It sounds like a ho-hum affair: the Planning & Zoning Commission’s Zoning Regulation Revision Subcommittee meets tomorrow (Wednesday, January 5, 12 noon, Zoom).
But their agenda is filled with interesting — and important — items.
They’ll discuss text amendments on these topics:
A tree regulation, intended to balance the right of people to use their property as they wish, with a desire to save mature trees. This item is not about specific properties. Input has been sought from developers and preservationists.
Amending open space regulations to permit certain organized activities in areas like Baron’s South and Riverside Avenue park. Right now, no such activities are allowed — not even (for example) an organized hike for children, followed by story time.
Amending downtown regulations to modify current prohibitions on single-tenant occupancy exceeding 10,000 square feet. This would permit more flexibility for downtown merchants.
Amending downtown regulations to remove remove current prohibitions on retail uses above the first floor. Current regulations allow studios and offices, for example, on 2nd and 3rd stories, but not retail. (Stores like the Gap have been grandfathered in.) This would provide more retail options, at potentially lower rents, and also allow current merchants to expand their operations.
Exempting “art” from coverage calculations. This would have the potential to allow more sculptures and other artworks in outdoor spaces.
All of these are discussion items only.
Click here for the Zoom link. The meeting can also be accessed by phone (646-876-9923; Meeting ID: 823 0856 3966; Passcode: 441250). It will be archived later on www.westportct.gov.
Public comments prior to the meeting can be sent to PandZ@westportct.gov for consideration by the subcommittee, but will not be read aloud at the meeting.
In most of downtown, retail is not permitted above the 2nd floor. The Gap was grandfathered in.
State Senator Will Haskell will not seek re-election.
Just 25 years old, but already in his 2nd term representing Westport and Weston (and 6 other towns) in the 26th District, the youngest member of the General Assembly plans to attend law school. He also recently announced his engagement to former Staples High School classmate Katie Cion.
Since his election in November 2018, Haskell has served as chair of the Higher Education & Employment Advancement and Transportation Committees, and on numerous others. He cites as his proudest accomplishments the creation of Connecticut’s free community college program; passing “the most inclusive paid family and medical leave program in the country,” and a sustained focus on transportation infrastructure investments.
A small, private memorial service for Dick Berkowitz — the longtime civic volunteer who died New Year’s Eve — is set for this Sunday (January 9, 10 a.m.). Though attendance is limited, the service will be livestreamed, and available to his many friends and admirers. Click here for the link.
139 Main Street — the former site of Jack Willis — has been sold. A California-based owner/user is redeveloping the 3,400-square foot building for Brochu Walker, an :upscale women’s apparel brand that specializes in conscious luxury retail with a European flair.” They follows a “’kinder to the environment’ initiative” that supports “sustainability efforts resulting in ethically sourced, luxurious fibers.” Brochu Walker expects to open its first boutique in the Northeast early this year.
In less than 48 hours, Westporters learned of the deaths of 4 neighbors.
Larry Aasen, Dick Berkowitz, Akiko Ikeda and Nick Rossi — all passed away over the past few days.
Three were in their 90s. One was 81.
Three spent most of their adult lives here. One moved here just 3 years ago.
All added immeasurably to Westport.
Larry Aasen was an avid and proud Democrat. He contributed to his party — but he reached across this aisle on the non-partisan Representative Town Meeting (RTM). With friends of all political persuasions, he pitched in enthusiastically to do whatever needed doing with the Y’s Men, Rotary Club, Saugatuck Congregational Church and more.
Dick Berkowitz was an attorney who touched nearly every facet of Westport life. He was elected to the RTM and Planning & Zoning Commission; was president of the Kiwanis Club and Birchwood Country Club; served on the boards of Staples Tuition Grants and Temple Israel; helped found what is now the Youth Commission, and coached basketball, football and baseball.
Clockwise from upper left: Dick Berkowitz, Larry Aasen, Nick Rossi, Akiko Ikeda (Dick Berkowitz photo/Ted Horowitz)
Akiko Ikeda made her mark with the elderly. She served in a variety of positions at the Senior Center, helping build it from the ground up. But she also chaired Community Nursery School board for over 15 years, and was president of Church Women United too.
Nick Rossi lived here for only 3 years; he moved in with his son’s family after his wife died. But he immediately became a beloved presence at the Senior Center, and his grandchildren’s arts and sports performances. Last spring, the World War II veteran was grand marshal of the Memorial Day parade.
All led remarkable, productive and fulfilling lives. If you haven’t yet read their full stories, click the links above.
But let’s reflect too on what they gave to Westport — and what their legacy means to us today.
Dick Berkowitz was 29 when he helped form Westport’s youth commission. For the next 55 years, he did whatever he could to make our town a better place.
Larry Aasen, Akiko Ikeda and Nick Rossi kept making Westport better well into their 90s.
As we begin a new year, we’re a town in transition. Over the past 2 years, our ranks have swelled with newcomers. Many are young families, leaving cities for different lives. They chose this community because it is a community.
We are blessed with superb schools, wonderful arts and recreational facilities, an astonishing library, and vibrant organizations serving every interest imaginable.
But we need many more Larry Aasens, Dick Berkowitzes, Akiko Ikedas and Nick Rossis to sustain them.
And sustain us.
Whether you knew some or all of these remarkable individuals, or never heard their names, the challenge is the same: Honor their legacy by doing what you can to make Westport better.
As they proved, you’re never too young — or old — to start.
Nicholas Rossi — the World War II veteran who won the hearts of Westporters after moving here 3 years ago, and served memorably as grand marshal of last May’s Memorial Day parade — died peacefully yesterday morning. He was 99 years old.
Before his Memorial Day honor, I had the privilege and joy of interviewing him. Here is the story I posted.
Nicholas Rossi’s mother did not want him to join the military.
Her first-born son, with 3 brothers and 1 sister, had just graduated from Long Island’s Oyster Bay High School. But World War II was raging. Her father had fought in World War I. Nicholas ended up in the infantry.
If he was going to be in the service, his mother thought, at least get a different assignment. Thanks to someone his father knew — he worked as a caretaker on an estate — Rossi ended up in the Army Air Corps.
After training in Texas, his 305th Bombardment Group of the 364th Squadron was assigned to the 8th Air Force Bomber Command in England.
They flew B-17 “Flying Fortress” bombers in the European Theater. Rossi was a technical sergeant.
Technical sergeant Nicholas Rossi.
“I was not a professional engineer,” he recalls from his home in Westport, where — age 98 — he lives with his son Paul and daughter-in-law Marguerite. “But that aircraft was like a baby to me.”
Besides taking care of the planes on the ground, Rossi flew multiple missions. Seated behind the pilot and co-pilot, he handled fuel and any mechanical problems.
The Germans “shot the hell out of us,” Rossi says. But he was never shot down.
He survived the war. Now — over 75 years later — Nicholas Rossi is the grand marshal of Westport’s Memorial Day parade, on May 31.
When the war ended, Rossi’s mother hoped he’d come home. But superiors suggested he stay after his discharge, and help locate and identify the remains of military personnel.
He spent the next 4 years in Liege, Belgium as a civilian, employed by the government with the American Graves Registration Command.
Nick Rossi, during wintertime service.
“It was not a nice job,” he says simply. But it provided closure for families, particularly those that traveled to Europe to reclaim their sons and husbands.
After returning to Long Island in 1949, he entered Hofstra University on the GI Bill. “They treated soldiers well,” Rossi says. After graduation he earned a master’s degree in industrial engineering.
A successful career in the furniture industry followed, with Kroehler, Thomasville and Lexington. As a manufacturer’s representative and regional sales manager — and with an intuitive sense for sales and business — he earned accolades and awards.
After more than 40 years — by then in his 70s — Rossi retired. He had more time for hobbies like golf (he’d won the Brookville Country Club championship, and played into his 90s), gardening, Knights of Columbus, Oyster Bay Italian-American Citizens Club, and the country club board.
He especially enjoyed his many grandchildren.
Rossi first met Betty Braun on the Long Island Rail Road, heading home from work. Married for 60 years, they raised 5 children — Paul, Christine, Caren, Carla and Peter — in the house he built in Mill Neck.
When Betty died 3 years ago, Rossi moved to Paul’s house in Greens Farms. Almost instantly, he became a Senior Center regular. He had a regular lunch table group (ladies flocked to him), and enjoyed chair aerobics, bingo, conversation groups and Dr. Paul Epstein’s mind/body sessions. All that is now on hold, due to COVID.
“He’s taken full advantage of Westport,” his daughter-in-law — and ardent companion — says.
“The war made him resilient. He just picked up, came here and rolled with it.”
Nicholas Rossi in Westport. He and his grandson Nick built this model of the B-17 bomber Rossi serviced and flew in during World War II. (Photo/Dan Woog)
Rossi also got involved with St. Luke’s Church. He met fellow veterans at the VFW. He especially loved watching his grandchildren Caroline, Charlotte and Nick perform as actors, musicians and athletes at Staples High School.
Even before he moved here, Rossi attended the Memorial Day ceremony at Veterans Green, where his grandchildren performed.
Later this month, he’ll be back for another parade, wreath-laying and “Taps.”
This time, it will be in a well-deserved seat of honor.
Nick Rossi — the grandson and namesake of last year’s Memorial Day grand marshal — delivered remarks for his grandfather. It was a remarkable speech, one that deserves to be read today as we honor our friend, neighbor, and member of the “Greatest Generation.” Click here to see.
Grand marshal/grandfather Nicholas Rossi, and his grandson and namesake. (Photo/Dan Woog)
There is more than a parade to Westport’s Memorial Day celebration.
Every year after the last firefighter, float and Brownie has passed Town Hall, a simple ceremony takes place across the way at Veteran’s Green.
The first selectman honors Westport veterans who died the previous year. There’s a police honor guard and wreath-laying. “Taps” is played.
The grand marshal speaks too. This year, 98-year-old World War II veteran Nick Rossi asked his grandson — also named Nick Rossi — to deliver those remarks.
It was an inspired choice. Nick Jr. — who graduated from Staples High School in 2020, and just completed his freshman year at Boston College — awed the crowd with insightful, inspiring words. Speaking powerfully and from the heart, he said:
Good morning, Westport!
My name is Nick Rossi, and I am the grandson of the grand marshal. It is my honor and privilege to share the stage today with my grandfather, Nicholas Rossi, as we celebrate him and all the veterans we remember today, on this very special Memorial Day holiday.
As most of you know, traditionally the grand marshal is called upon to share some remarks at this ceremony. My grandfather asked me to help him do so this morning, as it is a challenge for him (at almost 99 years of age) to manage this kind of public speaking engagement. So, with Mr. Vornkahl’s blessing, I’d like to share with you a few things I know about Nick Rossi, Senior.
Nick Rossi delivers remarks as his grandfather — the grand marshal — looks on. (Photo/Dan Woog)
Nicholas Rossi was born in Oyster Bay, New York in September of 1922. Soon after graduation from high school, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps during World War II and served from December, 1942 through March, 1945. When he enlisted, he was 19 years old ~ the same age that I am right now. It is unimaginable to me what it must have felt like to go off to war as a young man who had barely begun to live his life. It was a selfless sacrifice, not even a choice at that point in time, but an expectation that that generation of young men would enlist and serve our country.
While his parents, who were immigrants from Italy, were filled with anxiety and reluctance, they let him go. Initially drafted into the Infantry, he found his way to the Air Corps. Thinking this was a “safer,” perhaps more elite assignment, he soon learned that there was nothing safe about fighting the war from the skies. His flight crew was part of the 305th Bombardment Group of the 364th Squadron, assigned to the 8th Air Force Bomber Command in England which flew the B-17 “Flying Fortress” bomber in the European Theater. A technical sergeant, he flew multiple bombing missions over Nazi-occupied central Europe. He sat behind the pilot and co-pilot, handling fuel and mechanical issues, and trouble-shooting any technical problems. He became an expert on the B-17 aircraft.
Technical sergeant Nicholas Rossi.
As my grandfather has gotten older, his memory at times fails him. Yet he can still recount for us in amazing detail what it was like to be part of those terrifying missions, to be shot at relentlessly by the Germans, to watch his comrades fall from the sky under firestorm attack, and then to return from a mission to find that the airman who slept in the bunk above him never returned.
He talks about the attitude that eventually overtook these men — they were resigned to believe that there was a good probability that they, too, would eventually not make it back from the next mission…but they still climbed into their planes for the next flight, ready to go to battle to defend our country. These recollections are unfathomable to me, and to this day remain disturbing to him. He reminds us how awful war is, and what the price for peace really costs in terms of soldiers’ lives lost. It is on a day like today when we remember, with enormous gratitude, what these men (and women), and all the fallen veterans of war, did to guarantee our freedom, liberty, and democracy.
How do we even begin to thank them for their sacrifices?
Nicholas Rossi was discharged from the Army in March, 1945 but remained in Liege, Belgium after the war for several more years. As a civilian, he was employed by the government to work with the American Graves Registration Command for the purpose of locating and identifying unrecovered dead military personnel. “It was not a nice job,” but for my grandfather, it was important work to do, to stay behind and help account for the lost soldiers, as it provided closure for their families, many of whom eventually traveled to Europe to reclaim their sons, husbands, and brothers. Perhaps it provided some closure for him, too, after living through the horrors of World War II.
When we think about why Memorial Day was established in the first place back in the late 1800s, for the purpose of decorating the graves of the soldiers who died in defense of our country, it seems there is some kind of connection when I think of my grandfather working over the graves of his comrades – it was an emotionally devastating job, but it was his way of honoring them, of giving them dignity and respect, as these servicemen were the true heroes. We remember and honor them today.
Grand marshal Nick Rossi (Photo/Ted Horowitz)
Upon returning to the States in 1949,my grandfather attended Hofstra University on the GI Bill, earned a master’s degree in Industrial Engineering, and embarked on a career in the furniture industry which he pursued with great success for the next forty-plus years. He met his wife Elizabeth on Long Islandduring the early years of his professional career and married in 1956, raising five children in the house that he built in Mill Neck, New York. He remained very involved in his community on Long Island, as a member of the Knights of Columbus, the American Legion, the Oyster Bay Italian-American Citizens Club, and the Brookville Country Club. After my grandmother passed in 2018, my grandfather relocated to Westport to live with our family. While he still considers Oyster Bay his first home, he has truly enjoyed becoming a part of the Westport community. I have been lucky enough to spend more time with him, especially since the beginning of the pandemic, and I believe it’s nothing short of special that three generations of the Rossi lineage are under one roof. After many hours spent working out in the yard gardening or reading the newspapers together, I have picked up on some colorful Italian sayings — and insults — that I’ve brought back with me to campus, as my friends can attest.
Now in his 99th year, he is delighted to be this year’s grand marshal of the Westport Memorial Day parade, and on his behalf — I would like to extend his genuine gratitude to everyone in this town who has welcomed him, embraced him, and now today — honors him.
The Rossi family stands proudly at today’s Memorial Day ceremony. (Photo/Dan Woog)
In closing, I will echo a prayer that we say in our church, something called the “Prayer of the Faithful”: “For all the men and women who served in the armed forces, for those who put themselves in harm’s way on our behalf, let us pray to the Lord.”
On behalf of this year’s grand marshal, my grandfather ~ Nicholas Rossi ~ Thank you for this honor! And thank you to all the brave men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.
Grand marshal/grandfather Nick Rossi, and his grandson and namesake. (Photo/Dan Woog)
Staples High School’s Jazz Combo earned 1st place at the 2021 National Jazz Festival this weekend. They competed in Small Ensemble Division 1 Live Performance.
Leading the quintet were seniors Lucas Lieberman (piano) and Abe Rubin (bass). The other members are sophomores: Noah Jahnel (tenor saxophone), Delaney McGee (trumpet), and Witt Lindau (drums).
Lucas was named the Superior Musician for the division, while Delaney and Witt were selected as 2 of the 3 Outstanding Musicians.
The Staples High School Jazz Ensemble participated in the Large Ensemble Division 1 Live Performance competition. Though they did not place, the adjudicators called the ensemble a “swingin’ band” and “one of the better bands that we’ve heard, in a tough division.” Congratulations to director Phil Giampietro, and all the musicians!
Westport’s back-to-normal journey continued yesterday, with a pair of just-like-old-times events.
The Westport Woman’s Club held its annual-except-for-last-year art show. Paintings, photos, ceramics — all by local artists — were admired (and bought) by a large, joyful bunch of happy-to-be-back art lovers.
Miggs Burroughs and Nina Bentley were among the artists exhibiting at yesterday’s Westport Woman’s Club show.
And Frederic Chiu and Jeanine Esposito opened Beechwood — their Weston Road home, where they host regular arts salons (and more) — to the public, for the first time in a year.
The grounds were spectacular. Especially the centerpiece: an ancient copper beech tree, which gives the property and the arts series its name.
The Beechwood copper birch tree. (Photo/June Rose Whittaker)
Boston College’s “Spoon River Revival” has won the Outstanding Creative Ensemble Award from the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.
Four cast members — including Staples High School Class of 2020 graduate Nick Rossi — were chosen to participate in the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship competition. The award provides recognition, honor and financial assistance to outstanding student performers for the further pursuit of education. Click here for the full story.
Emily (Sophie Rossman) and George (Nick Rossi) at the soda shop, in Staples Players’ production of “Our Town.” (Photo/Kerry Long)
And this year — for the first time in the 50 years he has organized Westport’s annual parade and tribute to fallen service members — the entire event was canceled, due to COVID.
But his family arranged a socially distanced cookout in the driveway of his Cross Highway home.
And in mid-morning — just like every year at Town Hall — Vornkahl heard “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Taps.”
Nick Rossi sings the national anthem.
The national anthem was sung stirringly by Nick Rossi. The 2019 Staples High School graduate — now a student at Boston College — is a veteran of Veteran’s Green. He played and sang at last year’s ceremony.
The mournful brass notes were sounded by Sam Atlas. The 2018 Staples grad is a trumpet major at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, where she plays in the orchestra, wind ensemble and chamber groups.
Sam Atlas plays “Taps.”
It was a fitting tribute for the man who is Westport’s “Mr. Memorial Day.” And he responded as any soldier would:
The sun is still shining. The grills are still smoking. The holiday spirit lingers in Westport — especially after months of rain and cool weather.
As always, Memorial Day was a time of mixed emotions: a celebration of the country our military has always protected so well, and honors for those who gave their lives so we could have this celebration.
Here’s one more look at Memorial Day in Westport.
The Bedford and Coleytown Middle School bands combined this year. Hundreds of young musicians sounded great — and very together! (Photo/Sarah Tamm)
Bill Vornkahl directed the parade — as he has for the past 48 years. It’s not a Westport Memorial Day without him. (Photo/Carmine Picarello)
The reviewing stand. Grand Marshal Nick Zeoli is at far right. (Photo/Dan Woog)
World War II veteran and Grand Marshal Nick Zeoli — 96 years young — delivers the Memorial Day address. (Photo/Carmine Picarello)
Today’s theme was “Thank a Veteran.” These vets posed proudly … (Photo/Dan Woog)
… as did these 2 Navy veterans: from France (left) and the US. (Photo/Dan Woog)
Memorial Day fashion. (Photo/Carmine Picarello)
Staples High School senior Nick Rossi sings “America the Beautiful.” At the end of the ceremony, he played a mournful “Taps” on his trumpet. (Photo/Dan Woog)
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