The title was provocative: “Why is Westport So White? What Can You Do About It?”
The speakers were heartfelt. Their list of examples was long, at a meeting last night that covered topics like long-ago real estate practices, current zoning regulations, and the roles of schools and police.
The event — organized by a group of residents ranging from long-timers to newcomers, as well as TEAM Westport — drew a crowd of about 75 (outdoors and socially distanced) to MoCA Westport. Another 25 or so joined via Zoom.
Black residents spoke of their experiences as a very small minority, in a very white town. In one compelling example, Ifeseyi Gale was confronted by a suspicious family when she pulled into a driveway to pick up an item.
Ifeseyi Gale addresses the crowd at MoCA.
2020 Staples High School graduate Natasha Johnson — now a Wharton student — sent a recorded message that recounted many painful experiences, starting in elementary schools.
Many speakers described their love for the town. For example, TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey noted Police Chief Foti Koskinas’ grace and calm, and applauded new Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice’s openness to hearing about what can be done differently and better, in terms of diversity and inclusion.
But they did not shy away from demanding that the town do a better job in race relations.
A white student described a survey, in which recent Staples grads were asked about their preparation for living in a diverse society. Many noted that they had been led to believe the world is color-blind — but it is not.
TEAM Westport sponsors an annual high school essay contest. Past prompts have included micro-aggressions, and taking a knee protests. TEAM Westport has spent has spent nearly 2 years working with the school system on a framework including training, hiring, curriculum and staffing that would address diversity and inclusion. Winners of the 2019 TEAM Westport essay contest are (from left) chair Harold Bailey, and Chet Ellis, Angela Ji, Daniel Boccardo and Olivia Sarno.
Planning and Zoning Commission chair Danielle Dobin discussed how the lack of diverse housing impacts who lives here. She urged elimination of Westport’s cap on multifamily housing — which limits the total number of those units to 10% of total town dwellings, many of which are age-restricted and do not allow families — along with removing a restriction on “accessory dwelling units” with full bathrooms and kitchens. Permitting property owners to rent guest cottages, or create separate private living space, would expand housing stock and increase affordability and diversity.
Over the past few months, the entire country has talked openly about race. Organizers expressed hope that last night’s event will be an important beginning — not a one-time event — for their town.
This Thursday (July 21, 5 p.m., Zoom session), the Planning & Zoning Commission considers 3 COVID-related items.
Two are text amendments aimed at striking a balance between promoting economic vitality and protecting nearby residents.
One would extend the current temporary outdoor dining regulations through March 31, 2021. The other would allow fitness businesses to use certain outdoor spaces, enabling them to serve clients in a socially distanced way.
In addition, Pierrepont School is seeking to use additional space at 220 Post Road West — across the street from its current home at 1 Sylvan Road North — to provide more social distancing space for its approximately 48 students in grades 7-12, and staff.
The meeting will be livestreamed on www.westportct.gov, and shown on Optimum channel 79 and Frontier channel 6020. Public comments may be sent by noon on Thursday to PandZ@westportct.gov, and during the meeting as well (PandZcomments@westportct.gov. For full details, click here.
Outdoor dining has been successful on Railroad Place.
Yesterday’s Roundup featured a photo of the Fresh Market osprey fledglings.
A bird-watching friend writes about other osprey platforms in town. They include:
Two on the exit road from Longshore. One is along Gray’s Creek at the back of the out-of-town parking lot for the marina. The other is along the exit road just past Gloria’s mooring, opposite the 12th green.
Two are at Sherwood Island. One is north of the Nature Center in the salt marsh between the island and Beachside Commons; the second is on the west side of the island, in the marsh alongside Sherwood Mill Pond, north from the end of the second bridge at the tidal gates,
One more is off Beachside Avenue, east of Burying Hill Beach and Harvey Weinstein’s former home.
All 5 are occupied, and have 2 or 3 hatchlings each. They’re practicing flying and fishing prior to their late summer migration to South America for the winter.
A local osprey nest (Photo/Jen Greely)
Staples High School 2003 graduate Justin Paul has gone on to fame (and many honors) for his off-the-charts songwriting (“Dear Evan Hansen,” “La La Land,” “The Greatest Showman”).
But he has not forgotten his home town. He recently volunteered as a judge for the Norwalk-to-Bridgeport Project Census Throwdown contest, encouraging high school students to write creatively and educationally about the 2020 Census.
Justin was very impressed with the winning rap submission, from Elijah Atkins of Bridgeport’s Bridge Academy. He encouraged Elijah to further explore his gift for lyrical structure and creativity.
Congratulations, Elijah — and thanks, Justin!
A few spots remain for the Earthplace Summer Teen Volunteer Club. Daily activities include animal care, special event preparation, and maintaining the Earthplace private preserve.
Sessions run July 17-August 7, and August 10-21. For information, click here.
The Westport Downtown Merchants Association has decorated the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge downtown with summer-color lights: blue, green and white.
And finally … Happy 72nd birthday, Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam). There are so many songs to pay him tribute. Here are 3. What’s your pick? Click “Comments” below.
The Planning & Zoning Commission usually takes August off.
But before they do, a solar energy project is on the docket. Today (Thursday, July 16, 5 p.m., Zoom meeting) they’ll consider a text amendment, special permit and site plan application for “solar-based electric generating facilities” on the Bedford Middle School campus. They’ll be mounted on the ground (not canopies).
Greenskies Clean Energy has been granted a town lease to produce electricity there. The firm seeks a variance to mount 20-foot solar panels in the grassy area behind the school, and remove 10 trees.
The project includes modules in both corners behind the school.
One section of the site backs up to property on Woody Lane. The other part backs up to High Point Road.
The site plan for Bedford Middle School. The proposed solar panels are indicated by hatch marks near the center of the map. Click on or hover over to enlarge.
Last night, the Planning & Zoning Commission took steps to hear 2 COVID-related text amendments. Both respond to the changing business environment in town, and will be voted on July 23.
One amendment would extend temporary outdoor dining permits through the end of March 2021. Commissioners spoke of their desire to support local restaurants during an uncertain time, and reassure owners that investments they make for outdoor dining will be worthwhile beyond summer.
The second proposed text amendment would extend similar restaurant flexibility to fitness studios and gyms hoping to temporarily locate equipment outdoors. This applies to facilities like JoyRide, nearly all of which are locally owned.
Drafts of both text amendments will be posted Monday for review by the public. Comments may be emailed (email@example.com). To request a Zoom link to participate with “in-person” testimony at the July 23 meeting, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Romanacci’s Xpress is one of 3 Railroad Place restaurants with outdoor dining.
The pots and flower barrels lining Main Street, and hanging from poles throughout downtown, look gorgeous.
But they don’t water themselves.
The Westport Downtown Merchants Association needs volunteers. Watering takes about an hour a day. To learn more about the sign-up system — and how to choose your time — email email@example.com.
Main Street planters
Speaking of downtown: There will be one less barber next month.
Ron Provenzano — owner of the shop named for himself at 190 Main Street, in the old Sally’s Place space — is closing around August 7. He, his wife and their children are moving to Wilmington, North Carolina.
It’s not COVID-related, he says. His wife’s business is booming, and she loves that area.
Ron has been in his present shop, above Le Rouge Aaartisan Chocolates, for 6 years. That follows more than a dozen on Railroad Place.
With the closing the other day of Compo Barbers, 2 old-school men’s hair cutters are gone. Westporters will miss them both.
Scott Smith writes:
“In all my years enjoying Old Mill Beach and Compo Beach (this social-distanced season, more than ever), I’ve never seen such a large boat working the waters so close to shore.
“I took photos from near the jetty at Soundview Avenue as this sturdy boat churned in a tight loop up and back, just off the far rocks at Compo Cove. No nets or traps; near as I can tell, it looked like it was sluicing a mound of dirt-like material piled amidships over the gunwales with a water jet.
“After an hour or so, the big black boat was off, headed for deep water and turning west.
“Anybody know if the boat was indeed offloading material into the Sound, and if so, where it came from and what it is?” If you have a clue, click “Comments” below.
Westport Library Book Sale donations are back!
Beginning next week, materials will be accepted every Thursday, Friday and Saturday, during any hours the library is open.
Donors should come to the gray brick shed in the upper parking lot. Donations will be quarantined there for 3 days, before being handled by sale volunteers.
You can bring used books, audiobooks, CDs, DVDs, vinyl records, vintage magazines and other ephemera. Please: no water-damaged or mildewed materials, VHS tapes, audiocassettes, or self-recorded CDs and DVDs. For more information, click here.
New book sale volunteers are always welcome. Help is needed all year to sort, research and price donated materials; provide merchandising and customer support at book sale events, and supervise and train employees with disabilities. To learn more, email firstname.lastname@example.org
As noted in yesterday’s Roundup, MoCA Westport’s Helmut Lang exhibition is now open. There’s plenty of room to enjoy the show — just be like these visitors, and wear a mask!
And finally … yesterday’s “06880” story on the Paycheck Protection Program noted the 137 Westport businesses that got loans of at least $150,000, helping them meet payrolls and keep folks employed.
Another Paycheck — Johnny — had a different view of work. Back in 1977, he sang:
No one knows when — or even if 🙁 — Compo Beach will open this year.
But a key piece of summer fun edged closer to reality last night. The Planning & Zoning Commission — acting in its capacity to consider land use issues — voted unanimously in favor of a new concessionaire.
Upsilon Entertainment Group — the applicant chosen by the Parks & Recreation Department — would run the Compo food service that for over 30 years was operated by Joey Romeo. The Larchmont, New York-based company would also take over Romeo’s 2 other concessions: the Longshore golf course halfway house, and the concession by the pool.
Parks & Rec director Jen Fava describd the formal bid process. There were 36 downloads of the RFP. Eight businesses made site visits. Five submitted proposals. In addition to Upsilon’s, they came from Norwalk, Stratford, Woodbridge and Ryebrook, New York.
Fees to be paid to the town ranged from a low of $55,000 a year to a high of $100,000 or 10% of the gross revenue the first year, whichever is higher. The latter bid came from Upsilon.
The new concessionaire will take over from Joey Romeo. For over 30 years, he ran Joey’s by the Shore. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)
Fava said that 3 groups were interviewed by a committee of representatives from the RTM, Parks & Rec Department, Parks & Rec Commission, and Department of Public Works.
They selected Upsilon for a variety of reasons. One was those highest fees (which top out at $120,000 a year or 12% of gross revenues, whichever is higher, in the final year of the 5-year contract). An opt-in clause covers 2 additional 5-year terms.
Fava said the committee was enthusiastic about Upsilon’s previous experience, which included operations at New York’s Bryant Park, Prospect Park and Hudson River Park.
The menu would include “typical beach food,” plus “healthier options like smoothies and salads.” They would offer special food nights, like Italian cuisine, and events like cheese tastings.
The company will use biodegradable packaging, and will compost materials. They committed to hire local staffs, and sell Connecticut-based products.
“They’re very professional,” the Parks & Rec director said. “They want to be partners with us, and involved in the community.”
Joey Romeo owned much of the interior equipment. The new concessionaire will have to bring in its own. (Photo/Betsy P. Kahn)
Fava said that while many terms in the original contract were similar to those in the past, the coronavirus pandemic necessitated a rider. It covers uncertainty over starting dates for the beach, and addresses issues like partial openings.
The P&Z vote marked the first step toward town approval for Upsilon. Still ahead: the Board of Finance and Board of Selectmen.
Another defeat for the proposal to build 187 apartment units on Hiawatha Lane. That’s the tough-to-access property bordering I-95 exit 17, for many years home to some of the most affordable housing in Westport.
Last night’s unanimous vote made it 2 towns that have repeatedly opposed plans by Summit Development. After a number of denials by Westport boards, this one came from the Norwalk Conversation Commission.
They ruled 5-0 to deny a request to build an emergency access road through the Norden property. It abuts Hiawatha Lane.
The Norden property includes 1 apartment building, and 11 acres of designated open space with a conservation easement. It was created as part of a 2006 agreement with the then Norden property owners (now Avalon) and Westport and Norwalk residents. The easement specifically called for a gravel path for use by both towns’ residents for walking and bicycling, but precluded vehicular use.
The gravel walking path. (Photo/Matthew Mandell)
Summit’s request by Summit to modify the easement was made following the Westport Planning & Zoning Commission’s denial of the Hiawatha project. Westport’s fire marshal had raised health and safety issues, noting that the only access to the complex was at the end of a long cul-de-sac.
Summit claimed there would be no environmental issues with the expansion of the path. However, the Norwalk Commission felt there was no need to modify the easement to allow for this.
Save Old Saugatuck, a neighborhood organization led by resident Carolanne Curry, was joined by members of the East Norwalk Neighborhood Association in opposing the request to modify the conservation easement to allow a road.
The Aspetuck and Norwalk Land Trusts both opposed the request as well. They said that modifying an easement for the sole benefit of a developer would set a bad precedent.
State senators Will Haskell and Tony Hwang, along with state representatives Jonathan Steinberg and Gail Lavielle sent letters in opposition. Hwang and Lavielle also spoke at the hearing.
Artist’s rendering of the proposed 187-unit apartment complex on Hiawatha Lane.
Norwalk’s opposition to the project mirrored what happened 14 years ago. Then, Westport residents spearheaded by Curry and RTM member Matthew Mandell aided Norwalk residents in their drive to preserve the land.
The no-road constraint in the easement was agreed to at that point, in part to stop future cross-border encroachment.
The latest setback for Summit followed 2 appellate court decisions regarding a sewer extension. Summit also failed to block Westport from joining a suit filed by them against the State Housing Authority, seeking to overturn the moratorium granted from 8-30g applications.
In 2011 — as part of its application process to open in town — Terrain agreed to preserve the small house at the corner of Crescent Road.
The Historic District Commission and Planning and Zoning Commission liked what they heard. The small, gray 1900-era building — one of the last examples of a single-family house on the Post Road — stood proudly across from the fire station.
In 2013, this was the condition of the house on Terrain’s Post Road property, at the corner of Crescent Road.
But parking is tight. So in 2013, Terrain tried to gain 8 spaces by knocking down the house. They put in requests to the Planning & Zoning Commission and Historic District Commission (which was involved because the structure was more than 50 years old).
Matthew Mandell was not pleased. The RTM District 1 representative made a video. In it he explained the back story of Terrain’s dealings with the town.
Also in the video, the HDC’s Randy Henkels noted their early support of Terrain, based on promises the store made. Town planning director Larry Bradley described his department’s role.
And RTM member Cathy Talmadge suggested a boycott of Terrain, if they pressed ahead with demolition plans.
They did not. The next day, the company withdrew its request. “0688o” reported, “Terrain is believed to be working with the Planning and Zoning Commission on a parking plan that would preserve the century-old structure.”
It still stands. But — as many Westporters have noticed — it’s looking a bit grotty.
One view of the Terrain house yesterday …
The P&Z is among those paying attention.
Part of the previous deal was that Terrain would not use the house for storage — that way, it would not count toward the number of parking spots needed.
Another part of the deal was that Terrain would maintain it in good condition.
… and another.
Well, it is being used for storage. In fact, the interior has been torn out to allow more space.
And it is most definitely not being maintained.
Storage inside the building.
On Wednesday, the P&Z promised enforcement action.
Will it come in time to save the rapidly deteriorating, yet still somewhat handsome, building?
Many Westporters have no idea what goes on at 900 Post Road East. The lot next to Walgreens, across from the Sherwood Diner, is filled with trucks and mounds of sand.
In fact, it’s a maintenance lot for the Connecticut Department of Transportation.
At least, it is now.
Sometime in the future though, it could be the site of new townhouses. Eighty or 90% could be “affordable” — under state 8-30g standards — while the rest would sell or rent at market rates.
As first reported by the Westport News, town officials — including 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and the Planning & Zoning Commission — are in very preliminary discussions with the state. The complex would be built on 4 of the 10.73 acres, along West Parish Road.
900 Post Road East
Early indications are that some nearby residents favor the move. They prefer townhouses to trucks in their back yards.
Others, however, oppose more development in the Greens Farms/Post Road area. New housing — some affordable, others for seniors, most at market rate — has gone up recently near Greens Farms Elementary School, and the foot of Long Lots Road.
Affordable housing is mandated by the state. It is not optional. In Westport, that translates to people earning just under $80,000 a year, says P&Z chair Danielle Dobin. That includes teachers, firefighters, police officers, other town employees, young people and seniors.
The P&Z’s Affordable Housing sub-committee meets today (Friday, January 10, 12 noon, Westport Town Hall Room 201). It’s the first of many meetings about this proposal.
The state Appellate Court ruled that Westport’s Water Pollution Control Authority appropriately exercised its discretion to deny the developer — Summit Saugatuck — an application for a sewer connection.
Applications for sewer connections had been denied by other bodies as well, including the Planning & Zoning Commission and Board of Selectmen.
The Appellate Court ruling is a major victory for the town.
Summit may refile their application. They may also appeal to the state Supreme Court.
But as of today, they do not have permission to extend the sewer — or build on what is already a narrow, difficult to access piece of land, with some of the most affordable housing in Westport.
Summit Saugatuck’s proposal for 187 housing units on Hiawatha Lane.
Danielle Dobin is the mother of a Staples High School 9th grader and a Bedford Middle School 6th grader, and vice chair of Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission. Like many Westporters, she has followed the debate over the future of our middle schools — begun a year ago, when mold caused the closure of Coleytown — with great interest.
School district officials, the Boards of Education and Finance, and a special committee are moving ahead with plans to renovate CMS, and reopen it next fall. However, Dobin says, that may not be the right move. She writes:
While the closure of Coleytown Middle School has been a challenge for our community, we can turn it into an opportunity. We can create a modern and innovative middle school that delivers excellent education to all students.
Right now, we are on a path to spend $32 million (minimum) to renovate CMS. But many in town question that path. They wonder about the wisdom of revamping a building designed by the standards of 1965. They are beginning to see the demographic challenges of running 2 middle schools with declining enrollment. Most importantly, they are beginning to question the rush to get back into CMS without carefully considering all options.
Coleytown Middle School is closed due to mold. Right now, it is set to reopen next fall.
It’s time to pause, and review all the new data and information at our disposal. It is time to finally have the kind of community conversation a decision of this importance demands.
I want to be clear for those who are only now engaged in this process: When CMS closed, there was no thoughtful discussion — much less a town-wide debate — about what kind of middle school structure would best serve the needs of 21st century education in Westport.
Other important matters like the Downtown Plan and Saugatuck Transit-Oriented Development involved meaningful public outreach and various charettes, surveys and meetings to gauge public opinion. There was nothing like that last year.
Timing (“get CMS back as quickly as possible”) was prioritized over thoughtful consideration of all options available to us. The Board of Education did begin a process to explore options, but this was quickly circumvented. As a result, we did not plan for the future. We simply opted to re-create the past.
So what has changed?
First, let’s recognize that we have time to develop a thoughtful solution. Middle school at Bedford is working well. With the improvements of additional teaching and office spaces, a 9-period day and a merged student population, students are thriving.
We are no longer in the time crunch we thought we were in. We have the flexibility to take the time necessary to decide the best path forward in terms of design, budget and vision.
Bedford Middle School currently houses every 6th, 7th and 8th grader in town.
Second, as is becoming increasingly obvious, our demographics no longer easily support the choice to maintain 2 middle schools. Moreover, the work of the Board of Ed and the many maps circulated by their demographer make clear that while some redistricting plans may create parity in the middle schools in terms of balanced enrollment, it comes at great cost to our elementary schools.
At the elementary school level, these plans create immense disruption. They lead to dramatic under- and over-utilization of various schools. No simple re-balancing solution on the table achieves all of the criteria set forth by the Board of Education.
This was not understood by most residents — or even many elected officials — until quite recently.
Third, the CMS Taskforce under the strong leadership of Don O’Day has done a fine job of researching the cost to repair CMS and managing a complicated process. My call to rethink our path is in no way a criticism of their important work.
In fact, they can concurrently continue their process while as a town we mull whether we want to actually repair CMS.
Construction has not yet begun at CMS, so sunk costs are minimal. Before we decide as a town that we want to spend millions of dollars repairing a circa-1965 building, let’s confirm that the cost will be limited to $32 million.
Let’s also figure out our tipping point. What if the cost to repair is $35 million. What if it’s $45 million?
I propose we take advantage of all the new information, and reconsider the path we are taking. Let’s take a thoughtful look at all the options: continuing on the current path, building a new state-of-the-art middle school, or creating one spectacular unified middle school for the entire district.
One unified middle school campus — with an addition designed in concert with our educators and administrators — has many advantages:
1. Every middle school student will be educated in a modern space, thoughtfully designed for the team-teaching method and reflective of our needs in 2020 and beyond.
2. A unified middle school will drive all our resources to a centralized campus, where our talented educators can collaborate and innovate across grade cohorts and areas of study.
3. A unified middle school will resolve our demographic issues for a long time, without a disruptive redistricting to achieve the optimal balance.
4. We can look as a community to the current CMS site to create a resource for all our schools: a modern computer lab to provide for coding and programming classes, a science lab for our Science Olympians, and indoor fields for our athletes. We can dream big.
The Planning & Zoning Commission invites every stakeholder to a special planning session to discuss this important topic on October 22 (7 p.m., Town Hall).
Public comment from all Westport residents is welcome and encouraged. If you want to leave a written comment, please comment here — in the sunlight where everyone can see — and not on private Facebook groups that have segmented us into elementary school parents, middle school parents and everyone else. (Click “Comments” below — and use full, real names.)
The P&Z staff will ensure that every comment left on this public forum is included in the public record. Whether you favor a unified middle school, a newly built state-of-the-art CMS or a rehabbed CMS, please voice your thoughts.
The CMS Taskforce has not yet begun to spend the full $32 million. It’s time to be deliberative, not impulsive. There is a lot of new information to consider regarding demographics, redistricting and the benefits of a unified middle school.
This is a huge expenditure for our town. It will impact everyone’s taxes.
Let’s be sure it reflects how the public envisions our middle school institutions over the next 3 decades.
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