Tag Archives: RTM

Unsung Heroes #20

Many Westporters know them only if there’s a problem.

Compo overcrowded? Call the Parks and Recreation Commission.

Issue with your new deck? Call the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Aquarion building a huge water tower nearby? Call your RTM member.

“They” are the men and women who volunteer for our town boards and commissions. In addition to the above, there’s the Board of Finance, Board of Education, Planning and Zoning Commission and more.

(Photo by Cathy Zuraw/Connecticut Post)

They spend countless hours reading reports, fielding emails and phone calls, and attending meetings (and meetings and meetings).

They get criticized for taking stands, taking votes, and not taking votes.

They even put up (and take down) their own road signs.

And they do it for no pay.

Zero. Nada.

That’s why they’re called volunteers.

They seldom get thanked. Even during election season, we seldom think of the enormous sacrifices our volunteer town officials make to make Westport the wonderful place it is.

That’s why everyone who runs for public office — Democrats, Republicans and independents; men and women; lawyers, business executives, stay-at-home parents and retirees; winners and losers — are this week’s Unsung Heroes.

You’ve got our “vote” of thanks!

(Want to nominate your own Unsung Hero? Email dwoog@optonline.net)

 

Dredge We Must!

Westporters are used to paying taxes for services we may never use.

Single folks and childless couples pony up for education. Country club members subsidize Longshore. We all chip in for the fire department, even though most of us (thankfully) never call them.

Yet a recent proposal has called into question an intriguing question: Who should pay to dredge the Ned Dimes Marina?

No one denies it’s needed (it was last dredged in 1993). But the cost is $1.2 million.

The Ned Dimes Marina.

The Ned Dimes Marina.

The Board of Finance thinks boat owners with slips in the marina — that’s the one at Compo Beach — should cover the entire bill. The RTM Finance Committee agrees.

But another option on the table is an 80-20 split between boat owners and the town, respectively. The RTM will discuss the matter at their January 10 meeting.

What do you think? Is this a project that — while it does not benefit everyone — the town should fully cover? Are there intangible benefits that non-boat owners receive from a dredged channel? Is this one of many uses for tax money that we should not even quibble about? Does it open the door to a discussion of other types of funding, for other “town projects”?

Click “Comments” below. And be sure to note whether you’re a boat owner or not.

And if so, where you keep it!

[UPDATE] Bridge Street Bridge Project Drives Forward

Plans for renovation of the Bridge Street bridge are moving ahead, on at least 2 fronts.

But they may be on a collision course.

The Connecticut Department of Transportation is working with the selectman’s office on a public information meeting. Tentatively set for December 7 Set for Monday, November 23 (7:30 pm, Town Hall auditorium), it will be a forum to discuss the history of the 113-year-old bridge, its current deficiencies, and various rehabilitation options and calendars.

The historic and controversial Bridge Street (William F. Cribari) Bridge.

The historic and controversial Bridge Street (William F. Cribari) Bridge. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

Meanwhile, 4 prominent Westporters asking the state DOT to designate a 1.2-mile section of Route 136 — including the bridge — as a State Scenic Highway. It begins at the Post Road/Compo Road South intersection, and runs through the western end of the bridge, at Riverside Avenue.

Petitioners include 3rd Selectman Helen Garten, former Westport Historic District Commission chair Morley Boyd, RTM member John Suggs and preservationist Wendy Crowther.

The petitioners met yesterday at the Bridge Street Bridge. From Left: Morley Boyd, Helen Garten, John Suggs, Wendy Crowther. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

The petitioners met yesterday at the Bridge Street Bridge. From Left: Morley Boyd, Helen Garten, John Suggs, Wendy Crowther. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

If approved, this will be the first State Scenic Highway solely in Westport. All 37.5 miles of the Merritt Parkway — from Greenwich to Stratford — carry that designation too.

The petitioners note history (site of an armed conflict between British regulars and a handful of local militiamen in 1777); the many notable 18th and 19th century buildings lining the route, and the important views of the Saugatuck River shoreline.

Both the bridge itself, and the Gault barn complex at 124 Compo Road South, are listed on the National and State Registers of Historic Places.

The group — along with 8 other RTM members has also requested that the RTM back the scenic highway proposal. Not all signees are from Saugatuck — where the structure (formally know as the William F. Cribari Bridge) is both a beloved icon and a major traffic thoroughfare.

They ask that their petition be discussed at the legislative body’s November 10 meeting.

Many old homes line South Compo Road and Bridge Street. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

Many old homes line South Compo Road and Bridge Street. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

“The designation will serve to both enhance and safeguard the scale, nature and character of one of Westport’s most attractive travel ways,” the agenda request says.

“The State Scenic Highway designation does not in any way impact adjoining private property,” Morley and Suggs say. “It is solely intended to preserve the character and nature of the state road — including the bridge.”

A historic plaque stands at the corner of the Post Road and South Compo -- the start of the proposed 1.2-mile Scenic Highway route. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

The Saugatuck River meets Bridge Street, near the western end of the proposed Scenic Highway. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

The fate of the bridge will be one of Westport’s major stories throughout the rest of this year — and next. To learn more about the State Scenic Highway program, including protections it provides, click here.

A historic plaque stands at the Post Road/South Compo intersection -- the start of the proposed 1.2-mile Scenic Highway. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

A historic plaque stands at the Post Road/South Compo intersection — the start of the proposed 1.2-mile Scenic Highway. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

In Case You Base Your Vote On More Than Road Signs…

Opinions are like you-know-whats: Everyone’s got ’em.

Westporters know exactly what to do about Baron’s South, the education budget, tree-cutting, downtown parking, Compo Beach, affordable housing, bike lanes, and a thousand different topics.

We are not afraid to share our thousands of different views with our elected officials.

When those officials disagree with us, we think it’s their fault. Even if we did not vote in the election that put them in office.

Knowledge is power.

LWV my town my voteIf you’d like to know exactly who you’re voting for next month — besides seeing their names on lawn signs — come to a pair of League of Women Voters-sponsored debates.

Tomorrow (Monday, October 5) focuses on candidates for the Planning & Zoning Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals and Board of Assessment Appeals.

On Wednesday, October 14, meet Board of Education and Board of Finance hopefuls.

Both sessions are set for Town Hall, at 7 p.m.

But wait! There’s more!

Both days, at 6:15 p.m., voters can meet Representative Town Meeting (RTM) candidates. They’re our unsung civic backbone, with power over everything from final budgets to plastic bags.

Around the world, people continue to die for the right to vote. Here in Westport, you just have to go around the corner.

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.

“Conflict Of Interest” Charge Roils Baron’s South Debate

As the RTM prepares to vote this Tuesday (April 28, 7 p.m., Town Hall auditorium) on whether to overturn the Planning & Zoning Commission’s decision to designate the Baron’s South property as protected open space, legislators have another issue to contend with.

Westport resident Valerie Seiling Jacobs sent this “open letter” to all RTM members:

As many of you know, I have been opposed to the proposed senior housing project on Baron’s South for many years. My view has long been that the deal proposed by The Jonathan Rose Companies was unfair to taxpayers since the town will get too little in return for donating such a valuable asset. And it has always puzzled me that Ken Bernhard, who co-chaired the Baron’s South Committee and is one of the project’s prime cheerleaders, seemed so determined to push ahead with the project—even in the face of growing evidence that the project was seriously flawed and could not meet the town’s needs.

I learned today [Friday] that Mr. Bernhard has multiple conflicts of interest that were never disclosed. First, Cohen & Wolf, the law firm in which he is a principal, is counsel to the Jewish Home of Fairfield, which stands to gain a lucrative contract for services if the Rose project goes forward. In fact, in a bulletin last summer, the President of JHF touted how great the business would be for the JHF. Second, Martin F. Wolf, another senior attorney at Mr. Bernhard’s law firm, sits on the Board of Directors of the JHF.

Mr. Bernhard’s failure to disclose these connections and conflicts is especially egregious given the sensitivity of this issue and Mr. Bernhard’s past behavior. At a Board of Finance meeting in October 2012, a number of members of the public complained that the RFP process appeared to have been rigged in favor of The Rose Companies—a suggestion to which Mr. Bernhard took extreme umbrage, demanding an apology. Nevertheless, in response to concerns about conflicts of interest, the members of the Baron’s South Committee were specifically asked to stand and state whether they had any financial interest in the Rose Companies. Mr. Bernhard did not stand. His failure to reveal his firm’s interest in this project may have been technically correct — since the financial interest was in another entity — but it was still materially misleading. As an attorney and a former elected official, Mr. Bernhard should know better.

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

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

For Mr. Bernhard to have served on the Baron’s South Committee without disclosing these connections, which fatally compromised his ability to objectively evaluate the responses to the town’s RFP, violate fundamental principles of justice and fairness. This is the equivalent of a judge owning stock in a corporation that appears in a contested matter in the judge’s court. And I note that this is not the first time that Mr. Bernhard’s ethics have been called into question. In 2010, he was forced to pay a $3,500 penalty after his improper campaign contributions were discovered.

All of these facts bolster the conclusion that the Rose Companies’ proposal is a bad deal for Westport and its taxpayers. The Planning and Zoning Commission’s decision to designate Baron’s South as open space was the right thing to do. I hope that you will decide NOT to overturn that decision.

Thank you.

——————————————————————–

I asked Ken Bernhard for his side of the issue. He said:

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to Ms. Jacobs’ letter to the RTM. It distresses me that the discussion about a project designed to address the needs of hundreds of Westport seniors who require affordable housing options has devolved into the kind of ugly debate endemic in Washington — specifically, don’t discuss the issues; unleash a personal attack on your opponent.

Curiously, Ms. Jacobs appears to be guilty of the very offense that she charges me with, i.e. an undisclosed bias.  She does not divulge in her letter that she is the co-chair of a political party, Save Westport Now, whose agenda appears to oppose development in town regardless of its merits. Apparently, the unanimous consensus of the RTM sub-committee to overturn the vote of her party’s candidates has given rise to her invective.

I have lived in Westport for more than 40 years and for most of that time, I have been actively engaged in the community’s affairs. I have given of my time by holding positions on the ZBA and the Board of Selectmen. In addition to serving as town counsel for 3 administrations, I have represented Westport in Hartford. Throughout this time I did, and still do, provide free legal services to many of the non-profit organizations in town. I sit on multiple boards providing my time and energy helping our friends and neighbors. It’s all been a labor of love.

The risk, of course, in being so active is that occasionally there are instances where the roles may overlap. These instances are part of life in a small town and are not considered conflicts in the forums in which these things are adjudicated. A community cannot function without this reality of professional and personal overlap of its citizens’ talents and interests.

Early springtime at Baron's South. (Photo/Judy James)

Early springtime at Baron’s South. (Photo/Judy James)

Five years ago, I was asked by First Selectman Joseloff to give more of my time to Westport by sitting on the Baron’s South Committee. The 8-person committee was made up of volunteers serving in a private capacity. None of us had, nor did we ever have, any decision-making authority.

Since that time, I have donated at least 300 hours serving on this committee, a large portion of which was spent long before there was a proposal to do anything. When a concept for providing affordable housing for seniors was ultimately advanced, the town sent out a request for a proposal. Our committee of volunteers reviewed the proposals and made a unanimous recommendation to accept the proposal submitted by Jonathan Rose. The decision to work with Jonathan Rose was made by elected officials.

The substance of Ms. Jacobs’ letter is that she claims I have a conflict of interest in serving on the Baron’s South Committee because she has learned that one of the 50 lawyers at my law firm does work on totally unrelated matters for Jewish Senior Services, an organization that has joined with Jonathan Rose to provide services if and when the project is approved and built at some time in the very distant future. (Ms. Jacobs is incorrect when she asserts that Attorney Martin F. Wolf is a senior attorney at Cohen and Wolf in that he is “of counsel,” retired from active practice years ago, and has no financial interest in it).

Ms. Jacobs would argue that I should have conducted a conflicts check with my law firm. This would have been appropriate had I been serving as legal counsel or in any other professional role — but I was not. I was acting as a private citizen in a private capacity doing volunteer work for my community. Ms. Jacobs can spin the facts and connect the dots any way she pleases, but there is no legitimate substance to her point.  Her criticism is inflammatory and its purpose is more about advancing the political agenda of Save Westport Now than anything else.

We have an important issue confronting our community, i.e. whether to preclude the use of Baron’s South for any municipal purpose, even the expansion of the senior center, or to leave open the discussion on how best to use this valuable town asset for affordable housing or otherwise. Reasonable people can disagree, and Westport deserves a respectful exchange on this issue.

——————————————————————-

In a related development, RTM moderator Eileen Lavigne Flug will recuse herself from leading Tuesday’s discussion. She is of counsel to Cohen and Wolf. In a comment on a previous “06880” story, Flug wrote:

While Cohen and Wolf does not represent Jonathan Rose Companies, it has come to my attention that Cohen and Wolf represents the nonprofit Jewish Home for the Elderly of Fairfield County, Inc. on certain matters, although not on the proposal for senior housing at Baron’s South. While I myself have no connection with the Jewish Home for the Elderly of Fairfield County, Inc., and while I believe the connection to be attenuated since the matter before us is a zoning issue and not directly related to the proposed senior housing project, in order to avoid the appearance of a conflict and any concerns about the RTM’s process and deliberations, our deputy moderator Velma Heller will be running the meeting.

Baron's South, with the baron's Golden Shadows house in the distance.

Baron’s South, with the baron’s Golden Shadows house in the distance.

Baron’s South Open Space Proposal Heads To RTM

The clock is ticking on Baron’s South.

The RTM has received 4 petitions to review last month’s Planning & Zoning Commission decision that would rezone 22 acres of that prime downtown property as open space.

It has received a 5th petition too, from a completely opposite view. This one asks the RTM to uphold the P&Z’s open space vote.

The RTM has 30 days to render a decision.

This Monday (April 6, Town Hall auditorium, 7 p.m.), the RTM’s P&Z Committee will meet. Westporters are invited to speak publicly on the open space designation.

On April 20, the RTM P&Z Committee will vote on a recommendation to the full RTM. That body will make a final decision on April 28.

This is a crucial step on determining the fate of 22 acres of wooded land, just a few steps from downtown Westport. If you don’t make your voice heard — in person, or by email (click here to find their contact info; click here for your district) — you can’t say you weren’t warned.

The entrance to the Baron's South property.

The entrance to the Baron’s South property.

Baron’s South Fate Could Hinge On RTM

The Planning and Zoning Commission has spoken. By a 4-1 vote (1 abstention) last week, they approved an amendment to rezone all of the 22-acre Baron’s South property as open space.

Now there’s at least 1 petition circulating — probably more — asking the RTM to overturn that decision. Petitioners want to reopen the decades-long discussion of using the town-owned property for senior housing.

The official P&Z notice of the decision will be published Friday. Petitions must be submitted within 7 days of that notice.

RTMThe RTM would then have 30 days to act. The decision can be overturned by a 2/3 affirmative vote. That means 24 of the 36 members — no matter how many attend, it’s still 24.

This is one of the biggest RTM decisions in years. A vote to uphold the P&Z decision means that 22 acres of land — hilly and heavily forested — just steps from downtown will remain open forever (perhaps enhanced by an arboretum).

A vote to overturn the P&Z keeps the door open for other uses. The most recent 165-unit senior housing proposal involved 3.3 acres.

If you’d like your voice heard in this debate, contact your RTM members. Click here to find their emails. (Don’t know your district? Click here!)

 

Remembering Bill Meyer

Bill Meyer — the consummate Westport volunteer, a man who knew everyone in town, and one of the most genuinely friendly human beings on the planet — died today. He battled multiple myeloma for over a year.

In his 85 years, Bill did more than 85 normal people could in 85 lifetimes.

Bill Meyer

Bill Meyer

Professionally, he had a fulfilling career as national sales manager for several companies. “We manufactured and sold pens and pencils,” he said of one business.

That’s like saying Bruce Springsteen “plays music.” In fact, Bill managed 800 workers on a Blackfoot Indian reservation in Montana. He was so motivational and inspirational, the tribe adopted him — and gave him an honorary Indian name.

But as much as he traveled, Bill always found time for Westport.

Plenty of time.

Here is a teeny-tiny, way-too-partial list. Bill…

  • was elected 9 times to the RTM. He chaired the Parks and Recreation Committee, and served on its  Education, and Health and Human Services Committees
  • founded the Westport Little League softball program; was a member of the Little League board of directors; umpired — and had a softball field named for him
  • served as Y’s Men president and membership chairman
  • was a director of Sunrise Rotary, Senior  Center, First Night, Westport’s AARP chapter, Westport Community Theatre, and 2 intercity Bridgeport agencies
  • served on the Saugatuck Congregational Church council
  • mentored a boy from age 5 through adolescence
  • helped with Meals on Wheels
  • volunteered on many Republican campaigns
  • was a board member of Isaiah House in Bridgeport, which helps parolees transition from prison to life outside
  • won the 2004 Service to Older Adults award
  • earned a Westport First award
  • received the YMCA’s Faces of Achievement honor.

Bill loved Staples. He loved Westport, sports, the theater, church, the Republican party, volunteering, old people, young people, and his wife Carolyn.

Or — to put it another way: Bill loved life.

We owe Bill Meyer an enormous debt. He touched each of us, and all of us.

He made Westport a better place to live.

You can’t ask for a better life than that.

This photo epitomizes Bill Meyer. He's volunteering at the Great Duck Race, sponsored by Sunrise Rotary, while hugging Republican State Senator Toni Boucher.

This photo epitomizes Bill Meyer. He was volunteering at the Great Duck Race, sponsored by Sunrise Rotary, while hugging Republican State Senator Toni Boucher.

 

 

Cell Phone Controversy Towers Over Green’s Farms

5 RTM members — including 4 from Green’s Farms, the center of this issue — sent this letter to “06880.” Don Bergmann (District 1), and District 5 members Seth Braunstein, Peter Gold,  Paul Rossi and John Suggs write:

An AT&T cell tower may be located in a Residence AA Zone, close to the intersection of Hillspoint and Greens Farms Roads. The tower will be 120 feet tall. It would loom above the tree line at this “gateway” intersection leading toward our beaches. The address of the site is 92 Greens Farms Road, a private residence.

The house on the left is 92 Greens Farms Road. (Photo courtesy of Google Maps)

The house on the left is 92 Greens Farms Road. (Photo courtesy of Google Maps)

We write to engage the public, and to express our abhorrence of a 120-foot cell tower in a residential zone. A citizens group has been formed, and all avenues of opposition are being explored.

Cell phones are part of day-to-day living. They are convenient and, in emergencies, important. Nevertheless, the adverse impacts of a cell tower resonate with most citizens.

Cell towers generate health risks. Also, the size of cell towers, particularly their massive foundations, requires and impacts upon a large land mass.  That will be particularly so at 92 Greens Farms Road, since there are water courses that flow into a nearby pond and also under I-95 to the Sherwood Mill Pond.

The cell phone industry managed in 1996 to secure the passage of very favorable federal legislation. As implemented in Connecticut by the unfortunate creation of a State Siting Council, local communities are severely constrained in their ability to impact upon cell tower siting. Those constraints preclude challenges based upon the adverse effects from electromagnetic fields and radio waves generated by cell towers.

An AT&T cell tower.

An AT&T cell tower.

Those dangers, particularly for the young and those with certain genetic pre-dispositions, are well known, but must be ignored in any site determination by reason of the law. The law also pre-empts local zoning regulations, for example a regulation adopted by Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission in 2000.

Our P&Z regulation makes it clear that Westport does not want any cell tower in a residential zone. Sadly, the law negates the effectiveness of our regulation, except as a public declaration by Westport in opposition to cell towers in residential zones. We believe Westport does not want a 120-foot tall cell tower looming above the trees at 92 Greens Farms Road.

First Selectman Jim Marpe is pursuing avenues that he believes appropriate. However, whatever the town undertakes, public interest and concern is crucial. We need to stop this before it gets to the Siting Council. So please join in this battle. Let us or others on the RTM know of your support. Even better, contact the citizens group by e mailing: notowerat92@gmail.com, or Hope Hageman, hhagema1@gmail.com.

Please engage. Like Joni Mitchell’s “tearing down trees for a parking lot,” this cell tower will also be a blight.

“06880” readers, what do you think? Dangerous? Unsightly? Necessary? An issue of one property owner doing what he wants with his property, or one where the wishes of a majority of neighborhood residents should take precedence? Click “Comments” — and please use your full, real name. If relevant, include your neighborhood too.