Tag Archives: Westport Planning & Zoning Commission

And The Next 8-30(g) Affordable Housing Application Is …

Hot on the heels of the Planning & Zoning Commission’s denial of an application for construction of a 6-story, 81-unit apartment complex between Lincoln and Cross Streets, off Post Road West, comes news of a new plan, on the other side of town.

This one is smaller: just 19 units. As with other applications — Post Road West, Wilton Road and Hiawatha Lane, for example — this one includes an 8-30(g) element. That’s shorthand for the state statute that encourages “affordable” housing — and makes it harder for town officials to deny the request.

Then again, the site is smaller.

It’s 20 and 26 Morningside Drive South.

If the address sounds familiar, that’s because the property was in the news earlier this year.

Those are the sites of an 1853 house, and nearby studio and shed, formerly owned and used by noted artists Walter and Naiad Einsel.

Walter and Naiad Einsel’s South Morningside Drive house.

The plan — submitted by “Morningside Drive Homes, LLC” — consists of 19 3-bedroom townhouses, in 5 buildings. Six of those 19 units would be “income restricted,” in accordance with 8-30(g).

The studio and shed would remain. The 1853 farmhouse would be demolished.

A horseshoe-shaped private road off Morningside Drive South would serve the units. The exit would be directly across from the entrance to Greens Farms Elementary School. The entrance would be 150 feet south.

20 Morningside Drive South — on Walter and Naiad Einsel’s former property — is a candidate for 8-30(g) development. (Photo/Anna DeVito)

As reported on “06880,” a long battle pitted a developer — who wanted to subdivide the property, while retaining the older structures — against preservationists.

The Historic District Commission — with only advisory powers — voted unanimously against recommending approval of the subdivision application.

They sent their comments to the Planning and Zoning Commission. With only 1 abstention, the P&Z voted down the request to subdivide.

With this new 8-30(g) application, odds are good the P&Z is not finished with South Morningside.

Neighbors Celebrate P&Z Rejection Of Post Road West Complex

Rich Bailey, chair of Westport Neighbors United, sent this email late last night:

At tonight’s Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, the commissioners formally rejected the application by Cross Street LLC to construct a 6-story, 81-unit apartment complex between Lincoln and Cross Streets, off Post Road West, by a 7-0 vote.

This rejection represents a significant setback for Cross Street LLC and a big victory for Westport Neighbors United and those who supported our efforts to protect and preserve this neighborhood from egregious over-development.

The formal opinion by the commissioners in rejecting this application will be available in a couple of days and will be sent out to WNU supporters.

In the meantime, we want to say a very sincere “thank you” to those who have attended various P&Z meetings, contributed to our funding requests, sent in photos and emails to P&Z staff citing your concerns, and taking other supportive actions. The commissioners listened to you. and in our opinion took an appropriate action.

In turning down the application, the P&Z cited fire, traffic and other safety concerns.

Artist’s rendering of the proposed Cross Street complex.

Wilton Road/Kings Highway Apartment Proposal: It’s Back!

Just over a year ago, the state Appellate Court denied a plan to build a 7-story, 48-unit apartment complex at one of the busiest, most environmentally sensitive spots in town.

The ruling was based on grave concerns about safety, and damage to wetlands adjacent to the 1.16-acre parcel at 122 Wilton Road — right at the Kings Highway North intersection.

Undeterred, the owner has come up with a smaller plan. Garden Homes of Stamford wants to build a 19-unit, 3-story, 20,078-square foot rental complex. With 31 parking spots at grade, that would total 4 stories.

There would be 4 1-bedroom units, 8 2-bedroom units, and 7 with 3 bedrooms.

The site plan for 122 Wilton Road. Wilton Road is at the left; it intersects with Kings Highway North (Willows Medical Complex location) at the top.

The project is being submitted to the Planning & Zoning Commission with 2 affordability plans. The default sets aside 30% of the units as “affordable,” according to state 8-30g regulations. An alternative plan offers 60% as affordable — “if certain conditions are met by the P&Z and other Westport town bodies and staff.”

The goal of the project, Garden Homes says, is “to enable low and moderate income families with children the opportunity to live in Westport and have access to its excellent public schools and amenities.”

The developer submitted a traffic impact study. It included 2 proposed roadway improvements: lengthening the westbound left-turn lane for Kings Highway North by 50 feet, and adjusting the traffic signal at that intersection.

“With these improvements,” the report said, delays there “during the critical weekday peak hours will be shorter than those under the 2015 existing conditions.”

Traffic concerns were only part of the opposition to Garden Homes’ previous proposal.

Another reason was the location: abutting the Taylortown Salt Marsh.

Safety was another major issue. Westport Fire Department officials worried about access to the site.

Former fire chief Andrew Kingsbury reviewed the new proposals. Many concerns remain.

Access is still a major issue: The emergency fire lane is not wide enough, has a tight turning radius, and can only be approached from the south. The access driveway on the east side is also too tight to accommodate Westport’s aerial apparatus.

Kingsbury adds that congestion in the area during rush hour hampers firefighting efforts.

The developer no doubt hopes that a scaled-down version of the previous proposal — and inclusion of 8-30g housing — will carry the day.

“Garden Homes” is a bucolic-sounding name. But I’m betting the reception to this new proposal will not be all peaches and cream.

(Hat tip: Wendy Pieper)

Developer, Preservationists Battle Over Artists’ Property On Morningside Drive

The last time I wrote about Walter and Naiad Einsel was in 2016. The story was about their estate sale. Collectors flocked from many states to the 1853 Victorian farmhouse that for over 60 years had been home to the husband-and-wife artists. Both were inducted into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame.

Walter and Naiad Einsel

Walter and Naiad Einsel

The couple were Westport icons. They worked together and independently on book and magazine illustrations, posters, ads and package designs.

They were the first married couple to create stamp designs for the US Postal Service. They also produced 55 figures — with intricate details and moving parts — for Epcot Center.

And they were important members of Westport’s arts community. Naiad designed our Bicentennial Quilt, sewn by 33 women and on display in Town Hall since 1976. She earned a Westport Arts Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.

Most importantly for this follow-up piece: In 2006 the Einsels received a Preservation Award for their South Morningside Drive home.

Now, in 2018, that house may not be preserved much longer.

In fact, a demolition permit has just been filed for the entire property.

As far back as 2007, Naiad was thinking about what would happen after her death (Walter passed away in 1998). Morley Boyd — then chair of the Westport Historic District Commission — spent plenty of time on her porch, discussing her vision for the future.

Ultimately, Naiad applied for a Local Historic District designation for her 2 contiguous properties. She and Walter had previously subdivided, facing the possibility that they might have to sell 1 lot — a square one, in front of Walter’s gallery — to fund their retirement.

Walter and Naiad Einsel’s South Morningside Drive house.

The Historic District Commission supported the designation. They hired a professional architectural historian to document the property’s history, and assess the structures’ architectural integrity.

That report cited the historic and cultural heritage of the structures, while noting that the site reflected the rich agricultural history of Greens Farms — and represented fast-disappearing open space.

Naiad died in April of 2016. The property was marketed as sub-dividable, and sold to a developer.

The development company redrew the lot lines, extending 20 Morningside Drive South all the way back to wetlands. The firm then submitted a Certificate of Appropriateness application to the HDC, to build a house at #20. Preservationists and historians called the design “stylistically inappropriate,” and warned it would  damage the historic integrity of the structures and their setting.

The Commission denied the request, citing historic open space and farmland as additional considerations. In response, the developer sued the town of Westport.

In the late 1960s, Naiad Einsel’s “Save Cockenoe Now” posters were seen everywhere in town.. Eventually, Cockenoe Island was saved: a nuclear power plant was never built there.

Next, the developer submitted plans to subdivide 26 Morningside South. Two new houses would be stuffed around the historic building.

The Historic District Commission — with only advisory powers — voted unanimously against recommending approval of the subdivision application. They sent their comments to the Planning and Zoning Commission.

The developer responded with a vague commitment to preserve the historic structures.

Assistant town attorney Eileen Flug offered her opinion: Open space and historic significance may be considered by the P&Z when weighing a plan to sub-divide.

The Greens Farms Association weighed in too. They said that the proposed subdivision of #26 — coupled with the development proposed for #20 — “drastically degrades if not destroys the district.”

They added: “We cannot imagine that crowding out one of the few remaining mid-19th century farmhouses in the town of Westport with 4 new homes aligns with town guidelines in favor of open space and historic preservation.”

The P&Z voted down — with only 1 abstention — the request to subdivide.

Which brings us to the present. Demolition permits have been requested for all 3 structures on the property: the 1853 farmhouse, a small barn that is believed to date to the same period, and Walter Einsel’s culturally significant barn-style studio.

Demolition would allow for “new construction.”

One of the demolition notices on the former Einsel property.

Neighbors, artists and others throughout town wonder: Who would buy an entire Local Historic District, knowing it had been the home of 2 beloved Westport artists, understanding all the regulations that apply —  then set about surrounding it all with other inappropriate buildings?

And — when that doesn’t work — destroy it all. Literally.

“The preservation of these structures and their setting is ensured by an ordinance enacted by the RTM,” Boyd says.

“That’s because it was determined by experts that the conservation of this collection of historic resources — together with their original setting — was in the public interest. And because the property owner at that time (Naiad Einsel) wanted it that way.”

I called Fred Ury — attorney for Morningside Drive Homes LLC, the Greenwich-based entity associated with the properties.

Citing ongoing litigation, he said he could not comment.

(Hat tip: Greens Farms Association and president Art Schoeller)

81-Unit Housing Application Withdrawn; Aquarion Meeting Still On

You know that controversial plan to build 81 units of housing on the small parcel of land between Post Road West, Lincoln Street and Cross Street? The one that was going to draw a huge crowd to tonight’s Planning and Zoning Commission meeting?

It’s off the table — for now.

Cross Street LLC has withdrawn its site plan application. P&Z director Mary Young said it will be resubmitted. Public hearings will begin again September 6.

But there’s still plenty of action at Town Hall tonight. The P&Z meeting has been switched to Room 201/201A.

Moving into the auditorium — also at 7 p.m. — is a Public Utilities Regulatory Authority public hearing.

The topic: Aquarion’s proposal to build 2 large water tanks on North Avenue.

 

P&Z Signs Off: The Sequel

I was busy this afternoon, posting a story about the Planning & Zoning Department’s decision to remove all illegal signs from town-owned property.

Chip Stephens and Al Gratrix were busy too.

They did the actual removal.

The P&Z Commissioners — call them the “De-Signers” — uprooted several dozen offending placards, all over town. Many were in otherwise handsome traffic islands and gardens, like those at the eastern end of the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Post Road bridge. (Regulations concerning such signs have been in place since at least 2002.)

A small bit of Chip Stephens and Al Gratrix’s haul.

They’re not finished.

Every illegal sign — even those for beloved institutions like the Westport Library book sale — is fair game, Chip says.

(Photos/Chip Stephens)

Westport’s streetscape is changing. The signs are everywhere.

 

Beltas’ Plan: Keep Part Of Family Farm

Five years ago, I wrote about Belta’s Farm.

My story began:

Bayberry Lane is like many Westport streets. There’s a mix of homes: handsome converted barns; stately Colonials; 1950s split-levels; modern, multi-gabled McMansions.

Nothing — not a sign or a peek through the trees — indicates that the driveway at #128 leads to a 23–plus-acre farm.

It could be Westport’s best-kept secret: There’s a working farm a few yards from the intersection of Bayberry Lane and Cross Highway.

Four generations of Beltas — the farm’s founding family — live there. Dina is the widow of Jimmy Belta, who first farmed the land in 1946. Greg is her son. His children and grandchildren are there too.

How much longer, though, is uncertain.

An aerial view of Belta’s Farm from several years ago shows fields, greenhouses, a compost pile (near the top), and the family’s two homes (bottom).

Five years later, the farm — which has supplied Stew Leonard’s for decades, and since 2012 offers fresh produce and eggs through Community Supported Agriculture subscriptions — has edged closer to its next chapter.

The Belta family cares deeply for its farm, and the neighborhood. As Westport — and their lives — change, they’ve worked hard to come up with a plan they believe will enhance the area, while helping settle their patriarch’s estate.

On July 26, they’ll present a proposal for a text amendment to the Planning & Zoning Commission.

They hope to create an Agricultural Heritage Overlay District. It will enable them to build 9 single-family homes, on 1-acre lots — and retain 8 acres of the property for use as a working farm.

Four generations of Beltas would be able to stay on the land.

A site plan for the proposed Agricultural Heritage Overlay District.

Over the years — especially after the death of Jimmy Belta in 2012 at age 88 (a farmer to the end) — many developers have approached the family. Each time, they said no. The plans were not in keeping with the Beltas’ concept for the future of their farm and homestead.

The Agricultural Heritage Overlay District would, they say:

  • Allow the family to retain its 2 primary residences, both over 50 years old
  • Retain 8 acres of rich farm land in perpetuity, growing the same amount of produce as they currently sell at their farm stand
  • Develop 9 additional building lots that complement the farm property
  • Provide a buffer area with neighboring properties, and preserve the farm’s natural beauty.

Current zoning regulations permit 2-acre lot subdivisions. So they could sell the entire property, to be filled completely with homes.

The Beltas’ say their proposal is “a unique land use concept that will enhance the surrounding neighborhood.”

Belta’s Farm Stand provides great produce to Bayberry Lane and beyond.

For over 70 years, the Beltas have been good neighbors — and great providers of fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs to Bayberry Lane and beyond.

They no longer raise poultry and livestock there. The slaughterhouse is gone. Times change.

This time, they’re asking the town to help them move forward.

Without leaving their farm behind.

The greenhouse and outbuildings, today.

 

New Daycare Coming To Saugatuck

Lost amid last night’s Planning & Zoning Commission approvals of 9 housing units at 500 Main Street, and a Post Road East dispensary, was one other item.

The board unanimously passed a special permit and site plan for a Goddard School daycare center and outdoor playground at 20 Saugatuck Avenue.

That’s the former location of AAA, a quick-mart and gym, among other tenants. It’s since been upgraded, but has stood vacant for a while.

This morning — after the vote — a few neighbors voiced concern about traffic and noise.

Of course, a previous plan for the site — ultimately withdrawn — was a Tesla service center.

20 Saugatuck Avenue is currently vacant.

P&Z Okays 500 Main Street, 1 Dispensary

Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission gave thumb’s-up last night to 2 hotly debated proposals.

By a 5-2 vote, the board approved 9 housing units at 500 Main Street (the old Daybreak Nurseries 2.18-acre site near Merritt Parkway Exit 42).

In a scaled-down version of its original plan, Able Construction will be able to build 2 2-family homes, and 5 1-family homes. All will be restricted to owners 55 and over.

The Planning & Zoning Commission approved 9 housing units for this site.

Late in the evening, the P&Z voted 4-2 (1 abstention) to allow a medical marijuana dispensary at 1460 Post Road East. The spot — around the shopping center corner from the old Pier 1 Imports — was most recently occupied by Coco Spa.

The applicant — Bluepoint Wellness — must still be approved by Connecticut’s Department of Consumer Protection.

If approved by the state, this will be the site of Westport’s only medical marijuana dispensary.

The P&Z denied 4 other medical marijuana proposals, all on the Post Road: the former Bertucci’s restaurant; a site near the Southport border (Stanton Miles/Jennifer Furniture); the old DXL menswear/Blockbuster store, and the Academy of Dance building.

Reasons for those denials included safety, traffic, lack of parking and location relative to zoning regulations.

Noticing The P&Z

Zoning is a hot button Westport issue.

Homes on the old Daybreak property off Main Street. 81 housing units on Post Road West. Medical marijuana dispensaries from Southport to Norwalk.

Now, there’s a hot button to click on.

The Planning & Zoning Commission has spent months figuring out how to alert more Westporters — in a more timely manner — about upcoming hearings.

The traditional — and state-mandated — methods are legal notices in newspapers, and snail mail sent to neighbors. A while ago, Westport added email alerts.

But legal notices are hard to find (besides, no one reads newspapers anymore); mail is not exactly a 21st-century tool, and few people know about the email option.

A typical legal notice.

So the P&Z added a button on the official town website home page. It links to each legal notice, with further links to all applications. No more clicking through multiple tabs to find P&Z, then searching for  notices — or visiting Town Hall to review materials.

But the P&Z wants to do even more.

A subcommittee meeting this Tuesday (May 1, 12:30 p.m., Town Hall Room 201) will explore other ways to spread the word about upcoming meetings and issues. The public is invited to attend, and offer ideas.

Of course, not everyone can make it Town Hall on a Tuesday afternoon. Proposals for new communication methods can also be sent to pzdept@westportct.gov (put “Improving Public Notice” in the subject line).

The P&Z wants to hear especially from Westporters who feel they’ve been left out of the process in the past.