Tag Archives: John Ceriale

Neighbor Fears Prospect Of Tree Demolition

Mark Donovan is proof that you can go home again.

Last January the 1985 Staples High School graduate — now a new business entrepreneur — moved with his wife and youngest daughter into the Prospect Road house where he grew up. His mother — who moved there with her family 50 years ago — welcomed the companionship.

Now Donovan worries that the house he went home to may lose some of its greatest assets.

A developer bought the house next door. He’s ready to demolish the home — and the old oak trees that give the area so much beauty.

Some of them sit near the Donovans’ property line, within the next door property setback.

The grand oaks on the property line this fall ….

Donovan fears what the loss of those trees will do to the streetscape. He worries too about the effect on his and his neighbor’s centuries-old stone walls; the trees’ root systems run directly underneath.

Of course he’s concerned too about water runoff, from the increasingly severe storms we now see.

Donovan has one more worry: that Westport’s Tree Board — and every other town body — is powerless to stop the developer’s plans.

No regulations currently address the cutting of trees on private property.

“From time to time trees obviously need to come down,” Donovan says. “But why doesn’t the town protect those that don’t have to?”

… and more recently.

John and Melissa Ceriale — his across-the-street neighbors, who have spent 25 years building beautiful gardens and a meadow on their 8 acres of land — are concerned too. They’re helping Donovan try to convince developer Joe Feinleib of Coastal Construction to scale back his clear-cutting plans.

The Westport Garden Club is also making calls.

Donovan admits this is a personal issue. But, he says, his eyes have been opened to broader, town-wide concerns. Other places, like Greenwich and Nyack, have very strict rules about trees. Why, he wonders, don’t we?

The developer has already cut many trees on his property.

“There’s nothing to stop any developer,” Donovan notes. “If no one says they can’t, I don’t blame them for trying. Why does the town allow that to happen?

“They don’t have to care about me personally. But they should care about the history, the beauty and the environment of the entire town.”

Right now, the trees remain. But Donovan knows that any day, he could arrive home and see the land next door irrevocably altered.

“They say they’ll plant new trees,” he says of the developer. “I don’t understand that reasoning. If these old oak trees come down, we can’t get them back in my kids’ and grandchildren’s lifetimes.”

(Developer Joe Feinleib of Coastal Construction did not reply to a request for comment.)

Ceriales: Tree Warden Needs More Clout

When it comes to cutting down trees, Westporters seem to fall into 2 camps.

One side is opposed. Neighbors and residents want laws, lawsuits — anything to prevent developers from clear-cutting land to build new homes.

The other side counters that private property is just that: private property. If you want to save some trees, they say, then buy the land yourself.

John Ceriale thinks there is a third way.

He has skin in the game. He and his wife Melissa own almost 10 magnificent acres on Prospect Road. They’ve spent 25 years building beautiful gardens and, most recently, a meadow on their land. They’ve created one of Westport’s most gorgeous streetscapes, and they enjoy sharing it with all of us.

Pyramid grasses on Prospect Road. (Photo/Cindy Shumate)

They’ve also watched helplessly as a neighbor behind them clear cut his property. In response, the Ceriales planted 19 trees at the edge of their land to block out a towering new home. That’s not a practical solution for most neighboring.

“I’m not a tree hugger,” John says. “I don’t want to save every tree. Developers and new home buyers do have rights. But clear-cutting land with 60- and 70-year-old trees?

“Let’s talk about deer. They run rampant. No one talks about euthanizing them. Yet we cut these magnificent old trees without a second thought.”

John likens clear-cutting to other projects. “I can’t build a tennis court that would send water onto my neighbor’s property. But clear-cutting can do the same thing. Trees are beautiful. And they also have an environmental and community impact.”

Looking northeast, on the Ceriales’ property. (Photo/Cindy Shumate)

With homes in other parts of the country, John sees how they — and other communities — handle trees. Aspen regulates every tree. The size of every tree that is removed is calculated. Replacements must be planted. In Palm Beach, certain species are catalogued and governed. Permits are required in both places.

In Westport, by contrast, “we look at trees as expendable.”

Part of the problem, he says, is that the tree warden is responsible only for trees on town roads or grounds. He has no control over trees on private property. A Tree Board works with the tree warden, but is similarly restricted to only public land.

John would like to see regulations changed, to give the tree warden more clout. Reiterating the rights of property owners and developers, John says a tree warden and board “can’t be draconian. But no one should be able to strip everything away, either.”

The Prospect Road meadow. Trees and grasses work harmoniously, aesthetically and environmentally. (Photo/Cindy Shumate)

He’d also like to see the tree warden emphasize the important of hardwoods. “Everyone plants maples, because they’re the least expensive. No one is planting oaks, hickories or elms. They’re great trees. We need to encourage that.

“Diversity, as we all know, is hugely important. Just like with the current pandemic, a disease in the maple species will wreak havoc throughout town, with massive impacts.

“We all must think bigger, and with more responsibility for the future of our town and neighbors.”

Westport would be a pioneer in that effort. Most lower Fairfield County towns do not have special tree ordinances, unless wetlands are involved. The only municipality in Connecticut that regulates trees on private property is Hartford (click here).

John and Melissa want to know what “06880” readers think. Click “Comments” below — and send them to OurWestportTrees@gmail.com. They’ll get in touch with you soon.

Roundup: Flowers, Food, Farm, More


It doesn’t get more neighborly than this.

In the middle of Greens Farms, on Prospect Road, Melissa and John Ceriale spent 20 years creating an 8-acre oasis. Gardens, trees, bushes and walking paths fill their property.

“Prospect Gardens” is one of the most beautiful spots in town. Most of us admire it — but only from the road.

Yesterday the couple invited all their neighbors over. Most came — including First Selectman Jim Marpe and his wife Mary Ellen.

Treats included apples from the orchard, cider and donuts. Every kid took a pumpkin home.

There was an observation bee hive, and honey tasting.

David Brant of the Aspetuck Land Trust spoke with Greens Farms residents about their Green Corridor project.

Debra Kandrak pitched her daffodil planting plan.

It was a socially distanced, supremely relaxing afternoon. Many neighbors said they’d driven, walked or run by the property for years. Now they know what’s happening behind the fence.

This spring, the Ceriales will add more beauty to their land. Owners of an adjacent house are moving. The Ceriales bought the property, and will take it down.

The former owners’ daughter and her husband were there today. They planted a patch of daffodils, to bloom long after their home is gone.

Neighborhood kids enjoy apples by the Prospect Road gardens.


The “best Mediterranean cuisine” is coming to Westport.

At least, that’s what the sign says at the former Matsu Sushi, across from Jesup Green.

I’m not sure if the name of the new place is “Restaurant Apply Now,” or that’s just the email address. Details to follow.

(Photo/Sal Liccione)


The other day, a house was demolished on Compo Parkway:

However, it’s not just any house. A neighbor thinks it was the original barn for the onion fields on the street, back in the farming days.

At any rate, it’s now just one more Westport memory:

(Photos/Tracy Porosoff)


When Q104.3’s iHeartDaily blog interviewed Nile Rogers, the headline was: “Why He’s Writing More Than Ever.”

It’s an interesting look at the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer. And it includes his description of writing collaboratively with a partner in Los Angeles, while Nile is “basically living inside a box” in Westport.

Click here for those insights — and much more. (Hat tip: Johanna Rossi)

Nile Rodgers


More music news:

Daniel Tashian — the Nashville-based, Grammy-winning producer/songwriter/ musician, and son of Staples High School graduates Barry (who played with The Remains, Flying Burrito Brothers and Emmy Lou Harris) and Holly Tashian (a country star with Barry as a duo) — has a new, intriguing collaboration.

Daniel is working with Burt Bacharach. Yes, he’s still writing and performing, at 92 years old. They recently released a number of songs under the name “Blue Umbrella.” Click the YouTube video below, and enjoy. (Hat tip: Jim Honeycutt)

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And finally … Cardi B turns 28 today. I like it!

in Greens Farms, A Meadow Grows

For decades, Westporters have watched meadows disappear. New homes replace open space. Natural grass gives way to well-manicured, well-meaning — yet artificial-looking — lawns.

It’s hard to imagine a new meadow being created anywhere. But it’s happening on Prospect Road.

John and Melissa Ceriale are already Westport heroes for the beauty they’ve brought to Greens Farms. Gardens, trees, bushes and walking paths fill their 8-acre property.

Looking northeast, on the Ceriales’ property.

The couple — noted philanthropists and volunteers — have a vision. Noted landscape designer Cindy Shumate brings it to life.

And they’re in it for the long haul. “In 40 years, the trees we’re planting now will be magnificent,” Cindy says.

Right now, it’s the meadow that’s drawing raves.

Early this spring, Cindy planted 4,600 3-inch perennial plugs on an acre of land, at the far end of #25 Prospect. They’ll grow in slashes, she says, self-sowing in the lawn grass to create a “wild meadow.”

Already, that lawn grass is 18 to 20 inches high. It moves in the wind. “So beautiful and natural,” Cindy says. “It’s what anyone’s lawn would look like if they stopped mowing.”

The Prospect Road meadow.

She likens her role to a painter. Instead of a brush, her medium is plants.

Neighbors notice.

“People out on their COVID walks pass by,” Cindy says. “They’re curious. I wave, and they come over to the stone wall to talk.”

One man stared as he drove by. Then he backed up to chat, and learn more.

“Everyone is amazed that someone would purchase a piece of land and not put a home on it,” Cindy says. “But John and Melissa have a larger perspective. As they add land, they’re putting this parcel together so that it really works with nature.”

A parcel of land with gardens, walking paths, and now a meadow. What is Westport coming to?

(Hat tip: Samuel Wang)

Pyramid grasses on Prospect Road.