Tag Archives: Morley Boyd

[OPINION] Good News — And Not So Good — At Baron’s South

Alert “06880” reader, historian and preservation advocate Morley Boyd writes:

In April, I raised environmental and safety concerns about the appearance of a large pile of fill at Baron’s South. The mysterious mound, estimated at roughly 5,500 yards, was discovered in what had once been a meadow dotted with mature trees.

Upon closer inspection I noticed that material in the mound included asphalt, jagged shards of metal, tires, pieces of what appeared to be asbestos cement pipe, plastic containers and the shattered remains of a toilet.

Earlier this spring, Morley Boyd photographed debris in the fill behind the Senior Center.

While erosion prevention netting had been placed across one side of the mound, gullies had formed anyway, and the entire top was exposed. Runoff was visibly headed to drains connected to nearby Deadman’s Brook, a tributary of the Saugatuck River.

Runoff from the fill heads toward Deadman’s Brook.

After learning that the fill had been excavated from a nearby construction site associated with the now completed Senior Center expansion project, I wondered what else might be in the fill. Had it been tested? And why was it there in the first place?

First, I reached out to those whose homes abut the park to see what they knew. After learning the homeowners had been told by the Senior Center project manager that the giant mound was permanent, I made private inquiries about the fill with town officials.

The site of the fill (just south of the Senior Center) is shown by a red arrow (bottom) in this Google aerial image.

When that inquiry went unanswered, the story appeared on “06880.” Shortly thereafter, in reaction to public outcry, the town retained the services of Steve Edwards, recently retired director of public works. He was charged with having the fill professionally tested for the presence of toxic substances.

My concerns proved valid. The recently released toxicology report indicates that the material contains DDT, traces of petroleum byproducts, and a level of arsenic that exceeds state standards for human exposure.

Because of the toxicology report and public pressure, the town has now agreed to remove all of contaminated fill (ideally within the next few months, according to the current director of public works), and restore the meadow to its previous condition.

Morley Boyd says that 6 feet of fill was dumped into the meadow near the Senior Center. (Photo/Morley Boyd)

At Tuesday’s Board of Selectmen meeting, town officials said the tree warden has prepared a replanting plan for the site, including new trees.

In the meantime, residents hope that the toxic pile, which remains fully exposed in the midst of a public park, will be cordoned off to safeguard the health and safety of visitors.

On the whole, this is good news. The town deserves credit for taking responsibility. Still, a number of unanswered questions remain — notably, why did this happen?

The approved site plan for the construction project did not permit the area in question to be disturbed, and the project’s contract included a specific line item for hauling away any excess fill.

Further, many question the wisdom of the town’s proposed plan for reusing the contaminated fill: a parking lot project at the Greens Farms railroad station.

Although the toxicology report — consistent with state guidelines — recommends that the contaminated fill be buried beneath several feet of clean fill if it is to be moved and reused, there is an apparent regulatory conflict.

While state standards for the use of fill are more relaxed, Westport’s are quite stringent. They specifically do not allow the use of fill containing “petroleum based products or materials.”

Since the Baron’s South fill has been shown to contain — in addition to other toxins — chunks of asphalt, it remains unclear how the town can use the fill at the Greens Farms train station and also comply with its own regulations.

If there is any doubt as to whether or not this contaminated fill can be safely remediated for reuse in a public space, wouldn’t the wisest solution be to just dispose of it at a proper facility?

Whatever ultimately happens to the toxic fill, the good news is that a quiet corner of Westport’s “Central Park” will soon return to its natural state. And that’s in large part due to the vigilance and concern of the “06880” community.

Baron’s South: Town Officials Reply

Yesterday, “06880” posted reader Morley Boyd’s comments about Baron’s South. He said that construction material from the recent Senior Center modernization project had been dumped in a nearby meadow. He was concerned about debris in the fill, soil erosion, and the removal of trees.

Morley wondered why the material was placed there, whether it has been tested, when it will be removed, and where it will go.

Today, 2 town officials responded.

Jen Fava — director of Parks & Recreation — says:

Mr. Boyd’s characterization of an “illegal dump site” including a “host” of objects is greatly exaggerated, misleading and a misrepresentation of the actual conditions.

The decision was made by the Center for Senior Activities Building Committee to store the fill on site temporarily for use in other projects within the town and/or on the Barons South property.

A closeup of the rear of the dumped fill on Baron’s South. (Phots/Morley Boyd)

This fill was taken from on site in order to accommodate the Senior Center expansion. The fill, as taken from its original location, contains rocks and soil, as would be expected, but it is all from the Baron’s South property.

Mr. Boyd’s description also made it sound as though truckloads of debris have been dumped.  This is simply not the case.  There are a few pieces of metal and other debris, but not in quantity, as implied by the description.  The items in question are being removed.

With regard to the “mature trees” that were removed, this was done in consultation with the tree warden. Only a few trees were removed, which were not in the best condition and were identified to be taken down as part of the future plan for this site.

Alicia Mozian, Department of Conservation director, adds:

I inspected the site last night. It is fully stabilized and the erosion controls are in very good shape. I saw no evidence of silt/sediment on the driveways leading down toward the waterways.

Filling In An Earth Day Puzzle

Happy Earth Day (again)!

My post today earlier today about living shorelines” may have made you feel all warm and earth-fuzzy. You might even be motivated to take a walk at some open space in town.

Great! Just avoid part of Baron’s South.

Alert “06880” reader/local activist Morley Boyd recently noticed that 1,000 or so yards of construction material — from the recent Senior Center modernization project — have been dumped in the southwest meadow.

Morley Boyd took this photo — and outlined the approximate footprint of the excavated fill at Baron’s South.

It includes, he says, both fill and demolition debris: rusty pipes, sharp metal objects, chunks of concrete and asphalt, plastic garbage bags, shattered plastic containers, rubber tires, bricks and more.

Morley says that trapped, standing water at the rear of the dump area abuts residential property. He sees “considerable evidence” of soil erosion across the top section of raw, unprotected construction rubble and fill.

Debris in the Baron’s South landfill. The Senior Center is on the right. (Photos/Morley Boyd)

He also believes that a number of mature trees were removed from the site, to accommodate what he says is a grade raised by 5 or 6 feet.

 

Morley wonders why the material was placed there, whether it has been tested, when it will be removed, and where it will go. He has written to town officials, and awaits a response.

The Little Red House Lives!

It’s a constant Westport discussion: empty Main Street storefronts, the perceived loss of community character, the fate of downtown.

Recently, David Waldman — developer of Bedford Square on Church Lane, and the new retail/residential complex at the old Save the Children site on Wilton Road — cautioned in an “06880” post that pessimism can be self-fulfilling. He pointed out many positive occurrences downtown.

Local preservationists/alert “06880” readers Wendy Crowther and Morley Boyd agree that good things are happening by the banks of the Saugatuck. They offer this story as proof.

In December 2016, the “Little Red House” faced demolition. A new mixed retail and residential project was planned for 201 Main Street/15 Belden Place — the spot opposite Le Rouge by Aarti and Ron’s Barber Shop, occupied by an aging storefront and some riverfront residences.

The Little Red House in 2016. (Westport Historic Resources Inventory, courtesy of Wendy Crowther)

Immediately, “06880” readers expressed strong opinions about the loss of a familiar part of the downtown landscape. Perched on the edge of the Saugatuck River, the circa 1920 Colonial Revival style structure could never be mistaken for distinguished architecture.

But that wasn’t the point. It was a picturesque little house which, despite flooding and development pressures, had endured. With the passage of time, the structure simply became a small part of what so many felt made Westport special.

Westporter Peter Nisenson, of PEN Builders, saw the many comments on “06880.” As the property’s new owner, he quickly reconsidered his company’s plans to demolish the antique waterside structure.

Nisenson realized that the house could actually become an attractive, valuable part of his larger redevelopment project.

After obtaining a record-setting 15 variances (thank you, Zoning Board of Appeals!), the Little Red House has been flood-proofed and refurbished.

Today, it’s almost near completion.

The Little Red House today. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

Now divided into 2 light-filled apartments – each with its own porch and astonishing 180 degree views of the Saugatuck River – the structure retains all its beautiful wooden beams.

As a special nod to its place in the hearts of Westporters, the house’s original red paint has been color matched.

So here’s our takeaway: Whether it’s a quirky iron bridge, a beloved local bar or simply a picturesque waterfront dwelling, residents need to speak up when our non-renewable resources become endangered.

In this case, a savvy local developer responded to community input. He harnessed the peculiar power that authentic and familiar things seem to have over us.

As a result, his project is enhanced. And the public has the satisfaction of knowing that the Little Red House will contribute to the aesthetic value of Westport’s riverfront for generations to come.

How’s that for a positive downtown story?!

Morley Boyd and Peter Nisenson, in the refurbished house. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

Developer, Preservationists Battle Over Artists’ Property On Morningside Drive

The last time I wrote about Walter and Naiad Einsel was in 2016. The story was about their estate sale. Collectors flocked from many states to the 1853 Victorian farmhouse that for over 60 years had been home to the husband-and-wife artists. Both were inducted into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame.

Walter and Naiad Einsel

Walter and Naiad Einsel

The couple were Westport icons. They worked together and independently on book and magazine illustrations, posters, ads and package designs.

They were the first married couple to create stamp designs for the US Postal Service. They also produced 55 figures — with intricate details and moving parts — for Epcot Center.

And they were important members of Westport’s arts community. Naiad designed our Bicentennial Quilt, sewn by 33 women and on display in Town Hall since 1976. She earned a Westport Arts Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.

Most importantly for this follow-up piece: In 2006 the Einsels received a Preservation Award for their South Morningside Drive home.

Now, in 2018, that house may not be preserved much longer.

In fact, a demolition permit has just been filed for the entire property.

As far back as 2007, Naiad was thinking about what would happen after her death (Walter passed away in 1998). Morley Boyd — then chair of the Westport Historic District Commission — spent plenty of time on her porch, discussing her vision for the future.

Ultimately, Naiad applied for a Local Historic District designation for her 2 contiguous properties. She and Walter had previously subdivided, facing the possibility that they might have to sell 1 lot — a square one, in front of Walter’s gallery — to fund their retirement.

Walter and Naiad Einsel’s South Morningside Drive house.

The Historic District Commission supported the designation. They hired a professional architectural historian to document the property’s history, and assess the structures’ architectural integrity.

That report cited the historic and cultural heritage of the structures, while noting that the site reflected the rich agricultural history of Greens Farms — and represented fast-disappearing open space.

Naiad died in April of 2016. The property was marketed as sub-dividable, and sold to a developer.

The development company redrew the lot lines, extending 20 Morningside Drive South all the way back to wetlands. The firm then submitted a Certificate of Appropriateness application to the HDC, to build a house at #20. Preservationists and historians called the design “stylistically inappropriate,” and warned it would  damage the historic integrity of the structures and their setting.

The Commission denied the request, citing historic open space and farmland as additional considerations. In response, the developer sued the town of Westport.

In the late 1960s, Naiad Einsel’s “Save Cockenoe Now” posters were seen everywhere in town.. Eventually, Cockenoe Island was saved: a nuclear power plant was never built there.

Next, the developer submitted plans to subdivide 26 Morningside South. Two new houses would be stuffed around the historic building.

The Historic District Commission — with only advisory powers — voted unanimously against recommending approval of the subdivision application. They sent their comments to the Planning and Zoning Commission.

The developer responded with a vague commitment to preserve the historic structures.

Assistant town attorney Eileen Flug offered her opinion: Open space and historic significance may be considered by the P&Z when weighing a plan to sub-divide.

The Greens Farms Association weighed in too. They said that the proposed subdivision of #26 — coupled with the development proposed for #20 — “drastically degrades if not destroys the district.”

They added: “We cannot imagine that crowding out one of the few remaining mid-19th century farmhouses in the town of Westport with 4 new homes aligns with town guidelines in favor of open space and historic preservation.”

The P&Z voted down — with only 1 abstention — the request to subdivide.

Which brings us to the present. Demolition permits have been requested for all 3 structures on the property: the 1853 farmhouse, a small barn that is believed to date to the same period, and Walter Einsel’s culturally significant barn-style studio.

Demolition would allow for “new construction.”

One of the demolition notices on the former Einsel property.

Neighbors, artists and others throughout town wonder: Who would buy an entire Local Historic District, knowing it had been the home of 2 beloved Westport artists, understanding all the regulations that apply —  then set about surrounding it all with other inappropriate buildings?

And — when that doesn’t work — destroy it all. Literally.

“The preservation of these structures and their setting is ensured by an ordinance enacted by the RTM,” Boyd says.

“That’s because it was determined by experts that the conservation of this collection of historic resources — together with their original setting — was in the public interest. And because the property owner at that time (Naiad Einsel) wanted it that way.”

I called Fred Ury — attorney for Morningside Drive Homes LLC, the Greenwich-based entity associated with the properties.

Citing ongoing litigation, he said he could not comment.

(Hat tip: Greens Farms Association and president Art Schoeller)

Photo Challenge #119

Last week’s photo challenge was posted the day after April Fool’s.

It was a bit of a joke — a postcard image labeled “View along Main Street, Saugatuck.” (Click here to see.)

Of course, there’s no Main Street in our Saugatuck. But there is in Saugatuck, Michigan.

Fred Cantor, Bobbie Herman, Peter Hirst, Rod Hurtuk and Mary Palmieri Gai all knew that there’s more than one Saugatuck in the world.

But wait! Elaine Marino — who seems to be Westport (Connecticut)’s foremost expert on Saugatuck, Michigan — commented that the postcard was mislabeled. She said it was actually the corner of Butler and Mason Streets. She added a few more factoids, including that the Michigan town’s founder was originally from Hartford. Yes, the Connecticut one.

Then Morley Boyd pointed out that there actually was a Main Street in our Saugatuck. It’s the same one that’s downtown today. The address was once Main Street, Saugatuck, because Westport was not named (and incorporated) until 1835.

However, we still do not have a Butler or Mason Street.

On now to this week’s photo challenge. If you know where in Westport you’d see this strange sign, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Ed Simek)

15 Belden Place: Little Red House Saved!

In early December, “06880” broke the story about the proposed demolition of #7 and #15 Belden Place — the tiny, seldom-noticed piece of Main Street property just past Avery Place, opposite Veterans Green and Town Hall.

Not many people cared about the 1st building. But boy, did they howl about the 2nd.

#15 is listed in the Westport Historic District Commission inventory. It sits on the bank of the Saugatuck River (with quite a view!). Readers flooded the comments section of that story — and one with 3 other photos — decrying the proposal.

15 Belden Place (Westport Historic Resources Inventory, courtesy of Wendy Crowther)

15 Belden Place (Westport Historic Resources Inventory, courtesy of Wendy Crowther)

We haven’t heard much about Belden Place since then. But today alert “06880” reader — and preservation activist — Morley Boyd writes:

Here’s a testament to the 06880 community and its passion for all things Westport.

At a Historic District Commission hearing Tuesday night — just in time for Valentine’s Day — representatives for the new owner of the iconic red house by the Saugatuck River revealed plans to fully restore the beloved local landmark.

“06880” readers were quite vocal when plans to demolish the iconic early 20th century dwelling surfaced late last year. Westporter Peter Nisenson — the property’s contract purchaser, and principal of Westport-based PEN Building Company — took those concerns to heart. He said, “We heard the public and we took  its advice. In many ways this is now a much more interesting project.”

A 2000 view of 15 Belden Place, taken from Parker Harding Plaza. (Photo/Andrea Fine)

A 2000 view of 15 Belden Place, taken from Parker Harding Plaza. (Photo/Andrea Fine)

On the same property, as part of its plan for retail and residential development, PEN intends to also save the large antique building that fronts Main Street which once housed Nappa Sales.

PEN officials noted the uniquely picturesque setting of 15 Belden Place, a building they refer to even on their official site plan as “The Red House.” Provided they can secure the needed zoning variances, the modest structure will remain in its original setting — though slightly raised to prevent further flood damage.

PEN intends to then make repairs as needed to return the house to residential use — but with an eye to preserving its vintage appearance. While the windows will be replaced in kind, the location of the original openings will be kept as they were.

Although the structure will also receive new systems, one thing about Westport’s most famous little house that Pen representatives will  not change: the color.

Robert Storm, the project’s architect, stated: “We peeled off a chip of the red paint. We’re going to match it.”

15 Belden Place, as seen from the parking lot off Main Street.

15 Belden Place, as seen from the parking lot off Main Street.

[UPDATE] Bridge Street Bridge Project Drives Forward

Plans for renovation of the Bridge Street bridge are moving ahead, on at least 2 fronts.

But they may be on a collision course.

The Connecticut Department of Transportation is working with the selectman’s office on a public information meeting. Tentatively set for December 7 Set for Monday, November 23 (7:30 pm, Town Hall auditorium), it will be a forum to discuss the history of the 113-year-old bridge, its current deficiencies, and various rehabilitation options and calendars.

The historic and controversial Bridge Street (William F. Cribari) Bridge.

The historic and controversial Bridge Street (William F. Cribari) Bridge. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

Meanwhile, 4 prominent Westporters asking the state DOT to designate a 1.2-mile section of Route 136 — including the bridge — as a State Scenic Highway. It begins at the Post Road/Compo Road South intersection, and runs through the western end of the bridge, at Riverside Avenue.

Petitioners include 3rd Selectman Helen Garten, former Westport Historic District Commission chair Morley Boyd, RTM member John Suggs and preservationist Wendy Crowther.

The petitioners met yesterday at the Bridge Street Bridge. From Left: Morley Boyd, Helen Garten, John Suggs, Wendy Crowther. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

The petitioners met yesterday at the Bridge Street Bridge. From Left: Morley Boyd, Helen Garten, John Suggs, Wendy Crowther. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

If approved, this will be the first State Scenic Highway solely in Westport. All 37.5 miles of the Merritt Parkway — from Greenwich to Stratford — carry that designation too.

The petitioners note history (site of an armed conflict between British regulars and a handful of local militiamen in 1777); the many notable 18th and 19th century buildings lining the route, and the important views of the Saugatuck River shoreline.

Both the bridge itself, and the Gault barn complex at 124 Compo Road South, are listed on the National and State Registers of Historic Places.

The group — along with 8 other RTM members has also requested that the RTM back the scenic highway proposal. Not all signees are from Saugatuck — where the structure (formally know as the William F. Cribari Bridge) is both a beloved icon and a major traffic thoroughfare.

They ask that their petition be discussed at the legislative body’s November 10 meeting.

Many old homes line South Compo Road and Bridge Street. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

Many old homes line South Compo Road and Bridge Street. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

“The designation will serve to both enhance and safeguard the scale, nature and character of one of Westport’s most attractive travel ways,” the agenda request says.

“The State Scenic Highway designation does not in any way impact adjoining private property,” Morley and Suggs say. “It is solely intended to preserve the character and nature of the state road — including the bridge.”

A historic plaque stands at the corner of the Post Road and South Compo -- the start of the proposed 1.2-mile Scenic Highway route. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

The Saugatuck River meets Bridge Street, near the western end of the proposed Scenic Highway. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

The fate of the bridge will be one of Westport’s major stories throughout the rest of this year — and next. To learn more about the State Scenic Highway program, including protections it provides, click here.

A historic plaque stands at the Post Road/South Compo intersection -- the start of the proposed 1.2-mile Scenic Highway. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

A historic plaque stands at the Post Road/South Compo intersection — the start of the proposed 1.2-mile Scenic Highway. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

Baron’s South: A New View

Many Westporters enjoyed yesterday’s spectacular weather the usual autumn way: Apple-picking. Leaf-peeping. Your kid’s sports-game-watching.

A few folks spent the day working. A small work crew assembled at Baron’s South, for a 3rd clean-up of that town-owned, heavily forested downtown property.

Organized by Wendy Crowther and Morley Boyd, they made a big dent removing invasive trees, overgrown underbrush and climbing vines. They also cleared a main pathway that descends from Golden Shadows — “the baron’s” old house — into the deeper woods.

Slowly, they opened up the viewsheds from the mansion. There’s much more to do, but already it’s become easier to imagine how magnificent the hills and dales of the wooded landscape once were.

Crowther says the clean-up work reveals a view of Golden Shadows not seen since the town purchased the property in 1999.

Golden Shadows - Wendy Crowther

The ultimate fate of Golden Shadows — and what to do with the entire 22-acre property — has not yet been decided.

But whatever happens, a small group of Friends is ensuring the place looks great.

 

Golden Shadows Gets Trimmed

Westporters continue to debate the best use for Golden Shadows.

But no one can argue that the area in Baron’s South — once the handsome home of Baron Walter von Langendorff and his wife — looks a lot better today than it did yesterday.

This morning, historic preservationists Morley Boyd and Wendy Crowther organized a work party. They and Planning & Zoning Commission members Al Gratrix and Chip Stephens were joined by Mike Bernie, one of the baron’s original landscapers.

Golden Shadows is hidden from view, in the middle of the property. (Of course, the town owns Baron’s South, and it’s open from sunrise to sunset.)

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take care of it. Nice to see some concerned Westporters lend a helping hand.

Golden Shadows cleanup 2

Morley Boyd and Wendy Crowther, hard at work.

Golden Shadows cleanup 1

Chip Stephens (left) and Al Gratrix get their hands dirty.

Golden Shadows cleanup 4

The still-impressive hillside near Golden Shadows, after trimming, raking and weeding.

Golden Shadows

Golden Shadows