Tag Archives: Planning & Zoning Commission

RTM Upholds Hiawatha Lane Settlement

In a one-sided vote on a two-decade battle, the Representative Town Meeting last night upheld the Planning & Zoning Commission’s decision to settle litigation regarding a 157-unit housing development on Hiawatha Lane.

The RTM decision was 30 to 2, with 1 absention and 1 recusal. Twenty-four votes — 2/3 of the entire RTM — would have been needed to overturn last month’s P&Z decision to settle 3 lawsuits brought by the developer, Summit Saugatuck. The special RTM meeting was held following a petition by over 60 electors.

This is Peter Gold’s report on last night’s special meeting, held via Zoom. He is an RTM member writing for himself, and not in an official capacity.

The RTM’s second meeting of the month considered overturning the Planning and Zoning Commission’s decision to permit Summit Saugatuck to build a 157- unit housing development, including 47 affordable units, at Hiawatha Lane. The Planning and Zoning Commission approved the development as part of a settlement of 3 lawsuits brought by Summit.

The suits seek to overturn the P & Z’s earlier denial of the project, revoke the town’s moratorium from the requirements under Connecticut statute 8-30g (which permits developers to disregard most town zoning regulations so long as their developments contain at least 30% affordable housing), and eliminate the town’s ability to approve sewer connections for developments.

The town has already been to trial on all 3 lawsuits. Absent approval of the proposed settlement, decisions in all 3 cases are expected shortly.

Artist’s rendering of one of the buildings at the Hiawatha Lane development.

Town attorney Ira Bloom explained there were 2 main questions for the RTM to consider. First: Should the town continue to control development by retaining its moratorium and the right to approve sewer connections? Equally important, he said, is how to “best balance the interests of the Hiawatha Lane neighborhood against the interests of the town as a whole.”

He stated that fire safety is the key issue in the case seeking to overturn the P & Z’s denial of the project. Summit’s proposed development meets all the requirements of the fire code. However, the P&Z initially rejected the proposed development on the advice of fire marshal Nate Gibbons, who felt additional safeguards — particularly a second access road to the site — were needed.

Fire safety concerns have been a major issue with the proposed Summit Saugatuck development.

Bloom said that recent cases where towns have sought safeguards over and above fire code requirements, including another Westport case involving a proposed development on Cross Street, have been decided in favor of developers. Courts have held that meeting the fire code requirements is enough to let the development proceed. Bloom said that the town does not have a high probability of winning this case.

Summit also challenged the 4-year 8-30g moratorium the Department of Housing granted the town 2 years ago. In March, the DOH notified the town that it intends to revoke the moratorium because it can no longer justify the moratorium points given for the Hidden Brook housing development. Without those points the town would not have enough points for a moratorium.

Based on settlement negotiations, the DOH told the town it is now “tentatively on board to keep the moratorium.” If the settlement is not approved, Mr. Bloom said the town will probably lose the moratorium, exposing the entire town to 8-30g affordable housing applications at many other sites.

The last suit challenged the current requirement that town approval is required for all connections to its sewer system. Westport denied a sewer permit. Summit sued and won; the town appealed and prevailed; Summit then appealed to the state Supreme Court. As with the other 2 cases, a decision  is on hold pending the RTM’s decision on the proposed settlement.

Danielle Dobin and Paul Lebowitz, the Planning and Zoning Commission members most involved in the settlement negotiations with Summit, explained the consequences of losing the lawsuits if the settlement is not approved and the benefits of the proposed settlement.

Though all P & Z commissioners sympathized with the plight of the Hiawatha Lane area residents affected by the proposed development, Dobin and Lebowitz said the P & Z felt the consequences to both the neighborhood and the town as a whole of continuing to oppose the development in court justified the settlement.

Summit Saugatuck’s site plan. I-95 is at the top; Saugatuck Avenue is at the right.

Under the settlement, all lawsuits would be dropped and could not be reinstated. This would preserve the town’s moratorium and ability to approve sewer connections, both crucial for controlling and guiding development in town.

Summit would build 157 units instead of 187 units, including 47 affordable units; eliminate one building from the project; include several 3-bedroom units for families, and provide additional fire safety features. It would also repair roads in the area, fix a culvert to eliminate flooding, and preserve open space.

A major concern of Hiawatha Lane area residents is the increase in traffic generated by the proposed development. Dobin explained that courts do not consider traffic congestion when deciding 8-30g cases.  First Selectman Marpe promised that the Board of Selectman, in its role as Traffic Authority, would work with the residents and the state Department of Transportation to take steps to mitigate the traffic.

It was noted that the Office of  State Traffic Administration would also need to approve the development, as it would be considered a major traffic generator.  However, OSTA approval would not be sought until after the settlement is approved or the lawsuits are resolved. If OSTA requests changes as a condition of its approval it is likely Summit would make such changes.

Several Hiawatha Lane area residents spoke against the settlement. They felt the P & Z did not negotiate hard enough; traffic and pedestrian safety issues were ignored; the existing affordable housing in the area should be preserved, and that residents displaced from their homes by the proposed development should be given priority for the new affordable units.

Dobin and Leibowitz explained why they thought the settlement was the best deal that could be obtained, pointed out that traffic and pedestrian issues are not considered under 8-30g, and that federal fair housing laws do not allow for preferential placement.

RTM members expressed sympathy with the Hiawatha Lane area residents, but felt their plight was outweighed by the town’s need to preserve the 8-30g moratorium and keep control over sewer access. Members also expressed a desire for the town to “do something” to assist the residents who would be displaced by the proposed development.

Many expressed their feeling that the town failed to adequately plan to meet the requirements of 8-30g over the past years as other towns — notably Darien and New Canaan, which have received several consecutive moratoriums — have done, leaving Westport in its current situation.

It was also pointed out that the settlement would have to be approved by the court, giving concerned residents one last chance to make their concerns heard.

Voting against the proposed settlement were Lou Mall and Carla Rea. Arline Gertzoff abstained, while Matthew Mandell recused himself.

RTM Subcommittee Upholds P&Z On Hiawatha Lane

The Representative Town Meeting Planning and Zoning Subcommittee voted decisively yesterday to uphold the P&Z’s agreement with Summit Saugatuck, to build 157 units of housing — some of it deemed “affordable” — on Hiawatha Lane, near I-95 Exit 17.

The vote was 5 to 1 to uphold the P&Z decision,, with one abstention. Member Matthew Mandell recused himself.

The meeting was required by law, following a petition by more than 60 electors in the wake of the P&Z vote earlier this month. The matter now moves to the full RTM, early in June.

Artist’s rendering of one of the buildings at the Hiawatha Lane development.

Roundup: Friday – P&Z, CBD, Kelp …

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Last night, the Planning & Zoning Commission approved new regulations regarding accessory apartments (units in a principal dwelling) and “accessory dwelling units” (those in attached structures).

As “06880” reported earlier this month, the new rules will open up our housing stock. They could add a small number of affordable housing units, and provide added income for residents going through life changes — the loss of a job, say, or divorce, or those whose children have moved away and who want to move into a smaller place on their own property, while renting out their larger home.

Also last night, Neil Cohn moved from alternate to full member of the P&Z, He replaces Greg Rutstein, who resigned Wednesday due to increased business responsibilities in a new job. Both are Democrats.

Rutstein praised chair Danielle Dobin, his fellow commissioners and Planning & Zoning Department head Mary Young. Noting that the board faces many important decisions, he said, “I want to make sure that I allow others who have the time to carefully consider these issues to serve the town that I love so dearly.”  

Dobin said, “In 3 short years, Greg has had a meaningful impact on Westport. He worked tirelessly to make the P&Z more efficient — cutting through red tape, and saving residents and businesses time and fees. His insightful questions, positive energy and good humor will be deeply missed by all of us.

“We warmly welcome Neil Cohn, one of our longstanding alternate commissioners in Greg’s place. Through his work chairing the Economic Growth Subcommittee, which he founded, Neil is playing an integral part in ensuring P&Z regulations promote a vibrant Westport.”

Neil Cohn

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Westport men and women can shop for CBD at 2 downtown stores literally around the corner from each other.

But what about man’s best friend?

We got that too.

Local resident Joseph Sequenzia just launched an all-natural hemp-derived  CBD dog treat. YUP PUP is part of a growing interest in pet wellness. The CEO says that dogs experience anxiety relief from CBD — a chemical compound in cannabis — along with health benefits like joint pain, digestion and healthy coats.

His mission is to “treat our pets to the same health and happiness they treat us to,” Sequenzia says. YUP PUP comes in Tasty Bacon Treats, Peanut Butter Bites and Savory Salmon Snacks. For more information, click here.

Joseph Sequenzia and his family — including dogs Wally and Otto.

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Yesterday was Earth Day. But New England Kelp Harvest Week runs all the way through Sunday.

Local restaurants and shops from Greenwich to Westerly, Rhode Island are participating in the first-ever event celebrating our region’s most sustainable crop: sugar kelp.

Kelp requires no fertilizers or fresh water to grow, and absorbs carbon trapped in the sea. Westporters can support local farms and restaurants, and fight climate change — all in one meal.

Food and beverages featuring kelp are available at The Whelk, Kawa Ni, OKO, Don Memo and The Cottage. To experiment in your own kitchen, buy local dried kelp at Fjord Fish Market.

The festival’s Instagram account offers food and beverage ideas, and information about kelp. Click here for a list of all participating restaurants, breweries, cafes and shops. Click here for links to virtual events. (Hat tip: Craig D.B. Patton)

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Ospreys love Westport. But for years, the platform to the right of the Burying Hill Beach entrance road has been vacant. It’s been speculated that it is too low for ospreys’ tastes.

But at least one pair thinks it’s fine. The platform in the New Creek saltmarsh was busy yesterday, with new occupants building their nest.

Perhaps — like other newcomers to town — they realized that in a tight real estate market, sometimes you have to grab whatever property is available.

(Photo/Chris Swan)

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For decades, Walter and Naiad Einsel painted in their Victorian farmhouse, across from Greens Farms Elementary School. Two of Westport’s most noted artists, they documented their nearly 5-decade romance with clever “Art from the Heart” valentines.

Long ago, in 1947 — 6 years before they married – Walter painted Naiad’s portrait.

Bob and Karen Weingarten bought the painting in 2016. It hung in their Greens Farms home. Now they’ve donated it to the Westport Public Art Collections.

WestPAC works hang all over town. Perhaps this one is destined for Greens Farms El.

Naiad Einsel, painted by Walter Einsel (1947)

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Westport resident Anne Boberski recently completed a video project for the Housatonic Museum of Art.

Available online, “See, Think, Wonder: Bridgeport” includes four 25-minute video episodes and a printable Teacher Toolkit. It’s designed to support curriculum in grades 5-8. Students examine maps, seals, artifacts and architecture, meet community leaders, and learn that history is local.

The art museum is on the Housatonic Community College campus. But anyone can click here to see “See, Think, Wonder: Bridgeport.”

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And finally …  today in 1985, Coca-Cola changed its formula. The reaction to New Coke was swift, strong, and overwhelmingly negative. The original formula returned less than 3 months later.

 

 

Zoning Reform Bills: Forum On Westport Set For Tuesday

One of Connecticut’s hottest topics is zoning reform. Action in Hartford will have a direct impact on Westport.

It’s not easy making sense of the fast-moving legislative action. A number of bills are moving toward votes.

“06880” is here to help.

This Tuesday (April 6, 6:30 p.m. Zoom), Westport Planning & Zoning Commission chair Danielle Dobin hosts an in-depth discussion of the bills that have advanced to the full legislature. The focus will be on what they mean for our town.

Danielle will be joined by Westport’s 4 legislators: State Senators Will Haskell and Tony Hwang, and Representatives Jonathan Steinberg and Stephanie Thomas.

And I’ll be the moderator. Click here to register.

Meanwhile, Danielle Dobin sends this report, on the status of several bills:

Senate Bill 1024: As-of-Right Multifamily With No Parking

The original proposed language of this bill rezoned all towns (with a population of over 7,500) in Connecticut to permit as-of-right market rate fourplexes within .5 miles of that town’s primary train station, and triplexes around Main Street corridors. Density of 15 units per acre would be permitted.

“As-of-right” means there would be no public hearings or comment around these new developments. Towns would be explicitly prohibited from requiring any off-street parking for the new units. The P&Z would have been required to conserve sewer capacity for the new as-of-right development instead of utilizing it for larger mixed use, mixed income projects (like Belden Place and Saugatuck Center) with affordable units included.

The Belden Place apartments by the Saugatuck River, off Main Street near Parker Harding Plaza.

Examples of streets that would have been impacted with new as-of-right multifamily – up to 15 units per acre with no parking for the new residents — include St. John’s Place, Evergreen and Myrtle near Main Street, and Stony Point, Davenport, Eno Lane and Burritt’s Landing near Saugatuck.

The original bill also included a litigation-enabling statute that invited constant lawsuits from anyone, regardless of whether they have filed an application for development, against towns regarding inadequacies in a town’s zoning code.

This bill was advanced out of committee without the very harmful provisions that would have limited future opportunity for the development of mixed income multifamily and supportive housing in Westport. The mandate to permit as-of-right multifamily without parking in single family neighborhoods has been removed.

Danielle Dobin, Westport Planning & Zoning Commission chair.

There is language requiring some changes to Westport’s zoning code, and language permitting freely rentable Accessory Dwelling Units) by administrative approval.

Westport is revising its own ADU regulations with a proposal for a text amendment scheduled for April 8 that has already unanimously approved by the P&Z Affordable Subcommittee.

Also included is language exempting ADUs from the overall unit count for 8-30g calculations. This means permitting ADUs will not set back Westport’s compliance with 8-30g.

There is also language setting out a working group to design an optional model zoning code for the state. Right now, the proposed working group has no representatives from suburban towns.

NOTE: Yesterday Sara Bronin, the main proponent behind SB 1024, said that she and her team are working to have the as-of-right multifamily without parking inserted back into the bill before it is voted on by the full legislature.

House Bill 6107: Zoning Enabling Act Changes 

This bill, part of the Partnership for Strong Communities legislative agenda, prohibits consideration of the word “character” in zoning decisions. The Westport P&Z does not utilize “character of the community” in their decision-making. Westport’s special permit standards look at height, massing, etc., and the as-built aesthetics of streets.

This bill creates a working group to examine affordable housing statewide. A modernization of 8-30g (now 30 years old) could come out of this.

This bill has some of the same language as SB1024 requiring changes to Westport’s zoning code, but never included a litigation enabling provision.

NOTE: It’s critical to ensure the as-of-right multifamily without parking isn’t tacked onto this bill before it is voted on by the full legislature.

House Bill 6611: The Fair Share Plan

Unlike SB 1024, this focused on creating more affordable housing across Connecticut. It proposes a completely different process than 8-30(g) (though as drafted now it does not replace 8-30g) to determine the amount of affordable housing each municipality should create, and leaves it to each town to create a 10-year plan for achieving this “Fair Share” goal.

I have a call scheduled with staff from the Open Community Alliance, who proposed this bill, to better understand the requirements and impact to share at Tuesday’s session. SB 1024 garnered so much attention, it’s important that this bill – proposed by longtime advocates for affordability in Connecticut – finally receives a fair hearing.

Among Westport’s affordable housing options: Sasco Creek Village.

Senate Bill 6570: Transportation

The Transportation Committee, under Senator Will Haskell’s leadership, has advanced a bill that requires towns to look at state-owned land near transit stations in their 8-30j affordability plans, and empowers the Department of Transportation to utilize 5 lots from across the state to plan for mixed income housing, while retaining all existing parking spaces.

This bill initially contained the similar as-of-right multifamily language as SB 1024, but it was removed. This language is designed to help fully built-out towns (like Westport) leverage state-owned property for housing, including cottage clusters and townhomes (much like the Westport Housing Authority is working to create on the DOT land off Post Road East and West Parish. Westport’s innovative approach has created a template for towns across the state.

A number of other bills advanced as well. They will be reviewed during  Tuesday’s discussion. But these are the big ones to watch.

Chip Stephens Heads North

When Chip Stephens leaves Westport for Maine this month, the Planning & Zoning Commission will have big shoes to fill.

And our town will lose one of its most ardent boosters, and dedicated public servants.

Chip Stephens

The 1973 Staples High School graduate — a Westport resident since the age of 5 — will become code enforcement officer for 2 towns northwest of Augusta. He honed his skills as a 3-term P&Z member, including serving as chair. He also chaired the Village District Regulation Committee, Superstorm Sandy Recovery Regulation Committee, and other groups.

Stephens has worked to preserve Bedford Elementary School (now Town Hall), Cockenoe Island and open space.

Last fall, he was the Republican nominee for State Representative in District 136, against incumbent Jonathan Steinberg.

In addition, Stephens coached Staples High School wrestling, and PAL football, basketball and baseball.

Danielle Dobin — the Democratic chair of the P&Z — says:

Chip has been a larger-than-life tour de force on the commission.

It’s challenging to put into words the love Chip feels for Westport, except to say that he dedicated his heart and soul to this town. His tough-guy presence on the P&Z belies the warmth and love he shows his fellow commissioners. When Chip invites you into his life, you are like family, no matter your politics.

When Michael Cammeyer and I joined the P&Z, Chip took us for a tour of “secret” Westport. He showed us old military sites and hidden parks, and shared stories from his youth.

When my son fell ill at camp up in Maine, Chip wanted to rush to the hospital to help. When I co-chaired the Monster Mash, he showed up to hang massive spiders from the ceiling. The Commission will not be the same without him.

Well said, Danielle! Chip Stephens’ service here has been long, strong, passionate and proud. Westport’s loss is certainly Maine’s gain.

Classic Chip Stephens: Last fall, he ran against incumbent Jonathan Steinberg (left) for State Representative. But when they met outside the polling place at Coleytown Elementary School, they greeted each other with COVID-friendly elbow bumps and — behind their masks — smiles. (Photo/Jack Whittle)

Roundup: Outdoor Dining, P&Z Records, Food Drive …

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Love outdoor dining? Think it’s too intrusive?

On Thursday, March 11, the Planning & Zoning Commission holds a public hearing. They’ll consider a text amendment that would continue outdoor dining for over 80 restaurants — which would otherwise expire March 31 — until further notice.

The text amendment would also be expanded to include certain retail businesses.

Click here for the full document. Click here for the retail portion

The March 11 meeting will be livestreamed at 6 p.m. on www.westportct.gov, Optimum channel 79 and Frontier channel 6020.

Comments can be emailed before the meeting to PandZ@westportct.gov, or during the meeting to PandZComments@westportct.gov. You can offer live testimony during the meeting if you request a link from maryyoung@westportct.gov by noon on March 11.

Romanacci’s Xpress was one of several Railroad Place restaurants with outdoor dining.

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Speaking of the P&Z: Did you know that Westport has digitized its back-office land use permit process?

Users can search for and view records — free! — by clicking here. It even comes with a handy how-to tutorial:

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The last Farmers’ Market of the winter is an important one.

On Thursday, March 11 (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.), the Market partners with Sustainable Westport to replenish 2 food pantries: Homes with Hope’s Gillespie Center, and  Christ & Holy Trinity Church. Both are running low.

Non-perishable items (canned goods, rice, beans, pasta, jams, sauces, etc.) can be dropped off at Farmers’ Market (Gilbertie’s Herbs & Garden Center, 7 Sylvan Road).

It’s rare to see canned food at the Westport Farmers’ Market. A week from tomorrow, it will be a very lovely sight.

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The other day, Positive Directions hosted Senator Chris Murphy, State Representative Jonathan Steinberg and 1st Selectman Jim Marpe.

They joined Westport Human Services, Kids in Crisis, Mid-Fairfield Child Guidance, NAMI and Fairfield Public Schools for a discussion on behavioral health needs during COVID and beyond.

Senator Murphy heard ideas he’ll bring to Washington. Other leaders shared best practices. Click here to learn more.

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Seth Van Beever is a proud son of Saugatuck.

Actually, a proud great-great-grandson. His great-great-grandfather, James Barnes Sr., was the first tender for what is now called the William F. Cribari Bridge.

Seth has followed the debate over the 133-year-old bridge’s future closely. So when he saw a photo of an innovative solution — a road in the Netherlands goes under the water, so boats can sail above it — he thought of us.

(Photo courtesy of @alic3lik)

That’s thinking waaaaay outside the bridge — er, the box.

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We dodged a bullet Monday.

High winds throughout Connecticut led to 18,000 power outages statewide. As of last night, there were still 4,600 Eversource customers without power.

Here in Westport, we had outages in only 3 scattered, small locations. As of last night, the only folks still without power here wee on Pheasant Lane, off Meeker Road.

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Nancy Vener took this photo from Saugatuck Shores. Stony Point is on the left; Longshore, on the right.

But what’s that blue light? She said it showed up on several photos, at different heights. If you know, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Nancy Vener)

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Juanita Watson — a 30-year Westport Public Schools employee — died last Thursday. She most recently worked in Pupil Services.

Juanita Watson

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And finally … on this day in 1931, President Hoover signed a congressional act making “The Star Spangled Banner” our official national anthem.

For decades, it was sung the same way. During the 1968 World Series, our Weston neighbor Jose Feliciano broke tradition with this version.

The national anthem has never been the same.

 

Solar Project Application Withdrawn

Earlier today, “06880” reported that tonight the Planning & Zoning Commission would consider a text amendment, special permit and site plan application for “solar-based electric generating facilities” on the Bedford Middle School campus.

Less than 4 hours before the meeting, Public Works director Peter Ratkiewich advised P&Z director Mary Young that the plans — submitted by Greenskies Clean Energy, on behalf of the town — were being withdrawn.

“The Administration has decided not to pursue this project at this time,” Ratkieweich said.

The site plan for Bedford Middle School. The proposed solar panels

Signing Off On The ’19 Election

As election season heats up, Planning & Zoning Commission member Chip Stephens sent this email to all political parties in town: Democrats, Republicans, Save Westport Now and the Coalition for Westport.

“Let’s see if it works,” he says hopefully.

As P & Z enforcement officers, Al Gratrix and I have worked hard to keep illegal signs at bay. We try our best to keep legal signs, like campaign signs, in proper and legal places, and hope to keep campaign signs away from restricted areas.

Here are the simple rules we hope all will respect:

  • Please do not place where signs will block traffic views
  • Do not place within parks or beaches
  • Schools are restricted, but some do not enforce; placement is at your risk
  • Do not place on state or interstate roads (during the past few years, the state has removed these signs weekly)
  • Try not to trash the public-sponsored gardens
  • Try to limit 1 sign per intersection
  • Finally, try to practice civil signage: Don’t place your sign directly on another’s sign. Instead, offset your sign, or move it a few feet away.

NOTE : P & Z will not remove campaign signs. Please don’t call the office; it was not us.

Every year, a few people who don’t like signs or are just bad apples take signs down

Look around where a missing sign was. Often you will find it lying nearby. If state crews removed the sign, you may find it in the sand shed in the state truck property across from Sherwood Diner. (You are allowed to reclaim your signs if they are there.)

Please use common sense, as if it was your property. It is your town, so please try to follow the rules.

Thanks, and good luck to all,

Meanwhile, alert “06880” reader — and Westport voter — Matthew Murray writes:

So who’s Joe?

(Photo/Matthew Murray)

I can’t tell whether he’s a Republican, Democrat or from Mars. It has me intrigued, but I’m not going to vote for him.

He is also quite prolific with his sign placement — though every corner is a bit much.

Beach Bathroom Debate Takes A Detour

When opponents of the new Compo Beach bathroom failed to gather enough signatures to force a town referendum, construction near the pickleball courts seemed assured.

But last night’s Planning & Zoning Commission meeting took an unexpected twist.

Commissioner Chip Stephens began by noting that earlier in the day he was at South Beach. Construction has started on a walkway near the boat storage area — in the shortcut by the road that loops near the kayak launch.

Last spring the P&Z approved the walkway, on the south side of the shortcut. But the contractors are working on the north side. They were given plans showing the walkway should go on the north.

Walkway construction at South Beach. (Photo/Matt Murray)

Stephens called it a “trivial” mistake. Things like that happen, he said. And often, the P&Z says (in effect) no big deal. Let’s move on.

Stephens’ point was that the petitioners’ push to move the bathroom away from the pickleball courts is also “trivial.” He asked for a sense of the meeting saying (in effect) that if the Parks & Recreation Department decides now to move the bathroom, the P&Z will be flexible. There would be no need for months of deliberation, Stephens said.

His recommendation was not an official agenda item. No action was taken.

But one thing is certain: This post will get another 50 comments, as if it’s the most important issue facing the town.

[OPINION] Rudeness And Bullying At Public Meetings Must End

Last night, the Planning & Zoning Commission met to hear applications for 2 medical marijuana dispensaries in Westport.

They heard a lot more, from the very loud crowd. Things got so bad — despite chair Paul Lebowitz and member Chip Stephens’ pleas for civility — that a 15-minute recess was called.

When the meeting resumed, a Westport police officer stood next to the podium.

A Westport resident who was there — and was appalled at the audience’s rudeness — writes:

This is not about marijuana — medical or recreational. This is not about right or wrong federal, state or local laws. And this is not about one generation or political party.

This is about the total loss of civility, of crowd bullying and very bad behavior in the public process.

Kings Highway Elementary School holds a “kindness week.” Adults in town have not modeled that behavior recently.

In a town known historically for fairness, open-mindedness and respect for each other, the question now looms large: “What has happened to the residents of Westport?”

The past 3 weeks have seen 3 instances of police being called to public hearings at Town Hall because of perceived or actual threats, or physical altercations, during P & Z and Historic District Commission meetings.

These are official hearings, held by volunteer elected residents. They dedicate endless hours because they care about our town.

There is no compensation, beyond an occasional “thank you.” Meetings start at 7 p.m., and often last until 11 or midnight.

They are run by Robert’s Rules of Order, and basic rules of civil meetings. These rules allow elected officials to discuss ideas with each other, presenters and experts — and most importantly, to receive public input and opinion.

The rules are simple. A chair runs the meeting, recognizes speakers, and manages the time of many different submissions.

Audience members are invited to speak when recognized. They are supposed to address the commission on the submission at hand at a podium, after giving their name and address.

When not speaking, all participants — elected officials and and the public — are expected to be silent. They should respect others’ views and words. There should be no clapping, booing, berating or shaming others.

This is called civility. Civility at meetings allows a fair hearing, where all can express their views without fear of retribution or bullying.

At last night’s P & Z meeting there was utter chaos. Speakers incited the public to disorder and shouting. There was public shaming of certain speakers, causing others to leave before their turn to speak.

When the meeting became too disruptive, a break was taken. At that point there was shouting, with threats uttered at the elected officials. A few people actually grabbed a commissioner.

The police were called. A very professional officer reopened the meeting with a straight and strong message: This is a public meeting. You are all expected to be civil, and allow everyone to be heard. Please obey the rules of the meeting. If there are any further physical altercations or threats, the offender would leave with me.

The rudeness continued, albeit toned down. Comments included: “His opinion is wrong; mine is right.” “How dare you?” “How much are you getting paid?” “Why did you call the police? Are you afraid?”

This is not how a well-educated, well-heeled, politically astute and respected town is supposed to act. This is not the way to participate in the open and free political process.

I hope that civility and respect return to Westport soon. Our police have more important matters to attend to. Meanwhile, the list of those willing to serve in elected office continues to shrink.