As of July 1, possession of cannabis is legal in Connecticut. Adults 21 and over can have up to 1.5 ounces on their person, and up to 5 ounces in their homes, or locked in their vehicle. Retail sales can begin by the end of 2022.
Recreational cannabis will be at least as controversial as medical marijuana.
Last month, the P&Z held a televised work session to address possible questions.
Next month, the commission will sponsor a text amendment that prohibits the growth, sale, storage and manufacture of cannabis products in Westport.
It includes a sunset provision — probably 18 or 24 months — during which the P&Z or Representative Town Meeting could explore what, if anything, should be permitted in Westport, permanently.
“Connecticut guidelines don’t give us a lot of time to decide right now,” explains P&Z chair Danielle Dobin.
“We don’t want to rush the conversation. We want to hear what residents say, and see what our peer towns do.
“However, the unintended consequence of doing nothing right now could potentially be recreational sales, storage or growing facilities opening outside our control.
“Whatever happens with recreational cannabis, we want it to be intentional. That is why we will likely move quickly with a P&Z-sponsored text amendment, with a sunset provision. This will provide the necessary time for a true town-wide conversation, before a permanent regulation is adopted.
A lack of clear direction could also lead to lawsuits.
A variety of edibles.
Many Westporters — including some who use marijuana — do not want a recreational dispensary in town. Others see economic benefits, similar to liquor stores.
The Connecticut door has opened. Whether Westport wants to walk through will be a big question, in the months ahead.
The P&Z will seek input, at public hearings and by email (PandZ@westportct.gov). You can make your opinions known too right here; click “Comments” below.
The lead “06880” story this morning — about the future of the Baron’s South property — noted a public meeting set for tomorrow. The purpose of the session is to discuss a potential rezoning of a portion of the land.
The meeting — called by the Planning & Zoning Commission’s Zoning Regulation Revision Subcommittee — has been changed to Wednesday (July 28, 12 noon).
Members of the public can attend the virtual session via Zoom. Click here for the link.
Public comments can be made during the meeting. Comments can also be sent prior to the meeting to PandZ@westportct.gov.
Vegetation surrounds a Baron’s South pathway. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)
Several years ago — after the state of Connecticut legalized medical marijuana — the Planning & Zoning Commission debated locations for dispensaries in town.
Several meetings drew SRO crowds. They lasted past midnight. After much contentious discussion, a dispensary has operated — quietly — since 2019.
Now, the state has legalized recreational cannabis. The local process begins again. As with medical marijuana, municipalities have the option to allow or disallow dispensaries.
This Thursday (6 p.m., Zoom), the Planning & Zoning Commission holds a work session on the impact on Westport. Besides whether or not to allow recreational sales, the P&Z may discuss a related issue: What — if anything — to do about residents who want to grow cannabis, for commercial use.
This is a work session only. Public hearings will be held at a later date. Click here for tonight’s full agenda.
Tonight’s meeting will be livestreamed on www.westportct.gov, Optimum channel 79, and Frontier channel 6020.
Last night, the Levitt Pavilion was again packed. Broadway star/cabaret singer Frank Mastrone and Friends wowed the crowd with a selection of classics, pop and show tunes.
Frank Mastrone (right) and part of his band. He was joined onstage by 2 daughters, and Broadway singers he’s starred with. (Photo/JC Martin)
This week’s Levitt lineup includes the Connecticut Ballet (Tuesday), Divinity Roxx (children’s series, Wednesday), Feufollet (Cajun, honkytonk and string band, Thursday), the Drew Angus Band (Staples High School Class of 2007 singer/songwriter, Friday), Billy & the Showmen (R&B, soul, funk; Saturday) and Leonardo Suarez Paz & Cuartetango (tango, Saturday).
Click here for times and (free!) ticket information.
The Levitt Pavilion crowd for Frank Mastrone. (Photo/JC Martin)
Elliott Siff died peacefully earlier this month, at his Westport home. He was 90 years old.
Elliott grew up in Whitestone Queens. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Cornell University Engineering School, where he was elected to the honorary societies Tau Beta Pi and Pi Tau Sigma.
He served on the Advisory Council of the Cornell Engineering School, on which he was the first undergraduate faculty member. He was founder, chairman, chief executive and chief financial officer of Alcide Corporation. Elliott also was chairman and president of Belmar Corporation, a real estate holding company.
In 1962 he founded and ran VI Products, Inc., an aerospace company involved in the development and manufacture of gyroscopes and stabilization systems. His gyroscope, the smallest in the world, was used in the Apollo spacecraft landing on the moon, and in Israeli torpedoes during the 6-Day War.
In 1975 Elliott created the Ladder Works, which developed, manufactured and distributed his invention: the stowaway step stool. He also founded Meditec Systems, a company based on an ambulatory intravenous system he invented.
He held 22 patents on electromechanical devices, gyroscopes, housewares, medical devices, and chemical and pharmaceutical products. His publications in the aerospace field include a reference textbook, An Engineering Approach to Gyroscopic Instruments.
His obituary calls him an “entrepreneur, inventor, author, poet, champion tennis player, Renaissance man,” who was “elegant, highly intelligent, with a wonderful sense of humor, strong, gentle, and totally devoted to his family.”
He is survived by his wife Marlene; sons, Brad (Meryl) and Brian (Michelle), and grandsons Jordan, Jackson, and Adam. He was predeceased by a grandson, Noah.
After a 5-hour delay Sunday night — caused by 111-degree heat in Eugene, Oregon — Henry Wynne battled for a spot on the US Olympic track and field team.
The Staples High School Class of 2013 graduate had to finish 3rd in the 1500-meter finals.
Running outside for much of the race, he surged to a 3:37.70 finish. But that was good only for 5th.
Since 2016, Wynne — one of the greatest runners in Connecticut history — has s suffered a knee injury, pneumonia, and surgery on his small intestine. He’s persevered through it all — and COVID — yet came up just short Sunday night.
Henry Wynne, in an indoor race for Staples High. (Photo courtesy of MSG Varsity)
Tomorrow (Wednesday, June 30, 7 p.m., Westport Library), Silver Hill Hospital’s president and medical director Dr. Andrew Gerber and other experts will present a workshop to help parents learn how to talk with and support children as they try to understand tragedies.
The program is a joint effort of Westport’s Department of Human Services, the Westport Public Schools, Westport Together, and the Westport Prevention Coalition, in partnership with the Library. Click here to register to attend in person. Click here for the livestream link.
Connecticut’s Superior Court holds remote hearings o 2 proposed settlements, between Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission and developers. These could be the final steps on the road toward construction.
The 157-unit Hiawatha Lane settlement will be discussed on July 19 (10:30 a.m.). The 68-unit Lincoln Street settlement is set for the same day, at 2:30 p.m.
Anyone interested in listening to or participating in the hearing should email email@example.com, or call 860-548-2851 for instructions.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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)
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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)
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