Tag Archives: Westport Planning & Zoning Commission

Remembering Julie Belaga

Julie Belaga — whose career took her from the Westport P&Z and RTM to the Connecticut House of Representatives, then a run for governor, teaching at Harvard, regional director of the EPA and a director of the Export-Import Bank —  died peacefully on Friday, at her Westport home. She was 91, and lived here since 1965.

Julie grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts, where her father was a fish wholesaler on the Boston docks. After graduating from Syracuse University, she worked for several years as a 2nd-grade school teacher.

Then she found her true calling: politics. After a term as president of the Westport League of Women Voters, Julie served on the Planning and Zoning Commission (including a stint from 1972 to ’76 as chair), and on the Representative Town Meeting.

She was next elected as Westport’s representative to the Connecticut House . She served for 10 years, including positions of deputy majority leader and assistant minority leader. Julie achieved legislative success on a number of environmental issues. She took the lead in drafting and implementing Connecticut’s coastal management laws.

Julie Belaga

She was active in developing the state’s hazardous waste management service, and instrumental in reforming the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority (now the Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority), which provides recycling and waste disposal services for cities and towns. In 1985, the Hartford Courant named Julie one of the “Top 10 Legislators of the Year.”

After deciding not to seek reelection, Julie was chosen by the Republican Party as its 1986 candidate for governor. She lost to incumbent William O’Neill in the general election.

Out of politics for the first time in more than a decade, Julie served briefly as a television political commentator. She was also a fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard University and taught grassroots politics at the Kennedy School.

In 1989, President George H. W. Bush appointed Julie as administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency for New England. As regional administrator she oversaw a budget of over $5 million, and more than 14,000 employees.

After she left the EPA, Governor Lowell Weicker appointed her to the Connecticut Development Authority. She left that position in 1994, when she was nominated by President Bill Clinton to serve as one of 5 directors of the US Export-Import Bank. Clinton cited Julie’s “impressive range of public and private sector experience, particularly in the area of the environment.” She was easily confirmed by the Senate, and she served on the Ex-Im Bank board through 1999.

Julie retired from government in 1999 but continued her active community engagement, serving on the boards of several environmental organizations, including the Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound, the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters and the Audubon Society, as well as the Westport Library and the CT Mirror.

Julie was predeceased by her husband of more than 65 years, Mike. She is survived by her children Debra Belaga (Steve Stublarec) of Tiburon, California; David (Alison) Belaga of East Northport, New York, and Heather (Rob) McLean of Owings Mill, Maryland, and granddaughters Kristen Stublarec, Tracy Spencer and Lindsey Belaga.

Arrangements for a memorial service are pending. Donations in lieu of flowers may be sent to the Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound.

Julie and Mike Belaga

 

[CLARIFICATION] P&Z: No Full Basements In Flood Zones; Piers, Pilings Remain Only Options

Westport Planning & Zoning Commission chair Danielle Dobin says that — despite the implication in today’s “06880” story that the P&Z is considering a change in flood zone regulations — the pre-application hearing resulted in a resounding “no.”

Piers and pilings will continue to be the only options for homeowners living near the water.

On Thursday, 2 local design professionals presented a potential amendment to the current flood regulations. The changes would have permitted filling properties to FEMA-mandated elevations, in lieu of raising residential dwellings on piers or pilings.

P&Z staff and commissioners expressed concerns about the effect of foundations and basements on subsurface draining, and neighboring properties on lower grades.

They also addressed the impact of future sea level rise, and the departure from best practices that support raising flood-prone structures over raising the grade of flood-prone lots.

Staff and commissions noted that fill in flood zones is specifically discouraged by FEMA regulations.

Current zoning regulations regarding fill and basements in flood zones will not change, Dobin emphasized.

A raised home on Compo Cove.

Flood Zone Change: Full Basements Instead Of Piers And Pilings?

It’s not easy living in a flood zone. Superstorm Sandy made the risks real. Since then, dozens of Westporters living near the water have raised their homes, using piers or pilings.

That may no longer be the only option.

Gloria Gouveia reports: At last Thursday’s Planning & Zoning Commission meeting, 2 local design professionals presented a potential amendment to Westport’s flood zone requirements.

The pre-application process gives applicants the opportunity to explore ideas with the P&Z in a brief, informal, non-binding discussion, saving the time and expense of a formal application.

Citing a desire to provide full basements for homes in some Special Flood Hazard Zones, the proposal would permit filling properties to FEMA-mandated elevations in lieu of raising residential dwellings on piers or pilings.

A home being raised on Compo Cove.

The applicants testified that the benefits associated with raising the height of the land and the use of flood-proofing, versus elevating the structure, included: more (basement) floor area: egress at grade: enhanced flood protection and improved esthetics.

Typically, residential construction in SFHZs requires elevating and supporting structures with piers or pilings that are less of an impediment to flood waters than traditional foundations.

P&Z staff and several commissioners expressed concerns about the effect of foundations and basements on subservice drainage, and neighboring properties at lower grades.

Other issues addressed by staff members included the impact of future sea level rise, and the departure from best practices which support raising flood prone structures over raising the grade of flood prone lots.

Current zoning regulations prohibit the use and/or placement of fill for any purpose in Special Hazard Flood Zones.

Cross Street Settlement Reached; Smaller, Safer Housing Set

One of Westport’s thorniest housing controversies has been solved.

A proposed 6-story, 81-unit apartment complex between Lincoln and Cross Streets, off Post Road West will be scaled back to 68 units. It’s been redesigned almost completely, eliminating a section that would tower over homes on Riverside Avenue. Fire safety and parking concerns have been addressed to the satisfaction of Westport’s fire marshal.

And the developer includes 30% affordable housing.

Tonight, after weeks of negotiations between the Planning & Zoning Commission, the developer Cross Street LLC and neighbors, the P&Z voted 5-0 in favor of the settlement. Newly appointed commissioner Patrizia Zucaro abstained.

The settlement substantially lessens the impact on Lincoln Street, just south of Cross Street.

In October 2018, the P&Z unanimously rejected the 81-unit plan. Their concerns included fire access, traffic and historic preservation.

Cross Street LLC appealed. Last July, a Superior Court judge sustained the appeal.

However, discussions between the P&Z, the developer and neighbors — many of whom live in historic properties that are some of the most naturally occurring affordable homes in town, with on-street parking that would have been lost — bore fruit.

The Fire Department is now confident they could access and fight any fires there. The new version eliminates the looming design that would have altered the look of the neighborhood. On-street parking has been saved.

And the 30% affordable units will help Westport toward the state’s 8-30g mandate for increasing that housing stock.

“With this settlement, Westport has not just turned the page but closed the book on all outstanding 8-30g related litigation,” says P&Z chair Danielle Dobin.

“I want to compliment the Lincoln Street and Riverside Avenue neighbors for working collaboratively with the Commission under the most challenging of circumstances; the developer for choosing to redesign this project to be both fire safe and less physically imposing, and my fellow P&Z commissioners who worked together as a team to negotiate an amicable resolution to this litigation.

“The redesigned project will provide mixed income rental apartments within walking distance of schools and downtown, further diversifying housing in a central Westport location.”

It’s Back! Wireless Tower Proposed Again In Greens Farms

In 2014, a proposal to build a 120-foot cell tower on private Greens Farms Road property roiled the town.

Some residents praised it as much-needed technology. Others feared it would ruin the view of our “gateway to the beach.”

After several months of hearings, comments and hand-wringing, the applicant — North Atlantic Towers — quietly dropped the proposal.

Now, Tarpon Towers II has retained All Points Technology. They’re evaluating a “wireless communications facility modification” at the same site: 92 Greens Farms Road. That’s on the south side, abutting I-95 and not far from Hillspoint Road. 

The cell tower was — and is again — planned for the house on the left: 92 Greens Farms Road. (Photo courtesy of Google Maps)

The facility would include a 124-foot tall monopole tower with a new 35′ x 64′ gravel-based fenced equipment compound. An access drive and underground electrical and telephone service would extend from Greens Farms Road. The new tower and equipment compound would allow for multiple service providers to be located there in the future.

To comply with the National Historic Preservation Act, the public has until July 7 to submit written comments regarding any potential effects of the facility on historic properties. Send to: All-Points Technology Corporation; Attention:  Jennifer Young Gaudet; 567 Vauxhall Street Extension, Suite 311, Waterford, CT 06285. The phone number is 860-663-1697 ext. 231; email is jyounggaudet@allpointstech.com.

A cell tower.

Although the proposed tower facility location is at a private residence, under state law the Connecticut Siting Council has exclusive jurisdiction over telecommunication facilities like this monopole.

Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission and other local land-use bodies have no jurisdiction over such a facility. If Tarpon Towers continues to seek this location for its proposed tower, the CSC will have oversight going forward.

1st Selectman Jim Marpe says, “As noted, we have dealt with this specific request once before. It is at the very preliminary stage of a larger process.

“Following the evaluation of the proposed tower facilities on historic properties, Tarpon Towers would be expected to file a petition with the CSC and seek consultation with the town. It is anticipated that the town attorney will seek to understand the necessity of the proposed tower facilities, as well as whether other sites may be available.

“Depending upon timing and procedure, eventually, there would be a public hearing on the matter. The town will make every reasonable effort to keep the public apprised of additional requests for input or revisions to the proposed plans.”

States Passes Zoning Reform

Yesterday, the Connecticut Senate passed HB 6107 — the same zoning bill passed previously by the state House. Click here for the full text.

As noted by Planning & Zoning Commission chair Danielle Dobin on “06880” last week, the bill contains language specifically requiring towns to consider the impact of development on the Long Island Sound. This provides additional protection against overdevelopment in Saugatuck and around Main Street.

The bill also contains language requiring towns to permit a diversity of housing types, which Westport already does in our zoning code. This will have a real impact in towns across Connecticut that still don’t allow anything other than single family homes.

Westport has added diverse housing in areas like 793 Post Road East. Homes are set back from the Post Road, between residential and retail areas.

The bill creates a blue ribbon commission to look at affordable housing and zoning that’s mostly made up of legislators and various state level commissioners (e.g., Housing, DEEP, Transportation, etc.), as well as representatives from the COGs. This may lead to a revision of 8-30g, the controversial “affordable housing” regulation.

One important provision of the bill exempts new accessory dwelling units and accessory apartments from counting as part of overall dwelling units for 8-30(g). This means that permitting ADUs won’t count against Westport’s compliance with the statute.

The bill requires towns to permit ADUs but also provides an opt-out mechanism for towns where these units aren’t the right fit for infrastructure, soils, etc. Westport also permits ADUs in every single family zone, so this provision will not impact us.

The bill limits parking requirements to 1 space/studio or one-bedroom or 2 spaces/2-bedroom or above but provides an opt-out.

There’s a requirement for 4 hours of commissioner training per year. There’s no draconian penalty for non-compliance.

State Senator Will Haskell calls this “a very modest bill aimed at increasing housing supply in our state.” He praises the work of P&Z commissions in his district, for working together, adding that the legislation “does not infringe on local control, but instead empowers local commissioners to create more housing diversity without altering the look of their community.”

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In other P&Z news, last night Westport’s unanimously approved a new façade and site plan for the old Barnes & Noble building.

The new tenant — who will also occupy the adjacent Marshall’s Shoe Store space — is an as-yet-unnamed grocery store. It’s widely believed around town to be Amazon Go. featuring automated technology.

Coming soon: a new facade — and tenant.

 

[OPINION] Dobin: Consensus Housing Bill Will Move Westport Forward

Westport Planning & Zoning chair Danielle Dobin says:

Yesterday, the Connecticut House passed HB 6107. I’m delighted to report that the bill will have only a positive impact in Westport. Here’s a link: https://www.cga.ct.gov/2021/amd/H/pdf/2021HB-06107-R00HA-AMD.pdf

Highlights

The bill contains language specifically requiring towns to consider the impact of development on the Long Island Sound. This provides additional protection against overdevelopment in Saugatuck and around Main Street.

The bill contains language requiring towns to permit a diversity of housing types, which Westport already does in our zoning code. This will have a real impact in towns across Connecticut that still don’t allow anything other than single family homes.

Westport has added diverse housing in areas like 793 Post Road East. Homes are set back from the Post Road, between residential and retail areas.

I was thrilled to see that the bill creates a blue ribbon commission to look at affordable housing and zoning that’s mostly made up of legislators and various state level commissioners (e.g., Housing, DEEP, Transportation, etc.), as well as representatives from the COGs. Let’s work hard as a community to ensure this group creates something better than 8-30g.

Finally, we have an opportunity to replace 8-30g with a better bill that will incentivize a diversity of housing but not push only one type of housing – oversized apartment complexes – in areas that lack infrastructure, have huge traffic issues or are zoned for single family homes. This is the chance for statewide reform that we’ve been waiting for. I’ll keep everyone posted as opportunities to weigh in on this commission’s work arise.

One important provision of the bill exempts new accessory dwelling units and accessory apartments from counting as part of overall dwelling units for 8-30(g), meaning that permitting ADUs won’t count against Westport’s compliance with the statute.

The bill requires towns to permit ADUs but also provides an opt-out mechanism for towns where these units aren’t the right fit for infrastructure, soils, et.. In Westport, we already permit ADUs in every single family zone so this provision doesn’t impact us.

The bill limits parking requirements to 1 space/studio or one-bedroom or 2 spaces/2-bedroom or above but provides an opt-out.

There’s a requirement for 4 hours of commissioner training per year. There’s no draconian penalty for non-compliance.

More excellent news is that the harmful provisions requiring every town in Connecticut to have the same as of right multifamily zoning without parking around train stations and main streets stayed out of the bill. 

Danielle Dobin, Westport Planning & Zoning Commission chair.

In my opinion this is a 180 degree improvement from the original SB 1024 bill. I’m relieved that Westport can now focus on drafting a strong affordability plan in keeping with our infrastructure, soils, traffic concerns and plans for sustainable development.

Many, many thanks to all of you who have reached out since last summer with your thoughts and especially to those of you (shoutout to Matt Mandell, Jim Marpe and Representative Stephanie Thomas) who testified with me in front of the P&D Committee. Thank you so much Representative Steinberg for ceding me your time to testify against SB 1024. It’s been a long road but common sense prevailed.

I hope you’ll all join me in thanking Representatives Steinberg and Thomas, and Senators Hwang and Haskell for advocating so strongly for thoughtful reform. This is a consensus bill that will move CT forward.

Hiawatha Lane Project Approved

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last night’s decision includes several key points:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homes on Hiawatha Lane.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cross Street, Hiawatha Projects Settlements Near

Two of Westport’s longest-running — and thorniest — housing issues may soon come to conclusions.

RTM member and Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce executive director Matthew Mandell has been following the sagas of Lincoln/Cross Streets and Hiawatha Lane Extension for years. He writes:

Two major projects, both 8-30g*, have come to a negotiated resolution: Lincoln / Cross Street as well as Hiawatha.

Both will be presented to the public by the Planning & Zoning Commission this  Wednesday (May 12, 7 p.m., Zoom). There will be an outline of what each will be, and the public will be allowed to comment. It is anticipated that P&Z will then vote on each.

How did we get here? 

P&Z denied the Lincoln multi-story 80+ unit project, and was then sued by the developer. The judge ruled in favor of the developer. 8-30g cases are exceedingly hard to defend. Even though there were severe safety issues, the judge said the need for affordable housing essentially outweighed them.

The P&Z then worked with the neighbors and the developer to make the project more palatable. I was not in any of the meetings, so I too am waiting to see what has come out of it.

The settlement may lessens the impact on Lincoln Street, just south of Cross Street.

As for Hiawatha: P&Z, the Board of Selectmen, the Department of Housing and everyone else who ever said boo about this project was sued over this one. There were actually 7 lawsuits still pending after this 16-year battle.

With this negotiated settlement, all of them go away. Their ancillary issues, some of which could have been detrimental long-term to the entire town, will be gone as well.

While some of the suits might have been won, I am not sure all 7 would have. This was always an egregious project of 5 buildings with 187 units, where 10 naturally occurring affordable homes exist in the middle of an affordable neighborhood.

Homes on Hiawatha Lane.

This one is going to hurt. I can’t say more on the issue, but we will all see it when it comes public. I am very sad about this outcome, and really feel for the neighborhood. We all fought for 16 years against a developer and lawyer who only saw opportunity and not people.

In the end, it is the town that gets sued. It’s the town that negotiates for itself, and they make the call in these cases. A silver lining may be, with both of these projects the town would probably get another 4 year moratorium from 8-30g projects.

The Planning & Zoning Commission welcomes public comment at Wednesday’s 7 p.m. meeting. Click here for the Zoom link. The meeting ID is 816 5841 6015. The passcode is 221876.

*8-30 g is a Connecticut statute. It says that that unless 10 percent of a town’s housing stock is “affordable” — according to state definition — a developer planning to include affordable units can challenge a town’s denial of a proposal.

P&Z Dives Into Pool Coverage Text Amendment

One of the unintended consequences of COVID is a rise in the number of new swimming pools. All over town, construction is underway.

All over town — except in areas of town with lots that, according to zoning regulations, are undersized or non-conforming. Many of those properties are in areas like Saugatuck Shores and Compo Beach.

For years, architects and land use experts — including Pete Romano, the principal at LANDTECH, the Westport-based engineering and planning firm — have gone to the Zoning Board of Appeals requesting variances. This Thursday (May 6, Zoom), the Planning & Zoning Commission will consider a text amendment to address that issue.

Text amendment 793 would modify the swimming pool definition to exclude swimming pools of a certain size from total coverage calculations, in all zoning districts.

It would also exclude “sports courts” (private basketball and pickleball courts, etc.) of a certain size from total coverage calculations.

There would be size limits: 850 square feet for pools, and up to 40′ x 40′ for sports courts. Non-conforming lots would still be required to adhere to building and conservation setbacks, and fulfill all drainage requirements.

A Westport summer scene.

Romano has represented many homeowners who have sought variances. He says the text amendment would reduce the number of land-use approvals required to construct a pool.

He notes a current regulatory quirk: A homeowner right now can construct a patio 35 inches high, right up to all building setbacks, and fill the entire lot, setback to setback. It would not count toward total coverage calculations; that only applies to patios at least 36 inches above the ground.

However, Romano says, “once you punch a hole in the patio and pour water in it, it counts towards total coverage.”

Many town officials seem to be in favor of the text amendments. So are most realtors.

Thursday’s meeting will be livestreamed at www.westportct.gov, and shown on Optimum channel 79 and Frontier channel 6020. Public comments can be sent to PandZ@westportct.gov by noon Thursday. To comment in real time during the meeting, email maryyoung@westportct.gov by noon on Thursday; include your name, address and “agenda item 5.” Click here and scroll down for the full text amendment.