Tag Archives: Positano Restaurant

The Saugatuck: A Cooperative Thrives On Bridge Street

Westport does not have a nickname. But if we did, we might be called “The Land of Lawsuits.”

Westporters like to sue. The town won a lawsuit to prohibit construction of a nuclear power plant on Cockenoe Island (yay!). Neighbors lost a suit to prohibit construction of the Compo Beach playground (yay!).

Neighbors also threatened to prohibit Positano restaurant from putting a few tables on an outdoor patio near Old Mill Beach. As a result, the restaurant moved. A private home now rises in its place (boo!).

Lost in the mists of time is another lawsuit. In 1985, 64 residents of Bridge Street and nearby roads sued to prevent the conversion of what was then Saugatuck Elementary School into multi-unit housing.

Three years later, a settlement was reached. The agreement limited the project to 36 owner-occupied, age-restricted units.

(Photo courtesy of SmartMLS Inc.)

Today, The Saugatuck is a true success story. One of Westport’s most affordable residences lies a short walk from thriving Saugatuck Center and train station, and not much further from Compo Beach.

The attractively renovated red brick building graces Bridge Street between South Compo and Imperial Avenue.

Residents have formed a tight-knit, active community. It’s hard to imagine the neighborhood without it, in fact.

None of that could have been predicted in 1984. Westport’s school population was declining. Burr Farms Elementary was torn down. Hillspoint Elementary turned into daycare. Bedford El became Town Hall. Greens Farms Elementary School housed the Westport Arts Center.

When the lawsuit was settled, plans were drawn up to convert the school that generations of Saugatuck residents attended. It dated back to the early 20th century, when the original wooden building was called the Bridge Street School.

It took several years, but 17 1-bedroom and 19 2-bedroom apartments were built in what were once classrooms, the library and auditorium. Because Saugatuck had been a classic elementary school, each unit features large windows and high ceilings.

Units at The Saugatuck feature large windows.

Those surroundings are familiar to at least one current resident — and several others in the past. They attended Saugatuck El as kids. Living there now is very different — but also quite familiar.

Joe Veno has lived in The Saugatuck for more than 20 years. As a youngster, he walked to the school from his Franklin Street home. He played basketball in the playground — now a parking lot — and baseball in what is now a quiet back yard.

The Saugatuck is a cooperative. The Town of Westport owns the land, and holds a 99-year lease on the property. But the Cooperative owns the building.

Members must be at last 62 years old (at least one, in the case of married couples), able to live independently, and their income must be below the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority’s guidelines for homeowners at 80% of area median income. Importantly, there are no limits or restrictions on assets.

To ensure affordability, the resale price is linked to the average increase in income for individuals living in the area.

Three units are currently for sale. A 2-bedroom, 1 bath apartment is listed at $222,282; 2 1-bedroom units have listing prices of $179,800 and $168,300. (Inquiries can be directed to the property manager: 203-226-1570.)

Those are far below other Westport prices, because of the original affordable housing prices implemented in the 1990s, and the strict resale cap/formula that limits how high prices can climb.

A view of The Saugatuck’s back yard.

A cooperative’s rules are are more stringent than in a condo, particularly in areas like rentals. Saugatuck units must be their owner’s primary residence.

One of the great perks of The Saugatuck is Shaun Cullen, a part-time super.

Residents include longtime Westporters who have downsized, and no longer want the responsibilities of a home and yard.

Other residents have moved to The Saugatuck from elsewhere, to be close to their children and grandchildren in Westport.

Most Saugatuck residents are retired, from careers including Wall Street, Madison Avenue, refuse collection and tile installation. At least 2 — an accountant and a contractor — are currently working.

The vibe is friendly. Neighbors chat easily, in the community room, mail room and hallways.

The cooperative is governed by an executive board. They and other residents organize a variety of activities: movie nights, supper at the beach, a jazz keyboardist and Labor Day picnic.

A recent party in the community room.

It’s hard to imagine Westport today without the Compo Beach playground — or to visualize the town, had a nuclear power plant been built on Cockenoe.

It’s just as hard to imagine what Bridge Street would be like without The Saugatuck. How great that the neighbors who sued more than 30 years ago cooperated in a settlement that led to a co-op.

FUN FACTS: 1) During the Depression, the WPA commissioned Westport artist Robert Lambdin to paint a 7-foot high, 20-foot long mural: “Pageant of Juvenile Literature.” For years, it hung just inside the main entrance to Saugatuck Elementary School.

In 1992, when the town finally began to convert the old Saugatuck El to senior housing, the mural was slated for demolition.

A group of art-lovers — including Mollie Donovan, Eve Potts and Judy Gault Sterling — set out to save the work. Within a month they raised $40,000. That was enough to remove the mural, conserve it, and reinstall it at its new home: The Westport Library. 

It stayed there for more than 2 decades. When the transformation project was announced, and a suitable spot could not be found for the work, Westport arts curator Kathy Motes Bennewitz and members of the Westport Public Art Collection searched for a large wall, with plenty of foot traffic.

They — with architect Scott  Springer — found it, at Staples High School. Now, the enormous, eye-catching mural hangs proudly near the auditorium lobby, just a few feet from the Staples library.

2) When Saugatuck was an elementary school, Pete Seeger — at the time, blacklisted as a folk singer — performed on its auditorium stage. 

New Construction At Old Mill

Neighbors and beach lovers have watched warily, as a new home rises on the site of the old Positano — and before that — Cafe de la Plage restaurants.

It’s not yet finished.

But the house at 233 Hillspoint Road has just come on the market.

Artists’ rendering of the house going up at 233 Hillspoint Road.

The 4,200-square foot residence — on a 5,663-square foot lot — will includes 4 bedrooms, and 4 1/2 bathrooms.

The listing price: $7.5 million.

(Hat tip: Dave Dellinger)

Photo Challenge #180

When I posted last week’s photo challenge, I thought it was pretty easy. Everyone knows the Mediterranean-style windows on the old Positano — the former restaurant on Old Mill Beach — right?

Wrong!

The 2nd person to comment guessed it was the now-closed Acqua and Boca restaurants, in the back of Parker Harding Plaza. So did another person, a few minutes later.

Hey, they are similar.

But Fred Cantor, Andrew Colabella, Matt Murray, David Sampson, Tom Siebrasse, Christopher Buckley, Seth Braunstein, Ed Gerber, Ken Palumbo, Lois Hines, Jim Hood, Patricia McMahon, Amy Schneider, Karen Como, Vanessa Bradford, Martin Gitlin, Sarah Menninger Kit Lee, Tina Torraco, Beau James, Peter Ritchey and Mary Ann Batsell all posted “Positano” (or “Cafe de la Plage,” its long-lived predecessor). (Click here for the photo.)

Sadly, the building may soon be gone. And then we’ll have only memories of it, and the restaurants before it, that gave that neighborhood a bit of a European feel.

Today’s challenge shows beautiful flower boxes. We have many, all around town. But where are these?

If you know, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Susan Iseman)

 

Pic Of The Day #354

The old Positano restaurant on Hillspoint Road (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Photo Challenge #153

Positano has been gone from Old Mill for nearly 3 years. But “06880” readers have not forgotten it.*

Even though it’s abandoned and empty, current and ex-Westporters recognized Dana Kuyper’s photo of the interior — with Long Island Sound in the background — as that popular restaurant. Many referenced its much-loved predecessor — Cafe de la Plage — too. (Click here for the photo.)

Congratulations to Fred Cantor, Mary Palmieri Gai, Chip Stephens, Rich Stein, Christopher Buckley, Luke Garvey, David Sampson, Jonathan McClure, Linda Amos, Tom Siebrasse, Linda Stern, Dana Brownell, Marion Kelly, Cindy Zuckerbrod, Stephanie Bass, Ralph Balducci, Bert Reisman, Sandy Rothenberg, Shirlee Gordon, Kelle Ruden, David Abrams, Mitzi Lyman, Peter Swift, Stephanie Ehrman, Seth Goltzer, Fran White, Grover Fitch, Eileen Belmont, Andrea Metchick, Mary Ann Batsell, Claire Hurley, Ken Palumbo, Rosalie Kaye, Peter Ritchey, Mike Moore, Mark Soboslai, Amy Katz and Jeanine Esposito. You know your old restaurants!

But do you know where this week’s photo challenge was taken? If you think you do, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

*Nor should anyone else. It’s still serving great food, at its new location next to the Westport Country Playhouse.

End Of An Old Mill Era

Emma Morano died on Saturday, in Italy. The world’s oldest woman — and the last person on earth known to have lived in the 1800s — she was 117 years old.

Here in Westport, a demolition permit has been issued for 233 Hillspoint Road. The notice affixed to the side of the building puts its age at 117 years.

(Photo/Matt Murray)

It too has a link to Italy: Most recently, it was the site of Positano. That restaurant closed at the end of 2014. It reopened several months later at its present location, next to the Westport Country Playhouse.

Positano restaurant.

Positano was the last in a storied line of restaurants at 233 Hillspoint. Perhaps its most popular predecessor was Cafe de la Plage.

In between, it was (briefly) the Beach House:

“Beach House,” by Tony Marino.

In the mid-1900s, Westporters knew it as Leo Williams’ Old Mill Restaurant:

Leo Williams’ Old Mill Restaurant, in 1954. (Photo/Bridgeport Post)

Before that, it was both the Beach Food Mart, and Joe’s:

In its 117 years, #233 Hillspoint has seen a lot. The neighborhood has changed — many times. Old Mill Beach has thrived, eroded, and come back to life.

Of course, there were floods, like Hurricane Carol in 1954 …

… and SuperStorm Sandy 59 years later:

(Photo/Matt Murray)

From these photos, it’s likely the property started out as a private home.

Once demolition as complete, that’s probably what it will become again.

But this is 2017. Not 1899.

Odds are good it will not look the same.

Restaurant Rights Abandoned; Big Changes Ahead For Old Mill Beach

The on-again, off-again, on-again saga of a restaurant near Old Mill Beach is off again.

This time, forever.

When Positano — the latest in a string of restaurants on Hillspoint Road — closed almost exactly 2 years ago, there was speculation the new owners wanted to tear it down, and build a big house right there on the sand.

There was also talk that some neighbors — fearing the loss of their shoreline view, and enjoying the funkiness of a restaurant in the midst of a residential area — were doing what they could to make sure a new restaurant took Positano’s place.

The "Positano property," at Old Mill Beach diagonally across from Elvira's.

The “Positano property,” at Old Mill Beach diagonally across from Elvira’s.

That was somewhat ironic. When Positano applied for patio dining in 2012, neighborhood opposition scuttled the plan. Lack of outdoor seating was one factor leading to Positano’s closing, and its subsequent move to a new location next to the Westport Country Playhouse.

Though a number of residents worked for months to get another restaurant on the site, one neighbor continued to object. She sued.

Now comes news that the owner of the property — an LLC with an office in Nashville, Tennessee — has filed an affidavit with Westport’s Planning and Zoning Department. The owner acknowledges and affirms that “any and all commercial uses of the premises at 233 Hillspoint Road have been irrevocably abandoned and discontinued.”

In other words, any chances for a new restaurant — grandfathered in as a pre-existing condition — has been killed. Now, and in perpetuity.

Before it was Positano, 233 Hillspoint Road was several other restaurants (including, most notably, Cafe de la Plage). But before THAT it was a grocery store. Among its names: Beach Food Mart, and Joe's.

Before it was Positano, 233 Hillspoint Road was several other restaurants (including, most notably, Cafe de la Plage). But before THAT it was a grocery store. Among its names: Beach Food Mart (above), and Joe’s.

So what happens next?

The property is back on the market. It’s listed as “A Generational Waterfront Opportunity.”

Potential buyers have a chance to “build and live directly on Compo Cove Beach’s [sic] most unique [sic] lot with spectacular Long Island Sound views.” The land “is now available for a luxury private home to be built.”

Buyers can enjoy “the most beautiful expansive water views, spectacular sunrises and sunsets” (those sunsets might be tough, since the listing notes it is an “east facing property”, and Compo Hill is a substantial obstruction to the west).

This photo from the real estate listing shows the current footprint of the former restaurant (center). The yellow line shows the property boundaries.

This photo from the real estate listing shows the current footprint of the former restaurant (center). The yellow line shows the property boundaries. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

The listing continues:

Enjoy the ever-changing tides and light, the shore birds, and the tranquility that exists with living right on the beach. With no neighbor to your right,  it’s like having your own front row seat to the best Long Island Sound offers — sunbathing, swimming, fishing boating…

Seize this opportunity to create your own magnificent custom home for the first time ever on this site.

The cost?

A mere $4,500,000.

But wait! There’s more!

Elvira’s — diagonally across Hillspoint from #233 — continues to be on the market too. There’s been no sale yet, but word on the soon-to-drastically-change street is that it may not remain a grocery store/ community center.

All of which is food for thought.

A good place to think about it is at the Sherwood Mill Pond Preserve.

You know — where for nearly a century, Allen’s Clam House used to be.

Old Mill Restaurant Battles: The Back Story

Friday’s “06880” post on the benefits and drawbacks of a restaurant in the residential Old Mill neighborhood noted that 4 years ago, area residents opposed Positano’s owners plan to add 4 tables of outdoor dining at the site.

Several commenters pointed out that before Positano, Cafe de la Plage enjoyed a long and storied run as a beachside dining spot. Sally Kellogg Deegan remembered a restaurant called Leo Williams in the 1940s.

She’s exactly right. But there’s a lot more to the tale than that. And it involves the same issue that Positano faced decades later: neighbors.

The Bridgeport Post of August 21, 1954 ran this headline: “‘Fed Up With Town,’ Says Restaurateur Leo Williams in Quitting Westport.”

The story begins:

Leo Williams’ restaurant, a landmark at Old Mill Beach since 1945, will change owners on or about October 1 as the result of a zoning feud between the proprietor and the town.

Ired by what he termed the ‘petty complaints of jealous neighbors,’ Williams and his partner, Fred Wittenberger, moved to Essex, where they purchased a colonial mansion.

In 1945, Williams had taken over the Old Mill restaurant. Officials granted permission to build a screened-in porch, on land that partly encroached on town property.

Leo Williams' Old Mill Restaurant, in 1954. The screened-in porch can be seen on the right. (Photo/Bridgeport Post)

Leo Williams’ Old Mill Restaurant, in 1954. The screened-in porch can be seen on the right. (Photo/Bridgeport Post)

In 1954, he added a wooden fence in front of his adjacent Hillspoint Road home. Neighbors complained it was on Old Mill Beach property. Williams said the land was his.

After a survey, Westport’s selectmen ordered the fence removed. Williams refused. The case went to the Court of Common Pleas.

Leo Williams' Hillspoint Road home, with its fence.

Leo Williams’ Hillspoint Road home, with its fence. (Photo/Bridgeport Post)

Williams then placed large boulders in front of his fence. He said he needed protection against tidal storms. The selectmen had the rocks removed, and billed Williams.

After Williams announced he was moving to Essex, neighbors told him to remove the porch. They said it belonged to him, not the restaurant. Williams countered that without the porch, no one would sublet the restaurant.

Comparing himself to Vivien Kellems — a longtime Westporter who left for Stonington following zoning battles over her cable grip manufacturing company — Williams said, “I’m getting out of Westport and the sooner the better. If the porch must be removed, I’ll take it with me to Essex. I’m fed up with the town and my nosy neighbors.”

New Update On Old Positano

As beach weather nears — and we head into our 2nd summer without an Old Mill Beach restaurant — many Westporters wonder what’s up with the old Positano property.

It was purchased in 2014 by Gibby Cohen and his family. They live nearby — on land where they could build a 15,000-square foot house — but they did not need or want one that big. The Cohens figured 3,000 square feet would be fine.

The Positano plot — diagonally across from Elvira’s; for many years the site of Cafe de la Plage, briefly the Beach House, and long before all that Joe’s Store — was perfect.

The "Positano property," at Old Mill Beach diagonally across from Elvira's.

The “Positano property,” at Old Mill Beach diagonally across from Elvira’s.

The Cohens soon realized, however, that many neighborhood residents — on Hillspoint, Compo Hill and surrounding streets — wanted a restaurant there. It brought life to the area. And the existing building provided scenic views, which a new structure might block.

The Cohens were happy to acquiesce. They’re not interested in running a restaurant themselves. But they’re quite open to selling (or, worst case, leasing) their property to a restaurateur.

At least one neighbor objects. Ellen Van Dorsten — who opposed Positano’s application for patio dining in 2012, and helped lead opposition to saving Allen’s Clam House before that — is suing the Cohens. She hopes to prevent a new restaurant on the Positano lot. The suit will be heard in November.

The controversial terrace at the old Positano.

The controversial terrace at the old Positano.

Van Dorsten was not the only resident opposed to the 2012 patio petition, for 4 tables seating 16 diners. Other neighbors also protested. The restaurant owners cite the lack of outdoor seating as one factor that forced them to relocate. Their new restaurant is next to Westport Country Playhouse.

Now, however, neighborhood sentiment seems to be coalescing around a restaurant — rather than a new-construction home — on the property.

This seems like an ideal opportunity for a well-known, highly respected restaurateur to open a new, seafood-oriented place, in a building with a historic past and neighborhood support.

Joey’s by the Shore Clam House, anyone?

NOTE: Gibby Cohen declined to comment on the ongoing litigation. Requests for comment from Ellen Van Dorsten — by phone and email — were not returned.

Long before Cafe de la Plage and Positano's, this property was the site of Joe's Store. This was the scene in 1954, during Hurricane Carol.

Long before Cafe de la Plage and Positano’s, the property was the site of Joe’s Store. This was the scene in 1954, during Hurricane Carol.

Positano Parking

“06880” is fond of posting “poor parking” pictures.

Most make readers angry.

This one, from Positano restaurant on residential Hillspoint Road — well, all you can do is laugh.

Positano parking

(Photo/Sandy Rothenberg)