Tag Archives: Parks and Recreation Commission

Mike Rea Explores A First Selectman Run

Growing up on Evergreen Avenue, Mike Rea attended almost-in-his-back yard Bedford Elementary School.

His alma mater now serves as Town Hall. And Rea is trying to figure out whether he wants to work there full time.

He’s done many things since graduating from Staples High School in 1970. Rea helped found Festival Italiano, was a Parks and Recreation Commission chair, headed the Bedford Middle School building project, spent 12 years on the RTM, and now serves as vice chair of the Board of Finance.

He’s formed a committee to explore a run for first selectman. If he enters the race, he’ll challenge incumbent and fellow Republican Jim Marpe.

“For years, people have asked me to run,” Rea says. “I owe it to myself to see if the interest is out there now.”

Mike Rea (left) after his first Board of Finance victory. On the right is current 2nd selectman Avi Kaner.

A Bronx native who came to Westport at age 4, Rea has long been active in town. Soon after his Staples graduation, he opened Mr. Sandwich — a popular lunchtime restaurant — on Bay Street.

He attended Norwalk Community College at night. He married Carla, spent a brief time in real estate, and for the past 34 years has worked for Gen Re. He’s currently vice president of corporate services and global real estate.

His first political activism came before he was a teenager — for the Democrats. “Thelma Ezzes and Ruth Soloway got me to sell tickets for a JFK memorial concert,” he recalls. “Thelma always said I slipped through Democratic fingers.”

He later joined the Young Republicans, and became state national committeeman. He chaired the Republican Town Committee, and was a 2-time John McCain delegate at national conventions.

Mike Rea at the 1978 Republican state convention. In the background is longtime political leader Ed Capasse.

When Rea’s sons Michael and Alex were young, an earthquake devastated Italy. Rea was part of a Westport group that raised $250,000 to help, then brought 21 youngsters and their mayor from a small town to Westport.

The Sons of Italy rose from that group. They sponsored the Italian Festival, a summertime Saugatuck staple for over 25 years.

Mike Rea (left) with the Sons of Italy group, at an early Festival Italiano.

When his boys played sports, Rea got involved in a project to build more athletic fields. First Selectman Doug Wood appointed him to the Parks and Recreation Commission. Wood’s successor Joe Arcudi named Rea chair.

Under his direction, Parks and Rec helped develop Wakeman Park, renovated Ned Dimes Marina and brought a skating rink to Longshore.

Gene Cederbaum — a Democratic Board of Education member — recruited Rea to head up the Bedford Middle School building project. Rea and his group — including “fantastic volunteers” like Russ Blair, Howard Lathrop and Joe Renzulli — “brought new construction techniques and accounting principles, and combined them with state and local educational specs and budgets,” to produce a handsome school on a former Nike missile base.

Rea is proud that another Democrat — Wally Meyer — called him “Mr. On Time and Under Budget.”

In his 6 terms on the RTM, Rea chaired the Finance and Environmental Committees, and served on the Ethics Committee. “I really enjoyed the give-and-take from ‘the citizens’ podium,'” he says.

Mike and Carla Rea (2nd and 3rd from right), with their children and granddaughter.

He left the RTM to run for Board of Finance. Rea was elected twice, in 2011 and 2015, when he was the top Republican vote-getter in town.

So why might he challenge a fellow party member for the top spot?

“Why not?” he replies. “I wouldn’t run against Jim. I’d be running for Westport, and myself.”

His exploratory committee will examine whether issues like the condition of the beach, and finance and planning, are areas he could address.

“I’m a business guy, a facilitator, a project manager,” Rea says. “That’s my wheelhouse. It’s not a question of bad management now. It’s a question of, could I do better? When you commit large sums of expenditures to education, parks facilities and public works, you have to make sure you’re doing it right.”

Rea calls Marpe “a very capable, nice, down-to-earth guy. I really like him. He’s not doing the job wrong. I just think with my years in public service, and my skill set that augments the first selectman’s job, I might do better.”

Rea also says he’s friendly with Jonathan Steinberg, the Democratic state representative who is exploring his own run for first selectman.

Rea concludes, “I like people. I love Westport. I think I’d be good for the town. This is just the first step on a journey.”

That journey started decades ago at Bedford Elementary School on Myrtle Avenue. It may wind its way back there, in November.

(Tomorrow: Jim Marpe talks about his campaign for re-election.)

Jennifer Fava: New Parks & Rec Director Will Dive Right In

Jennifer Fava’s father was director of parks facilities for Westchester County. Growing up, she wanted nothing to do with that.

But — go figure — she ended up graduating not only from the same school (University of Massachusetts), but also the same exact program (leisure studies and resources) as both parents.

Recreation is in Fava’s blood. From her youth in Armonk as a volleyball player, gymnast, runner, swimmer and diver (“my body is paying for it now, but it’s worth it”), through jobs as parks and rec director for Yorktown and North Hempstead, she’s spent her life being active, and helping others enjoy leisure pursuits.

Her get-it-done resume and let-me-help attitude should serve her well in her new job. On September 1, Fava becomes Westport’s new director of parks and recreation.

Jennifer Fava

Jennifer Fava

It seems like a great fit — for her, and the town. During her 9 years in Yorktown, Fava managed 29 parks and other facilities. She was responsible for 750 acres of open space, and developed 12 miles in nature preserves.

During 3 years at North Hempstead, she managed 385 employees and an operating budget 3 times larger than Westport’s. She oversaw the maintenance, operations and improvements of 53 park facilities, including golf courses, a marina, botanical garden, aquatic and athletic facilities, and a 60,000-square foot community center.

She increased revenues and program offerings, reorganized the department for greater efficiency and cost effectiveness, and implemented a more user-friendly website.

Fava did not do it all by sitting in her office.

“I’m not afraid to get on the roof and check the HVAC system,” she says. In Yorktown one night after a community movie, she grabbed a bag and picked up garbage. “People should know we’re all part of a team,” she explains.

“We don’t get rich in public service,” she adds. “We do this because we love it.”

Fava calls her new town “a great place to be. The natural resources and unbelievable facilities — who doesn’t like to sit at the beach?”

Her background managing golf courses, marinas and beaches (“across Long Island Sound,” she notes) are a plus. The demographics where she’s worked are similar to Westport too.

Longshore -- part of Jennifer Fava's new portfolio -- includes a golf course, tennis courts, marina, pools, and much, much more.

Longshore — part of Jennifer Fava’s new portfolio — includes a golf course, tennis courts, marina, pools, and much more.

Fava says that as she researched Westport — and saw the capital plan — she grew even more excited. She sees an opportunity to “build on this gem, and take it to the next level.”

She found — to her surprise — that she was not a stranger to the town. When she was younger, her beach of choice was Sherwood Island. She had no idea, though, that it was in Westport. (Which makes her no different from many Westporters.)

After she beat out more than 50 applicants for the job — but before her appointment was announced — Fava visited Westport’s recreational facilities. She wanted to experience them from residents and visitors’ points of view.

She got “a very good, positive vibe” at places like Compo. “People were clearly enjoying themselves,” she says.

Compo Beach: a town jewel, beloved by all.

Compo Beach: a town jewel, beloved by all.

Fava declines to talk about priorities. “It’s too early for that,” she says. “I’ve already received stacks of documents from the Recreation Commission. I have my nighttime reading.”

The new director takes a broad view of her job. “I look forward to making a positive impact, in whatever way I can. I’ll be looking at the whole park system, not one specific site. And I’ll look at the whole well-being of people. There are a lot of aspects to this.”

Fava is already excited about one thing: her commute.

For 3 years, she drove 90 minutes (on a good day) from her home in Brookfield to North Hempstead — then back at night.

“I don’t recommend it,” Fava says.

“This will be great. And it’s all back roads.”

Parks & Rec Commission: “We Heard Public’s Beach Comments Loud And Clear”

A large crowd flooded into Town Hall tonight. A number of Westporters were ready to fight for parts of Compo Beach they believed were threatened: parking on South Beach. Keeping grassy spaces. The skate park.

What they got was Kumbaya.

Parks and Recreation Commission chair Charlie Haberstroh introduced 7 recommendations. None were earth-shattering. All seemed to come directly from raucous town meetings last year.

The basic theme: Less is more.

Here they are:

1.  No changes to South Beach and eastern area parking. 

“We heard the message loud and clear,” Haberstroh said. “It’s important to keep parking near the beach.” He noted that commissioners had parked near the proposed spaces away from the beach, and realized the view was not the same.

No changes will be made to South Beach parking. (Photo/Laurey Tussing)

No changes will be made to South Beach parking. (Photo/Laurey Tussing)

2. No changes to vehicular traffic flow.

The Compo Beach Site Improvement Committee had recommended moving the entrance to across from Bradley Street. Haberstroh said no changes would be made.

Parks and Rec director Stuart McCarthy noted that traffic flow — and safety issues — are the #1 priority for his department. After he spoke, Haberstroh agreed that fixing the current entrance (though not relocating it) could be addressed outside of the master plan.

3.  Create separate pedestrian paths separate from vehicular traffic. 

Haberstroh noted that, as a new grandfather, he feels vulnerable pushing a stroller. Other commissioners added that beach usage has changed; more people are walking than ever before. Extending the boardwalk to the cannons, and on to South Beach, is one way to help ease danger.

Compo Beach: a town jewel, beloved by all.

Compo Beach: a town jewel, beloved by all. Pedestrians don’t always have it easy, however.

4.  Constructing new bathhouses.

The current brick bathhouses were badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy. A new structure would meet — or exceed — FEMA flood regulations.

5.  Adding restrooms on South Beach. But no pavilion. New facilities are sorely needed — 2 or 3 “fixtures” per men’s, women’s and family bathrooms, to use the polite term. But there would be no other structures. “They take on a life of their own,” Haberstroh said.

6.  Renovating the skate park, including possible partial private funding. This is also a recommendation that came directly from the fall meeting. The commissioners heard many Westport youngsters loud and clear.

7.  Resurfacing the basketball courts.  That’s a slam dunk.

A few minutes after 8 p.m., public comment began.

There were no catcalls, boos, cheers, whistles or shouts.

It was almost as quiet as the beach in winter.

Everyone loves Compo Beach. (Photo/Stacy Waldman Bass)

Everyone loves Compo Beach. (Photo/Stacy Waldman Bass)

Remember The Compo Beach Site Improvement Committee?

If you haven’t heard much from the Compo Beach Site Improvement Committee in a few months, there’s a reason:

It no longer exists.

After the group sent its report to the Parks & Recreation Commission in October, the committee was dissolved.

Now the commission is ready for next steps. A hearing is set for for Tuesday, March 31 (7:30 pm, Town Hall auditorium). The meeting will include public comment.

Parks and Rec chair Charlie Haberstroh says, “The Commission is anxious to move forward and make recommendations to the First Selectman, so the town can implement appropriate improvements to one of Westport’s most popular recreational facilities.”

The meeting will be televised (Channel 79 Cablevision, Channel 99 Frontier), and livestreamed at http://www.westportct.gov.

Compo Beach: a town jewel, beloved by all.

Compo Beach: a town jewel, beloved by all.

 

Compo Beach Plan Gets Rocky Reception

A member of the Compo Beach Master Plan Committee called last April’s public meeting — where opposition to new proposals, particularly perimeter parking, surfaced strongly — a “flash mob.”

Last night’s meeting at Town Hall — the 1st time the Parks and Recreation Commission reviewed the plan — was far less contentious. Citizens waited patiently through the consultants’ presentation of conceptual — not final — ideas, and a few commissioners’ questions, before speaking.

But when they spoke, they voiced a number of concerns.

As First Selectman Jim Marpe noted, Compo is used in “an amazing number of ways, and in common.” He spoke of the importance of investing in, upgrading and improving areas of the beach “where it makes sense.”

Compo Beach: a town jewel, beloved by all.

Compo Beach: a town jewel, beloved by all.

Introducing 2 plans — Options A and B — Consultants AKRF and Lothrop Associates expressed the hope that “everyone will like everything,” but cautioned, “no one will like everything.”

They sure didn’t.

Both plans show:

  • a new entrance across from Bradley Street, with permit pass-checking deeper into the beach than now exists
  • a driving loop around the beach, with perimeter pathways for walkers, joggers and bikers
  • an extended boardwalk, toward the cannons
  • exercise stations
  • upgraded bathrooms, lockers and Joey’s
  • redesigned marina promenade
  • unobstructed parking spaces
  • new trees
  • improved facilities (including a bathroom) on South Beach
  • a central lawn for picnics and special events, like Lobsterfest
  • new walkways along Soundview Drive and Compo Beach Road.

Option A pushes all parking back from the beach. Option B removes some of that, but allows some parking similar to what now exists on South Beach.

Both plans remove 200 to 300 parking spaces from the current number, which is around 1900.

Parking is one of the most contentious parts of the 2 beach proposals.

Parking is one of the most contentious parts of the 2 beach proposals.

Parks & Rec chair Charlie Haberstroh allowed youngsters to speak first. Several spoke eloquently and passionately of the need to retain the skate park. It does not appear in the current plans, but Parks & Rec director Stuart McCarthy said room could be made for it.

Then came comments from older folks. An early question covered costs. New buildings would run approximately $4 million; site work would be another $4 million. (Paving alone — included in site work — is about $2 million.)

Speakers zeroed in on specific concerns: Bradley Street will become more congested. The amount of asphalt and concrete that would be added to what are now “pervious” parking lots. The number of kayak racks that would be lost (none, McCarthy said).

Among the comments:

“You’re sacrificing 200 to 400 parking spaces for lawn and shrubs.”

“Parking and views are there 365 days a year. Traffic problems, they’re only 40 days or so.”

“I don’t understand all the talk about safety. The Sound is more dangerous than the beach.”

John Brandt referred back to an earlier speech. “You don’t fracture a gem,” the longtime Westporter said. “You polish it. We need to find a way to polish this gem.”

Compo Beach: a true town gem.

Compo Beach is a true town gem.

As Compo Beach Master Plan committee chair Andy Moss noted, plenty of dialogue and debate lie ahead. The Compo Beach proposals — which are still only design concepts — must still make their way through the Recreation Commission. Then comes the Planning and Zoning Commission, the selectmen, back to Parks & Rec, back to P&Z, and finally to the town’s funding bodies (Board of Finance and RTM).

Meanwhile, Westporters will continue to debate what they want — and don’t — for the town’s crown jewel.

The dialogue began last night. It can continue here. Click “Comments” — but please, be civil. Debate ideas; don’t castigate people. And use your full, real name.

Compo Beach Plan Moves To Parks & Rec On Monday

For nearly 3  months — ever since a raucous public meeting at which dozens of Westporters decried the possible removal of perimeter parking from Compo — the town’s Beach Site Improvement Committee has held work sessions.

This Monday (July 7, 7:30 p.m., Town Hall auditorium), the group hands off their draft master plan to their bosses: Westport’s Parks and Recreation Commission. The meeting is open to the public.

“We look forward to an opportunity to discuss the plan and receive public input regarding the recommendations,” says Parks and Rec chair Charlie Haberstroh.

“Compo Beach is one of the town’s crown jewels. Future plans for Compo Beach are important to all Westporters.”

Part of the plan. It shows new entranceways, an expanded boardwalk, and a parking area in the center of the beach.

Part of the plan. It shows new entranceways, an expanded boardwalk, and a parking area in the center of the beach.

First Selectman Jim Marpe notes that this is not the end of the process. “The plan is still a ‘draft’ document subject to further change and revision, based on the review of the Parks and Recreation Commission and additional input from the public.” He invites interested citizens to attend the meeting, and continue to provide suggestions and feedback.

If you’d rather  watch at home, the meeting will be televised (Cablevision Channel 79, AT&T Channel 99). And if you’re out enjoying Compo — parking close to the sand — check out the videostream at www.westportct.gov.

(The final draft of the Compo Beach Master Plan is available at www.compobeach2.com.)