Tag Archives: Jennifer Johnson

Community Gardens: RTM Candidates’ Views

Like many Westporters, Don Bergmann has followed the controversy over the future of the Westport Community Gardens and Long Lots Preserve.

Last week, he wrote to every candidate running in November’s election for the Board of Education, Board of Finance, Planning & Zoning Commission, and Representative Town Meeting. 

He said: “All of you are to be thanked for your civic interest and commitment to Westport. Your responses to this e mail may result in an ‘06880’ story authored by Dan Woog. I am of course copying Dan.

“All are familiar with the matter of the Community Gardens and a new Long Lots Elementary School. Each of you is probably more than  familiar with the issues and the dramatic tension that has arisen. That tension focuses on the desire to preserve the Gardens and the Preserve as is.

“My belief is that all of you have a personal opinion as to what should occur, i.e. should the Gardens and Preserve be retained in place or should the Gardens and Preserve be dismantled. Some of you may believe those are not the choices but, rather, the relocation and reconstruction of the Gardens and Preserve on a new site, whether at Long Lots or elsewhere in town, is also relevant. My view is that the choice is binary, either preserve or destroy.

“As candidates for elected office, I think it is reasonable to receive from each of you your views, your positions on this issue of preserving the Gardens and the Preserve. I believe that you are obligated to publicly set forth your thinking.  The fact that you may be serving either before or after the November election in a position that has a role in the Long Lots and Gardens process should not be seen or used as a reason not to express your views. 

Westport Community Gardens & Long Lots Preserve 

“Many times, elected officials will take positions as citizens, not as a member of an elected body. Whether you choose to express your views as a citizen and not as a member of an elected body is up to you. What is crucial is that you inform all those who will or will not vote for you, your views on this issue of the Gardens. 

“I ask that you e mail me with your views. I leave it to each of you what form that will take or details to be provided. If you want to include your thinking on other important town issues of which your constituents should be informed in order to cast a thoughtful vote in support of your candidacy, that would be up to you. The more you convey, the better will be the election outcomes and the better for Westport.

“I will be convey your written responses to Dan Woog for him to use or comment upon as Dan thinks best. We all know of Dan’s integrity. I have zero concern that anything you write will be treated in any manner than with respect.”  

Don gave a deadline of last Friday. He received responses from 10 RTM candidates. There were none for any candidates for the other offices. Their unedited, verbatim responses are below.


Andrew Bloom (District 1): I recognize the importance of this issue and would defer to the building committee’s recommendation while hoping that an amicable compromise can be reached. However, as a father of 3 elementary school aged children, I would personally favor outcomes that prioritize the school and fields. 

Long Lots Elementary School and adjacent fields.


Clarence Hayes (District 4): I have been a gardener much of my life. While a student at Deep Springs College I was responsible for a garden and orchard feeding a community of 40 people.

Today I live in a condo with a 360-sf front yard in which I built two 12′ x 6′ raised beds where I grow tomatoes and basil which I use for pasta sauces I store up. These are surrounded by pollinator friendly plants such as milkweed and goldenrod which I transplanted from nearby highway margins. Attached is a picture of end of season tomatoes picked yesterday. So I certainly am sympathetic to the community gardeners.

However, regarding preserving the community gardens in the current location, my response is: “It depends.”

I have not yet digested all the relevant detail in terms of requirements, building costs, potential regulatory limitations, etc.

Regardless, from what I have been able to find so far,  the publicly available information appears insufficient to allow for a fully informed recommendation.

And not having been a committee member at an early stage, alternate designs I might prefer are not on the table  (e.g. a parking garage and minimal access roads in order to maximize usable land). Until I have access to such detail — and the opportunity to directly influence the recommendation committee — it would be mere sentiment on my part to claim the gardens absolutely must be preserved exactly as they now are, regardless of other competing interests.

I also played baseball in high school and am sympathetic to the views which the local baseball associations cogently presented in a post yesterday regarding the challenges they face.

My commitment is to do my best to listen to all Westport constituencies and to balance as intelligently as possible conflicting interests as we attempt to make decisions which maximize the long term value of town property for all of Westport.


Candace Banks (District 6): I have visited the Community Gardens and they are visually stunning.  The hard work and care of the gardeners and volunteers are evident.

I also learned from a recent “06880” podcast that this is not the first time the Gardens have faced displacement due to school construction; the Gardens were originally located on the site that became the present day Bedford Middle School. I am sure this fact only adds to the gardeners’ apprehension and frustration about the imminent Long Lots school construction.

The RTM is not going to get an up or down vote on what exactly to do with the Gardens. It will get an up or down vote on appropriating money for LLS school construction which I enthusiastically support. I hope that vote happens as soon as possible because a new elementary school  for the school aged children zoned to LLS from Districts 6, 7 & parts of 9 is much needed and long overdue. I hope the candidates for local office feel the same so that LLS gets the rehabilitation it needs asap. If they don’t, they owe to their constituents, particularly those who have young children, to say so now.

I understand even if the Gardens remain in its current location that they will be inaccessible during the 24 month construction period. That fact seems to weigh in favor of finding other (perhaps larger) spaces in Town for it so the gardeners  can maintain their community, expand their mission and their contributions to the pollinator network as well as add to their membership. 


Jessica Bram (District 6): As a mother of 3 sons who attended the Westport Public Schools, one of them Long Lots, I am a fierce advocate for the Westport Public Schools.  In my last three terms on the RTM I have voted in favor of every appropriation request brought to the RTM by the Westport Public Schools. In this case, there is no question that a new elementary school for the school-aged children zoned to LLS from RTM District 6, the district I represent, is badly needed.

However, I am dismayed that current proposals require the dismantling or relocation of the Westport Community Gardens. I believe that other Long Lots locations might have been identified, including the school’s athletic and ball fields, in any Long Lots construction design.

The Westport Community Gardens are as important to Westport as Compo Beach, undeniably our Town’s most vital asset. I do not believe that any proposal to construct a school that would jeopardize or displace access to our shoreline would ever have been contemplated. And in this case, I do not accept that relocating the Westport Community Gardens is a viable, or in any way acceptable, option.

The RTM will not conduct any vote on the Westport Community Gardens themselves. Our role is only to vote on specific appropriation requests made by the Westport Public Schools. However, with a heavy heart because I remain so fierce a supporter our Westport Public Schools, I cannot vote in favor of any plan that requires the dismantling, removal, or relocation of Westport Community Gardens.


Louis D’Onofrio Jr. (District 6): If I was in a position to vote on the community gardens I would clearly say, a vote for Louis D’Onofrio Jr in District 6 is a vote to preserve the Community Gardens.

The simple fact that our town’s administration is pushing aside our history is not what myself, or the people of District 6, stands for. I have written to the Westport Journal about my concerns of our current town administration’s approving the overgrowth of the town which strains our resources and displaces our lower socioeconomic communities and this is very concerning. To preserve the community gardens is to preserve a section of our community. There is also something pure and grand about these gardens being by our school. We need to bring nature and gardening into our classes more and what better way than to allow students to view nature on a daily basis.

Thank you for reaching out and I appreciate you collecting our thoughts and ideas on the topic.

Long Lots School Building Committee representatives (left), with Board of Education members and Westport Public Schools administrators.


Brandi Briggs (District 7): I believe it is premature to be making a decision on the gardens at this point since the Building Committee has not delivered their recommendation. However, I think coming up with a solution that is first and foremost best for Long Lots School is the top priority over other interests. All the stakeholders should continue to have a chance to have their say and find a solution that can be satisfactory to all those involved but everyone will need to be adaptable. My eventual vote will be based on the recommendations of experts on the Building Committee that have spent countless hours and hard work researching and determining the right solution for Long Lots.


Lauren Karpf (District 7): As an RTM member, I have spent countless hours over almost a decade supporting the need for a new LLS. I believe staff and students deserve an appropriate building as soon as possible.

I respect and appreciate the building committee’s diligent approach in exploring numerous options for the layout of the building and campus. It has become clear to me that it is a complex landscape at LLS, and that all involved need to be flexible and adaptable, as construction is never easy and many components need to fit in a limited space.

I have long been a fan of the gardens. I admire all that the gardeners have accomplished, and in fact bought and planted a tree in the Long Lots Preserve. While currently the gardens can only be accessed and enjoyed by approximately 100 people, I am hopeful that a partnership with the schools and other organizations, and a larger space if the gardens are moved to a different location, can allow greater use for more residents going forward, including during the two years of construction.

I look forward to hearing the building committee’s recommended plan after many months of hard work, and voting to begin construction without delay.


Jennifer Johnson (District 9): I strongly believe that the Westport Community Garden should be preserved in its current location. The garden is a wonderful piece of our town’s community soul that should be protected in perpetuity with a conservation easement to keep it a community garden for all ages and years to come.

It is time to move the discussion to other plans. Yes, it will take a couple of years of disruption. But that is what construction is. We have ball fields, and theaters and other resources across the town than can be used during construction. We can definitely build a great school and keep the garden.  So many people now know and understand this treasured town resource. Let’s continue the celebration…and let it grow!


Sal Liccione (District 9): I have reached out and worked closely with the Gardeners throughout this entire process. I have listened to their concerns and learned. I am deeply and firmly committed to the Gardens and Preserve and keeping them exactly where they are.

As such, I will only vote to support a new or refurbished Long Lots School Plan that does not disturb or destroy the existing Gardens and Preserve. In my opinion, this horrible threat to the Gardens should have been taken “off the table” by the Administration long ago.


John Suggs (District 9):  Thank you Don Bergmann for asking all of the local town candidates this vital question before the November election. Thank you, also, Dan Woog for providing us with this wonderful 06880 platform in which to answer it. Because of the importance of the question, I hope that the majority of us will choose to respond.

I wish my fellow Westporters to know that my position on the Gardens and the Preserve is one of the main reasons behind my recent decision, after taking a six year hiatus, to, once again, return to the RTM. (Dependent entirely, of course, on if the electors of District 9 decide to grant me the opportunity for another tour of service on the RTM.)

My position on the Gardens and Preserve is simple and unwavering. They must continue to be protected, preserved and celebrated as the Town Treasures that they are.  And they must remain, undisturbed, right where they have been so carefully tended and nurtured by hundreds of volunteers over the past twenty years.

As such, if I am elected, when the Long Lots Building Committee comes before the RTM, as is now expected either in December or January, I will vote against approving any Long Lots School plan that includes the destruction of the gardens and preserve in their present location.  Period.

None of us, much less our impressionable and curious school children, will ever benefit from a new or refurbished school if it is built on the backs of hundreds of gardeners who have labored in the fields these past twenty years.  We must acknowledge and honor the commitments that we first made with them. Just like a garden that is how a healthy, vibrant community grows.

I wish to offer one last point, if I might.  I have been deeply saddened and troubled by the process itself by which this whole matter of determining whether to rehab the existing school or building a new school has unfolded.  Much of the ultimate resulting controversies might well have been avoided, or at least, mitigated somewhat had there been a spirit of more openness and transparency by the Administration.

I have witnessed, as recently as this week, the negative impact of the outright refusal of the Park and Recreation Commission to so much as even place a discussion of the concerns of the gardeners on their meeting agenda. Much less to actively reach out and consult with them about their many ideas for creative ways to resolve this impasse.  By repeatedly refusing them a place on the PRC’s agenda, dozens and dozens of concerned residents, myself included, have been reduced to the indignity of pleading our case in the brief, few minutes set aside at the beginning of their meeting for non-agenda items.

This has not been Westport’s finest hour.

In conclusion, yes we must- – and will — either rehab the existing school or build a new school.  We can — and will — also identify a new location for a baseball field. But in the doing, we must also honor the stewardship, responsibility and commitment that was first made twenty years ago to maintain, protect and preserve our Community Garden and Preserve.

As for me, if elected in November, I will only vote to support a school plan that first “does no harm” and protects and preserves the gardens where they have resided for twenty years.






Ins And Outs Of Post Road Shopping Centers

On July 8, representatives from Connecticut’s Department of Transportation gave a public presentation on proposed work on the Post Road. Much of it involves the stretch between Fresh Market, and the Roseville/Hillspoint Road intersection.

The $5.3 million project (80% federally funded, 20% state funds) would include special left-turn-only lanes, as well as traffic signals, curbing, curb ramps, sidewalks and crosswalks.

Proposals for the Post Road near Fresh Market.

Alert “06880” reader Jennifer Johnson agrees with many of the ideas. However, she also has concerns. She wrote the DOT about several, including the need for a sidewalk on the south side from Mitchells to the fire station, and care of the cherry trees in front of the Volvo dealer.

However, what really caught my eye was this:

Eliminate multiple single-property curb cuts. There are an excessive number of curb cuts (17) on both sides of the road, from the traffic light at Fresh Market to the light at Roseville/Hillspoint Road.

The number of curb cuts is a source of danger to people regardless of how they travel (foot, car or bicycle). Now is the time to correct problems that have evolved as the Post Road developed.

There are many ways in and out of the shopping centers, and adjacent lots.

I never thought about that — but now that I have, it makes a lot of sense.

Why do we need so many entrances and exits at Fresh Market? Across the street, there are also a number of ways to get into and out of the Dunkin’ Donuts/UPS Store/Westport Hardware/Mumbai Times lot. (No one ever calls it by its official no-meaning name, Village Center.)

There are other spots in town too with multiple entrances and exits, like Stop & Shop, and Aux Delices/Carvel/Stiles.

There are only a couple of ways in and out of the CVS/Trader Joe’s clusterf***. But at the end of her email, Jennifer notes that this intersection appears to have been ignored by DOT.

Finally, she asks that one person be appointed to oversee and coordinate all of DOT’s Westport projects (there are others besides the Fresh Market initiative).

Great idea! I nominate Jennifer Johnson for the job.

(For full details of the project on the Westport town website, click here. Questions about the Post Road project can be sent to  the CT DOT project manager: Brian.Natwick@ct.com)

Proposed work at the Post Road/Roseville/Hillspoint intersection.

Protesters Face PURA At Water Tower Site Visit

You’ve seen the yard signs up and down North Avenue.

On Thursday, members of the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority did too.

They came to Westport last week, on a site visit to the proposed location of 2 concrete water towers. Aquarion hopes to build them — as replacements and improvements on the one current, much smaller facility — directly opposite Staples High School.

Jennifer Johnson joined several other opponents at the regulators’ site visit.

She was not impressed.

PURA members and protesters at the Aquarion North Avenue water tower site visit on Thursday.

“Aquarion didn’t mark out the rough location of the proposed tanks, or mark the trees that are coming down, and/or float a balloon so people could visualize the tanks’ height (squished into a small site),” she says. “Isn’t that the point of a site inspection?

Johnson reports that a few non-Aquarion attendees tried to mark the location of one of the new tanks by standing in the woods at the proposed center, then walking 50 feet in each direction. “It was only partly successful,” she says.

Johnson and her group hoped to convey some of their opposite to the PURA members. They printed out their main objections, part of a fact sheet originally compiled by Save Westport Now:

●  As currently planned, the new tank will not solve the water pressure problems in Westport. Even if the new tanks are built, the majority of fire hydrants in town will still be deficient.

●  The new tanks will allow Aquarion to “push” more water to other parts of Fairfield County, begging the question: Can’t they find another site for the second tank, in a less residential area?

An aerial view shows the North Avenue Aquarion tank site, opposite Staples High School.

●  During the proposed 2-plus-year construction period, trucks and industrial excavators will clog North Avenue and streets around Staples. Combined with traffic from Bedford Middle School and the loss of the sidewalk, it’s a disaster waiting to happen. Yet Aquarion remains delinquent in providing a basic construction plan.

●  The real problem is not just the size of the tanks, but the obsolete and undersized water mains that run beneath our roads.

●  To make matters worse, the new tanks are likely to create bigger problems. The large increase in water capacity can lead to stale water.

●  Aquarion has finally acknowledged the problem with the water mains, and agreed to minor upgrades. It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough. (Aquarion is a for-profit monopoly. Its interest in rewarding shareholders does not necessarily align with residents’ or customers’ interests.)

●  Westport could wind up with 2 extremely ugly tanks, more expensive water—and still have a water pressure problem.

A photo shows the height of the proposed new water tanks.

Opponents ask PURA to require a “full independent review and comprehensive plan for upgrading Westport’s water infrastructure.”

They also want Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission to have the authority to revoke the permit for this project. That way, they say, “Westport and Aquarion can move forward with a workable plan for rebuilding our water infrastructure for the next century.”

Several town officials, including the fire chief, have testified that the towers are necessary for safety.

PURA will hold a public hearing on Thursday, December 20 (9:30 a.m., 10 Franklin Square, New Britain), to consider Aquarion’s proposed towers.

Another Mid-Day, Perfect Weather Crash Ties Up Post Road

The number of automobile accidents that occur here in broad daylight, with beautiful weather, is truly astonishing.

This one happened late this morning, on the Post Road across from the Westport Inn.

(Photo/Jennifer Johnson)

(Photo/Jennifer Johnson)

Fortunately, no one was hurt.

This time.

Changes Ahead For Commuter Lot?

A new bridge over the Saugatuck River, and a new look for Railroad Place, are not the only changes being considered for the area near the train station.

This Tuesday (June 7, 7:30 p.m., Town Hall), the RTM will consider a proposal to redesign train station parking lot 1. That’s the area adjacent to Luciano Park, directly opposite the old Blu Parrot/Jasmine/Arrow building.

An aerial view of train station parking lot 1 (center).

An aerial view of train station parking lot 1 (center). Luciano Park is the green area on its right. The state-owned lot near Exit 17 is on the left.

The lot is owned jointly by the town of Westport, and state of Connecticut. It’s in poor condition, needing repaving, re-striping and flood mitigation. The redesign addresses those issue — and provides improved lighting, more electric car charging stations, a new pedestrian staircase, partial sidewalks, new crosswalks in the lot, and plenty of trees.

However, because the lot’s 5 exits do not conform to current state and town regulations, they would be reconfigured — and reduced to just 1. All cars entering and exiting the lot would use a single point, next to Luciano Park. Police chief Foti Koskinas estimates that could increase exiting time by 6 minutes. (There would be 2 emergency exits as well.)

It’s estimated that the reconfiguration would reduce the lot’s capacity from 320 to 310.

Earlier this week, the RTM Transit Committee voted on the proposal. They deadlocked, 3-3.

(To access the full bid document, click here. Hat tip: Jennifer Johnson, RTM member, District 9)



Where The Sidewalks End

“06880” reader Jennifer Johnson writes:

On a Friday in late August, Kaeleigh, a Staples High School sophomore did what many Westporters do on a perfect summer day:  She headed out for a jog to Compo Beach.

Before leaving, Kaeleigh and her mom agreed on her route. Kaeleigh would use the crosswalk on Bridge Street in front of the old Saugatuck Elementary School (now senior housing), instead of crossing further east at the busy intersection with South Compo Road.

Kaeleigh’s run was cut frighteningly short. As she crossed Bridge Street, Kaeleigh was hit by a car traveling eastbound. Evidently the driver never saw her. The impact propelled Kaeleigh onto the hood of the car. Her head smashed the windshield. She is still recuperating.

We don’t know why the driver didn’t see Kaeleigh, or why she didn’t see the car. It’s a flat, open stretch of road with long sight lines. Kaeleigh thought it would be fine to use the crosswalk. However, she was mistaken. The decades-old crosswalk she relied upon has been removed.

Bridge Street, where Kayleigh was hit.

Bridge Street, where Kayleigh was hit.

Kaeleigh could be forgiven for her mistake. The fact that the crosswalk was supposedly discontinued is not obvious. On the north side there are curb cut marks in the sidewalk, while on the south side the sidewalk ends at the crosswalk. In any event, if she didn’t cross there she would have had to navigate past cars turning in various directions at the Compo intersection.

We all face similar obstacles when we try to walk or jog around Westport: sidewalks come to an end, shoulders are too narrow for road-sharing, temporary signs block sidewalks, people are forced to walk behind parked cars, etc.  But unlike Kaeleigh most of us don’t have to live with the consequences of being hit by a car….yet.

We have failed to make Westport safe for pedestrians. Despite our stated goals in multiple town plans, and the strong desire across all demographics for improved pedestrian safety and access, we’re not making progress. Road congestion is increasing, new developments are cropping up everywhere, and more people have been injured or killed on our streets. We force people to stand in the road to wait for a bus, lead people down sidewalks that abruptly end, and force families to walk in roads that are designed and maintained solely for cars.  Westport can and must do better.

Kayleigh, with a friend.

Kayleigh, with a friend.

Across the country, and throughout our region (including Norwalk), towns are embracing the goal of making their streets “complete.” That means planning and maintaining streets to allow safe and convenient access for users of all ages and abilities regardless of their mode of transportation, whether walking, bicycling, driving and riding public transportation.

In the case of Bridge Street, there are many options to make it more “complete”: adding better signage, road markings and plantings to help alert drivers; adding road cameras or other tools to help enforce speed limits; creating wider shoulders and/or sidewalks on both sides of the road.

Westport needs a “Complete Street” plan for Bridge Street, and town-wide leadership and funding to make it happen — there, and on all of our 120 miles of public roadways.

How many more Kaeleighs will it take?

Trains Suck, But Transit District Ridership Soars

It’s one bit of good news on the commuter front: Though Westporters suffer daily woes on Metro-North trains, many more folks ride Westport Transit District buses to board them.

Combined with after-school increases, the WTD projects a near 11% rise in riders this year. After a decade of dwindling numbers — both a cause and effect of funding and service cuts — that’s impressive news indeed.

From July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013, the WTD carried 63,000 riders. This year, it’s on track for 70,000. And that includes 3 weeks when Metro-North’s worst woes kept nearly everyone off the rails.

The ridership increases work out to 8.5% for fixed-route commuter buses, and 40% in after-school riders. One of the key after-school routes is to Earthplace, where several dozen students have internships.

A Westport transit bus makes a pickup at Saugatuck station.

A Westport transit bus makes a pickup at Saugatuck station.

Jim Ross — chair of the Westport Citizens Transit Committee — ties much of the increase to the “huge efforts” of unpaid transit directors Jennifer Johnson and Gene Cedarbaum.

“They’ve single-handedly upped the WTD’s game by tirelessly working with state, town and business communities to raise awareness and support,” Ross says.

He also cites a “smart, cost-effective marketing effort” that includes internet and social media efforts, new route and schedule brochures, train station signage, and community outreach programs.

Today, for example, the WTD is handing out brochures — and free coffee — at Westport’s train stations.

The Westport bus shuttle map.

The Westport bus shuttle map.

Early next month, they’ll unveil a “transit info kiosk” at the Senior Center. It will contain brochures and information about all Westport transportation options, from WTD buses to shared-ride services and taxis.

“We haven’t reinvented the wheel,” Ross says. (It’s unclear whether his pun was intentional or not.)

“But this is a bit of proof that if we get information out to people, they realize there’s a need. This isn’t the Friends of the Library. It’s not a charity. It’s public transportation, which is as un-sexy as it gets. But it is a service. Citizens are showing that they want it.

“If town officials really commit to this — if they move from a discussion of ‘Should we have it?’ to ‘This is a town gem’ — we can really move forward.”

As budget season begins, the wheels on Westport’s bus service are clearly on a roll.