Tag Archives: Planning & Zoning Commission

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.

Medical Marijuana Dispensaries: Yes, There’s A P&Z Meeting Tonight, Too

A posting earlier today noted that on Thursday, April 19 the Planning & Zoning Commission will hear 2 more proposals for medical marijuana dispensaries in Westport.

As alert “06880” reader Phil Perri commented, there is also a P&Z meeting tonight (Thursday, April 5, 7 p.m., Town Hall).

They’ll hear applications for dispensaries at the current sites of the Westport Dance Academy (Post Road West, near the Norwalk border) and the DXL men’s store (Post Road East, former Blockbuster).

A proposal for the old Bertucci’s property (Post Road East, near Sherwood Island Connector) has been pushed back to April 19.

Perri explained that on the 19th, the P&Z will also discuss a proposed change to the medical marijuana text amendment to change the definition of a “public building.” That’s because Bertucci’s is within 1,000 feet of one.

What “public building” is that? It’s a small shed on the state-owned salt storage property next to Walgreen’s.

Y Seeks Clarification Of “Membership Cap”

During the many long months years decades it took for the Y to move from downtown, I thought the result would be a traffic disaster.

I envisioned lines of cars backed up and down Wilton Road, all the way to the Post Road. I’ve seen bad traffic there; I could not imagine it wouldn’t get worse.

Well, the Y has been out there next to Exit 41 for more than 2 years. And — you could blow me over with a feather — the traffic is not only not worse. It may even be better.

Maybe the lights have been rejiggered. Maybe everyone hops onto the Merritt and gets off at Exit 42. Maybe everyone jogs there.

Whatever the case, the traffic apocalypse never happened.

And next Thursday (March 2, 7 p.m., Town Hall), the Planning & Zoning Commission may discuss a membership cap for the Y.

The (relatively) new Westport Weston Family YMCA.

The (relatively) new Westport Weston Family YMCA.

According to an email sent to members, in 2008 — when the Y sought approval to build — the P&Z established certain conditions. One was a “membership cap” of 8,000.

The Y says they’ll ask the P&Z to clarify that the 8,000 “pertains to individuals that are of driving age.”

That makes sense. The fire marshal should care how many people are in the building. The P&Z should concern itself with the number of cars.

The Y did not ask me to write this. They don’t know I’m doing it.

But as someone who spent years imagining gridlock — and hailed the cap when it was first announced — I might as well admit how wrong I was.

Hiawatha Lane Sewer Denied; Scenic Highway Approved

Two big decisions — both of which could impact the future of Saugatuck — were made yesterday.

The Planning & Zoning Commission denied the request for a sewer line from Davenport Avenue to Hiawatha Lane. The proposal was crucial to approval of a larger project: the construction of 155 rental units on Hiawatha Lane Extension.

The vote was 4-0, with 1 abstention 5-0. The reason, P&Z commissioners said, was that other Westport sewers — including a pump that runs underneath the Saugatuck River — cannot handle the increased flow.

This was the 5th request from developer Felix Charney to build multi-family housing in the already dense area off Saugatuck Avenue. Right now, many of the units there command some of the lowest resale and rental prices in Westport.

A rendering of the proposed Hiawatha Lane development.

A rendering of the proposed Hiawatha Lane development.

Earlier in the day, the Westport Preservation Alliance announced that the state Department of Transportation has agreed to designate part of Route 136 — specifically Compo Road South, Bridge Street and the William F. Cribari (aka Bridge Street) swing bridge — a “state scenic highway.”

The WPA says the designation “adds an additional level of protection for this important area of our town. Any proposed changes to the bridge must be reviewed by the State Scenic Highway Advisory Committee. Effectively, this allows a different set of state officials, who may be more sympathetic to scenic beauty and preservation, to weigh in on the DOT’s plans.”

The William Cribari (aka Bridge Street) Bridge.

The William Cribari (aka Bridge Street) Bridge.

Plans for multi-family housing on Hiawatha Lane, and for major changes to the bridge, are not yet dead.

But neither are they as healthy as they were yesterday.

Carolanne Curry: Don’t Turn Hiawatha Community Into A Commodity

Alert — and worried — “06880” reader Carolanne Curry writes:

I am trying to understand how the strong and resilient community of Old Saugatuck finds itself under siege for the 5th time, by a developer who wants to build a building he shouldn’t be building, in a residential area he should be building in, and (as a topper) he wants the Town of Westport to give him public sewer access for his proposed 155 apartments on Hiawatha Lane Extension.

All this building on a nondescript street carved out of wetlands and swamps, bounded by roads, railroads and highways, so that a natural cocoon of 8 streets slowly shaped this community.

Hiawatha Lane is a narrow street, filled with homes that are modest by Westport standards. It's accessible only via West Ferry Lane off Saugatuck Avenue, next to the I-95 eastbound entrance/exit ramp.

Hiawatha Lane is a narrow street, filled with homes that are modest by Westport standards. It’s accessible only via West Ferry Lane off Saugatuck Avenue, next to the I-95 eastbound entrance/exit ramp.

Felix Charney of Summit Saugatuck LLC is the developer with this fixation to build on Hiawatha Lane Extension. Surprisingly, despite his failed efforts, he is making his 5th request for public sewer access before the Planning and Zoning Commission tomorrow (Thursday, July 7, 7 p.m., Town Hall auditorium). This time, he is appearing with the active encouragement of the 1st and 2nd selectmen.

I’m curious how Charney and Westport Housing Authority chair David Newberg got to be “building” partners on Hiawatha Lane Extension? When in 2015 did the town, through the offices of the 1st and 2nd selectman, invite and encourage the formation of a Charney/WHA partnership? Why would WHA accept such a contentious role in further alienating residents of Old Saugatuck?

Why would the 1st and 2nd selectmen resurrect such a poorly conceived proposal for 155 apartments? It comes with the same problems that existed in 2005. There is no sewer. Has anything changed?

And why make WHA complicit in the destruction of a community that is an authentic model of affordable, workforce housing, exactly the kind of housing for which WHA advocates? Housing in Old Saugatuck is the direct result of its history with the railroad, the Saugatuck River and the construction of I-95.

Old Saugatuck is a community. Felix Charney would make it a commodity.

A rendering of the proposed Hiawatha Lane development.

A rendering of the proposed Hiawatha Lane development.

On an even more critical note, when did our Town Hall leaders plan to tell the residents of Old Saugatuck that they were no longer on the side of preserving the precious heritage and homes of the community, but had given their allegiance to Felix Charney? Was this what voters and taxpayers had in mind from their leaders?

In the David and Goliath scenario that will play out tomorrow, before the P&Z with this developer once again, the residents of Old Saugatuck call out to their neighbors, friends and supporters to come to Town Hall. Be a presence and a voice with us, and for us.

——————————————

1st Selectman Jim Marpe replies:

Felix Charney put forth a sewer extension request last year related to his proposed development that received a negative recommendation by the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Earlier this year, Mr. Charney presented a pre-application proposal for his Hiawatha Lane properties that differed from the previous year by incorporating a joint venture with the Westport Housing Authority.

Westport sealHe has now presented another sewer extension request related to that latest proposal. Because that request is in process, I cannot comment on the merits of this proposal outside of public session. The sewer extension request and rationale will be discussed following the town’s standard policies and procedures tomorrow in public session. That will be the time for the public to hear more about the proposed plans, to comment, and to have an open dialogue with the Planning and Zoning Commission.

The sewer extension request will ultimately be heard by the Town’s Water Pollution Control Authority in public session, which will afford another opportunity for dialogue. Because I am a member of the WPCA that will hear this sewer application, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on this proposal outside of the WPCA public hearing process.


I offered the Westport Housing Authority a chance to reply. They declined to comment at this time.

Affordable Housing: Westport By The Numbers

We’ve all heard a lot about 8-30g — the state’s “affordable housing” statute.

But what is “8-30g”? And what does “affordable housing” really mean?

At last Thursday’s Planning and Zoning Commission meeting — where members voted unanimously to deny an application for a 6-story, 48-unit apartment complex (including 15 affordable units) — P&Z member Catherine Walsh entered into the record a report on that topic.

She noted that Westport currently has “a diversity of housing stock for low income groups, special needs, the homeless and the elderly.”

Canal Park offers affordable housing for seniors, near downtown. Because it was built before 1990, it does not count for points under 8-30g standards.

Canal Park offers affordable housing for seniors, near downtown. Because it was built before 1990, it does not count for points under 8-30g standards.

However, 8-30g counts only units constructed after 1990, and those that are deed-restricted for 40 years. Most Westport units that serve lower-income groups do not fall into either category, she said.

But they do exist.

According to the 2010 census, 10,399 dwelling units are used for calculating 8-30g “points.” Of those, 9,860 are single-family homes.

Among “single family” units, there are 1,069 documented apartments. Only 7 are deed-restricted, to comply with 8-30g.

She included other figures, including group homes and approved-but-not-yet-completed units, as well as low-income units that do not fully comply with all aspects, yet still serve low-income citizens.

“Westport has always believed in and encouraged increasing the diversity of housing stock while maintaining our small town character,” Walsh said.

Hales Court was built in the 1950s. A recent rebuilding effort added twice the number of lower-income housing units.

Hales Court was built in the 1950s. A recent rebuilding effort added twice the number of lower-income housing units.

In recent years the P&Z took action to “further encourage diversity of housing,” and comply with 8-30g requirements. Members enacted legislation covering mobile home replacement units, and created a variety of zones. These range from 15% affordable, to 100%.

Westport has also encouraged legalizing existing apartments in private homes. Over 1,000 units would benefit lower-income residents, but do not comply with the statute. (Most homeowners oppose 40-year deed restrictions.) Over 200 in-home apartments have been legalized.

The old Saugatuck School on Bridge Street has been repurposed into low-cost housing for the elderly. Those 36 units do not count toward 8-30g.

In 2010 the P&Z passed text amendments to allow affordable housing in 8 split commercial/residential zones. There were no applications until 2014. The Geiger project (Post Road and North Morningside) is currently under construction.

In addition, the town — through its Housing  Authority — has upgraded low-income housing units at Hales Court and Sasco Creek. Hales Court (built in the 1950s) now has twice the number of units (78). Sasco Creek also increases the number of affordable units.

The original Saugatuck Elementary School on Bridge Street is now elderly housing. Built (way) before 1990, it is not included as "affordable" by 8-30g regulations.

The original Saugatuck Elementary School on Bridge Street is now elderly housing. Built (way) before 1990, it is not included as “affordable” by 8-30g regulations.

In other affordable housing news, RTM member Matthew Mandell sent “06880” a link to an equation he developed (with help from Staples High School teachers Bill Walsh and David Rollison). Click here to see it.

Inputting a few figures lets you know how many units must be built to reach the 10% affordable figure mandated in 8-30g. It works for any town — not just Westport.

Mandell takes his math one step further. Start with a round figure of 10,000 housing units in Westport. Approximately 270 are deemed “affordable,” by 8-30g standards.

To get to the statute’s target of 1,000 units, you’d think we’d need to build 730 more.

Wrong, Mandell says. It’s more like 3,650.

What?!

Mandell notes that the affordable units being proposed now in Westport are part of bigger complexes. Every unit in a new proposal is not “affordably” priced.

So a developer who builds a 150-unit building with 45 affordable apartments has also built 105 that are not. And the town’s housing stock has increased by 150 as well — meaning more, not fewer, affordable units now must be built. The end number keeps moving further away.

“If we built 3 buildings with 250 units each — all of them affordable — we could do it,” Mandell says.

“But that’s impossible. We can’t get to 10% without destroying the very fabric of our community.”

 

Online Petition Plea: No Wilton Road Apartments

An online petition opposing the proposed 4-story, 48-unit apartment complex at the corner of Wilton Road and Kings Highway North is picking up steam.

In its first 2 days, nearly 200 Westporters asked the Planning and Zoning Commission to deny an application to build on the environmentally sensitive, heavily trafficked site.

Petition organizer Adrian Little — a 19-year Westport resident — lives a mile away. He says, “People in Green’s Farms and Coleytown should be just as concerned about this as those who live nearby. We have only one town.”

Little notes that most residents signing the petition also leave comments. They cite 3 overwhelming concerns: traffic, the environment and aesthetics.

The fact that some of the units will be deemed “affordable housing” is not an issue, Little notes.

“No one is troubled by the notion of affordable housing,” he says. “The problem is the location, bulk, and sheer lack of concern for our environment.”

(To see the petition, click here.  For more background on the proposed apartment complex, click here.)

The Taylortown Salt Marsh abuts the proposed apartment complex at 122 Wilton Road.

The Taylortown Salt Marsh abuts the proposed apartment complex at 122 Wilton Road.

Baron’s South To Remain Open Space

In a vote that will resound for decades to come, the RTM affirmed the Planning & Zoning Commission’s designation of the Baron’s South property as open space.

The 22-acre, wooded and hilly property — bordered by South Compo Road, the Post Road and Imperial Avenue — is already home to the Senior Center, on its western edge. But further development — for instance, of a hotly debated senior housing complex — will not take place.

A majority of RTM members — 20 — actually voted to overturn last month’s P&Z decision (4-1, with 1 abstention) designating the entire area as open space.

But 14 members sided with the P&Z. Overruling the P&Z required 24 votes — 2/3 of all members.

A path in Baron's South. (Photo/Judy James)

A path in Baron’s South. (Photo/Judy James)

The roll was called after midnight. Debate was intense but civil throughout the long evening. Many issues were raised, ranging from the importance of open space and the inevitability of more development once construction began, to the speed and propriety of one commission deciding such a major issue for the town.

Some speakers declared that the vote should be about the “open space” decision alone — not the merits of one particular senior housing proposal. The need for senior housing, however, was noted by other speakers.

The baron’s property will now remain undeveloped — an “urban forest” just steps from downtown. Was today’s early morning vote comparable to previous decisions (for example, to purchase Longshore when a developer proposed building 180 houses there — or to allow construction of the Wright Street and Gorham Island office complexes), or a missed opportunity to build on town-owned land?

Check back in a decade or two.

There are already buildings on Baron's South. The baron's Golden Shadows house is shown in the distance.   A debate will begin soon on their fate.

There are some existing buildings on Baron’s South. The baron’s Golden Shadows house is shown in the distance. A debate will begin soon on their fate.

Bridgewater’s Glendinning Goes Green

Bridgewater Associates is the world’s biggest hedge fund. It’s also one of Westport’s leading taxpayers.

But the firm keeps a very low profile. If not for the big buses zipping employees between their Glendinning headquarters complex on Weston Road and a 2nd office at Nyala Farms near I-95 Exit 18, no one would know they’re here.

However, a small blurb in this week’s Wall Street Journal raised concerns with an “06880” reader. The paper said that — after its plan to move to Stamford fell through — Bridgewater wants to renovate its Glendinning offices, and create an underground parking garage.

The project “could require the involvement of the Army Corps of Engineers,” the WSJ noted.

Bridgewater headquarters

An aerial view of Bridgewater’s Glendinning headquarters. Note the parking spaces on both sides of the river.

“Scope of project sounds mind-blowing,” said the email I received. “How come nothing online?”

It’s not as massive as it sounds. In fact, Bridgewater — whose corporate culture has been called “cultish,” “bizarre” and “not for everyone” — has for nearly 20 years been a careful steward of the wooded, riverfront Glendinning property (and an excellent tenant in the hidden-away Nyala Farms complex too).

“This is a unique setting: a beautiful, bio-diverse area,” a company representative told Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission at a pre-application hearing earlier this month.

Bridgewater hopes to increase the functionality of its “somewhat tired” buildings — though not increase their footprints — while maintaining the natural environment that may contribute, in some way, to the hedge fund’s successful management of $169 billion.

The buildings on the Glendinning site are half a century old.

The buildings on the Glendinning site are half a century old.

Glendinning (named for the marketing firm that originally developed the property) sits at the confluence of the Saugatuck and Aspetuck Rivers. It’s in a 100-year floodplain.

To mitigate flooding — a problem in the past — Bridgewater wants to move 170 asphalt parking spaces underground. The new parking garage will be planted over, with bio-filtering greenery.

There will also be a new central green. As adjacent buildings are renovated, coverage will be reduced by 30 percent. Coverage on the adjacent Ford Road parcel may increase slightly.

Natural plantings will restore 1000 feet near the Saugatuck River’s edge. Bridgewater will work with Trout Unlimited to add a new fish ladder too.

A realigned driveway and new bridge will connect the complex with Ford Road. Bridgewater promises to buffer it well.

The river (and dam) on the Ford Road side of the property (left in this photo) will be protected and enhanced, in Bridgewater's plan.

The river (and dam) on the Ford Road side of the property (left in this photo) will be protected and enhanced, in Bridgewater’s plan.

Bridgewater has already met with Westport’s planning, engineering and conservation departments, plus the fire marshal. They’ve talked with the Department of Environmental Protection.

They’ve also sat down with owners of nearby properties, on Weston and Ford Roads.

“This is the best stewardship of a unique natural resource,” a Bridgewater spokesman told the P&Z. Members had several questions, but seemed to appreciate the company’s commitment to green space.

The process is still in the early stages. Applications and reviews are needed by conservation, flood and erosion and architectural review boards, plus the DEP and FEMA. It could be 6 months to a year before the P&Z hears the application.

Bridgewater is a hedge fund, not an insurance company. But it sounds as if they’re borrowing a famous firm’s motto. You know: Like a good neighbor, they’re there.

(To see Glendinning’s full presentation at the P&Z meeting earlier this month, click here; then click “Agenda.”)