Tag Archives: Westport Community Gardens

200 Petitioners To P&Z: Long Lots School, Baseball Field Are 2 Separate Issues

Two prominent Westporters — former State Representative Ken Bernhard, and attorney Larry Weisman — have followed the Long Lots Elementary School building project with interest.

Today they delivered a letter to the Planning & Zoning Commission, with copies to the Board of Finance, Board of Selectwomen, and RTM moderator.

In it, they ask the P&Z to treat 2 components of the project — the school building itself, and the baseball field that may replace the current Westport Community Gardens — as separate issues, rather than one.

The letter has been signed by nearly 200 residents. They include Democrats, Republicans, and former members of bodies like the Board of Education, Board of Finance and RTM.

The letter says:

Dear Planning and Zoning Commissioners,

With respect to the administration’s decision to replace the Community Gardens with a Babe Ruth-sized playing field, many in town feel that good governance and fair play have not received their due.

Advocates for additional playing fields, including the administration and its handpicked committee, have prevailed notwithstanding complaints by other legitimate stakeholders that the process was flawed on multiple levels.

Even requests for a second look by the Public Site & Building Commission (designated by the Town Charter as the “school building committee”) have been denied, despite the obvious value of review at no cost to the town by an independent body with expertise and experience in construction and development of similar projects.

The Long Lots School Project has two distinct and independent components: 1. demolition and reconstruction of the school, and 2. construction of a playing field on the adjacent town-owned property now occupied by the Community Gardens.

Letter writers say that the construction of a new Long Lots Elementary School …

The matter will soon come before the Planning & Zoning Commission upon the request of the administration for a single 8-24 review, on the mistaken assumption that the two parts should or must be treated as one even though they involve two separate and distinct uses on two separate pieces of land.

We believe that it is a mistake to treat the two components as one because the P&Z can only either approve or disapprove an 8-24 request; it cannot modify the submission or impose conditions upon its implementation.

… is a discussion separate from the future of the Westport Community Gardens.

The effect of treating these disparate uses on unrelated sites as one is to limit the ability of the P&Z to evaluate each of the components of this project on its own merits and perhaps to approve of one while disapproving of the other.

Furthermore, after reviewing the relevant documentation, several qualified observers with considerable expertise and real-world construction experience firmly believe that there is adequate land on the school site to accommodate both a new school, (including staging and storage during construction), and a playing field without encroaching upon the adjacent site occupied by the gardens. To date however, those opinions have not been heard because those holding them have not been afforded an opportunity for meaningful participation in the decision-making process.

In view of the aforesaid, we respectfully request that the P&Z either encourage the administration to submit two 8-24 requests acknowledging the separate components of the project or, failing that, that it issues a negative 8-24 report on a submission that combines the two severable components.

Respectfully submitted,
Ken Bernhard, Larry Weisman

Other signers:

Ken Wirfel                            Elle Lowenstein                  Sybil Steinberg

Bob Jacobs                           Mimi Greenlee                    Dave Matlow

Dede McDowell                  Mike Guthman                    Jo Ann Davidson

Lucy Johnson                       Sandra Urist                         Diane Wildman

Rick Benson                         Jane Jessup                          Mike Szeto

Nancy Vener                        Janine Scotti                        Pietro Scotti

Andrew Coleman               Relly Coleman                     Jeff Nevill

Yulee Aronson         Mary-Lou Weisman                       John Paul

Lynn Paul                  Valerie Szeto                                   Sam Levenson

Don Bergman          Carolanne Curry                             Diane Bosch

Eric Bosch                 Bill Klein                                            Idalia Rodriquez

Larry Kleinman        Kate McGarvey                               Jean-Pierre Montillier

Brian McGarvey     Phil Glick                                           Sara Glick

James Mather         Jesse Harte                                      James Brown

Dalma Heyn             Shelia Smith                                     Mary-Claire Grosgogeat

Mark Steckel           Ellen Winnick                                  Willian Anderson

Linda Mak Chin       Ethan Chin                                       Edward Chin

Sally Kleinman        Allegra Gottizemel                         Elizabeth Duvall

Lee Wrubel              David Meth                                      Linda Pryele

Mathew Sagal         Linda Kowalsky                               Morgaine Pauker

William Berson       Gene Byrne                                      Art Gang

Debra Smolka          Ed Smolka                                        Jane Jacobs

Emily Jacobs            Gavin Broady                                   Chuck Greenlee

Lori Meinke              Theresa Roth                                   Eric Friedland

Ann Matlow            Sari Bodi                                           Deborah Press

Michael Press          Eleanor Spangler                            Douglas Spangler

Susie Anderson      Irmgard Gwilliam                           Al Gwilliam

Lori Hammer           Pamela Davis                                   Jeff Gershowitz

Will Hamilton          Marc Fischer                                    Jean Pierre Montillier

Sara Montillier        Sara Montillier                                Maura Keenan

Peter Keenan           Patricia Boyle                                  Edward Boyle

Alec Head                 George Waterman                         Mary Sue Waterman

Benjamin Head       Marguerite Webb                          Phyllis Freeman

Joseph Wiles           Michelle Wiles                                Joyce Barnhart

Nancy Gentile         Andrew Gentile                              Amy Unikewicz

Leslie Meredith       Chris Grimm                                    Miriam Roth

Julie Cook                 Peter Cook                                       Alison Freeland

Ellie Tsurdinis          Margaret Freeland                        Tim Simons

Kataryna Parciak    Christopher Clanton                      Ester Clanton

Orly Angerthal        Julie O’Grady                                   Martin O’Grady

Liam O’Grady          Terrie Langer                                   Chris Singer

Steven Chin             Pam Barkentin                                Marjorie Donalds

Lous Weinberg        Cris Haggerty                                  Erin Loranger

Laureen Haynes      Melody Ware                                  Paddy Duecy

Pat Duecy                 Mickael Beebe                                Netta Levy

Sally Kleinman        Jacque Masumian                          Monique Nebelung

Greg Rosen              Jeff Schorer                                      Edward Saenz

Karen La Costa        Zuzana Daure                                  Eric Daure

Susan Poretta         Peter Swift                                       Leslie Gransberry

Kathleen Kiley         Cynthia Mindell-Wong                 Martha Corneck

Hayes Clark              Clare Clark                                        Laura Schwartz

Josh Schwartz         Phillip Schemel                               Alexander Jinishian

Megan Will             Tim Cook

Nancy Lewis            Greg Wolfe                                      Mayann Alley

Yun Mai                    Lewis Bellardo                                 Julietta Bellardo

Joe Mackiewicz       Kim Mackiewicz                             Nancy Sinclaire

Glen Hodes                                                   Kathleen Wauchope

[OPINION] “The Garden Makes Me A New Person. Who Is Talking For Us?”

Toni Simonetti — a Westport resident for 23 years — is a transplant from Detroit, by way of New York City. She and her husband Jeff Neville live near downtown with their goldendoodle Max.

She loves spending time with town elders, playing bridge, and gardening. That last passion led her to Town Hall Monday night, for the Parks & Recreation Commission meeting about Long Lots Elementary School and the future of the Westport Community Gardens. 

She writes:

Westport has about 27,000 residents, and 52% are over the age of 45 years. A quarter of our town’s population is over the age of 60, while children ages 5-15 account for about 13% of the town’s residents.

Yet some fuzzy math used by the town declared that there are 11,000 “participants” who use the town’s athletic fields.

Fuzzy math notwithstanding, you cannot deny the town’s demographic. We have a lot of “old people.”

So what, you say?

Alfred Gwilliam has gardened at Plot 29 in the Westport Community Gardens for as many years as I can remember. I walk past him every time I go to the garden; mine is just a few plots down. He is always there, tending flowers, gooseberries and blackberries.

Irmgard and Alfred Gwilliam, at the Community Gardens. (Photo/Toni Simonetti)

Earlier this year, he said it was becoming difficult to tend the entire 10’ x 40’ plot. He is, after all, 90 years old, and he had just had a pacemaker implanted.

But he was not willing to give up gardening, so he worked the plot as best he could. As one of the garden co-chairs of membership, I suggested he reduce his plot size by half, which might make it more manageable.

“I can do that?” he asked.  “I don’t want to give it up, but I didn’t know I could keep just half.”

One quick phone call to my partner in membership, Laura Riguzzi, and it was settled.

On Monday evening, October 30, Alfred and his wife of 58 years, Irmgard, found their way to Westport Town Hall. They were there to support the gardens, and to hear if the Parks & Recreation Commission would really vote to destroy them.

As the meeting swelled with this baseball dad, that soccer mom, other young mothers and fathers of school age children, and town staff describing the difficulty they have scheduling all those games, the Gwilliams took it in.

“We need more soccer fields. We need the baseball field. We have children. They need sports. The children need the fields. The children need a school. The children need our help. This is a family town, and we are all about the children.”

Other gardeners were there too, giving their usual raft of reasons why the town is making misguided decisions to bury the gardens. The usual cadre of abutting neighbors were there again, still worried about water, lights, noise and traffic in their quiet neighborhood.

Some speakers at the Parks & Recreation Commission meeting talked about issues with nearby Muddy Brook. (Photo/Peter J. Swift0

The matter was being pushed through the artifice of a public meeting, with an appointed body that has no authority whatsoever on building a school or approving land use requests.

German-born Irmgard is not a public speaker. She was there “because I love the garden.” She told me of the difficult year she has had with caregiving her beloved sister who has dementia, and worrying about Alfred and his health issues. Her daughter succumbed to cancer recently.

“With all of this on my plate, the garden is where I go to find peace and beauty … ever since I was a child in Bavaria. I wasn’t there to speak,” she told me later.

“I knew the decision had already been made, but I couldn’t help it.

“I saw this beautiful young woman, talking about her 3 sons and how they need the field. How much they needed it,” she said.

“It was too much for me. I need the garden. My husband needs the garden. The weight of it all — I had to say something.”

She raised her hand to speak, then made her way to the podium. Immaculately dressed and coifed with bright pink lipstick, she silenced the room with her smile.

Her well-spoken English was flavored with a German accent; her voice, delicate and fragile.

“Thank you for an interesting and incredible meeting. It is amazing. It is my first time here. I have lived here 53 years and raised 2 children here,” she began.

“It is amazing what is being said. What I have to say is just a footnote.

“But no one knows the pleasure, the mental health that I get from the garden.  When I am ‘out of it’ I go to the garden, and I am a new person.

The Westport Community Gardens are a sanctuary for many. (Photo/Karen Mather)

“We are talking tonight about the children, and yes, yes, the children need everything.

“But who is talking for us; who is talking for us and for our garden?” She repeated the word children several times, with some trepidation.

“These are big, big issues. My husband, he is born an Englishman, American now, and he is very ill. He goes to the garden every day. It makes him live. So, who is talking about us; who is talking about the old people and the pleasure we get from the garden?”

I was literally in tears.

The chair of the committee thanked her for her comments. Shortly thereafter he read his prepared statement about how this is a town for children.

Tears welled up again.  I got up and left the meeting.

On my way out, as the chair droned on about how great the Parks & Rec facilities are, I rushed passed Jen Tooker. She sat in the dark, in the back of the auditorium, as is her habit.

She glanced at me. I glanced back.  I hoped she was listening.

But I worried she was not.

RTM Moderator: Gardeners Will Have Their Say — Later

As the Long Lots Elementary School project moves forward, a group of residents want their voices heard by the Representative Town Meeting.

That will happen, moderator Jeff Wieser says.

But not by petition.

On Tuesday, Lou Weinberg — chair of the Westport Community Gardens, which may be forced to move if a new baseball diamond is built on its current location — submitted a petition signed by 37 electors to the Town Clerk.

It requested a chance to present to the RTM “the history and current status of the Westport Community Gardens and Town Preserve.”

Citing “the largest capital expenditure in Westport’s history,” the petitioners said: “We believe it is incumbent upon the RTM members to have a full understanding of the consequences of a project of this magnitude.”

Wieser — who as moderator decides the monthly agenda — said in an email to the 36 RTM members yesterday:

You will see that this petition is asking for time at an upcoming RTM meeting to present an update on the history and current status of the Westport  Community Gardens and Long Lots Preserve. This request is very similar to the one delivered this summer by the citizens concerned with the path of the Parker Harding discussions.

As I did in deciding that the presentation previously requested was not an issue within the RTM’s purview, I have decided not to bring this new petition to the RTM. Since that earlier stance, which was supported by the Town Attorney, we have had long and public conversations about how to review such requests by electors. In a subsequent petition meant to clarify how that should occur,  82% of the RTM has voted that discretion in this regard is appropriate.

I am alerting you to this decision so that you are aware and, if you object, to remind the RTM that the body has a clear – and welcomed – opportunity to overrule my decision within the confines of the next meeting.

I also point out that we will most probably be considering $1,000,000+ funding at November’s meeting for the design of the new school. There will be ample opportunity at that meeting and at many, many more public meetings for proponents of the gardens to comment on the situation.

I think all are aware that as a gardener at my beloved plot #146, I am not indifferent to the outcome of this debate. But as moderator I will continue to be moderate; to stay away from the fray and let the town’s process, which is a very good process, run its course.

I don’t wish to start a debate. If you have comments or objections, please communicate individually with me or others.

 

[OPINION] Issue Is Not “Gardens Or School”; It’s “Gardens AND School”

Yesterday, Representative Town Meeting member Seth Braunstein told “06880” that after careful examination, he now supports the Long Lots School Building Committee’s decision to adopt “Option C,” for a new structure.

Westport Community Gardens chair Lou Weinberg responds:

A new Long Lots Elementary School can and should be built while preserving, in their current location, the Westport Community Gardens and the Long Lots Preserve. Nobody is trying to delay or stop a new school from being built. This is not a Gardens or school issue. This is a Gardens and school issue.

We understand that you’ve been given a lot of information by the Long Lots School Building Committee. They have expertise in architecture and engineering, and were appointed by our First Selectwoman. They have volunteered a lot of their own time, and that is to be commended.

To those who believe that the main focus of the Long Lots project should be the kids: You’re right.

The LLSBC was tasked with getting a new school built. They are not a land-use planning committee. The decision to place a ballfield over the Gardens and part of the Long Lots Preserve came from them. It was not part of the Board of Education specifications that were given to them. The proposed ballfield will not serve the educational or physical needs of the Long Lots students.

The decision to put a ballfield over the Gardens has been in the works for many months. We know that the LLSBC has been involved in this decision through communications with the Parks & Recreation Department and other athletic groups in town.

The Long Lots School Building Committee’s recommendation for a new school.

While we don’t know the full extent of what discussions took place, we know that the Westport Soccer Association has been significantly involved to the point of offering money to Parks & Rec to ensure that synthetic turf get added to the project to increase their field usage.

We know that our Parks Department, under Jennifer Fava, has been working to get a ballfield located at Long Lots, at the expense of the 20 year old WCG and parts of the LL Preserve. It is hurtful, and we believe it is wrong.

If the First Selectwoman believes it’s possible to create a bigger/better community garden at Baron’s South, she can certainly locate the ballfield there. It’s centrally located and more convenient for everyone in town.

The artificial turf proposed for the ballfield would not exacerbate the flooding experienced by the neighbors adjacent to the Gardens. Those neighbors would also be unaffected by the lights and the noise.

Additionally the traffic, which will undoubtedly get worse in the Long Lots neighborhood, would be somewhat mitigated. Instead of having a new garden created on questionable soil, the questionable soil can be covered with artificial turf, without disturbing it, and satisfying a need for a new ballfield in town. That is a solution where everyone wins.

The Long Lots Building Committee recommended this site at Baron’s South for the relocated Westport Community Gardens. (Photo/Morley Boyd)

The decree that the Gardens are going to be destroyed anyway, because they are part of a construction site and probable staging area, was made by the LLSBC at the 11th hour.

What would this committee do if there were 4 homes located where the Gardens are? They would find a way to get a school built. They would find staging areas elsewhere, like Baron’s South or the Sherwood Island connector, or they would maximize efficiencies on site.

There has been no peer review of the options generated by the LLSBC for this $100 million dollar project, and now we are shoving this option through the town governing bodies at a rapid clip.

Covering the Gardens with a ballfield, especially an artificial turf field, would be environmentally devastating. It goes against everything we are trying to teach our kids about being good stewards of the environment.

The Westport Community Gardens and LL Preserve are nationally awarded, first-in-class properties. They are models of sustainability and environmental stewardship. They are unique ecological gems in Westport. The biodiversity in these 4 acres is the result of 20 years of carefully tending to the land. We have cleared the land, removed the garbage, eradicated invasive plants that were devastating the property, and planted hundreds of native trees, shrubs and wildflowers. The Garden is an organic acre of native trees, shrubs, and thousands of perennials. It is home to literally thousands of native bees and other important pollinators, insects and birds.

The WCG membership (120 families representing approximately 300 residents) has a significant portion of older residents. The Gardens provide them with one of the best passive recreational activities known.

The offer to create a new community garden at Baron’s South to make it more convenient for our seniors rings hollow. A new garden there would still not be within walking distance of the Senior Center. Many of our older members will not be willing to put in the incredible amount of work it will take to build a new garden. We don’t need any new amenities. A Port-a-Potty has served us just fine for the last 20 years.

Westport Community Gardens.

The WCG is a community that has developed over 20 years. It is vibrant, active, and does not just serve the garden members themselves. We donate food through Grow a Row, support the Westport Garden Club and work together with Eagle Scouts. We have partnered with the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, SLOBS, and over 20 businesses and nonprofit agencies to create this magical place.

Hundreds of individuals have donated $40,000 and labored to create the Long Lots Preserve. We provide a phenomenal opportunity for Westport Public Schools to partner with us in a number of different areas, including their environmental education curriculum as dictated by state standards.

Imagine that there were 20 community gardens in town and one ballfield, built by hand and maintained for 20 years by the sports community. If one of the gardens was going to be displaced, would we all agree that the ballfield should be destroyed so we don’t lose a garden? No. We wouldn’t do that. It wouldn’t be right.

We believe any other town in America would celebrate and protect what Westporters have created here.

Thank you.

Roundup: Traffic, Garden, “The Exorcist” …

We expected the worst all weekend.

“The slide” — the simultaneously high-tech and low-tech effort to replace the aging I-95 Saugatuck Avenue bridge with a new one, constructed alongside it — began Friday afternoon.

Dire warnings of gridlock aside, traffic flowed smoothly through Westport Friday night. And all day Saturday. And Sunday morning.

Anyone who expected a long journey on the Post Road, or through Saugatuck, zipped right along.

Until yesterday afternoon.

Suddenly, things were as bad as we’ve ever seen. The Post Road was jammed for miles, and drivers were not playing nice. Running red lights, blocking side streets, pulling into oncoming traffic — if there was a way to be a jerk, they found it.

Meanwhile, Waze and similar apps were routing drivers through parts of Westport that seldom see traffic, like Gorham Avenue and Hermit Lane. Hermit Lane!

The bizarre thing is: “The slide” was completed far earlier than expected. By mid-afternoon yesterday, the new bridge was in place.

The state Department of Transportation send out this message:

So yeah, we survived “the slide.”

Now we just have to do it all over again, 2 weeks from now.

The other side of the bridge is not going to move itself. (Hat tip: Susan Iseman)

==================================================

Michael Beebe reports from the Westport Community Gardens:

“Despite the soggy weather and the pall cast by the Long Lots School Building Committee recommendation, our final workday of the 2023 gardening season was Saturday,

“24 volunteers cleaned up the garden grounds, and made them ready for winter.  We are all hopeful that come spring, we will be readying our plots for planting our seedlings, as we have for 20 years.

Erin and Steve Loranger, getting the Community Garden ready for winter.

“In many ways it was business as usual. But between loads of wood chips, there

was a lot of discussion of the town’s decision to destroy the hard work of this hearty community.

“We even had a couple of visitors: a Long Lots parent and her kindergarten daughter. They wanted to learn more about the garden, in light of the controversy. The mom seemed concerned that the controversy about the garden was holding up construction of the school.

“I pointed out that the actual debate is about sports fields vs the garden. In fact, the LLSBC had an option which left the garden right where it was — proving that the garden itself is not an obstacle to a timely start. They just chose a different option.”

Michael sent photos of “a cheerful crew doing what we have always done: getting fresh air, working together as a community, and keeping the gardens beautiful.”

Volunteering at the Community Gardens work day (from left): Andrew Giangrave, Julie O’Grady, Teresa Roth, Franco Fellah, Patty Duecy, Pipa Ader.

==================================================

Just after 4 p.m. yesterday, Westport Police were alerted to a boating incident, with missing people.

Sometime after 9:30 a.m., a small fishing boat anchored on the south side of Cockenoe Island sank, in choppy waters.

There were 5 people on the small vessel; all ended up in Long Island Sound.  The Westport Police Marine Unit rescued 3. Assisted by the US Coast Guard Marine and Air Units, Norwalk and Fairfield Police Marine Divisions, and Suffolk County Air Unit, they searched for the other 2.

The 2 missing men are from Spring Valley and Suffern, New York.  A significant language barrier hampered ability to identify the missing men.  Police are working with translators during the investigation.

Any boaters near Cockenoe Island between 9:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. yesterday are asked to call the Westport Police Department: 203-341-6000.

=================================================

This marks the 50th anniversary of the release of “The Exorcist.”

It’s hard to remember now, but reaction to the film was vehement. Much of it centered around Regan, the girl who was possessed (and whose head swiveled completely around, and who spewed green vomit and did unspeakable things with a crucifix).

Come to think of it, maybe that reaction wasn’t so unpredictable.

Regan was played by Linda Blair. A 14-year-old Staples High School student who had been working as a model and actress since she was 6, she was chosen from  600 others for the role.

Blair earned a Golden Globe Award, was nominated for an Oscar — and received death threats for her “blasphemy.” (She also dated Rick Springfield who, age 25, was 10 years older.)

All of that background is because yesterday’s New York Times included a 50-year retrospective of “The Exorcist.” Three critics assess the film’s impact, then and now. Click here to read. (Hat tip: Fred Cantor)

Linda Blair in “The Exorcist.”

==================================================

“06880” often celebrates Westport’s rich history. We honor homeowners who preserve the past, while enhancing their neighborhoods by giving new life to old properties.

Which is why our first-ever “Historic Homes of 06880” house tour is so special. On Sunday, November 5 (2 to 5 p.m.), you’ll have a chance to check out 4 of our town’s oldest, most interesting homes.

The go-at-your-own-pace tour includes:

  • 29 North Avenue, the fascinating tiny 1700s home that Annette Norton has lovingly restored
  • 39 Cross Highway, the handsome remodeled house at the corner of Weston Road that recently won a preservation award
  • 190 Cross Highway, the intriguing barn/artists’ studio that the British passed on their way to burn the Danbury arsenal, and
  • 6 Old Hill Road, the 1707 home that was lovingly restored after a 2-year renovation project.

Homeowners, members of “06880”‘s board of directors, and our friends from KMS Team at Compass will point out cool aspects of each home. We’ll answer questions. You’ll get a brochure explaining the 4 houses too.

Tickets are $60 each, $100 for 2. Proceeds help fund “06880”‘s work — which, as always, chronicles Westport’s past, present and future.

Click here for tickets. It’s our “Donate” page. Please note “Historic Homes of ‘06880’” with your order.

29 North Avenue

==================================================

A large crowd enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s StoryFest lecture on Friday.

It also doubled as the fall 2023 Malloy Lecture in the Arts. The twice-annual event was endowed by Susan Malloy.

But who was she?

Before Gaiman spoke, Ann Sheffer — Malloy’s niece — gave some insights into the woman who devoted her life the arts, libraries, and Westport (and who would have been 100 years this coming February 28):

Ann said:

“Susan was my mother’s younger sister. They, their brother and their parents started coming to Westport in the early 1930s. In 1935 they bought a 1790 house on Cross Highway.

“My parents moved to Westport in the early 1950s, and Susan and family moved here in the early ’60s. They were all deeply enmeshed in the political, educational and cultural life of our community.

“Susan studied at the Art Students League after college. In Westport she a studio in her house, and painted every day – between carpooling, PTA meetings, and working to create the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection and Arts Center, among other Westport institutions. She also created birdhouses for the Project Return auction.

“In our family, a common theme was a love of libraries. My grandfather, an immigrant who dropped out of school after 8th grade, loved books, bought libraries at estate sales and gave them away. He endowed libraries, including this one, through his Tudor Foundation.

“The Malloy Lecture represents the convergence of all of Susan’s interests and talents.”

Susan Malloy

==================================================

The Staples High School boys soccer team is enjoying a banner year. They head into this week’s FCIAC playoffs, and next month’s state tournament, as the #2 team in Connecticut.

To keep their program on top — and pay for things like assistant coaches, field maintenance and more — they’re running an online auction.

Items include a ski house, cooking classes, boat trips, Broadway tickets and more.

Click here to see all the items, and bid. The auction ends next Sunday (October 29, 10 p.m.).

The 2023 Staples boys varsity, JV and freshman teams. (Photo/Mark Sikorski)

=================================================

Today’s “Westport … Naturally” image — of last of the fall” dahlias — comes courtesy of Peter J. Swift (and the Westport Community Gardens).

(Photo/Peter J. Swift)

==================================================

And finally … as we celebrate “The Exorcist”‘s 50th anniversary (story above):

(Welcome to another week of “06880”: your hyper-local blog. Every week, we rely on reader support. Please click here to help. Thank you!)

Roundup: StoryFest, Flags, Kraken …

In the wake of the Board of Education’s 4-2 vote against keeping the Westport Community Gardens at their present Long Lots Elementary School location, Republican BOE candidates Jamie Fitzgerald and Camilo Riano issued this statement:

“If we were seated members of the Board of Education, we each would have supported the amended motion regarding the preservation of the community gardens that was defeated 4-2 on Thursday, October 19. We believe Board of Education members have an obligation to take a holistic view of all decisions and the impact they have on all Westport constituents.”

==================================================

On Thursday, a Westport resident placed a lone Israel flag on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge.

On Friday, it was replaced by dozens of flags, of a wide variety of nations.

(Photo/Tracy Porosoff)

Nothing nefarious was going on. The town of Westport was not trying to make a political statement.

The flags of world nations go up every year at this time, on the span named for the Westporter who spent her life volunteering for the United Nations (and started our town’s jUNe Day welcoming tradition, over 50 years ago).

The flags go up twice a year: on jUNe Day in the summer, and for UN Day. The holiday marking the founding of the organization is Tuesday.

Back to Israel: Today’s candlelight vigil supporting safe return of the hostages taken by Hamas is tonight (Sunday), 6 to 6:45 p.m. on Jesup Green. Attendees are asked to bring real or electric candles (in case of wind).

=================================================

Matthew Van Gessel returned to the Westport stage last night.

As he did throughout his Staples Players career, the 2011 graduate played a psychologically fraught character, with outstanding depth and nuance.

Van Gessel was one half of the cast of “Gentle Hacksaw.” The drama — combining religion, identity and violence — had its world premier staged reading as part of the Westport Library’s 6th annual StoryFest.

The event continues today (Sunday) with a TeachRock Workshop, Pink or Treat Halloween parade with children’s author Victoria Kann, and pitchfest for authors. Click here for details.

Matthew Van Gessel (left) and Ahmad Maksoud on the Westport Library stage. (Photo/Dan Woog)

==================================================

The Saugatuck River is usually pretty mellow.

Yesterday morning though, Michael Mossman spotted the Kraken, not far from shore:

(Photo/Michael Mossman)

==================================================

This weekend was Staples High’s Homecoming.

Kimberly Paris — whose “Signs of Happiness” often supports school events — offered this:

PS: Despite the weather, Homecoming was a success. The Wrecker football team beat Stamford, 21-10.

==================================================

Today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo comes courtesy of Betsy Amitin. She writes:

“With so many atrocities all over the news, I am trying to shift my focus to notice sweet spot small moments that give me comfort or joy throughout the day.

“Looking out my kitchen window on yet another soggy fall day, I noticed this squirrel had found shelter from the downpour underneath our outdoor table umbrella. It cracked me up.

“It stood there a while, seeming as though it too was taking a quick break from the heaviness surrounding it.”

(Photo/Betsy Amitin)

==================================================

And finally … speaking of the Kraken (story above):

(The Kraken may be a myth. But “06880” is very real. So is our reliance on readers’ support. Please click here to help. Thank you!) 

[OPINION] RTM Member: Feasibility Study Made Me Favor Long Lots Plan

Seth Braunstein is a Representative Town Meeting member from District 6, and chair of the RTM Finance Committee.

After 2 visits to the Long Lots Elementary School property, his views on the future of the Westport Community Gardens have changed. He now supports the Long Lots School Building Committee’s recommendation to relocate the gardens.

Seth writes:  

Sometimes beauty is in the eye of the beholder. You might like one thing, yet I may favor another. Opportunities for interpretation or differing appreciation exist and can be celebrated. However, we can all agree that the Community Gardens and Preserve are beautiful and valuable town assets.

Feasibility generally isn’t something that is open to the same subjective interpretation.

Last Sunday morning I joined roughly 25 other concerned Westport citizens for a formal tour of the Long Lots School property hosted by a majority of the Long Lots School Building Committee.

The LLSBC began the tour by leading the assembled group from the south end of the property where the beautiful Community Gardens and Preserve are located to the north end of the property across various athletic fields (soccer and baseball) spread across 2 distinct property tiers, then to the west side of the property where wilderness (thankfully no poison ivy was encountered) and catch basins and a stream exist amidst a steeply declining grade as the property terminates back behind Harvest Commons.

Part of the Long Lots Elementary School campus. The Community Gardens (not shown) are south of the school. (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)

I am convinced that all parties involved in the hotly debated issues surrounding the question of build new vs. renovate come to this difficult decision with only the best of intentions. I am certain that the Board of Education, the LLSBC and first selectwoman are earnest in their desire to come up with the best solution possible for our community. None of these dedicated public servants have any “nefarious intent” and none of them want to have an outcome here that results in something that would fall short of the high standards our town demands. None of these people deserve the ad hominem attacks they have been subjected to.

I am also certain that supporters of the Community Gardens have sound arguments for why their 2 decades of investment in this property leave them hopeful that their interests and the reality of a new school can effectively coexist with the Garden remaining in its existing footprint. In fact, as a concerned member of the community (and an elected RTM member) I was convinced that this mutually beneficial outcome would be highly likely.

Having now had the benefit of a well detailed explanation for the reasoning behind the LLSBC support of the option they are recommending, along with a firsthand view of the property’s limitations, my view of what is feasible has changed. I had visited the Gardens a couple of months ago at the invitation of a member and at the time struggled to see why the two could not co-exist.

Now I understand why. This is a relatively small piece of property that is already crowded. The LLSBC has worked for months and hosted numerous meetings focused on what can be done to fit all of the existing puzzle pieces together so that all of the various constituencies represented on this property can walk away happy. This has been a huge task (did I mention they are all volunteers?).

The LLSBC has had to consider not just how to build a new school on this cramped property but also, most importantly, how to make sure the children in the existing school can continue to receive the best education possible while in the middle of a construction zone for the roughly two years the project will take to complete.

The committee has considered everything from how buses will enter the property, how parents who prefer to drop their students off will approach the building, where teachers and others working in the school will park, how all of the athletic and outdoor leisure time activities can continue and how to do all of this while minimizing the inevitable disruption that a project of this scale will pose to the neighborhood.

They have also been clear in their desire to consider Westport’s intent to increase sustainability which would require a series of geothermal wells to also occupy the site in the future to increase the energy efficiency of the new building.

Parking and bus loops are considerations in designing a new school. 

Under the best of circumstances (and this property does not meet that standard due space limitations, as well as grade and drainage concerns) a project of this magnitude requires significant staging areas. Take a moment to think about things like building materials (steel, brick, windows, etc.), heavy equipment (tractors, backhoes, forklifts), workspaces (construction trailers, bathrooms), large quantities of soil and other materials (to help correct grades and support foundations), not to mention parking for the sizable construction crew. When considering the requisite staging areas, the difficult job of putting this complicated puzzle together becomes untenable.

No one wants to displace the Community Gardens. No one has made a decision to sacrifice this wonderful town resource, but when considering where the flexibility in planning this project falls it is obvious that the school (a $100 million+ investment that will further help burnish our well-regarded school district) must take the highest priority.

Some have chosen to frame this unfortunate circumstance as the Gardens vs. the school or the Gardens vs. town leadership or the BOE. That simply does not reflect the reality of the situation. This really becomes a question of what is actually feasible on this property.

I choose to look at this as an optimization opportunity. Rather than trying to overcome the inherent limits associated with this crowded property, a better solution exists. In fact, it is a solution that has already been brought forth by the LLSBC itself. The Community Gardens could be moved to a portion of the Baron’s South property. While this will undoubtedly upset the supporters of the Community Gardens (and they have earned the right to be upset given the two decades of work they have invested in the current location) it might actually offer a better outcome long term for the Gardens and for the Town.

I have been a long-term supporter of preserving the rare open space left in Westport (check the voting record – I was adamantly opposed to a deal to develop Baron’s South for housing or for active uses), but placing the Community Gardens on a portion of the property could accomplish a number of desirable outcomes.

First, it would provide an environmentally positive usage of the land that would be consistent with the passive usage spirit of the current zoning (while drawing many more people to this vastly underutilized town jewel).

Second, it would actually provide the Gardens with a bigger space than is currently being utilized. I’d also add that the supporters of the Gardens have cited the number of seniors that have enjoyed the Gardens and moving the location to a spot in Baron’s South that would place them just a few steps from the Senior Center seems like a beneficial outcome. It is difficult for me to see how this wouldn’t be a classic win/win scenario.

The proposed site of the Community Gardens, at the Senior Center. (Photo/Morley Boyd)

Ultimately, the RTM will be presented with an appropriation request for this building project and the full range of issues associated with this property will be debated. From where I stand, legitimate questions exist around the status of the baseball field. The mandate for the LLSBC was to retain all existing school features and a baseball field is one of those features so it should be included in the new plans. However, any discussion of turf or lights or a vast increase in the scale and scope of a new field should be scrutinized.

I’d also add in closing that as an RTM member and chair of the RTM’s Finance Committee I would vote to have the town provide funding for the transition of the Gardens’ location (there may be a chance to maintain the Preserve in its current location). The Gardens are unquestionably one of Westport’s jewels and moving them to a spot where they can continue to grow and blossom, rather than exist in some sort of limbo amidst at least two years of construction, seems like a smart way forward.

Roundup: Long Lots, Community Gardens, Baron’s South …

In a lightning-quick meeting last night, the Long Lots School Building Committee voted formally to do what it had previously discussed: send to 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker the recommendation to build “Concept C,” an entirely new elementary school next to the present one.

However, the LLSBC added another recommendation: that the Westport Community Gardens (which will be displaced by a new baseball field) be relocated to Baron’s South, the town-owned property between Compo Road South and Imperial Avenue.

Meeting later last night in a long session, the Board of Education agreed 5-1 that plans for the new school follow from the educational specifications they approved last April.

Member Robert Harrington offered an amendment that would keep the Gardens at their present location, just south of the school. That motion failed 4-2, with Dorie Hordon joining Harrington.

The majority said that the gardens’ future is up to other bodies in town. The Board of Ed’s focus, they said, is on the school only, and moving ahead is imperative.

The Long Lots project must still be approved by several town bodies, including the Board of Finance, Conservation Commission and Representative Town Meeting.

The Baron’s South property, recommended by the Long Lots School Building Committee as the new site for the Westport Community Gardens. (Photo/Morley Boyd)

==================================================

The third time’s the charm.

That’s what WestportMoms banks on. Their twice-postponed 3rd annual Fall Festival is set for this Sunday (October 22), at the fields across from the Compo Beach playground.

Painters, sports, pumpkin decorating, hair tinsel, a magic show, bracelet making and more are all in store. All kids and families are welcome.

Bring layers, WestportMoms advise. It may be windy.

But get ready — finally — for some fun.

==================================================

Town-wide curbside leaf collection begins November 6.

All leaves must be placed in biodegradable paper bags near the curb of a town street by December 4 to guarantee pick-up. Residents on private streets must place their leaves behind the curb of an intersecting town roadway. Leaves placed in plastic bags will not be picked up,

Crews will complete pick-ups as schedules allow. For further information, call the Department of Public Works 203-341-1120), or click here.

Ready for pickup. (Photo/Scott Smith)

==================================================

The 180 Bayberry Lane yard waste site (behind the Aspetuck Health District) will extend its Saturday hours, from October 28 through December 4.

The extended Saturday hours are 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Westport residents with proof of residency may dump up to 6 30-gallon bags or containers full of leaves without a fee. Plastic bags are prohibited.

Any van, pickup or tag-along trailer exceeding the 6-bag limit will be charged $40 per load. Any vehicle or trailer larger than a conventional pickup with a 4-foot by 8-foot bed will be charged $90 per ton.

Any vehicles with a 9-foot body, or vehicles changed to significantly enlarge their factory design size, will be charged $90 per ton, estimated at 2 tons without weigh slip ($180).

Dump tickets must be purchased at Town Hall’s Public Works office weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., or by writing the Department of Public Works, 110 Myrtle Avenue, Westport, CT 06880.

Yard waste at 180 Bayberry Lane.

================================================

It’s pretty impressive for a high school golfer to shoot a 73.

It’s even more so when 2 do it.

Harrison Browne and Sawyer Dalzell tied for the individual title at yesterday’s FCIAC (Fairfield County Conference) championship, at Tashua Knolls in Trumbull.

Their 1-over-par rounds helped the Wreckers to a 1-stroke team title over Fairfield Warde.

Congratulations to them, teammates Gus Palmer (79), Philip Sullivan (82) and Chris Taylor (83), and coach Pete Caligiure. On to states!

FCIAC champion Staples High School boys golf team. (Hat tip and photo/The Ruden Report)

==================================================

Westport Police made 2 custodial arrests between October 11 and 18.

A woman was arrested for shoplifting at HomeGoods. A man was arrested for criminal trespass and disorderly conduct, after a domestic violence incident.

Police also issued these citations:

  • Failure to comply with state traffic commission regulations: 10 citations
  • Traveling unreasonably fast: 5
  • Operating an unregistered motor vehicle: 4
  • Failure to obey traffic control signals: 3
  • Speeding: 2
  • Passing a standing school bus: 1
  • Failure to drive in the proper lane: 1
  • Following too closely: 1
  • Operating a motor vehicle without a license: 1
  • Failure to insure a motor vehicle: 1
  • Operating a motor vehicle without minimum insurance: 1
  • Improper use of marker plates: 1
  • Possession of a vicious/barking dog: 1
  • Permitting a dog to roam: 1
  • Failure to comply with dog ownership regulations: 1

A Westport woman was charged with 3 dog violations. This is not that dog.

==================================================

Speaking of police … a reader writes:

“Commuting seems to have leveled off. Is there consideration to opening up some daily spaces in the railroad parking permit areas? Not to mention the boats parked there!”

Westport Police are in charge of railroad parking (among many other things). Chief Foti Koskinas notes that while Monday and Friday usage of lots is lower than pre-COVID, they are fairly full Tuesdays through Thursdays.

Deputy Chief Dave Farrell adds:

“The lot that stores the winterized boats is privately owned, and is not managed by the railroad parking division of the PD.

“Meanwhile, we constantly monito our lots and make changes as necessary. At this time, we will not be adding daily spots to permit lots.

“I encourage daily spot users to check out Lot 7 on Franklin Street. It’s a convenient lot that does not fill up, and has direct access to Riverside Avenue.

“Also, Lot 8 will soon be available for our daily spots as the I-95 project will wrap up within a month or so.”

Click on or hover over to enlarge this railroad station parking map.

================================================

Still speaking of driving:

David Meth waited yesterday patiently, with other drivers, in the southbound lane of Compo Road North by Winslow Park. As everyone knows, it can take a while to get to the Post Road.

One person couldn’t wait. This driver attempted to jump the line — with predictable results.

But wait! There’s more!

This very same driver — after finally reaching the Post Road (along with everyone else), and making a right turn — zoomed into Playhouse Square.

And — feeling entitled after waiting all that time — promptly grabbed not one but two parking spots, in the always-crowded lot.

(Photos/David Meth)

“Driving in this town is out of control, supplanted by entitlement, arrogance, rudeness, and unrelenting stupidity,” David observes.

======================================================

Then again, we should have some sympathy for drivers.

As this passenger shows, the wait for a light in Saugatuck can be really, really long.

(Photo/Werner Liepolt)

================================================

Elsewhere in Saugatuck, Renato’s Pizza has opened in the space previously occupied by Parker Pizza.

Click here for the menu, and more information.

(Photo/Werner Liepolt)

==============================================

Where do you go if your dad writes a new will right before he dies, leaving a sizeable fortune to the dog walker he met 3 months ago?

Where do you go if you want a schizophrenic family member committed to a hospital for treatment, or put under conservatorship to protect him from himself?

The answer to both questions is “Probate Court.” At this week’s lunch meeting, the Westport Rotary Club heard Lisa Wexler, Probate Court judge for Westport and Weston, discuss how she deals with issues like those every day.

Wexler called Probate Court “Family Court without the divorce.” She decides over 3,300 matters a year, many involving family members at each other’s throats. She noted that if her life was made into a TV show, it would be “’Parks and Recreation’ meets ‘Blue Bloods.’”

Probate Court Judge Lisa Wexler, at the Westport Rotary Club. (Photo/Dave Matlow)

=================================================

More than 6 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s. Next Friday (October 27 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.), the Westport Weston Family YMCA hosts a discussion by the Alzheimer’s Association’s Connecticut chapter.

The presentation will speak cover the Association’s resources, ways to get involved. healthy behaviors, Alzheimer’s impact on the workplace, its effects on caregivers, and more.

Everyone is welcome to attend. Questions? Email jsamuels@westporty.org.

==================================================

Say She She closed out the 2023 Levitt Pavilion concert season last night.

That’s a wrap: About 60 nights of free entertainment, under the stars.

The stars — well, the air — was a bit chilly last night. But it’s only a few months until the air will be warm again, and music will be back on the banks of the Saugatuck.

Say She She, at the Levitt Pavilion. (Photo/Dinkin Fotografix)

==================================================

It’s almost the weekend, so … rain.

But the weather this week was pretty good. Tracy Porosoff was in her garden, photographing beautiful sights like this for our “Westport … Naturally” daily feature.

(Photo/Tracy Porosoff)

==================================================

And finally … as the colors change, and the foliage blazes (though perhaps not this week), it’s time to remember Simon & Garfunkel’s classic tune:

Today, as always, “06880”‘s Roundup delivers a broad array of Westport-specific news and notes. If you rely on this coverage, please support our work. Click here — and thank you!)

[OPINION] Enrollment, Redistricting Should Be Part Of Long Lots Decision

Much has already been written about the proposal for a new Long Lots Elementary School.

Discussion has centered largely on the decision to place a new school on the current baseball field, and build a new diamond on the site of the Westport Community Gardens and Long Lots Preserve.

Less attention has been paid to another factor: the proposed size of the school, based on enrollment and possible redistricting.

Edie and Sam Anderson have live on Hyde Lane, next to Long Lots, since 1983. They sent this letter to 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker: 

As you consider the proposal made by the Long Lots School Building Committee, please keep in mind the many stakeholders in this decision including the students, neighboring property owners, homes affected by Muddy Brook flooding, Parks &Recreation programs, and the Community Garden.

This is a $100,000,000 generational decision that deserves more careful study, or at least fine tuning.

The LLSBC performed yeoman’s service, carefully studying a wide range of options for the location of the new vs renovated school, resulting in the proposed “Option C.”

The Long Lots School Building Committee recommended “Option C” for a new structure. 

This was based upon consideration of many stakeholders and an effort to meet the criteria laid out in the Educational Specs it was given by the Board of Education. Given this direction, the LLSBC did a good job.

However, the ed specs which are the foundation of the planning has troubling flaws.  Now that the preliminary study is complete, it is time to get the details correct.

The Board of Ed acknowledges the need to redistrict and utilize excess capacity in other schools, yet this was not reflected in the Ed Specs, which call for a 33% increase in enrollment far in excess of other Westport elementary schools and comparable surrounding towns.

At the Board of Ed meeting on January 23, 2023 (prior to the issuance of the ed specs), the imbalance between elementary and middle school populations was noted, and the need to redistrict was discussed.

The board indicated that 100+ students could be moved from Long Lots to other elementary schools, which have excess capacity. At this meeting the superintendent indicated that an elementary school should not exceed 600.  Despite this, the ed specs call for 687 elementary students and 98 pre-school students.

The current LL enrollment is 588. All the other Westport elementary schools range from 430 to 479 students.  In addition, post-COVID, Westport’s elementary school population has declined by 50 students. Total enrollment for all Westport schools and the entire state is also down.

This is relevant because reducing the base population of LL by 100+ via redistricting would result in enrollment of 488 (similar to other Westport elementary schools).

This would reduce the size and the cost of the new building, and would improve the quality of the environment for young children to be consistent with other Westport schools.

A quick survey of surrounding school districts shows enrollment around 450 students. Building a “right” sized elementary school would significantly reduce the traffic and improve the quality of life for all stakeholder—students and neighbors.

The current Long Lots Elementary School. (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)

Adding Stepping Stones to an already very large elementary school simply exacerbates the situation.

The Long Lots ed specs call for 687 elementary students, plus 96 Stepping Stones pre-school children, totaling an enrollment of 783. This is a 33% increase in students (not including the increase in teachers and support staff.) The question here is: How big is too big?

This plan is inconsistent with the enrollment of all other Westport elementary schools, as well as elementary schools in neighboring towns.

This significant increase in enrollment would interfere with the residential nature of the neighborhood, and result in more traffic and noise in an already very busy location.

The Long Lots campus is within a residential area, AA zoned. A 33% increase in traffic and noise will be significant, and disrupt the peaceful enjoyment of our neighborhood. I should also note that the Long Lots neighborhood hosts thousands of children each year, who use the fields as well as 100+ Community Gardeners.

The most favorable option for all stakeholders is concept B. It meets the ed specs, maintains the current buffers from neighbors and Muddy Brook, and preserves the fields, parking and Community Gardens.

The selection of Concept C for a new school is the recommendation made by the LLSBC to minimize the damage to as many stakeholders as possible.  However, the committee acknowledged that current building is ideally located in the center of the campus. This location provides the best possible buffer from the neighbors, while hosting 2 soccer fields, a multi-purpose field and the community garden. Further, the Long Lots campus is in an environmentally sensitive area with wetlands on and near the campus as well as nearby Muddy Brook.

Muddy Brook, after a recent rain. (Photo/Peter Swift)

Concept B vs concept C.  Renovating requires managing the project and student population while the school is in session.  Westport has done this successfully many times before.

It appears that the biggest objection to the renovation options is the inconvenience/difficultly of working around an operating school. This is not in-surmountable. It has been accomplished successfully many times in Westport,  Coleytown Middle School and Staples High being the most recent examples.

Earlier renovations (1990s) to Long Lots and Kings Highway were also managed successfully. (Our daughter graduated from Staples in 2006, and experienced all of the above renovations).

Cost and time vs. long-term benefit of a school that remains in the center of the campus is clear. Concept B would maintain the character of the neighborhood, and provide students with a new “neighborhood” elementary school which they deserve.

The prospect of 29 months vs. 18 months for this project is daunting for the Long Lots’ neighborhood. However, the 50-year benefits of a well-sited school that respects the quality of the neighborhood by maintaining the status quo seems like a good trade for a few extra months of construction disruption.

Redistricting and keeping the school at the center of the campus maintains the status quo for all stakeholders, while providing the Long Lots school community with a beautiful new facility which they will enjoy for 50+ years. Surely it is worth the time to take a harder look at creating the best school for all the stakeholders in the long term. Ultimately, this must be our goal.

Next steps:

  1. Develop the redistricting plan and revise the ed specs accordingly.
  2. Consider other options for Stepping Stones within the district.
  3. Thoroughly evaluate the environmental impact of moving the school
  4. The intersection of Hyde Lane and Long Lots Road has already been identified a problem — evaluate the impact of 33% more school related traffic.

At this point, we ask that the ed specs be revised, and serious consideration be given to “right” sizing this school to be optimal for the students and surrounding neighborhood.

It’s time to think outside the box and get the best plan on the table. For example, Weston, Darien and Greenwich have incorporated their pre-school classes within several elementary schools.

Certainly, utilizing excess capacity in existing schools and balancing the student population via redistricting could be accomplished.

We hope that we have outlined some of the many questions that should be directly and openly addressed before proceeding with design plans. Again, this is a $100 million generational decision that we need to get right.

[OPINION] Community Gardeners “Dismayed By March To Eliminate Assets”

The Westport Community Gardens and Long Lots Preserve team write:

Dear Town of Westport elected officials and residents:

Tonight (Thursday, October 19, Town Hall Room 201), we expect the Long Lots School Building Committee to announce the decision of First Selectwoman Jennifer Tooker, with respect to the future of the Long Lots Elementary School building project.

We know that her decision supports the LLSBC’s option to build a new school while simultaneously eliminating the 20-year-old Westport Community Gardens, and at least part of the newly created Long Lots Preserve.

This does not have to happen. A much-needed new school can be built without destroying the gardens and preserve.

Westport Community Gardens. They’re surrounded on 3 sides by the Long Lots Preserve.

The Westport Community Gardens have been, and continue to be, a nationally recognized, award-winning first-in-class standard of community building, environmental stewardship and unlimited educational opportunity.

The Long Lots Preserve is a volunteer-built model of suburban open space environmental rehabilitation. We believe that any other town in America would celebrate, promote and protect what we have created there.

The Board of Education specifications for a new Long Lots school have nothing to do with putting a ballfield over the Westport Community Gardens. The proposed ballfield is not for the educational and recreational needs of the students at Long Lots Elementary School. From what little we have been told, this appears to be an effort by the Parks & Recreation Department to replace the Garden with a new ballfield under the guise of a new school build.

We continue to be dismayed by the town’s march towards eliminating these 2 town assets when there are options to save them.

There are 120 plots in the Westport Community Gardens. Gardeners range in age from elementary school to 90s.

The LLSBC’s recommendation to put a large ballfield with dugouts and a scoreboard, and perhaps artificial turf and lights, flies in the face of the chair of the LLSBC’s statement that what is displaced needs to be replaced.

This decision by First Selectwoman Tooker breaks up a 20-year-old community of over 300 Westport friends and neighbors, hurts our seniors and devastates the environment.

Our seniors love this place. There are many of us, and this is one of the best passive recreational opportunities the town offers.

In a world that seems to be falling apart at the seams environmentally, Westport Community Gardens and Long Lots Preserve are teeming with life.

Hundreds of trees and shrubs and wildflowers have been planted, at no cost to the town. The American chestnut tree has been reestablished. Dozens of resident and migratory birds use this because of the habitat and great food sources provided there. Thousands upon thousands of native bees and honeybees gather nectar, pollen and live on site.

Night hawks, swallows and bats fly above the gardens at dusk because the place is teaming with insects, their critical food source. Red squirrel, grey squirrel, garter snake, ground hog, fox, toad, all inhabit this space. The gardens and preserve an ecological treasure. This administration is looking to cover it with a ballfield.

Wildlife abounds in and around the Community Gardens. (Photo collage/Lou Weinberg)

Meanwhile, in the same neighborhood as the gardens and the preserve, there is rampant development, trees are being cut down and more residential units are being built. These new residents are going to be looking for outdoor planting space. We provide that.

The new proposed school is being built over a small, underutilized baseball field and a soccer field; not the Westport Community Gardens and Long Lots Preserve. We have over 20 fields in town, and 1 community gardens.

Athletics and field use is critical, and this administration should find equitable resources elsewhere in town rather than placing them on this environmental community gem. With some creativity, the ballfields lost during construction can be placed back on the property when the old school is torn down.

This administration’s decision also hurts the neighbors who did not sign up for a ballfield immediately adjacent to their homes that will bring noise, flooding and most likely, lights.

The road to this decision occurred without ever consulting the gardeners, the preserve team, or the neighbors.

Evening at the Community Gardens. (Photo/Lou Weinberg)

The road to this decision included dangling an option to keep the gardens in place, destroying the gardens and starting them over again on another space near Long Lots School, and then, at the last minute, eliminating the gardens and restarting them at Baron’s South because the gardens will be “destroyed anyway” during construction. We were notified of the latter decision on Monday.

Thus far we have yet to see a peer review of the decisions that have been made by a few people on this approximately $100 million expenditure, the single largest capital project in Westport’s history.

We believe that scenarios are out there that can be attained where everyone wins. Unfortunately, there has been no institutional will on the part of the Tooker administration to get that done.

We should not allow a small group of politically appointed people to make decisions that affect so many of us. Doing business this way breeds distrust, dismay, ill will, and ultimately disengagement.

Where there is a will, there is a way. We firmly believe that including more people in this discussion can, and should get everybody a win.  These discussions should have happened already. Why didn’t they?

Jennifer Tooker: Be the hero.

Thank you.