Tag Archives: Save Westport Now

Save Westport Now: Stop Hiawatha’s Sewer Request

Valerie Seiling Jacobs, co-chair of Save Westport Now, sends this letter:

The Westport Water Pollution Control Authority, which is comprised of our 3 selectman, is meeting tomorrow morning (Thursday, July 21, 8:30 a.m., Town Hall auditorium) to decide whether to allow a developer to extend the sewer to the Hiawatha Lane area in Saugatuck.

The Planning & Zoning Commission has already rejected this developer’s request twice, on the grounds that the nearby pumping station and the sewer pipe that runs under the river from the Saugatuck area to our wastewater treatment plant are already in danger of failing.

Both items are on the town’s list of infrastructure repairs, but before work can start, the town needs to obtain a lot of permits and approvals from the state and feds, which still hasn’t happened. P&Z recognized that adding potential effluent to a failing system was not a smart move. If, for example, the repairs are delayed and the pipe bursts, it could have catastrophic environmental and other consequences for the Town.

Westport's wastewater treatment plant, across the Saugatuck River from the proposed Hiawatha Lane development.

Westport’s wastewater treatment plant, across the Saugatuck River from the proposed Hiawatha Lane development.

Save Westport Now agrees with P&Z’s conclusion: that it would be foolhardy for the town to approve a sewer extension before the pipe and pumping station are actually fixed/replaced. This is especially true since — no matter what we hope or the developer claims — the repairs are likely to take more time than usual, since they will need to be scheduled around other projects already planned for the area, including most notably the rehab of the I-95 overpass, the repair of the MetroNorth bridge, and the repair of the Cribari/Saugatuck bridge.

This will not be a simple or quick repair, and the Town should not risk the town’s resources just because a developer stands to lose money if he doesn’t get his way.

I hope you will attend the meeting or email the selectman’ office (selectman@westportct.gov) about the matter as well. As residents and taxpayers, we need to let our elected officials know that we care about the environment — and that we believe in smart planning. Adding effluent to a failing sewer system before we are sure when and how the system will be fixed is just not smart.

Remembering Sidney Kramer

Sidney Kramer would have been 100 years old on January 21.

He didn’t make it. He died earlier today, 64 years after moving to Westport.

But that’s one of the few things he did not accomplish in a long, productive and well-lived life.

Sidney Kramer

Sidney Kramer

Sidney Kramer was a major player in the publishing world. An attorney, literary agent and co-founder of Bantam Books — the original paperback house, founded during World War II when newsprint was scarce — he was better known locally as the owner of The Remarkable Bookshop.

For more than 30 years the pink building on the corner of Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza was beloved for its floor-to-ceiling shelves stocked with new releases, poetry, cookbooks, obscure volumes and funky gifts; its cozy rooms, well-worn couches and sloping floors, and the encyclopedic knowledge of everyone who worked there.

Sidney’s wife Esther managed the store. She died in April 2011, at 93.

Remarkable made national headlines in 1978 when it refused to sell Richard Nixon’s biography because — in Kramer’s words — “we thought he was a rascal.” The store owner noted that it was not a freedom of speech issue. He even walked patrons down the street to Klein’s, which sold the book.

In 2001 — in recognition of the service Remarkable Book Shop provided — Sidney and Esther Kramer received Westport’s Arts Award.

The much-loved Remarkable Book Shop

The much-loved Remarkable Book Shop

But Remarkable — whose perfect name, serendipitously, includes “Kramer” spelled backwards — was not Sidney Kramer’s major contribution to Westport.

In 1981 he helped found Save Westport Now. Originally organized to prevent an enormous office building from replacing a century-old Victorian house on Gorham Island — diagonally across the parking lot from Remarkable —  Save Westport Now soon evolved into a 3rd political party.

It lost the Gorham Island war. But it won a battle along the way: The green-tinted office was originally planned to be much higher than it is now.

For the next 3 decades, Kramer and other activists monitored the Planning and Zoning Commission. They were particularly involved in issues like parking and the height of new buildings.

Save Westport Now said:

Mr. Kramer was never reticent in voicing his opinions about the manner in which over-reaching development would damage the character of his town. His analyses were not only respected, but often resulted in better outcomes. Although he relied on the members of his organization to help fulfill the SWN mission it was he, well into his 90s, who stood at Town Hall and spoke. And we all listened, learned and benefited.

Save Westport Now

Kramer was born in the Bronx in 1915. His parents emigrated to the US from Vilna and Minsk, in the 1890s. After graduating from NYU and Brooklyn Law School, Kramer served as counsel, accountant and eventually part owner of Penguin Books.

After Bantam he worked with other publishing companies, and was president of New American Library. In 1961 he founded Mews Books Ltd., a literary agency representing authors like Richard Scarry and Hardie Gramatky.

Sidney Kramer is survived by his son Mark of Newton, Massachusetts, the founding director of the Nieman Program on Narrative Journalism at Harvard University and the author of many works of narrative non-fiction; his daughter Wendy Posner of Chicago; 4 grandchildren — and a very grateful Westport.

A memorial service is set for Saturday, January 24 (11:30 a.m., Westport Library). It’s 3 days after what would have been his 100th birthday.

 

 

Save Westport Now: P&Z Denial Of Senior Housing Plan Was Correct

In response to recent “06880” posts — by 2 Planning & Zoning commissioners, and the Coalition for Westport — regarding the denial of senior housing on town owned property Save Westport Now adds its voice. Chairman Sidney Kramer says:

We would like provide clarity to the decision and offer high praise to all those who have, and will, continue to work diligently to address this complicated and challenging issue. In addition, we compliment the current P&Z Commissioners, who are duly elected representatives of both the Democrat and Republican parties, for their thoughtful deliberation of this matter.

We believe that the Commission’s near-unanimous decision to reject this text amendment was correct. It needed to be rejected—not because of political pressure or bias, but because the amendment itself was deeply and unacceptably flawed and would have created far more problems than it solved, all at the expense of Westport taxpayers.

Part of the Baron's South property, where a senior housing facility was proposed.

Part of the Baron’s South property, where a senior housing facility was proposed.

As the town moves toward an acceptable solution, we must keep in mind some of the problems with the denied amendment (see below), many of which have gotten lost in the heat of the discussion. These are things every Westport resident — and most especially our seniors — should know:

  1. The Amendment would have required developers to set aside ONLY 20% (or just 29 units) as “affordable”—whereas current state law requires that 30% be set aside and our P&Z has already determined that 60% is the appropriate number to justify utilizing town land for this purpose;
  2. If passed, the town would basically have been subsidizing housing for the well-to-do, since the income tests for the non-affordable units were very high;
  3. The amendment would have put the town further behind in terms of meeting the state minimum for affordable housing dictated by Connecticut State Statute 8-30G, since it would have increased the total number of units in town without a corresponding 30% increase of affordable units. That, in turn, would allow developers of other affordable housing projects to override existing zoning regulations anywhere in town, given that we would no longer have the benefits of a moratorium on the state-mandated minimum;
  4. The amendment would have allowed a private developer to acquire a valuable town asset (8+ acres of prime real estate with an estimated value of $10,000,000) for a mere $1,000,000 — less than the average cost of many residential building lots;
  5. The Amendment would have allowed for a 99-year lease that contained liberal assignment clauses that the town would not fully control;
  6. The additional amenities being offered by the developer were minimal (a therapy pool not the same as a full-sized town pool) and could not make up for the loss of this valuable asset or the increased problems this project would create in terms of the state mandate on affordable housing;
  7. The amendment would have exempted the entire project (as opposed to just the 29 affordable units) from the current 10% town-wide cap on multi-family dwellings. With 13 sites eligible for the same treatment, we could have easily ended up with significantly greater density, traffic and stresses on our town services (fire, police, emergency, and recreation); and
  8. Although the amendment purported to cover 13 sites, it was primarily targeted for Baron’s South (potentially making it illegal “spot zoning”), with insufficient thought given to its impact on the other eligible sites in town.

Finally, we note that portraying Westport as a place with no senior housing is inaccurate. One only needs to look at Whitney Glen, where the owners tried to get the town to lower the age requirement from 65 to 55 due to the fact that there are too many vacant units and not enough seniors applying.

The Whitney Glen condominiums behind Compo Shopping Center are age-restricted.

The Whitney Glen condominiums behind Compo Shopping Center are age-restricted.

We appreciate that this recent decision will delay things. But in the context of Westport’s more than 200-year history and with such valuable resources in play (for decades to come!), the 6 years spent on this matter is a drop in the bucket. We honor those who came before us, and those who will follow, by taking the long view and acting with great care in managing our town’s scarce and precious resources. Progress has already been made, and the investments of time and effort to date have not been for naught.  If we can solve the problems outlined above, we can find a solution that works for all of Westport.

Miggs Is The Man

Miggs Burroughs is a Westport icon.

A Staples grad who returned here after college — and a trip to England during the Carnaby Street years that resulted in some fantastic Beatles-related adventures — he quickly became Westport’s pro bono/major macher/go-to graphic artist/birdhouse maker/flag creator/postage stamp designer/author/ inventor/painter/donor to every project, cause and fundraiser known to man or woman.

On Thursday, May 22, he becomes a tunnel rehabilitator too.

But before that — this Saturday (May 17, 4-6 p.m.) — Miggs will be honored for his many contributions to Westport. The site is a historic 1739 home, at 178 Cross Highway.

No, Miggs is not moving. Nor is he terminally ill. It’s just a chance for one organization he’s helped to say “thanks.”

Save Westport Now is doing the honors. But it could have been any one of dozens others.

Because all of us who live in Westport — whether we know him or not — have reason to honor Miggs Burroughs for all he has done, for all of us.

Plus, he has great hair.

Miggs Burroughs

Miggs Burroughs

The tribute to Miggs is free — and there will be cocktails and hors d’oeuvres — but reservations are required. For more information, or to snag a spot, call 203-226-5630.

Partying With The CWP

Over 40 Westporters are planning Westport’s next party.

Before you get too excited, though: It’s a political party, not a kegger.

The group — including Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters — has filed papers in Hartford for official recognition. The name of the party is Coalition for Westport.

Michael Nayor

Michael Nayor

Former Planning and Zoning Commission member David Press, and former P&Z alternate and RTM member Michael Nayor, lead the process.

They believe that town government — particularly the P&Z — is “more focused on preservation than looking forward,” says Nayor, an attorney and Westport resident since 1977.

Though the coalition “values the past, and all the wonderful things about Westport, we can’t ignore enhancing and improving what we have,” he adds.

Despite several studies, and ongoing work by the Downtown 2020 committee, Nayor says “no one is taking the ball and running with it. The town has to be proactive, not just reactive, when something comes before the P&Z.”

Asked for specific examples of projects the CWP supports or opposes, such as an eldercare facility on Baron’s South, Nayor says, “We don’t have an agenda. We don’t have a stand yet.”

The entrance to the Baron's South property -- one of many Westport planning issues.

The Baron’s South property: one of many Westport planning issues.

Will the new party address issues beyond planning? What about budgets?

“Save Westport Now” — another Westport party — “focuses solely on planning and zoning,” Nayor counters. “We will focus on that too. But I think we have a more positive view of improving and enhancing the facilities here. I’m aware of what Save Westport Now opposes. I don’t really know what they favor.”

So what does the CWP favor?

“Give us time,” Nayor asks. “We’re a fledgling organization. Save Westport Now has been around for 30 years. Our primary focus is to support real public dialogue of issues, and make residents more aware of what’s going on.”

An aerial view of downtown Westport. It occupies a small section of town, but looms large in planning debates.

An aerial view of downtown Westport. It occupies a small section of town, but looms large in planning debates.

This fall, the party will run 1 or 2 candidates for the P&Z. If any one receives more than 1% of the vote, the CWP will be allowed to cross-endorse candidates in the next election.

“We’re very excited,” says Nayor. “We hope to be very influential. Town government can’t just react to applications that come in. It has to guide, through planning, where Westport will be 10, 20 years from now. No more kicking the can down the road.”

(For more information on the Coalition for Westport, click here.)

An Open Letter, From New P&Z Members

To The Citizens of Westport

As the newly elected members of the Planning and Zoning Board — Chip Stephens,  Cathy Walsh, Jack Whittle and Al Gratrix — we all want to thank you for your support, trust and faith in our campaign promise to you that we will do our very best to PRESERVE WESTPORT for you and generations to come.

We hope to deliver a more transparent and interactive board that will listen to you, the citizens of Westport, and your  concerns and suggestions.  We want your voices to be heard, and we will abide by the plans, rules and Town Plans that have served us so well in maintaining the charm and vision of Westport.

Thank you Save Westport Now for your endorsement.  Thank you Republican Town Committee for your endorsement.  Thank you to all who came out and voted, and thank you to all who are leaving their positions on the P and Z for your service and dedication.

We 4 will do our best to uphold our pledge to Preserve Westport.  We promise to listen and consider all proposals brought to us over the next 4 years, and to judge each application with an open mind and fair hand.

We will do our best to understand the wishes of those that elected us and will welcome any and all suggestions .   Please join us at the meetings live or on cable. Please keep us real and on track with your opinions via email or in person.

We will do our best to make your decision one you will never regret

Thank you from all 4:
Chip Stephens
Cathy Walsh
Jack Whittle
Al Gratrix

Ahead for the new P&Z: many decisions about Westport's future.