One of the unintended consequences of COVID is a rise in the number of new swimming pools. All over town, construction is underway.
All over town — except in areas of town with lots that, according to zoning regulations, are undersized or non-conforming. Many of those properties are in areas like Saugatuck Shores and Compo Beach.
For years, architects and land use experts — including Pete Romano, the principal at LANDTECH, the Westport-based engineering and planning firm — have gone to the Zoning Board of Appeals requesting variances. This Thursday (May 6, Zoom), the Planning & Zoning Commission will consider a text amendment to address that issue.
Text amendment 793 would modify the swimming pool definition to exclude swimming pools of a certain size from total coverage calculations, in all zoning districts.
It would also exclude “sports courts” (private basketball and pickleball courts, etc.) of a certain size from total coverage calculations.
There would be size limits: 850 square feet for pools, and up to 40′ x 40′ for sports courts. Non-conforming lots would still be required to adhere to building and conservation setbacks, and fulfill all drainage requirements.
A Westport summer scene.
Romano has represented many homeowners who have sought variances. He says the text amendment would reduce the number of land-use approvals required to construct a pool.
He notes a current regulatory quirk: A homeowner right now can construct a patio 35 inches high, right up to all building setbacks, and fill the entire lot, setback to setback. It would not count toward total coverage calculations; that only applies to patios at least 36 inches above the ground.
However, Romano says, “once you punch a hole in the patio and pour water in it, it counts towards total coverage.”
Many town officials seem to be in favor of the text amendments. So are most realtors.
Thursday’s meeting will be livestreamed at www.westportct.gov, and shown on Optimum channel 79 and Frontier channel 6020. Public comments can be sent to PandZ@westportct.gov by noon Thursday. To comment in real time during the meeting, email firstname.lastname@example.org by noon on Thursday; include your name, address and “agenda item 5.” Click here and scroll down for the full text amendment.
Jeff Seaver runs Seaver Interactive, a web design and digital marketing firm in Saugatuck. He’s been friends, and worked with, Pete Romano — a Saugatuck native — for 7 years. Jeff writes:
Walking around town with Pete Romano is like going for a stroll with the mayor: folks say hello everywhere he goes. Pete’s well known not just for his expertise in running Landtech — an engineering and environmental firm on Riverside Avenue — but also for his community service. His reputation spans generations.
His father, PJ Romano, grew up in Westport. He was a PAL volunteer for almost 50 years. The athletic field behind Saugatuck Elementary School is named for him, honoring his role in developing PAL’s football, baseball, wrestling and other programs, including the ice rink at Longshore.
Pete’s mom, Joan Romano, still volunteers with PAL. That spirit continues, as Pete maintains a strong family tradition of service.
Pete played baseball and football at Staples High School. His mom recalls that Pete “would knock a player down, but then afterward, stop to help pick them up.”
Working with his longtime friend and partner at Saugatuck Sweets, Al DiGuido, Pete is one of the forces behind DiGuido’s legendary Al’s Angels charity. Last year, Pete helped organize and oversee over 2,500 holiday meals to help those in need.
Pete Romano (left) with his mother Joan, and Al DiGuido, at Saugatuck Sweets.
Al DiGuido said, “I have never thought of Pete Romano as a hero. I doubt he regards himself that way. He just has a tireless passion for doing the heavy lifting for those in need, which inspires me and so many others.
“Pete doesn’t seem to need or want the spotlight. He’s not looking for trophies, awards or accolades. I think he does this because its in his DNA. His family has always been committed to doing all they could to help the community. Some are content to sit on the sidelines, but Pete gets his hands dirty doing the hard work that is truly needed.”
But Pete has a superhero alter ego. Every Christmas he plays Santa Claus. He arrives on a Westport Police patrol boat at Saugatuck Center, lighting the tree and entertaining kids.
Here comes Pete — er, Santa Claus!
His good works could fill a book. They include being a major contributor to the renovation of the Westport Weston Family YMCA, and helping sponsor events for the American Cancer Society, Project Return, ElderHouse, Operation Hope, Westport Rotary, Little League Softball, plus many other local causes.
Bill Mitchell has been a pal of Pete’s for many years. They support many of the same causes, including Operation Hope and Project Runway. Bill notes, “Pete and his family have been a gift to our community.”
Steve Smith, Westport’s building inspector, said, “Pete Romano is a successful community leader who is generous and always willing to help out a community cause. He has given his time to our town unselfishly — and always with his characteristically great sense of humor.”
Phil Cerrone, an architect who has partnered in a number of efforts with Pete’s firm, said, “Pete is one of the most caring and considerate people I know. He can always be relied on to help a friend in need. Just as important, he can also be counted on to supply top quality food and drink!”
One of Pete’s most treasured causes is Wakeman Town Farm. Pete often joins with his friend, architect Peter Wormser, scooping ice cream at the Farm’s special events.
Pete Romano and Peter Wormser, at Wakeman Town Farm.
Pete always has time for Westport schools. He and his firm helped create the night lights at the Staples High School football field, the fields at Bedford Middle School, and the Loeffler Field terrace (granite seating on the soccer field hill).
He is a generous supporter of Staples sports teams, Staples Players and middle school theater productions, the Staples robotics team, and more.
Pete’s firm collaborates with Gault Energy on many projects. Gault family members are effusive in their praise. Ginger Gault and Jimmy Donaher say, “He has keen insight to go along with a big heart, and on top of everything else, he’s hysterically funny. Pete is the complete package.”
He is especially proud of his 2 daughters. They went through the Westport School System, and are now smart, vibrant, strong women. Pete said, “They got the best public education one could dream of. How do you ever repay that debt?”
Pete celebrated a birthday recently. As with many hard-working and generous folks, one of the hardest challenge is figuring out what to give them.
What do you give a man like Pete Romano who does not have everything, but gives everything?
The only answer is: love and genuine appreciation for all that he does.
Westporters know and love Pete Romano for many things:
His civil engineering and site work for LandTech — including the redevelopment of Saugatuck. His involvement with Saugatuck Sweets, Westport’s 21st-century Ice Cream Parlor. His long years of volunteer work with Al’s Angels, PAL and many more organizations.
We do not, however, know and love Pete Romano for his dancing.
After this Saturday (April 9, 6:30 p.m., Rolling Hills Country Club), though, we might add that the list.
Pete will don his best duds, lace up his dance shoes, and join professional dancer Anna Belyavtseva in Elderhouse‘s “Dancing with the Stars” benefit.
The competition will be fierce — including Kitt Shapiro, founder and creator of “Simply Eartha” — but Pete is both a great competitor, and game.
His goal is $15,000 in pledges, to help the adult day care center that provides services to seniors coping with memory loss and other serious conditions.
There’s still time to contribute. Just click here. (In the spirit of friendly competition, Pete sent along Kitt Shapiro’s contributor’s page too — click here!)
And the next time you see Pete, tell him: “Shake a leg.”
Pete Romano and his friendly competitor, Kitt Shapiro.
Pete Romano is a well-known — and much-admired — Westporter.
He’s one of the prime movers behind the redevelopment of Saugatuck Center (and a co-owner of the beloved Saugatuck Sweets shop). For many years he was a leading volunteer with Festival Italiano. Pete knows how important it is to build — and sustain — a community.
He’s also a principal with Saugatuck-based LandTech, one of the area’s leading environmental and engineering firms.
Recently, Pete attended a conference on “Cities of Tomorrow.” In between heavy-duty panels of mayors, economic directors and futurists, there were 10-minute vignettes of imaginative, fun and very cool ideas.
Pete was particularly taken by a guy who took an abandoned city block out west. He developed it fully, placing businesses in abandoned store fronts, painting crosswalks and bike lanes, putting up planters with trees, creating sidewalk cafes and the like.
Creating green space where none existed.
Here’s the kicker: He did not have permission to do anything. No permits, no licenses — nothing.
All he had were a few buddies, and a huge pair of you-know-whats.
He told the conference: “You can do anything, as long as you wear a hard hat and fluorescent vest.”
I am not advocating that anyone do this in Westport, mind you.
And if anyone does, please don’t mention where you got the idea.
The native Westporter has followed his parents — PJ and Joan — as an avid supporter of everything every local kid does. He’s now one of the prime movers behind Al’s Angels, touching youngsters and their families in extra-special ways.
He’s helped build his company — Landtech — into a well respected civil engineering and environmental consulting firm.
Pete was a driving force behind the long-running, very popular Festival Italiano, and now he’s a leader in the redevelopment of Saugatuck.
But — in the same way Paul Newman is known to a new generation as a food purveyor rather than a movie star — many Westporters know Pete only as an owner of Saugatuck Sweets, the riverfront ice cream-and-candy shop that will be remembered fondly years from now by every kid growing up today in town.
So it’s fitting that Saugatuck Sweets is the site this Saturday (August 8) of Westport’s celebration of Pete’s 60th birthday.
The festivities go on all day. At 2 pm, First Selectman Jim Marpe will present an official town proclamation.
At 7 p.m. there’s a concert with Silver Steel at 96 Franklin Street, near Luciano Park. There’ll be ice cream, zeppoles and soft drinks, plus a chance to “touch a fire truck” from the Saugatuck station.
The event would have been held at the plaza Pete helped create next to Saugatuck Sweets. A noise complaint earlier this summer shut that concert series down.
But Pete and his pals are problem solvers. Their creative solutions have helped make Westport a better place for — well, in Pete’s case, 60 years.
Happy birthday, Pete! See you in Saugatuck on Saturday!
Remember that “Remember When?” teaser sign that “06880” wondered about last Sunday?
Readers speculated it involved a new ice cream parlor, coming to Saugatuck Center.
Now it’s official. Al DiGuido and Pete Romano — an entrepreneur/civic “angel” and landscape architect/Saugatuck native, respectively — will open “Saugatuck Sweets” in January.
The location is the former Saugatuck Craft Butchery on Riverside Avenue. In just one year, it outgrew its building and moved across the street.
Saugatuck Sweets will sell high quality desserts, ice cream, yogurt, bulk candy and the like. It’s one more addition to an area quickly earning props for its restaurants, non-chain stores (including the butcher shop, a gourmet market and kayak rental place), walkability and fun.
The interior of the former Saugatuck Craft Butchery — shown here — is easily adapted to Saugatuck Sweets. Chicken, lamb and sausages will be replaced by ice cream, candy and seasonal gift items.
Sweets’ location is perfect. Not many people will chill with ice cream on the outdoor plaza this winter. But inside it will be jammed. By spring, Saugatuck Sweets — along with the Whelk next door — will be one more reason that Saugatuck Center is a hot destination.
DiGuido (who founded the Al’s Angels children’s charity) and Romano (whose longtime civic involvement includes the PAL and Festival Italiano) have spent decades doing good things for kids, families, Saugatuck and our entire town.
Their newest venture promises to be especially sweet.
You and I might celebrate by taking a quicker shower, or finally buying a compact fluorescent light bulb.
Robin Tauck will drive her brand-new Tesla in New York City’s 1st Earth Day road rally.
Robin gets excited about a lot of things, like international travel. (Her family’s company, Tauck World Discovery, is a global leader in inspirational, innovative touring.)
National parks. (She has helped renovate treasures like Mesa Verde, and been praised by presidents for it.)
And the Tesla Roadster.
Hers is the 1265th produced. There is at least 1 other in Westport; perhaps 8 or 10 throughout Connecticut.
Robin Tauck's Tesla.
The Roadster is the 1st all-electric vehicle in the US. It goes far beyond gas/electric hybrids like the Chevy Volt.
The Volt travels 25 to 50 miles on a lithium-ion battery. The Tesla gets 275.
Welcome to tomorrow — on display now in Robin’s garage. That’s where she keeps her battery cords.
One plugs into a regular 110-volt outlet. A fully depleted battery takes 24 hours to charge.
A 220-volt hookup (dryer type plug) gets 40 miles for each hour of charging. “It’s like charging your cell phone,” Robin says. “And the battery is strong enough to power your entire home.”
Her work with the World Travel and Tourism Council first opened her eyes to the incredible damage carbon dioxide emissions inflict on the world. (The organization, of which she is a leader, is helping the global travel industry reduce emissions, and encourages sustainability plans.)
Robin — who travels 120 days a year, and contributes carbon offset miles to worthy programs — had long rented Priuses wherever they’re available. (She spends lots of time in California; nearly all rental agencies have them there.)
She knows that Fairmont Hotels offer free parking for hybrids, and Logan Airport has preferred lots for them. She understands their value to the environment.
But then Robin — who has a home in the San Francisco Bay Area, and studied at Stanford — got an up-close look at Teslas, which are far better known in California than here.
The Wilkes Bashford store in Palo Alto — owned by Westport’s Mitchell clothing family — sits across the street from Tesla‘s world headquarters. The company was founded in 2003 by Silicon Valley engineers. It took 5 years to produce its 1st car — the hand-built, carbon fiber Roadster. There are now 1,500 of them, in 30 countries.
They look very cool. Hidden inside, a large (recyclable, after its 10-year life) battery sits above a watermelon-sized motor.
Robin test drove a Roadster. So did her husband, Pete Romano.
They went all around Palo Alto. “You’ll come back with the ‘Tesla grin,'” a company executive predicted.
“It’s fast, responsive — and totally silent,” Robin says. “It accelerates extremely fast — 0 to 60 in 3.7 seconds — and slows quickly too. It’s very nimble, and takes quick turns.
“It’s the most exciting drive I’ve ever had.”
Though a tight fit for Pete — “he’s 6-3, a big guy,” she says — he loved it too.
Robin Tauck, holding her battery charging cord.
The Roadster goes out of production next year. It will be replaced by a roomier, mass-produced Model S that gets (depending on the battery pack selected) 160, 230 or 300 miles per charge. It can be recharged in just 45 minutes.
Robin knows all the questions about electric vehicles. What if I run out of juice? Where can I get it serviced?
She called Roadster owners in the tri-state area. “It gets 275 miles on a full battery charge,” she says. “Who drives 285 miles in a day?
“You can charge it in any garage. And almost every hotel and garage has a 110-volt outlet.” Owners, she says, tell each other the “best places” to charge.
Servicing, she says, takes place once a year: “basically for tires.” With no oil or gas to worry about — and few of the traditional under-the-hood components to fail — maintenance is almost an afterthought.
Robin is a fun person, and Tesla is a fun company. They know their customers by name, and seek out events like today’s Earth Day rally in New York. Two dozen or so Teslas will join other CO2-friendly vehicles in a loop around Manhattan.
Then it’s back to Westport with her Roadster. Robin says the Gaults may put a charging station in their new Saugatuck development; she’s heard talk there might be one at the train station too and at several town buildings.
She hopes to show the Roadster at next month’s Eco-Fest at the Levitt Pavilion, and possibly join other electric car drivers in the Memorial Day parade.
You can’t miss it. It’s sharp-looking, and Tesla calls it “glacier blue.”
Though a better description might be “Robin’s-egg blue.”
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