015. The passcode is 221876.

*8-30 g is a Connecticut statute. It says that that unless 10 percent of a town’s housing stock is “affordable” — according to state definition — a developer planning to include affordable units can challenge a town’s denial of a proposal.

Saugatuck May Face New Traffic Woes

Saugatuck residents worried about over-development have spent years battling a proposed 187-unit complex on Hiawatha Lane.

Now they’ve got a new fear. And it’s out of Westport’s hands.

There’s a plan to built a warehouse and distribution center at 10 Norden Place.

That’s in East Norwalk. It’s accessible off Route 136 (Saugatuck Avenue/Winfield Street). And it is very close to Hiawatha Lane.

The proposed Norden Place warehouse and distribution center is shown in yellow. Tractor-trailer routes are marked in green and purple. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

What does “warehouse and distribution center” mean?

According to Save Old Saugatuck, the Norden property — which once housed an electronics company, then became an office park and has now added apartments — would be the site of a 330,000-square foot facility. It would draw 198 tractor-trailers — 62 to 67 feet long — and 376 cars each day.

SOS foresees “possible 24 hour operations.”

The distribution facility would include 19 loading docks, for 3 to 5 tenants occupying 60,000 to 100,000 square feet each.

The tenant mix would be unknown until the applicant receives zoning approval, purchases the building and begins leasing space.

Artists’ rendering of a distribution center.

Save Old Saugatuck warns, “This Norden Place warehouse will affect Westport’s Exit 17 and surrounding traffic.”

Tractor-trailers can’t fit under the railroad bridge (though god knows plenty of drivers try). So some would take the I-95 exit, head north on Riverside Avenue, then take a sharp turn onto Post Road West and continue on to Strawberry Hill Avenue.

“Our Norwalk neighbors came out to support us when we had to fight (the Hiawatha proposal) before the Norwalk Zoning Commission,” SOS says.

“It is critical for those of us who live in the SOS neighborhood to now give our support to our Norwalk neighbors. Support is in the form of petitions, emails, or open-to-public virtual meeting attendance.”

Emails can be sent to skleppin@norwalkct.org.