Thanks to all who submitted photos of today’s Memorial Day parade and ceremony. I received hundreds, and can’t run them all.
Today meant a lot to Westporters. It touched our hearts. It made us think about who we are, and what we want to be. And it made us deeply proud of our neighbors, our community, and all who have sacrificed to make this day possible.
World War II veterans like Joe Schachter had a special place of honor … (Photo/Ted Horowitz)
… and there were several cars with them. (Photo/Molly Alger)
Navy veteran Rick Benson (Photo/Ted Horowitz)
Leonard Everett Fisher (Photo/Ted Horowitz)
Bill Vornkahl — a Korean War veteran — has organized over 65 Westport Memorial Day parades. (Photo/Dan Woog)
Boy Scouts honor the flag. (Photo/Ted Horowitz)
The Fire Department held its annual ceremony, honoring its members who have served. (Photo/Andrew Colabella)
1st Selectman Jim Marpe leads the political contingent … (Photo/Ted Horowitz)
… and the Blue Jays follow. (Photo/Whitney D’Angelo)
The Westport Paddle Club’s float echoed this year’s parade theme: Honoring Women in the Military. The WPC won “Most Creative Float” honors. (Photo/Robbie Guimond)
A Revolutionary War soldier (with sunglasses), aka Miggs Burroughs. One youngster — who really needs to learn history — asked, “Is he a pirate?” (Photo/Dan Woog)
Besides publishing (and taking photos for) Westport Local Press and working as an educator Jaime Bairaktaris volunteers as an EMT. He marched proudly with them today — and wore out his shoes. (Photo/Dan Woog)
Remarkable Theater founder Doug Tirola (left) and Marine Corps veteran Michael Calise share a taste in shirt themes. (Photo/Dan Woog)
Westport has a new mill rate. Michael Calise reports:
The rate for the 2021-22 tax year was set by the Board of Finance at 18.07 mills.
Each year a new mill rate is set, based on 2 major factors: our Grand List (the total assessed value of all taxable properties in Westport, which is finalized by our tax assessor) and our annual budget (finalized by the RTM).
The mill rate is the multiplier of our Grand List, which produces the net revenue required to run our town after all other revenue streams and anticipated shortfalls (such as an allowance for unanticipated expenses) are factored into the mix.
Since the 2015 reassessment, our annual Grand List increase due to new construction and property improvements, as well as strict budget controls, have allowed our mill rate to remain constant — in fact, actually reduced for the tax year we are currently in.
This year a third and unexpected factor came into play: the 2020 reassessment determined a greater than 5.4% reduction in our Grand List.
Our final annual budget, as approved by the RTM, was set at a 2.6% increase. When factored against the 2020 Grand List (as described above), this necessitated the new mill rate of 18.07 mills. It is up from the current 16.71 mill rate. Individual property taxes for the ensuing year will be calculated based on the new assessment.
Michael Calise has forgotten more about Westport than most of us remember.
But he hasn’t forgotten about the sycamore tree on the Post Road/South Compo corner.
The sycamore at the Post Road/South Compo intersection.
Calise — a Westport native, and 1958 Staples High School graduate — has watched it for many years. It may not have been there when the British marched past on their way to Danbury in 1777, but it sure predates construction of the 1950s-era Compo Acres Shopping Center. It is estimated to be at least 150 years old.
Constant traffic — and drivers idling at that busy light — have taken a toll. Seven years ago, “06880” reported on alarming tree-killing mulch, and bark damage. Shopping center owner Equity One said that they knew the sycamore was a “defining aspect” of the property, and promised to take care of it.
The other day, Calise sent Peter Hannan some photos.
One view of the South Compo/Post Road sycamore …
The arborist responded:
“For years the tree has suffered from anthracnose, a fungus that distorts the new leaves and often causes premature leaf fall. This is a direct result of wet and cool spring weather that allows the disease to thrive.
“As summer progresses and when these weather conditions change the tree will hopefully put on full foliage as it has in the past.
“The other item that was quite clear from the photos is the dead tops in the crown directly above the recent construction. In narrowing the environment of the root zone, some damage was certainly done.
… and another. (Photos/Michael Calise)
“Trees for descriptive image are a mirror images below the ground as they appear above the ground. So the dead tops point to where the damage occurred, much like girdling roots. If this tree were on a private estate it certainly would have not encountered all the environmental issues, and would have been sprayed/fertilized or injected for the anthracnose.
“Just as an aside, a Connecticut group registers and documents notable trees. The criteria is oldest, tallest, widest, largest diameter. etc. Several are in Westport. If nothing else, with all the challenges this tree has experienced over the years — and there have been many — its resiliency is certainly champion.”
Michael Calise is a native Westporter, Staples High School graduate, former Marine, and a realtor. After a lifetime here, he knows how the town works.
And he keeps an eagle eye on it.
Calise is a frequent meeting-goer. At least, he was until the coronavirus hit, and Westport’s boards and commissions moved online.
They’re still there.
The other day, Calise wrote to 1st Selectman Jim Marpe. He said:
I am sure you are aware of the level of frustration endured by all of us regarding the inability to attend a public meeting.
Zoom meetings do not adequately convey the opportunity to participate in a meaningful way. The sense of where the commissioners or other deciding members are is missing. It is as if you are speaking to a blank wall.
This is not to downplay the fortunate fact that we have Zoom and other internet- based meeting venues. I fully recognize their value, but I think we need to do better. With the total decline of print media and other valuable sources of information in the face of ongoing important decisions being made, the entire structure of our community is under a great deal of stress.
With all of this in mind I suggest that you consider an outdoor venue such as Levitt Pavilion for town meetings. I believe it would be a positive and productive step forward as we transition back to normalcy.
Marpe replied quickly. He said:
As much as anyone, I would like to return to the past meeting structure that we were all used to for the reasons you note. However, we are still in the midst of the greatest public health crisis any of us have ever experienced, and it is unclear when we will be able to conduct public meetings as we have in the past. As a town, we are slowly and cautiously working our way toward incrementally re-establishing “normal.” But “normal” is still going to be different from the past for some time to come.
The elected and appointed leaders of Westport have a responsibility to balance public health requirements, the health of our employees and state-mandated protocols, along with the Freedom of Information Act rules, against the desire for some to meet “in-person.”
The reality is that we have received very few requests for a return to full, in-person public meetings. In many ways, Zoom meetings are more accessible for the majority of the public, because they can be viewed from anywhere there is internet access, which is why we have focused our efforts on the Zoom technology.
Most board, committee and commission members and the related staff members have found a way to work effectively and in a fully informed manner in this new environment. Moreover, they appreciate the commitment by the Town to their health and well-being. And the boards, committees and commissions continue to hear from members of the public via written comment as well as by phone.
In August, superintendent of schools Tom Scarice addressed the Board of Education via Zoom.
Since mid-March, Town Hall has been closed to the general public, even though our employees have continued to work there or from home on behalf of our residents. We are currently moving forward to re-open Town Hall later this autumn for individual daytime appointments.
From a public meeting standpoint, Town Hall presents many challenges. The auditorium is problematic because of the need to sanitize the space after each meeting to a level of confidence that the various surfaces will not harbor the virus.
The other traditional meeting rooms in Town Hall present the problem of accommodating the typical number of attendees at an appropriate level of social distancing as well as sanitizing.
We ae exploring the possibility of using the Library Forum for some public meetings because the hard surfaces there are easier to sanitize and the space lends itself to easier social distancing for a significant number of people. I will note that the Board of Education has conducted in-person meetings in the Staples cafeteria with no members of the public allowed (similar surfaces and flexible space as the Library).
The Board of Finance will conduct an “in-person” meeting in the Library next week (face coverings and socially distanced), although the public will still need to attend via public access TV or internet streaming.
If all goes well, we may consider opening the Board of Finance meetings to the public for future meetings. That said, we have to recognize that even the Library will be limited in its capacity to host public meetings given its own programming and activities.
The scene at Town Hall, when meetings were held there.
I want to stress that having in-person public meetings in the time of social distancing also presents Freedom of Information Act challenges. FOIA requires that no one be turned away from a public meeting. However, if we go over the 25 person indoor gathering limit, which includes board members and staff as well as the general public, we face having to choose between FOIA regulations and the Governor’s Executive Orders and related public health guidelines.
Your suggestion of conducting public meetings in outdoor venues such as the Levitt will quickly become impractical as autumn and winter weather begins in the coming weeks. Notwithstanding the practical challenges of streaming / televising from outdoor venues, weather concerns would work to prevent many residents from attending and actually limit the possibility of public participation. Ironically, this also presents its own FOIA issues.
We will continue to consider practical, inclusive alternatives to conducting the town’s public meetings in ways that maintain the public health and FOIA standards we must observe.
In the near term, that means that most public meetings will continue to be conducted via computer technology and public access television with ample opportunity prior to, and during the meetings for the public to submit their written public comments. Outdoor venues may become possibilities when the warmer months return.
Speaking of meetings: I have been thinking for a while of adding meeting coverage — Board of Education, Board of Finance, Planning & Zoning Commission — to “06880.”
I can’t do it alone. I need help.
If you’re interested in covering meetings on an ongoing basis — and you are knowledgeable, objective, and can write well and quickly — please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Early last century, Michael Calise’s grandparents came to New York from Ischia, a small island near Naples. They spent summers in Westport, and liked the town so much that in the 1920s they bought a 10-acre farm on Hillandale Road. The land extended from what is now Cumberland Farms, down to Torno Lumber, and out to what is now the center median of the Post Road.
The cost was $25,000. The mortgage was 100 percent.
Calise’s grandfather — also named Michael — grew vegetables in an enormous garden, and raised pheasants. He loved his beautiful trees, and great hedges.
But when the Depression hit, he went back to work. He opened Westport Fish and Poultry Market across the Saugatuck River, near National Hall. Later — when Prohibition ended — he added a liquor store.
The bank called the mortgage on the 10-acre farm. But the highest bid was only $11,000. He kept the property, and eventually paid off the mortgage.
In the 1950s he sold the corner of his property, on Hillspoint Road, to Gulf, which built a gas station. He then built a small shopping center, and moved his grocery and liquor stores there — much closer to home.
Michael and his wife, Caterina, maintained the farm until the early 1980s. They added a barn, but made no changes to the house. After they died, relatives lived there for more than a decade. Eventually they died, and the Calise family heirs planned to sell the property.
But they did not want to lose its historic nature. They searched for a builder who would restore it. They found Anthony Ialeggio. He’d done a lot of restorations in town — including the original Masiello homestead on Cross Highway.
The Calises formed a partnership with Ialeggio. He designed 2 homes, on either side of the original. One was Italianate; the other a Federal- style Colonial, with a barn and garage.
“He could have divided the property into 4 lots, but then he’d have had to demolish my grandparents’ house,” Calise said. “He kept them, and now there’s a wonderful streetscape.”
13 Hillandale Road -- the original Calise farmhouse. (Photo by Dave Matlow/WestportNow.com)
The home Ialeggio restored retains the original porches, roof line, even window placements. Most trees were saved too, including 2 magnificent magnolias. The current owners — Peter and Stephanie Durette — received a Westport Historic District Preservation Award last fall.
“By restoring the farmhouse, and building 2 new ones in the older vernacular alongside it, it looks like they’ve all been there 100 years,” Calise said. “It’s not a subdivision street; it’s a period street.” Other homes on the road — including A.E. Hotchner’s nearby — date from the early 1900s too.
Calise called the project “a lesson for what builders can do. This could have turned into an 8000-square foot monster, totally out of character for the area. Instead the houses are attractive, and nicely proportioned.”
Calise — who owns Settlers & Traders Real Estate — knows that bigger homes mean bigger bucks for builders. Buyers want big homes too — these days, in these parts, 4000 square feet is considered small. With most buyers paying $280 to $300 per square foot, many builders build big to amortize the cost of land.
But 1 of the 2 new Hillandale homes sold quickly. The other lagged a bit, because of the overall market.
Calise is delighted that his grandparents’ house has been so handsomely restored — and that now it’s surrounded by equally attractive, and well-proportioned, homes.
“People always stop and stare,” he said. “They like what they see where my grandparents lived, and up and down the road.”
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