One of the unintended consequences of COVID is a rise in the number of new swimming pools. All over town, construction is underway.
All over town — except in areas of town with lots that, according to zoning regulations, are undersized or non-conforming. Many of those properties are in areas like Saugatuck Shores and Compo Beach.
For years, architects and land use experts — including Pete Romano, the principal at LANDTECH, the Westport-based engineering and planning firm — have gone to the Zoning Board of Appeals requesting variances. This Thursday (May 6, Zoom), the Planning & Zoning Commission will consider a text amendment to address that issue.
Text amendment 793 would modify the swimming pool definition to exclude swimming pools of a certain size from total coverage calculations, in all zoning districts.
It would also exclude “sports courts” (private basketball and pickleball courts, etc.) of a certain size from total coverage calculations.
There would be size limits: 850 square feet for pools, and up to 40′ x 40′ for sports courts. Non-conforming lots would still be required to adhere to building and conservation setbacks, and fulfill all drainage requirements.
A Westport summer scene.
Romano has represented many homeowners who have sought variances. He says the text amendment would reduce the number of land-use approvals required to construct a pool.
He notes a current regulatory quirk: A homeowner right now can construct a patio 35 inches high, right up to all building setbacks, and fill the entire lot, setback to setback. It would not count toward total coverage calculations; that only applies to patios at least 36 inches above the ground.
However, Romano says, “once you punch a hole in the patio and pour water in it, it counts towards total coverage.”
Many town officials seem to be in favor of the text amendments. So are most realtors.
Thursday’s meeting will be livestreamed at www.westportct.gov, and shown on Optimum channel 79 and Frontier channel 6020. Public comments can be sent to PandZ@westportct.gov by noon Thursday. To comment in real time during the meeting, email email@example.com by noon on Thursday; include your name, address and “agenda item 5.” Click here and scroll down for the full text amendment.
A second one is planned for the opposite side of town.
Maplewood Senior Living has proposed a 3-story facility for the former Dragone Classic Motorworks site, diagonally across from Kings Highway Elementary.
Site plan for the proposed assisted living facility. Post Road East is on the right; Kings Highway North and Ludlow Street are on the left.
The property has a long history with automobiles. It was for many years the home of the Small Car Company — for a while, the most successful Volkswagen dealer in the US. In 2018 it was rezoned to allow an electric car dealership (rumored to be Tesla).
The current tenant is Carvana, a used car dealer that sells entirely online. Nearby buildings include retail and residences, with 8 apartments.
The former Dragone property, and its neighbor, on Post Road West.
Maplewood’s corporate headquarters are on Gorham Island, off Parker Harding Plaza. They operate 15 senior living communities in 5 states. Other Connecticut locations include Southport, East Norwalk, Newtown, Darien, Bethel, Danbury and Orange.
Plans call 95 units: 49 for assisted living, 46 for memory and full care. Two of the assisted living units will be designated as affordable. The facility will be called Maplewood at Westport.
Artists’ rendering of Maplewood at Westport.
Because part of the property lies within the Kings Highway North Local Historic District, Maplewood and Landtech — the Saugatuck-based engineering and environmental firm — have worked with neighbors, and Westport’s Historic District Commission, since June.
Two “historic residences” — over 50 years old — will be preserved.
One house at 174 Post Road West will be relocated to 38 Kings Highway North.
The existing home at 38 Kings Highway North, with a rendering of the home that will be relocated from 174 Post Road West.
Another, at #172, will be moved slightly, and designated as affordable.
The new location of the house at 172 Post Road West.
Maplewood’s building will be tucked into the hill. Only the roof will be visible from Kings Highway. Landscaping and vegetation will be added to the site, and on some private property.
All contaminated soil — the legacy of decades as a car dealership — will be removed.
The proposal goes before the Flood & Erosion Control Board in March, with the Conservation Commission to follow. The target date for opening is late summer or early fall of 2022.
Even if that Glass House is a National Historic Landmark.
The Glass House was architect Philip Johnson’s personal residence. Built in 1948 in New Canaan, it’s part of an estate that includes other innovative buildings he designed, all connected by beautiful manicured walkways.
Each property — the Brick House, the Studio, Da Monsta, the Painting Gallery, Pavilion in the Pond and the Sculpture Gallery — is a work of art, and features remarkable collections of paintings and sculptures. The site draws thousands of visitors a year.
Philip Johnson’s Glass House …
But even world-renowned architects design houses that, over time, develop structural or environmental problems.
The National Trust for Historical Preservation — owner of the famed property — chose Landtech to identify and remedy the conditions impacting each of the buildings.
The Saugatuck-based engineering firm is investigating drainage problems that have long plagued the Brick House, which includes Johnson’s private sleeping quarters, study and gallery space.
Groundwater levels have impacted the structure, creating moisture and mold. Conditions became so severe that the gallery is unusable.
… and The Brick House.
As they work to correct drainage and mold issues, Landtech engineers have an additional challenge: respecting the historical integrity of the Glass House and Brick House, and the spectacular property they sit on.
As anyone who has seen their Westport work knows, they’re up to the task. They’ll work through early spring, ensuring that the busy summer event schedule will go on as planned.
And that one of Connecticut’s top tourist attractions will continue to delight visitors and architectural enthusiasts for decades to come.
More than a decade ago, the Gault family’s bold plan kick-started the renaissance of Saugatuck.
Two plazas with restaurants, shops and apartments brought new life to one of Westport’s oldest neighborhoods. It’s a vibrant, fun and walkable area, with only one chain store in sight. (Dunkin’ Donuts. At least it’s not Starbucks.)
Now, a new development will soon begin.
Last week, the Planning & Zoning Commission voted unanimously in favor of Phase II of Saugatuck Center. It consists of residential apartments on Ketchum Street — the humpback road connecting Riverside Avenue and Franklin Street.
Aerial view of the Phase II apartments (white and green).
Three of the apartments will be affordable, based on town regulations.
Thirteen units will be in the area near the office building that houses the Hub workspace, Bartaco corporate headquarters and a financial firm. That building will remain. Parking is underground.
A small office building on Ketchum near Franklin, as well as the post office mailbox building, will be removed. Four more townhouse-style units will be built there.
The streetscape will be similar to the apartments already further east on Ketchum, with trees, sidewalks and matching lamps. Bruce Beinfield is the project architect.
An artist’s rendering of the apartments. View is northeast, from the corner of Franklin and Ketchum Streets.
The project also includes work on the parking lot at the existing office building, as well as 518 Riverside Avenue. That building houses Landtech, the engineering and environmental firm that’s working with the Gaults on Phase II.
The P&Z was the final town body needed for approval.
Groundbreaking takes place in early spring. The first residents move in in in 2021.
Jeff Seaver runs Seaver Interactive, a web design and digital marketing firm in Saugatuck. He’s been friends, and worked with, Pete Romano — a Saugatuck native — for 7 years. Jeff writes:
Walking around town with Pete Romano is like going for a stroll with the mayor: folks say hello everywhere he goes. Pete’s well known not just for his expertise in running Landtech — an engineering and environmental firm on Riverside Avenue — but also for his community service. His reputation spans generations.
His father, PJ Romano, grew up in Westport. He was a PAL volunteer for almost 50 years. The athletic field behind Saugatuck Elementary School is named for him, honoring his role in developing PAL’s football, baseball, wrestling and other programs, including the ice rink at Longshore.
Pete’s mom, Joan Romano, still volunteers with PAL. That spirit continues, as Pete maintains a strong family tradition of service.
Pete played baseball and football at Staples High School. His mom recalls that Pete “would knock a player down, but then afterward, stop to help pick them up.”
Working with his longtime friend and partner at Saugatuck Sweets, Al DiGuido, Pete is one of the forces behind DiGuido’s legendary Al’s Angels charity. Last year, Pete helped organize and oversee over 2,500 holiday meals to help those in need.
Pete Romano (left) with his mother Joan, and Al DiGuido, at Saugatuck Sweets.
Al DiGuido said, “I have never thought of Pete Romano as a hero. I doubt he regards himself that way. He just has a tireless passion for doing the heavy lifting for those in need, which inspires me and so many others.
“Pete doesn’t seem to need or want the spotlight. He’s not looking for trophies, awards or accolades. I think he does this because its in his DNA. His family has always been committed to doing all they could to help the community. Some are content to sit on the sidelines, but Pete gets his hands dirty doing the hard work that is truly needed.”
But Pete has a superhero alter ego. Every Christmas he plays Santa Claus. He arrives on a Westport Police patrol boat at Saugatuck Center, lighting the tree and entertaining kids.
Here comes Pete — er, Santa Claus!
His good works could fill a book. They include being a major contributor to the renovation of the Westport Weston Family YMCA, and helping sponsor events for the American Cancer Society, Project Return, ElderHouse, Operation Hope, Westport Rotary, Little League Softball, plus many other local causes.
Bill Mitchell has been a pal of Pete’s for many years. They support many of the same causes, including Operation Hope and Project Runway. Bill notes, “Pete and his family have been a gift to our community.”
Steve Smith, Westport’s building inspector, said, “Pete Romano is a successful community leader who is generous and always willing to help out a community cause. He has given his time to our town unselfishly — and always with his characteristically great sense of humor.”
Phil Cerrone, an architect who has partnered in a number of efforts with Pete’s firm, said, “Pete is one of the most caring and considerate people I know. He can always be relied on to help a friend in need. Just as important, he can also be counted on to supply top quality food and drink!”
One of Pete’s most treasured causes is Wakeman Town Farm. Pete often joins with his friend, architect Peter Wormser, scooping ice cream at the Farm’s special events.
Pete Romano and Peter Wormser, at Wakeman Town Farm.
Pete always has time for Westport schools. He and his firm helped create the night lights at the Staples High School football field, the fields at Bedford Middle School, and the Loeffler Field terrace (granite seating on the soccer field hill).
He is a generous supporter of Staples sports teams, Staples Players and middle school theater productions, the Staples robotics team, and more.
Pete’s firm collaborates with Gault Energy on many projects. Gault family members are effusive in their praise. Ginger Gault and Jimmy Donaher say, “He has keen insight to go along with a big heart, and on top of everything else, he’s hysterically funny. Pete is the complete package.”
He is especially proud of his 2 daughters. They went through the Westport School System, and are now smart, vibrant, strong women. Pete said, “They got the best public education one could dream of. How do you ever repay that debt?”
Pete celebrated a birthday recently. As with many hard-working and generous folks, one of the hardest challenge is figuring out what to give them.
What do you give a man like Pete Romano who does not have everything, but gives everything?
The only answer is: love and genuine appreciation for all that he does.
It’s ironic: Though no one in Westport stops at stop signs, they were invented by a Westporter.
So were pedestrian crosswalks, traffic circles, 1-way streets, taxi stands and pedestrian safety islands.
All were the brainchild of William Phelps Eno. And for many years, his worldwide traffic institute was headquartered on Saugatuck Avenue.
We pass by the handsome, 11,000-square foot brick and stone 1938 building near the Norwalk line without knowing its history.
That history came quite close to being obliterated — much like pedestrians were, before Eno came along.
The Eno Foundation building on Saugatuck Avenue.
The building and land were on the market. LandTech — Pete Romano’s engineering and design firm situated 2 minutes away (without traffic) on Riverside Avenue — designed a standard suburban use of the land. Their plan knocked down the Eno building, and subdivided the 4+ acres of land into 4 contorted 1-acre lots, with less than half an acre of open space.
But then they applied the open space subdivision regulations. That gave them 3 lots of 1/2 acre each — perfect for homes of 3,000 square feet, designed for empty nesters.
Using a section of the Planning & Zoning regulations for historic structures — offering relief from coverage, setbacks and non-conformities — LandTech preserved the Eno building on a full acre lot, with nearly 1.5 acres of open space.
On Thursday night, the P&Z considered the plan. After hearing comments from commissioners, approval seems likely.
Let’s hope they give it the green light.
LandTech’s plans for the Eno property. The foundation building is on the right, with a circular driveway in front. Click on or hover over to enlarge.
The opening of Harvest restaurant — in the former Mario’s space — has brought renewed attention to Railroad Place.
It’s also reminded people of the long-rumored Railroad Place project — a redevelopment plan for a larger area that shares the name of the small but significant street on the westbound side of the railroad station.
With Saugatuck Center completed and thriving — Riverside Avenue is now a hot spot filled with new restaurants, a butcher shop, gourmet food store, sweet shop, paddle rental store, 27 apartments and more — Westporters have waited for the next phase.
It’s unrelated — who’s-who-wise — to the Gault family’s Saugatuck Center work. But it’s been rumored for years, as a natural next step.
Negotiations have proceeded, in fits and starts, since 2011. In 2012, LandTech — the highly regarded engineering and planning firm headquartered on Riverside Avenue — drew up an RFP for the families who have owned the property for nearly 100 years, to seek developers.
It involved all the land bordered by Railroad Place, Charles Street and Riverside Avenue, as well as the private parking lot adjacent to Luciano Park.
All the land, that is, except the Mario’s/Harvest building, and the grim, out-of-character office building at 21 Charles Street. They have their own owners. All the rest of the property in the plan is owned by 2 families.
An aerial view of the proposed Railroad Place development. Charles Street (including the office building) is at left; the train tracks run diagonally across the top. Luciano Park is at the bottom. Click on or hover over to enlarge.
LandTech’s proposal — in collaboration with Westport architect Peter Wormser — envisions an entirely new look for the 3-acre space.
Steps next to Harvest will lead to a bluestone plaza, similar to the one between the Whelk and Saugatuck Sweets that draws musicians, sunbathers and people-watchers.
A view from the westbound train platform across Railroad Place.
Surrounding the plaza will be a mix of retail stores and apartments. There’s room for a small movie theater and boutique hotel.
A closeup of the rendering above. Mario’s is, of course, now Harvest restaurant.
Nearby, planners envision an enclosed, year-round green market.
Two levels of underground parking would accommodate 480 cars.
It’s not a done deal, of course. The 4-story development would need a zone change, to embrace Transit-Oriented Development (programs to link transportation centers with surrounding neighborhoods). The floor area ration would require a text amendment.
The view across Riverside Avenue, from Tutti’s. The buildings in the artist’s rendering would replace the current cleaners and adjacent buildings. The Charles Street office building is on the far right.
The project has moved very slowly, in part because of land valuation questions. No developer has yet signed on.
But Railroad Place — the property — is an unpolished gem, waiting to shine. Bordered by existing businesses and a train station — with a major highway nearby — it’s ripe for development.
Stores and shops in the proposed Railroad Place development.
Exciting plans have been available for several years. They’ve been shopped around, creating excitement among everyone who’s seen them.
The 2 families that own most of Railroad Place have not yet agreed on the next steps. When — that is, if — they do, the future of one of Westport’s most intriguing, often-underutilized sections of town could be very, very cool.
As chairman of Westport’s Parks and Recreation Commission, Charlie Haberstroh takes his job seriously. So the other day he read a long Wall Street Journal story titled “The New Mattress Professionals.” Hey, beds are great spots for recreational activities, right?
Charlie plowed through tons of details about Eve and Casper, Leesa and Keetsa. These startups are apparently turning the mattress industry upside down, with new marketing techniques. One of those is “celebrity endorsements or associations.”
Near the end, this caught Charlie’s eye:
Pope Francis was expected to sleep on a memory foam relaxed firm queen-sized mattress by West Port, Conn.-based online luxury mattress startup Saatva’s Loom & Leaf division. The pontiff visited the Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary near Philadelphia last weekend, according to Stephen Dolan, the seminary’s chief financial officer. Mr. Dolan said the mattress was donated but declined to comment further and referred questions to the company.
Saatva chief executive Ron Rudzin says he is “simply honored and blessed” by the news.
I could not find a photo of the pope and his mattress. So this will have to do.
Stuart Carlitz, chief executive of Bedding Industries of America, which manufactures Saatva mattresses, says he was approached by representatives from the World Meeting of Families, who asked if he could supply a bed for the Holy Father…. Mr. Carlitz says he donated the Saatva mattress, which retails for $999.
Today is Sunday. That’s a work day for the pope, so I couldn’t call the Vatican to ask how he slept.
Saatva Ron Rudzin, in a press photo. That’s the Saugatuck River behind him.
I had never heard of Saatva — let alone known that it’s headquartered right here in 06880.
I checked the company’s website to learn more about their Westport connection. I could not find much — beyond CEO Rudzin saying he likes to fish in the Saugatuck River — but I did find this:
Saatva is the fastest growing online mattress company in the country. Our honest passion for making each customer happy is the daily mantra. Our non commissioned, courteous and expert representatives give honest “no pressure” guidance. Our teams working in our 14 ‘partnering’ American factories are so proud to be building a luxury product that is healthy for the body and safe for the environment.
Additionally, we believe in building long term friendships with our delivery teams throughout our fulfillment centers. We love the culture that we’ve created as we are a wonderfully diverse and spirited group of employees who enjoy doing our part to keep America building.
So where is Saatva located?
There is no address on their website. BBB Business Review says they’re at 8 Wright Street. MerchantCircle.com puts them at 25 Sylvan Lane South, Suite W.
I would have called headquarters to find out.
But it’s Sunday. Everyone is sleeping in.
In addition to sleeping on a Westport mattress, Pope Francis apparently made an unannounced visit to Landtech, the engineering consultant firm in Saugatuck.
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