Tag Archives: Matthew Mandell

[OPINIONS] Cons, Pros Of State “Multi-Housing” Bill

Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce executive director and RTM member Matthew Mandell sends regular emails to a large list. He addresses a variety of local topics.

The other day he weighed in on State Senate Bill 1024, concerning multi-family housing. He wrote:

More than one bill being proposed in Hartford would usurp local zoning laws and single family zoning, and allow as of right multi-family housing.

One would mandate this change 1/2 mile around any train station, as well as 1/4 mile from a commercial zone.

Another would allow duplexes (2-family homes) in any single family zone.

The former, which I will focus on, would include both Saugatuck and Greens Farms areas, the swaths along Riverside Avenue and all along the Post Road. We are talking hundreds if not thousands of properties.

The Westport train station has long been the center of multi-use developments.

The term “as of right” means free to do it essentially without Planning & Zoning  approval. Any developer could come in and build 4 condo units on any property they wanted, regardless of our rules, and the concerns or living choices of the neighbors.

There is a need for affordable housing, no argument, and social inequities exist in our state. The cause of much of this is being laid, by the proponents of these measures, at the door step of our towns and more than often those towns in Fairfield County. Past zoning rules, now outlawed, fostered exclusionary practices and this, they say, still needs to be rectified. More importantly, they also say current zoning decisions still do this.

So in order to set things straight, all towns across the state would have to accept this responsibility and must allow this unfettered development.

Many legislators, senators and representatives, want to be doing the right thing. So do most of us. Being on the right side of history, by creating more affordable housing and correcting social injustices, is for the most part a no-brainer. It’s right.

But many of them yearning to help have and are being persuaded that this specific legislation is the right way to do it. It is not. It’s like many things that start with the best of intentions, if not vetted thoroughly, and yes challenged, have significant and unintended consequences

The proponents believe that legislating by fiat and across the board densification will solve the problem. Yet there is no proof offered that any of this housing would be affordable or that a great diversity of individuals would be benefited. It is a theory, it seems, without verified merit and a myopic view of how planning works.

For years, Canal Park has offered affordable housing for seniors, near downtown.

What is most bothersome to me is that this would be done without regard to how this would affect those that currently live in these towns and specific areas. At risk are the areas where economics presently support naturally affordable housing and the strivers who have worked hard to have a home with a front and backyard for their kids to play.

In the case of Westport, this legislation would actually thwart our efforts to create housing diversity. We currently mandate 20% affordability for all multi-family housing and have advanced proposals to create more. We actually have done such a good job that not only did the state award us with an 8-30g moratorium that other towns are looking at what we have done to emulate it.

If this legislation came to be, developers would snap up the choicest of properties first, most likely along the river and build million dollar condos all along its banks. This would then cascade to more and more lots, especially the naturally occurring affordable, creating more unaffordable housing, stressing water, sewer, police, fire, school and road infrastructure.

The negative environmental affects would be dramatic as the walkable community envisioned would not exist as basic household needs and jobs would still be a drive away instead of within this newly over dense community. Saugatuck would grind to a halt and Greens Farms would be a shadow of itself.

Bottom line: All transit hubs and TOD’s are not the same and top down. One-size-fits-all legislation simply does not work. The only people who this would actually benefit are developers.

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Lawrence Weisman disagrees. Because he has no mechanism like Mandell’s to respond, he asked “06880” to post his response.

Dear Matt:

It is my observation that when a debater tries to persuade an audience of the rightness of his position by offering a parade of horribles, he is almost always on the wrong side of the issue and, for want of substance, is reduced to hyperbole.
Your description of the substance of this bill and its consequences is a prime example of that tactic.

You are wrong about both the substance and the probable consequences of the bill, and your reference to those “who have worked hard to have a home with a front and backyard for their kids to play” is a classic dog whistle in favor of exclusionary policies.

Connecticut has a systemic bureaucratic problem in addition to its systemic racial problem. Government in our state is fractured. We have counties but no county or regional government with authority to address what are clearly regional problems, among which are transportation, the environment, and housing.

So rather than trying to deal with regional issues in an uncoordinated town by town basis, we are obliged to rely on statewide action to produce uniform results. That’s what this bill is intended to do and why it is needed.

Westport is not the villain in this piece. Our P&Z has done and continues to do its part to address housing inequity and the need for affordable housing, and it is even considering “as of right” accessory dwelling units.

1177 Post Road East includes 30% affordable units, according to state standards.

You say that “as of right” means without P&Z approval, thereby suggesting that it means unregulated, but what you don’t say is that these accessory units do not require P&Z approval precisely because they are limited by regulation as to size, height, building coverage, number of parking spaces, and the amount of unused permissible coverage on the lot in question.

You do yourself, your constituents and the town as a whole a grave disservice by urging a point of view which is ungenerous, ill-considered, and provincial, and by playing to the fears and ultimately the prejudices of those who are resistant to change.

We desperately need new ideas for solutions to problems which, because they have existed for so many years, are assumed to be immune to correction. This bill is a judicious and creative step in the right direction which deserves your support.

Sincerely,
Larry

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Last night, State Senator Tony Hwang held a Facebook Live meeting on proposed zoning legislation. Among the bills is the one referenced above.

There is a public hearing in Hartford this Monday (March 15). Click here for information on that hearing, as well as a video of Hwang’s discussion. (Hat tip: Cornelia Fortier)

 

Turn Your Clocks Back. It’s Restaurant Savings Time!

Earlier this month, we pushed clocks back an hour. Just what we needed: another hour in 2020!

But here’s a time-shifting effort we can all get behind.

Today, the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce rolls out “Restaurant Savings Time.” Encouraging diners to eat earlier is a way to help restaurants cope with the governor’s executive order closing businesses at 9:30.

Some restaurants could lose an entire seating of patrons — particularly on weekends. So, the Chamber says, everyone should eat one hour earlier than usual.

If everyone is on board — and at their tables — every eatery would benefit.

“Have a great dinner at 6:15 instead of 7:15 is the request. I am confident Westporters will respond, ” says Chamber executive director Matthew Mandell.

“It’s all about flexibility and a desire to adapt to a new situation, while still enjoying what our town as to offer.”

Flyers and posters will go up at restaurants. The logo — designed by Miggs Burroughs (of course!) — will be posted on social media.

“Restaurant Savings Time is a great idea. Support your local restaurants and dine a littler earlier, but also be sensitive to leave time to those coming after you,” said Tarantino owner Frank Marchetti. “We will get through this together.”

The new initiative follows BYOB: Bring Your Own Blanket. That Chamber project urges diners to stay warm while dining outdoors. Click here for more information, and a list of restaurants offering outdoor dining.

Restaurant Reopenings: What’s On The Menu For Westport?

This Wednesday — May 20 — marks the day Connecticut restaurants can reopen for more than curbside takeout and delivery .

There are restrictions: For example, outdoor dining only is permitted; there is no bar service. Tables must be 6 feet apart.

That should be good news for owners, employees and diners. The restaurant industry has been one of the hardest hit by the coronavirus.

Le Penguin’s mascots are making it through the pandemic. Like restaurant owners all over town, their owners are figuring out how to adapt to new state reopening regulations. (Photo/Marcy Sansolo)

But don’t expect a rush of al fresco options 2 days from now. Several steps — beyond simply configuring space (and ordering single-use menus) — must be taken first.

Westport Planning & Zoning chair Danielle Dobin notes that Governor Lamont has temporarily suspended municipal laws regulating outdoor dining. So instead of the traditional permitting process, restaurateurs here must submit a simple application to P&Z director Mary Young.

Westport Police and Fire Department officials, along with the Westport Weston Health District, must sign off on each application. Restaurants that already have outdoor dining must apply too, ensuring they comply with revised health regulations.

Romanacci already has an outdoor dining permit. Under new regulations, tables — shown here last year — now must be 6 feet apart. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Lamont’s executive order “provides tremendous flexibility to restaurants looking to create an outdoor dining space,” Dobin says.

“Normal requirements for parking and setbacks have been waived. Restaurants can even explore using neighboring properties or parking lots, so long as the owners of those properties approve of the plan.

“Residents should expect restaurants all over the state to create larger outdoor dining areas than in the past. Our outdoor restaurant spaces will often look and feel a bit different.”

Sherwood Diner prepares for outdoor dining. (Photo/Dan Woog)

You won’t hear a lot of live music, however. Previous noise regulations remain in effect.

Dobin says that the board of selectmen are also looking at “the creative use of certain town roads to facilitate outdoor dining and outdoor shopping.”

Matthew Mandell, executive director of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce, is the restaurant liaison for the ReOpen Westport Advisory Team. On Friday he led a Zoom call, with over 3 dozen restaurant owners.

Restaurant owners and town officials joined a conference call on Friday.

“Our restaurant owners are committed to providing a safe environment for their guests,” Dobin says.

“There is no rush to reopen. Many owners will take their time. I hope that all of our residents are supportive and patient with our fabulous Westport restaurants, as they find their way in this new world.”

“This is not a race,” Mandell agrees. “Slow and steady will win this one. The goal of ensuring health and safety for customers, staff and owners will ultimately lead to everyone’s success.”

As restaurants announce openings, lists compiled by the Chamber of Commerce and OneWestport will be updated regularly.

The owners of Harvest, Tarantino and Romanacci met on Friday, to discuss the best use of Railroad Place.

Chamber Of Commerce: Support Local Stores — And Order Takeout!

In normal times, the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce supports local businesses in a variety of ways: networking opportunities, marketing help, community-building events.

These are not normal times.

As COVID-19 attacks the country, some of the first casualties are small businesses.

When the first line of defense is social distancing — with isolation close on its heels — the last things on people’s minds are shopping for anything beyond necessities, or dining out.

When “wash your hands!” is the new mantra, no one is in the mood to handle merchandise in a store, or be served a meal in close proximity to others.

But small businesses need customers to survive. Even a small drop in patronage can spell the difference between paying the rent, paying employees, and going under.

Savvy + Grace on Main Street, one of many locally owned stores throughout town. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

The Chamber is marshaling its resources to help.

They encourage Westporters to continue to shop locally. In addition, they recommend buying gift cards, to use later.  You can do this not just for stores, but nail salons, yoga studios — you name it.

“This small act, if done by many, will help infuse capital to help them hold over until next month,” the Chamber says.

For residents hesitant about eating out, Chamber executive director Matthew Mandell suggests takeout orders. Most restaurants offer that option; some deliver. And there’s always Uber Eats.

Oh, yeah: Mandell reminds everyone that the Great Westport Soup Contest continues all month. There are some things the coronavirus just can’t conquer.

State Senator Will Haskell (left) and Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce director Matthew Mandell pick up takeout at Arezzo. Of course, the meal includes soup.

The Chamber also says: “If you have ideas on how to help our businesses, let us know. It takes a community to support a community.”

It’s easy. Click here for their website contact form. Email info@westportwestonchamber.com. Or call 203-227-9234.

PS: It’s not only small stores that are affected by COVID-19. Patagonia announced yesterday that it is closing all 37 stores — and its online operations — indefinitely.

PPS: The US Small Business Administration offers low-interest disaster loans to small businesses suffering substantial economic injury from the coronavirus. It must be requested by governors. It is unclear how far along in the process Connecticut’s request is. For more information, click here or email disastercustomerservice@sba.gov.

Unsung Heroes #119

The other day, I posted a story about a long, important RTM meeting. After 3 hours, our town’s legislative body voted narrowly — 18-16 — against a motion to ban recreational marijuana sales in Westport. (Such sales are not yet legal in Connecticut.)

That was typical of our Representative Town Meeting. Once a month they meet to debate and approve town and education budgets, and all town appropriations over $20,000; enact ordinances; review bonds, leases, sales and purhcases of town property; review zoning, recreation and other regulations, and oversee labor agreements with town and Board of Education employees.

They meet much more frequently in committees. Each member serves on several.

It’s time-consuming, arduous and thankless work. And every 2 years, RTM members must run for re-election.

Fortunately, serving on the body is not all work and no play. Last week, 23 members — along with the town clerk and RTM secretary — gathered for lunch at Tavern on Main.

Member Matthew Mandell — whose day job is executive director of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce — organized the event. It was a way for everyone to spend time together outside of Town Hall. (And yes, for the Chamber to promote Restaurant Week.)

The RTM lunch at Tavern on Main.

It was the middle of election season. But, Mandell says, “people enjoyed that we could all sit together. Political party means nothing to us” — the RTM is non-partisan.

“It was nice to just BS, and not discuss any issue coming before us, or even around town. The RTM has had some late nights recently. This was a good break.”

(Even though there was a quorum, no official notice was required. “Social gatherings do not constitute an illegal meeting — just fun,” explains town clerk Patty Strauss.)

“The RTM is a collegial bunch who volunteer a lot of time to the town,” Mandell notes.

So, to all 36 members — and all the others, running for a seat — thank you for all you do for Westport. You are our Unsung Heroes of the Week.

We hope you enjoyed your lunch. Now get back to work!

(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

 

Winslow Park This Sunday: Dog Day Afternoon (And Morning)

Last year’s Dog Festival was postponed — twice! — by rain.

Matthew Mandell — executive director of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce, producer of the 4th annual event — has done his due diligence.

He made sure that this year’s rain fell in all of April, and continued through early this week.

Sure, there are a couple of pesky showers forecast for Sunday morning. But Mandell says they’ll clear out in time for every dog to have its day.

The Dog Festival is set for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Winslow Park. Fido’s favorite playground will be even more dog-gone fun on Sunday, with:

  • Exciting demonstrations (police dogs, guide dogs, agility and training)
  • Goofy competitions (best tail wagger, best dressed, best kisser, best trick, dog that most looks like its owner — all judged by state and local officials)
  • Obstacle course (fastest dog wins a year’s supply of dog food)
  • Kids’ activities (caricatures, face painting, etc.)
  • Vendors
  • Food trucks
  • Adoptables
  • Information about non-profits (including co-producer TAILS)
  • Giveaways, and more.

New this year: a Frisbee catching and agility show, with tips on how to train your dog to do those tricks too.

This guy loved last year’s Dog Festival. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Also new this year: no parking at the Westport Country Playhouse. The lot is reserved for the “In the Heights” audience.

Instead, there’s easy access via the Saugatuck Congregational Church back parking lot (after 10:30 a.m.), private lots across the Post Road (with traffic agents helping to cross), and the Senior Center’s new gravel path to the Post Road (much closer than you think).

Every day — rain or shine — Winslow Park is filled with dogs. Here’s hoping that  on Sunday — their special day — the only thing wet will be their noses.

(For more information, including how to sign up for competitions, click here.)

Okay, Downtown Doubters. See You Saturday Night For “Supper & Soul.”

Yesterday’s opinion piece by David Waldman — lamenting all the negativity about downtown, urging Westporters to focus on the many positive aspects — drew plenty of comments.

Among the strongest voices was Matthew Mandell’s. That’s no surprise: As executive director of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce, he’s got one of the biggest dogs in this fight.

He’s also got one of his signature events to promote. And it’s coming up this Saturday (November 10).

“Supper & Soul” is a clever concept. For one $75 ticket, you get a 3-course dinner, a fantastic show, then happy hour pricing for after-concert drinks.

Mandell has lined up 7 excellent (and varied) restaurants for the meal and post-show festivities: 190 Main, Amis, Jesup Hall, Matsu Sushi, Rothbard Ale + Larder, Spotted Horse and Tavern on Main.

All are within walking distance of Seabury Center on Church Lane — where Kasey Tyndall performs at 8 p.m.

Rolling Stone called her the #1 new country act to see last year — adding that she’s “a hard rock-country badass with the best song about a watering hole.”

So, to all of you who complain that there’s nothing to do downtown after dark. Or that downtown needs a jolt of energy. Or whatever.

Buy a ticket to “Supper & Soul.” Eat, drink, and kick ass with Kasey.

(Click here for tickets, and more information on Supper & Soul. There’s even a link to discount babysitters!)

New SoNo Mall Looms Large

If you drive through Norwalk on I-95, it’s impossible to miss.

A 700,000-square-foot mall is rising inches off Exit 15.

Artist’s rendering of the SoNo Collection mall.

It won’t open until October 2019. But — with its size, its freshness, and its retailers like Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s — the SoNo Collection seems to pose a direct threat to Westport’s Main Street.

Matt Mandell disagrees.

The executive of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce told the Fairfield County Business Journal, “We offer an open-air experience instead of an enclosed mall. People come to Westport for a change of pace.”

Westport Downtown Merchants Association president Randy Herbertson adds that the mall offers “opportunities” for our town.

“They are focusing on mid-tier to aspirational retailers, and only 6% devoted to food service which will most likely be fast-service casual (chains like Olive Garden).”

That will “further accentuate our opportunity to provide a more upscale, specialty, open-air and experiential shopping, dining and living district that will complement this offering.”

Main Street is open air — not enclosed.

But, Herbertson says, to attract new merchants and downtown residents — and continue drawing investments like Bedford Square, the new Elm Street property, Belden Place, the former Save the Children complex, and the building that’s replacing Bobby Q — “we need to prioritize stronger cooperation and co-investment between our town and commercial interests.”

It’s already started, he says, through a constructive meeting he attended with First Selectman Jim Marpe and his team, Mandell, and area developers, landlords and merchants.

Meanwhile, the clock ticks down toward October 2019.

(Click here for the full Fairfield County Business Journal story. Hat tip: Scott Smith)

On The Meeting Docket — And Off

In November, Westport’s Parks & Recreation Commission unanimously approved construction of a new walkway and bathrooms at South Beach — the no-lifeguard, cookout grill, alcohol-permitted section beloved by picnickers and sunset-watchers.

The walkway will be similar to the one installed 2 years ago, from the pavilion near Joey’s to the cannons. Made of cement, it features wooden railings open to access every 2 cars.

It will connect to the current walkway at the cannons. It continues to the cut-through road near the kayak launch, then joins the gravel marina walkway via a crosswalk.

The current roadway would shift slightly north, to accommodate the new walkway. Several parking spots would be lost.

Plans for the new walkway and bathrooms at South Beach. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

The bathroom — to be built on an unpaved area just south of the pickleball courts — will include an outdoor shower and water fountain. The exterior is white with blue trim, and brick accents.

The projected cost for the walkway is $429,643. The bathroom cost is $257,473.

This Thursday (February 15, 7 p.m., Town Hall), the Planning & Zoning Commission will discuss the proposal. The meeting is open to the public.

One meeting that will not be held is the Saugatuck Transit Oriented Design Master Plan Steering Committee. Their study — funded by a $450,000 state grant — was to be presented at a public session this Monday.

According to RTM member Matthew Mandell, “changes requested from the last meeting were so broad that there was no way to get a new draft in time.”

It’s unclear, Mandell adds, whether the public meeting will be rescheduled — or if there will be public comment at all.

He does not even know if the committee will vote to accept the report — which includes parking decks, new housing units, new retail and office play, but did not include a traffic study.

The state has extended the deadline for the TOD report to be filed. It’s now due in late March.

“Supper & Soul” Offers Food, Drink & Music

A dog festival. Slice of Saugatuck. Tuesdays @ the Train.

You can’t say the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce just sits around exchanging business cards.

Now the organization — which takes its mandate to promote local businesses very broadly — announces its latest let’s-all-get-out-and-have-a-good-time idea.

“Supper & Soul” ties together a few of Westport’s favorite activities: eating out, concert going and drinking.

One ticket is good for a 3-course meal at one of 5 downtown restaurants; a concert at nearby Seabury Center, and a stop back at any of those same restaurants for happy hour-priced drinks. It’s all sponsored (appropriately enough) by lifestyle guru Mar Jennings.

“Supper & Soul” comes at a perfect time: the mid-winter doldrums. The first is set for Saturday evening, January 27.

Dana Fuchs

The 5 restaurants are Amis, Boca, Rothbard Ale + Larder, Spotted Horse and Tavern on Main.

Featured entertainer Dana Fuchs heads out soon on a European tour. But first she’ll prowl the Seabury stage, pouring her heart into the microphone like Janis Joplin (or, I’m told, Robert Plant). Many Westporters know her from the Fairfield Theater Company.

Dinner begins at 6 p.m. The concert is at 8. Tickets can be bought online (click here); meal reservations are made on a first-come, first-served  basis through the chamber.

Chamber executive director Matthew Mandell calls the idea “date night in a bottle. Or just a chance to hang with friends.”

I call the idea very, very cool.