Changes may be ahead, on Westport’s multi-family and affordable housing front.
This Thursday (October 8, 6:30 p.m., online), the Planning & Zoning Commission reviews a text amendment. If adopted, it would delete the “Maximum Multi-Family Dwelling. Called the “Multi-Family Cap,” this limits the number of multi-family dwellings in Westport to 10% of the number of single-family dwellings.
Without deleting that language, the only non-single family home development permitted in the future would be affordable units and market-rate unit units permitted in very limited regulations. All other types of development — including townhomes, apartments and condominiums — would no longer be allowed.
Belden Place is the site of new apartments.
Planning & Zoning director Mary Young says:
The elimination of the multifamily cap will permit the Planning & Zoning Commission to continue its work diversifying housing in Westport, while retaining the predominantly single family zoning that characterizes Westport.
This text amendment does not allow multifamily development in any single family zones. Rather, it authorizes the elected Planning & Zoning Commissioners to continue to evaluate multifamily and townhome proposals in those zones where they are already permitted.
Thursday’s meeting will be livestreamed on www.westportct.gov, and shown on Optimum channel 79 and Frontier channel 6020. Comments in advance of the meeting should be sent to PandZ@westportct.gov.
Comments can also be sent during the meeting when the item is under review by the Commission before public comment session ends. Comments emailed during must be sent to PandZcomments@westportct.gov. Include your full name and address, and identify the agenda item to which your comment relates.
If you would like to comments in real time during the meeting, email firstname.lastname@example.org (before 12 noon, October 8). Include your name, address and the agenda item to which your comments will relate. Meeting participation details will be emailed to you. Click here for the full agenda.
Today’s post on Westport’s middle schools generated plenty of comments. The author of the piece — Danielle Dobin — writes:
I wrote this opinion piece. It represents my personal views, not those of the Planning & Zoning Chairman, or any other Planning & Zoning commissioners or P&Z department staff.
The October 22 session will be a meeting of the PZC’s Plan of Conservation & Development High Level Review Subcommittee, to hear public comment regarding Chapter 14: Address Community Facility Needs. Click here to find the 2017 Plan of Conservation & Development.
Planning and Zoning director Mary Young wants “06880” readers to know: Decisions will likely be rendered by the Planning and Zoning Commission tonight at Town Hall, on applications to locate medical marijuana dispensary facilities in town.
Public hearings have been closed, so no more public testimony will be heard.
However, tonight’s meeting is public. It will be televised on Channel 79 (Cablevision) and Channel 6020 (Frontier). It will also be livestreamed at www.westportct.gov tomorrow, beginning at 7 p.m.
Five applicants have proposed medical marijuana dispensaries in Westport. Zoning regulations adopted in 2017 authorize the P&Z to approve up to 2 locations. However, the Commission is not required to approve any.
A decision on 500 Main Street (former Daybreak Nurseries) is also anticipated at tonight’s meeting. Peter Greenberg of Able Construction returned this spring with a new application for consideration by the P&Z to construct 9 housing units: 2 two-family dwellings and 4 one-family dwelling units, on the 2.18-acre site. All are age-restricted (55 and over).
The project was reduced in scale, compared to an application denied earlier this year by the Commission. That public hearing has also been closed, so no testimony may be received.
The former Daybreak Nurseries, at 500 Main Street.
The other day, “06880” highlighted an issue that frustrates many Westporters: the limited ways to find out things like proposals for new developments, zoning changes, and upcoming agendas for regulatory boards.
The P&Z is on it.
A new Planning and Zoning Commission communications subcommittee met last week. On the agenda: how to modernize and improve public notice of P&Z matters.
Some neighbors were surprised to learn of a development proposal for the former Daybreak Nursery property.
Several intriguing ideas were discussed in the areas of site plans, special permits, variances, subdivisions and map adjustments. Among them:
To address the complaint that residents don’t open mailed legal notices because they look like junk mail or solicitations:
Notices will be delivered in a brightly colored envelope with a return address showing the Westport Planning & Zoning Department. A separate line on the bottom right of the envelope will note “This notice could impact your property rights or property values”
The town will purchase envelopes. Applicants will purchase these from P&Z for a fee, to ensure consistency in delivery of all notices.
The mailed notice radius will be expanded beyond the current 250- foot radius of the subject property.
To address the complaint that a single printed notice in the Norwalk Hour is insufficient, and a dated method for notice delivery:
All legal notices to be posted on the Town of Westport’s website at the same time as printed in the Hour, preferably under the headline “Planning & Zoning Notices.” P&Z agendas will be posted 1 week prior to the scheduled meeting.
A new “Westport Planning & Zoning Notices” Facebook page will be created, including links to the legal notices posted on the town website. No commenting or messaging will be permitted.
A physical sign (similar to a demolition notice sign) will be posted on the subject property, as proposed by the Coalition for Westport.
NOTE: These proposals do not relate to text amendments, which will be discussed at the next meeting.
That meeting is next Wednesday (January 17, Town Hall, 7:30 p.m.). They’ll join the RTM’s Planning and Zoning subcommittee to review those ideas, discuss public feedback, and begin improving the process for public notice of text amendments.
And … before that meeting, the P&Z subcommittee is asking — very publicly — for feedback.
Comments posted to “06880” will be added to the public record. You can also email email@example.com — and of course attend the meeting, and speak.
“We welcome any and all feedback,” the subcommittee says.
“Our goal is to ensure that all residents can easily inform themselves of P&Z matters affecting their neighborhood and community.”
(Click here to see the full minutes of the P&Z subcommittee meeting. How’s that for openness?!)
On Monday, Chip Stephens saw an “06880” post announcing that 1st selectman candidates Jim Marpe and Melissa Kane would meet with North Avenue residents concerned about Aquarion’s plan to build 2 water tanks on North Avenue.
As he read it, the Planning & Zoning Commission member saw red.
In an email to “06880,” Stephens responds:
The North Avenue water tanks are not a campaign issue. To say they are shows little respect for the hard work to date addressing needs and concerns, and no attention to facts.
The P&Z spent 4 months reviewing and working on this. We came to our conclusion based on facts from Aquarion, neighbors and public safety officials. For example:
The current steel tank dates back to the 1950s. That was before Staples High School was built on North Avenue, back when we hosted Nike missiles in town, and before many large housing developments — including the the current tank’s neighbors — were built. Homes are now bigger, and there are more of them. Multifamily housing complexes did not exist then. They do now, and they are increasing.
The current tank is way past its freshness date. Steel rusts, and degrades. The tank needs to be replaced. That is a given.
The Aquarion water tank, during recent pump station construction.
As part of a gravity feed system,, the tank needs to be at its current elevation or higher. Different locations, including Bayberry or Bedford Middle School, were looked at. But that would entail new piping, and other neighbors being offended.
All the numbers calculated in the needed capacity were scrutinized, revised, reviewed and argued over. The fire chief, water experts and all other experts agreed that with Westport’s growth and larger schools, businesses and multi-family complexes, and the safety of Westport, these volumes of water must be served.
Westport’s water come from Fairfield. The needs are ours. Norwalk has its own water authority, not linked to Aquarion. Weston has no public water (which is scary, with failing wells and tainted quality).
Any decision by P&Z could be overturned by the state utility regulators, and most likely would have been if the application was denied. Water utilities are required to work with towns, but ultimately have broad power to locate their resources. Phone, electricity, rail all do what they want, with no requirement to listed to affected neighbors (though sometimes they do).
The neighbors have valid and pressing concerns. They got much attention from Aquarion, with multiple meetings. Many of their issues were heard. Not all were fully addressed — but Aquarion did try to accommodate higher plantings, color of tanks, very slight lowering of height, and promises to consider traffic and noise better than the previous pump project.
Remember, this is a public utility. Relocation, reworking and/or rebuilding the distribution system pipes and pumps — or any other major change — would involve major costs. These would be carried by Westport public water users, resulting in significantly higher water bills. And good luck finding that location with high enough elevation, and where all neighbors welcome the tanks with love and understanding for the greater good.
P&Z and local officials tried to hard to do our best, working with the parties. Regulatory, financial and logistical issues are hard to fight. And when it comes to the water system, there is no way to alter the laws of gravity and physics.
Many Westporters know them only if there’s a problem.
Compo overcrowded? Call the Parks and Recreation Commission.
Issue with your new deck? Call the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Aquarion building a huge water tower nearby? Call your RTM member.
“They” are the men and women who volunteer for our town boards and commissions. In addition to the above, there’s the Board of Finance, Board of Education, Planning and Zoning Commission and more.
(Photo by Cathy Zuraw/Connecticut Post)
They spend countless hours reading reports, fielding emails and phone calls, and attending meetings (and meetings and meetings).
They get criticized for taking stands, taking votes, and not taking votes.
They even put up (and take down) their own road signs.
And they do it for no pay.
That’s why they’re called volunteers.
They seldom get thanked. Even during election season, we seldom think of the enormous sacrifices our volunteer town officials make to make Westport the wonderful place it is.
That’s why everyone who runs for public office — Democrats, Republicans and independents; men and women; lawyers, business executives, stay-at-home parents and retirees; winners and losers — are this week’s Unsung Heroes.
You’ve got our “vote” of thanks!
(Want to nominate your own Unsung Hero? Email firstname.lastname@example.org)
Or it will be, after Thursday’s Planning & Zoning Commission meeting.
Just over a year after Summit Saugatuck withdrew its application for a sewer extension — postponing plans to build 186 housing units on the property abutting I-95 exit 17 — the P&Z will review a pre-application from Summit Development to construct 155 rental units.
Phase 1 would begin in early 2017, and consist of 85 market-rate units.
Phase 2 would begin in the summer of 2018. It would include 70 “affordable” units, as defined by Connecticut’s 8-30g regulation.
The site plan also includes an amenities building, and a swimming pool.
A rendering of the proposed Hiawatha Lane development.
Summit would build a privately-owned force main, pump station, and sewer line, extending 1,600 feet from the existing gravity sewer on Davenport Avenue. It would serve the 2 multi-family rental apartment developments, and also connect to 8 existing homes abutting Hiawatha Lane and Extension.
Last year’s project was scuttled because the sewer pipe running underneath the Saugatuck River to the pump station on Underhill Road could not handle the increased load.
Hiawatha Lane is a narrow street, with homes that are modest by Westport standards. Click on photo to enlarge.
Hiawatha Lane currently includes many rental properties — and some of the lowest housing prices in Westport. The land was originally developed to house immigrant workers who built the railroad.
It is accessible by West Ferry Lane off Saugatuck Avenue, between I-95 exit 17 and the railroad station eastbound parking lot.
Summit currently owns 5.34 acres on Hiawatha Lane. The company has options to purchase 5 additional parcels, totaling 2.87 acres.
(The pre-application will be heard at the Planning & Zoning Commission meeting on Thursday, April 7, 7 p.m. in the Town Hall auditorium. The meeting will be televised. The 1st agenda item could also be interesting: a discussion with public works director Steve Edwards on Compo Beach improvements.)
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). Click on photo to enlarge.
David Royce — for years one of the most controversial private citizens in Westport, who made a career out of tweaking those in local government — died on Friday, 3 years after being diagnosed with leukemia. He was 82.
Nearly 30 years ago — just a few weeks after I began writing “Woog’s World” in the Westport News — I profiled David Royce. I was fascinated by his always-under-construction wood house on Main Street next to Willowbrook Cemetery, mostly hidden behind a monstrous cement wall. I wondered not only what was behind the gate — which hardly ever swung open for visitors — but what was behind the man who was always called a “gadfly.”
I was one of the few people to be admitted behind the wall. I discovered that he had built “an octagonal pool, a 39-foot swing and a birdhouse-like tree fort” in his back yard.
David Royce’s house on Main Street, at the foot of Cross Highway.
I learned that he’d bought his house — “for about $1,000” — 17 years earlier. It was in disrepair — it took a long time to fix up — and I wrote that that was one reason people didn’t like David Royce.
Another was that he was a “househusband” by choice. His wife’s income was the family’s sole means of support, and that meant he didn’t “fit the Westport mold.”
And, I said, a 3rd reason he was disliked was because
he makes waves. He’s a citizen activist who delights in pointing fingers at people when he thinks they have made, are making, or are about to make a mistake, and he doesn’t care whether they’re town officials, volunteer board members, teachers or neighbors.
I quoted his own, 4th reason, why people did not like David Royce: “I have a personality problem. When I get up to speak I sound like an insufferable, arrogant pain in the neck. Hell, I would never invite me over to dinner.”
Royce spoke equally forthrightly about his background. He applied to only one college — Harvard — “because I knew I was in.” He was acting brigadier general during the Korean War, and got into court-martial-worthy scrapes several times.
After the war he worked as an editorial cartoonist, and tried his hand at ballooning and several odd jobs. None took. “I’ve never had the knack of fitting in,” he told me.
His last real job was “feeding rats for American Cyanamid,” which he got by being a strikebreaker. “I’m not real employable,” he reiterated.
David Royce, speaking up in later years. (Photo courtesy of Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com)
Royce discussed his citizen activism since moving to Westport in 1970. He got in a dispute with neighbors and Public Works over a dam on his property. Describing town government metaphorically, he said, “if they’re gong to fart around in my back yard, then I’m going to fart around in their back yard.”
In 1979, he ran for the Planning and Zoning Commission as a Republican. He finished last.
He was on both sides of town battles. He fought construction of Canal Street housing and lost, but helped drive the conversion of Bedford Elementary School to Town Hall.
He told me: “When you have somebody like me in town, a lot of people think before doing something, ‘What if Royce gets onto this issue?’ I’d like every town to have 10 of me.”
But, he added that day in 1987, he had no great love for Westport. “I don’t think there’s anything wonderful or terrible” about the town he’d already lived in for 17 years.
I think Westport is just another damn town. Once in a while my wife will say, “If they’re going to treat you this way, why don’t we move on to some other dumb town?”
I’ll say, “That’s the key: The other town would be just as dumb.” In fact, it would be worse, because it wouldn’t be broken in yet. It took half a dozen years before people in Westport believed I wouldn’t be bullied. If we moved to a new town, I’d have to do it all over again. It’s hard work.
Nearly 3 decades ago, I asked David Royce about the future of Westport. Needless to say, it was not good.
We’re too cheap to pay for good zoning, so we get what we pay for. If we truly wanted Westport to deteriorate at minimum speed, we’d hire a good staff so that that would happen. By having an unpaid P&Z, we take a 60-hour-a-week job and make it voluntary.
The result, he said, was the town “gets worse at a 10 times unnecessary pace.” He foresaw the empty space that became Winslow Park, as well as Birchwood Country Club, turning into “great cities of condos.”
David Royce fought to have Bedford Elementary School turned into Town Hall.
But, Royce said, he might not be around to see it happen. “Even though I hate to train a new town, I’ll probably have to get out as soon as the kids are educated.”
That didn’t happen. David Royce stayed another 27 years — for the rest of his life, as it turned out.
And he mellowed. According to WestportNow.com, in 2008 he told an RTM meeting in Town Hall:
I was here before most of you and I’ll be here after most of you leave. I love Westport. In fact, the reason you are sitting here tonight instead of in a brick box by the river is because a long time ago I alone fought for the use of this former school instead of a new building as our Town Hall.
His wife Nina told WestportNow’s James Lomuscio that there may be a memorial service in that very place: “He had no religious affiliation. Town Hall was as close as he had to a religion.”
They voted to deny a plan to move the Kemper Gunn House — the handsome, century-old building on Church Lane — across Elm Street to the Baldwin Parking Lot.
Nearly 100 residents — far more than the 20 needed — have appealed the decision to the RTM. That body holds a committee meeting on October 16. The full body will consider the appeal on October 22.
Architect Francis Henkels lays out the issue well. In a letter to the RTM, he notes that nearly a year ago, Bedford Square Associates — the developers of the new Church Lane project — offered the Kemper Gunn house to anyone interested in moving and preserving it.
There were no takers.
35 Church Lane — also known as the Kemper-Gunn House.
BSA offered to donate the house to the town, pay for its relocation to the parking lot, and construct a new foundation there. The town requested proposals from 2 private developers willing to renovate the house at their expense, and lease the land from the town. One was accepted.
The offer “requires minimal or no expense to the town and a future source of revenue, while insuring the future of the house,” Henkels says.
BSA developed a plan, indicating how the house could be sited to minimize the number of parking spaces lost. The plan also shows how the house can be integrated into a parking garage, as has been discussed for the future.
BSA has a construction schedule. The Historic District Commission (which Henkels chairs, though he wrote to the RTM as a private citizen) granted a 180-day delay to BSA’s demolition request. The purpose of the delay is “to give all interested parties time to investigate ways to preserve an important structure.”
Advocates for saving the house have worked hard to find a solution. But time is running out. Soon, BSA will have the right to demolish the Kemper Gunn House.
Henkels says that moving it to the Elm Street parking lot is the only feasible solution.
I agree with Henkels — and many other Westporters. This choice seems like a no-brainer. Saving one historic house is far more important than saving a few parking spots.
The house on Terrain’s Post Road property, at the corner of Crescent Road.
But parking is tight at the garden center/lifestyle emporium/restaurant. And it’s tighter than it should be, because as part of the permitting process, the P&Z gave Terrain great latitude with its spots. The Urban Outfitters-owned store was allowed to show 48 parking spots that could be used, if needed. In the plans, they were shown on the east side of the building — near Fresh Market.
They’re currently used to display plants, pots and other garden equipment.
Terrain’s “reserve” parking spots, currently used for plants and garden equipment.
Meanwhile, Terrain plans to knock down the house — and gain 8 parking space. The request for demolition is on this Thursday’s P&Z agenda (June 13, 7:30 p.m., Town Hall auditorium).
Terrain is also on tomorrow’s Historic District Commission agenda (Tuesday, June 11, 7 p.m., Town Hall).
Matthew Mandell is not pleased.
The RTM District 1 representative has made a video, and posted it to YouTube. In it, he explains the back story of Terrain’s dealings with the town.
(Click here if your browser does not connect directly to YouTube.)
Also in the video, Randy Henkels of the Historic District Commission notes their early support of Terrain, based on promises the store made.
Town planning director Larry Bradley describes his department’s role.
And RTM member Cathy Talmadge suggests a boycott of Terrain, if they press ahead with demolition plans.
At the end of the video, Mandell urges Westporterswho want the building saved to write email@example.com. Bradley will pass emails along to P&Z members.
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