Tag Archives: Summit Saugatuck

Judge Approves Westport/Hiawatha Settlement

A 157-unit development on Hiawatha Lane is now one step closer to reality.

Earlier today, Judge Marshall Berger of Hartford Superior Court approved an agreement between the town of Westport and Summit Saugatuck, developer of the project off Saugatuck Avenue by I-95 Exit 17.

Testimony in the virtual public hearing was offered by Carolanne Curry for Save Old Saugatuck and Gloria Gouveia, a Westport resident and friend of SOS.

Both urged Judge Berger to visit the site before ruling on the stipulated agreement — the subject of a recent appeal to the Representative Town Meeting by opponents of the project.

Berger replied that neither the attorneys for the town of Westport nor counsel for Summit had requested that he do so.

Artist’s rendering of one of the buildings at the Hiawatha Lane development.

Curry also raised the issue of continuing and worsening flood events. During recent storms, access to Hiawatha Lane Extension was cut off at its intersection with Hiawatha Lane.

Berger dismissed concerns about flooding, saying they were the purview of the town’s land use agencies governing the development.

The next step: Summit will submit revised plans for the project. It has been reduced from 187 units, to 157.

Further litigation may loom, however, over deed restrictions on the property.

RTM Upholds Hiawatha Lane Settlement

In a one-sided vote on a two-decade battle, the Representative Town Meeting last night upheld the Planning & Zoning Commission’s decision to settle litigation regarding a 157-unit housing development on Hiawatha Lane.

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.

RTM Subcommittee Upholds P&Z On Hiawatha Lane

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.

Petitioners Ask RTM To Review Hiawatha Lane Settlement

One week after the Planning & Zoning Commission agreed to a settlement with Summit Saugatuck — allowing a scaled-down 157-unit housing development to be built on Hiawatha Lane (off Saugatuck Avenue adjacent to I-95 Exit 17). seemingly ending 18 years of proposals and litigation — there is a new twist.

Earlier this afternoon — one day ahead of the filing deadline — a petition signed by over 60 electors was delivered to the town clerk. Lead petitioner Gloria Gouveia and Save Old Saugatuck leader Carolanne Curry presented the signatures.

If Town Clerk Jeffrey Dunkerton ascertains that there are at least 20 valid signatures, the petition will be forwarded to the Representative Town Meeting, as provided by the Town Charter. A public hearing would follow.

The RTM has 30 days from today to hear and decide the petition.

Hiawatha Lane Project Approved

One of Westport’s thorniest — and its longest-running — zoning battles ended last night.

Despite the strong objections of a number of speakers, the Planning & Zoning Commission affirmed a settlement reached after arduous negotiations. The vote was 5-0.

The development on Hiawatha Lane (adjacent to I-95 Exit 17) will now move forward — with modifications.

The agreement is contingent upon the state of Connecticut agreeing to continue Westport’s moratorium on 8-30g applications.

The size of the project has been altered. Safety concerns — including Fire Department access — have also been addressed.

For nearly 2 decades, Summit Saugatuck tried to build on land it owns off Saugatuck Avenue.

Summit Saugatuck’s site plan. I-95 is at the top; train tracks are at bottom.

Last night’s decision includes several key points:

  • The project was reduced from 187 to 157 units. 30% of the units would be deemed “affordable.”
  • “Building E” is eliminated entirely. Set off from the rest of the development, it would have been located across the street from several small single-family homes. The remaining buildings were consolidated.
  • Land intended for “Building E” will be used only for as-of-right development permitted by Westport’s zoning regulations. The developer agreed to never seek 8-30g approval for an apartment building on that site. This is binding on all successors.
  • Summit Saugatuck agreed to a number of improvements urged by the fire marshal, to compensate for the lack of a secondary access route.
  • Summit Saugatuck will provide evergreens, which they will maintain for several years, to screen homes now located adjacent to the development’s east side.
  • The developer will provide continuing public access — with posted signs — to the Norden conservation area for Hiawatha neighborhood residents. This is binding on all successors.
  • Summit  Saugatuck will rebuilt the Hiawatha Lane culvert, repave part of the road and repair other areas
  • In addition, the developer will withdraw or settle all litigation relating to the project “without qualification or exception,” including the challenge to Westport’s 2019 moratorium of 8-30g (“affordable housing”) construction.

Artist’s rendering of one of the buildings at the Hiawatha Lane development.

To a Zoom audience of over 70 people, town attorney Ira Bloom addressed the question of “why settle now?”

He offered 2 reasons. One is the “changing nature of the legal landscape, particularly with regard to 8-30g” (the statewide affordable housing mandate, which allows developments to override local zoning regulations, so long as 30% of housing is “affordable”). What was originally difficult for municipalities has become even more so.

“After 2 recent Westport cases, and others, it is now even harder to prevail. We believe our case has merits, but the trends are against us.”

Bloom added, “The P&Z decided to be proactive, to control our own destiny.”

A second challenge, Bloom said, was to Westport’s 4-year moratorium on 8-30g issues. Developers have brought legal action to stop the moratorium. “We want to maintain it,” Bloom noted.

The “not easy” negotiations with Summit ensure that the town will have 2 more years of the moratorium — time to help plan for more affordable housing — while also increasing our affordable housing stock, with this project.

P&Z chair Danielle Dobin cited the difficulty of balancing competing interests. “We believe the proposed settlement is in the best interests of all parties. It will result in a better outcome for Hiawatha neighbors, and the town, than would otherwise be achieved.”

Later in the night, she expanded on that idea. She said that if Westport lost in court, the ramifications would be “almost immediate.” Many more developments would come in — and, for example, the Summit Saugatuck project would revert to its larger size, with fewer safety restrictions — and other developments would be built all over town.

First Selectman Jim Marpe reiterated that the settlement “makes sense for Saugatuck and the entire community.”

Hiawatha Lane extension is shown by an arrow, on this Google Map image. It’s below I-95. The entrance is via West Ferry Lane, which is off Saugatuck Avenue (diagonal road on the right side of the image).

A parade of speakers addressed the commission, before the final vote. They spoke passionately about concerns including added traffic, the impact of 4-5 years of construction, limitations of one entrance and exit road, the destruction of some of already affordable homes, and the loss of a long-standing neighborhood.

Among the speakers was former P&Z chair Cathy Walsh, who angrily said the current P&Z “caved” to the developer. She said that settlement “goes against the core of good business sense, and is based on fear of the unknown. It is based on fear of future 8-30g applications.”

Another former chair, Chip Stephens, called the issue one of “fairness and compassion” for the people who built the town’s railroads and I-95, then became police officers, firefighters and restaurant owners.

“They were given small parcels, with deed restrictions,” he said. Earlier, land use consultant Gloria Gouveia had raised the question of deed restrictions placed on the Hiawatha houses when those parcels were given to workers decades ago.

Homes on Hiawatha Lane.

Carolanne Curry — a neighborhood resident, and leader of the Save Our Saugatuck group — said she was frustrated by the suddenness of the decision. She said the commission was “intimidated by lawsuits,” and felt “abandoned by the pursuit of [8-30g] points.” She also criticized town attorney Bloom, and Westport’s state legislators.

Michael Calise said he was “shocked at what’s been presented, and [the assertion that] it will be good for Westport….We need to tell our story, and bring it to Washington.”

Dobin addressed traffic concerns. “This commission cares about traffic. The state 8-30g does not, however, allow traffic to be a consideration in these decisions.”

John Suggs called the settlement “the ultimate betrayal of our community, and who we say we are.” He urged town officials to heed words of Winston Churchill: “Never, ever give in.”

P&Z commissioner Jon Olefson acknowledged that the Hiawatha location was “sub-optimal. We agree with everything that’s been said. This sucks.

“But none of us wrote this law. If I was in your shoes, I’d be saying exactly what you’re saying. But we are where we are. I hope the energy I heard tonight is directed at those in the state who can make broader changes. The P&Z will do that too.”

It had been expected that the P&Z would also announce a settlement of a proposed Cross Street project. However, negotiations have not been finalized.

(Click here for documents from last night’s Planning & Zoning session, including the full settlement agreement, and Hiawatha Lane site plan.)

Despite Denials, Hiawatha Lane Housing Proposal Still Lives

Folklore says that cats have 9 lives.

The proposed Hiawatha Lane housing development has been rejected 8 times by town officials.

Its developer is betting the 9th time’s the charm.

In June, Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission struck down Summit Saugatuck’s plan for 187 units on the narrow road nestled between Saugatuck Avenue and I-95 exit 17. Board members cited concerns about access by firefighters and first responders, as well as traffic and pedestrian concerns.

Applications for sewer connections were denied earlier, by the P&Z and/or Board of Selectmen, in July and September 2007; January 2015; July 2016, and February 2017.

A text amendment and zone change were voted down in November 2016. The text amendment, map amendment and zoning amendment request defeated this past June was the 8th request.

Every denial was unanimous.

Summit Saugatuck’s plan for Hiawatha Lane.

But Summit Saugatuck principal Felix Charney will be back again. Because the proposal is submitted as an 8-30g application — meaning it falls under the state’s “affordable housing” regulation — it’s been re-submitted. A public hearing is set for September 12.

The plan would include 130 market-rate units, and 57 deemed “affordable.” Hiawatha Lane already includes many homes that are among the most affordable in Westport.

The 8-30g statute mandates that 10% of a town’s housing stock be “affordable,” under a state formula. Westport is currently at 4%.

However, only units constructed after 1990, and those that are deed-restricted for 40 years, are considered. Most Westport units serving lower-income groups do not fall into either category.

In March, Westport received a “Certificate of Affordable Housing Completion” from the state Department of Housing. The result was a 4-year moratorium on 8-30g.

The moratorium was granted “based upon the significant progress Westport has made in supplying affordable housing,” 1st Selectman Jim Marpe. Yet the moratorium does not preclude more submissions, like the one Summit Saugatuck is proposing.

Summit Saugatuck and Garden Homes — another developer whose proposal to build on untenable land was denied by the town — tried to get the state to vacate the moratorium. Their petition was denied on Monday by Connecticut’s Department of Housing.

1177 Post Road East helped Westport earn a 4-year moratorium on 8-30g proposals.

The town has received “moratorium points” for these units:

  • Rotary Centennial House, 10 West End Avenue (6 out of 6 total units)
  • Bradley Commons, Bradley Lane (4 of 20)
  • Saugatuck Center, Riverside Avenue (5 of 27)
  • Bedford Square, Church Lane (5 of 26)
  • 20 Cross Street (3 of 10; a portion of all others also earn points)
  • Coastal Point, 1135 Post Road East (2 of 12)
  • 1177 Greens Farms, 1177 Post Road East (29 of 94; a portion of all others also earn points )
  • Sasco Creek, 1655 Post Road East (31 of 54)
  • Hidden Brook, 1655 Post Road East (4 of 39)
  • Hales Court (38 of 78).

As noted earlier, that does not count any affordable housing built before 1990.

(Hat tip: Carolanne Curry)

Hiawatha Lane: 150 Years Of History

This Thursday (April 11, 7 p.m., Town Hall), the Planning & Zoning Commission holds another hearing on the long-running, often-amended, quite-controversial proposal to build a 5-building, 187-unit housing complex on Hiawatha Lane. The application is made as an 8-30g, meaning some of the units will be “affordable,” as defined by state regulations.

But the road — wedged between I-95 Exit 17 and the railroad tracks — has long been where owners and renters find some of Westport’s least expensive prices.

Homes on Hiawatha Lane.

Hiawatha Lane has a very intriguing history. Here’s a look at how the neighborhood developed — and a little-known fact about its deeds.

In the late 1800s, train tracks for the New York, New Haven & Hartford Rail Road tracks sliced through what today would be considered prime property.

Laying those tracks was a back-breaking effort. The physical power was provided by thousands of men, who immigrated to America from all parts of Italy.

When their work was done, some of those laborers settled close to the tracks in Saugatuck. They built a tight-knit community — as well as churches, stores, a vital small business economy, and their own homes. Some still remain.

Families with names like Vento, Stroffolino, Cribari, Nistico, Anastasia, Luciano, Sarno, Caruso, Fabbraio, Pascarella, Penna, Giunta, Valiante — and many more — settled in Saugatuck, and helped it grow.

They built all of Westport, as barbers, stone masons, restaurateurs, store owners, carpenters, police officers, firefighters, town employees, lawyers, teachers, and in many other professions.

In the 1920s — when Italian immigrants made Saugatuck a thriving community — Esposito’s gas station stood on Charles Street. Today it’s Tarry Lodge.

Three and four generations later, many of their namesakes still live in Saugatuck, or elsewhere in town.

In the mid-1950s, another transportation revolution plowed through town: I-95 (known then as the Connecticut Turnpike).

Many of the same families who had forged the railway built the new highway system. It was a source of national pride — but also a massive disruption to the lives of those living in its path.

Churches, stores, meeting places, roads and many homes were demolished.  Westport’s Italian community was bisected. Roads like Indian Hill and Hiawatha Lane were cut in half by the highway. Longtime neighbors were suddenly displaced.

I-95 under construction. The photo — looking east — shows the toll booth near Exit 17, with Hiawatha Lane on the right. The Saugatuck River bridge is in the distance.

But some Westport philanthropists saw what was happening. The area between the rail tracks and I-95 — today known as Hiawatha Lane and Extension, Davenport Avenue and Indian Hill Road — was subdivided into parcels. They were then deeded to many of the displaced Saugatuck families, for as little as $1.

Julia Bradley deeded most of those properties, which still stand today. The Bradley family put a specific restriction on each deed. It stated that each house should remain in perpetuity, as one single-family house on each plot.

Ever since, the neighborhood has remained a unique place, providing affordable, low-cost home ownership.

Of the 187 units proposed by Summit Saugatuck LLC, only 30 percent are deemed “affordable” by state Department of Housing standards. They will be small 1- and 2-bedroom rentals — replacing the homes that are there today.

Sixty years after the turnpike came through, many longtime families and close neighbors who have lived next to it may again be displaced.

Hiawatha Lane Proposal Withdrawn — For Now

First Selectman Jim Marpe announced today that Summit Saugatuck is withdrawing its application to the Water Pollution Control Authority for a sewer extension to Hiawatha Lane Extension.

However, the attorney for the developer — who had hoped to build 186 housing units on the property abutting I-95 exit 17 — said that this does not mean Summit is abandoning its development plans. A new application will be filed soon.

Marpe said, “I was pleased to receive this letter. The report the town commissioned from Weston & Sampson engineers clearly showed the limits to the pump station serving this area. I hope that Summit will take this opportunity to reconsider the scope of its proposal.”

Hiawatha Lane extension is shown by an arrow, on this Google Map image. It's below I-95. The entrance is via West Ferry Lane, which is off Saugatuck Avenue (diagonal road on the right side of the image).

Hiawatha Lane extension is shown by an arrow, on this Google Map image. It’s below I-95. The entrance is via West Ferry Lane, which is off Saugatuck Avenue (diagonal road on the right side of the image).