Tag Archives: Westport Planning & Zoning Commission

Minuteman, Spare That Tree!

It’s one of Westport’s most iconic views: The Minute Man monument.

Yet just as impressive as the 1910 statue is the magnificent red oak tree behind, at the corner of  South Compo and Compo Beach Read. It frames every photo. It adds permanence to that historic spot. It’s as beautiful as New England gets.

The tree stands on town-owned property — long a buffer against development. But that doesn’t mean it’s safe from private property harm. Part of the tree makes contact with private property, so ownership is considered “shared.”

The Minute Man Monument, with the magnificent red oak behind

Spec builders — Simple Plan One LLC — hope to develop a home at 280 Compo Road South. The project is moving through various town departments.

The plan does not include removal of the tree. But it could very likely cause the tree to die within a couple of years due to nearby root cutting and root compaction, along with changes to the topography after regrading.

A major threat to the tree is the proposed moving of a WPA-era drainpipe (which has a permanent easement), to make room for the new house. The developer has asked permission to redirect the pipe, expanding the building envelope — thus allowing a significantly larger home to rise on the site.

Moving the pipe appears to run a very real risk of damaging the red oak’s root system.

The tree would not die immediately, if damaged. Its demise could take a year or two.

But it would sure not last the 800 years or so that similar trees, in robust, healthy condition, could live for.

This one is more than 100 years old. It’s still a child.

The Minute Man Monument, around the time of the 1910 dedication. The very young tree can be seen in the background.

Another worry involves construction of a new driveway across the town-owned property onto Compo Beach Road. That would provide a 2nd driveway, in addition to the one the property has long had on South Compo.

(The driveway is now at the easternmost edge of the property — down the road, away from the Minute Man. The new driveway on South Compo would be closer to the monument.)

Neighbors worry that the 2nd driveway, with parking and a garage — passing over town-owned property — also runs a very real risk of encroaching on, and damaging, the tree’s roots.

The reason for the garage there? It’s to insulate the living areas of the home from traffic noise on Compo Beach Road.

One more view.

According to tree warden Bruce Lindsay, the “stately red oak … is in excellent health.” He hopes that it “is not harmed, (and that) proper tree protection systems are put into place to maintain the tree’s health and structure outside the Critical Root Zone, (and) beyond the scope of the work.”

The Flood and Erosion Control Board approved the project on May 1. Since then, it appears that a number of changes have been made to the plans. The tree was not part of that board’s discussion, as it was not a known issue at the time.

The Conservation Commission met on May 15. They held the matter open until a special meeting — set for June 10 — to allow neighbors’ consultants time to review the proposal. Click here for a video of the commission’s May meeting.

The developer hopes to get on the Planning & Zoning Commission agenda this month or next.

Will officials permit the taking of town property for an additional entrance? Will they green-light proposed work that runs a substantial risk of harming a historic, stately town-owned tree?

All of this does not even touch the question of what new, large construction would mean to the streetscape view of the Minute Man Monument, at that iconic corner.

Stay tuned.

The Minute Man himself may not be able to fight.

But concerned Westporters can.

Regency Apologizes; Vows To Do Better

Last night, Regency Centers went before the Westport Planning & Zoning Commission, seeking permission for work on the facade and parking lot at Fresh Market — the shopping plaza they own.

“06880” readers remember that last weekend, prior to to approval, Regency had an osprey nest on their property removed. An uproar ensued, before the owners placed the platform back on its pole.

Alert “06880” reader Carolyn Doan was at Town Hall last night. She reports that Jack deVilliers, Regency Vice President, began with an apology. He thanked Westporters — and “06880” — for their concern, and noted that Regency appreciates having its regional office here in Westport. He said that the company “got it wrong” with respect to their removal of the nest, adding that the company did consult with the Audubon Society and Department of Energy and Environmental Protection prior to its actions.

The ospreys are back in their nest, after Regency replaced the platform they removed last weekend. (Photo/Carolyn McPhee)

DeVilliers acknowledged that Regency’s apologies might not be enough for some Westporters.

He promised the company would do better in the future, then presented plans for the property that included a rain garden (water holding pond) and restaurant.

Several speakers talked about parking issues, asked about the restaurant — and expressed concern about Regency going forward, with regard to its properties and the ospreys.

No vote was taken. Regency will return April 25, to address issues like fencing and the neighbors.

But the P&Z did approve the new Westport Weston YMCA building expansion and Camp Mahackeno project. It includes a water slide, splash pad, new heated pool and archery range.

Ospreys and Regency Centers: VERY Interesting Sunday Afternoon Report

It appears now that Regency Centers — the owner of both the Fresh Terrain shopping plaza and Terrain — is the bad actor in yesterday’s removal of an osprey nest on a pole between the two properties.

Regency’s management company — or a sub-contractor — took down the nest. When confronted by Terrain employees, they claimed to be Audubon Society workers. They also did not have a permit from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. A permit is mandated by the Federal Migratory Bird Act of 1918.

But here’s where the story gets really interesting.

This Thursday, April 4 (7 p.m., Town Hall), Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission has a regularly scheduled meeting.

Agenda item #3 is a request by Regency Centers for “Westport Village Center” — aka the Fresh Market plaza — for “a Site Plan approval for proposed exterior alteration to the building façade and modifications to the parking lot for property located in RBD and Residence A zones, PID# E09068000.”

In other words: The illegal osprey nest removal in preparation for parking lot work was done prior to P&Z approval.

Regency Centers — owner of the Fresh Market plaza — will ask the P&Z on Thursday for permission to make changes to the facade and parking lot.

And here’s where the story gets even more interesting.

Thursday’s meeting is a public hearing. Westporters are welcome to attend — and speak.

(You can also make your feelings known by email before the meeting: pandz@westportct.gov.)

Regency is well known to Westport — and the P&Z. When Regency bought the Fresh Market plaza, they promised to plant trees in front, and install a sidewalk. That has not yet been done.

Regency also owns Compo Acres Shopping Center (anchored by Trader Joe’s). Westporters — particularly those living behind the back parking lot — have not forgotten the work-first-ask-questions-later job done on the retaining wall there.

A similar incident occurred in the back of yet another property owned by Regency: the shopping center across the street from Fresh Market.

Thursday’s P&Z meeting should be very interesting indeed.

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Meanwhile, back to the ospreys. Someone involved in the utility industry — who asked for anonymity based on the nature of his work — examined this morning’s photo of the removal of the nest. He writes:

The photo taken by the high school freshman of the bucket truck yesterday tells this old utility veteran several things.

This is a “streetlight” pole, set exclusively for mounting the 2 streetlights clearly shown in the photo, whose lights provide security lighting for Fresh Market’s parking lot.

12-year-old James Doan took this photo today, of an osprey at its old nest pole. His mother Carolyn says, “The male is flying around the female with sticks and possibly food. The cry is tough to hear.”

All streetlights are supplied by secondary wires, energized 100% of the time. So this pole has active power supplied to it — a safety hazard for anyone choosing to work on this pole top.

The utility always works with safety most paramount. If this contractor wanted to take this action they should have contacted the utility well in advance to get approval.

Since the utility erected the platform originally. I assume they would never have granted approval for this action. They also would never allow this contractor to work on their pole without authorization, and proof that the contractor is “qualified” to work on energized equipment.

Looks pretty clear that regardless of what DEEP or Audubon said to this contractor, they were also violating various rules and regulations of the utility and perhaps should be treated accordingly. License revocation? Fines? Local Westport electrical inspector might also be someone to get involved with this in that regard.

[OPINION] Larry Weisman: Westport Needs Form Based Zoning

Larry Weisman, his wife (author/journalist Mary-Lou) and their children moved to Westport in 1966. A partner in the Bridgeport law firm of Cohen & Wolf, he’d just finished a stint with the Lawyers Constitutional Defense Committee, defending SNCC workers in Louisiana and Mississippi.

In 1969, Weisman and Manny Margolis won a First Amendment case in the US Supreme Court. They represented Westporter Timothy Breen, a Staples High School graduate who had lost his student deferment after protesting the Vietnam War.

Larry Weisman

In 1979 Weisman moved his practice to Westport, concentrating on zoning law. He has represented the Gorham Island developer, the Gault Saugatuck project, the Westport Library, Aspetuck Town Trust, Compo Beach playground effort, and many other significant projects. 

He is a member of the Coalition for Westport. Most recently, he co-chaired the board of Fairfield County Hospice House, which recently opened a county-wide facility.

Weisman has watched with interest — and alarm — as Westport has grappled with a host of zoning issues. In his mind, the entire foundation of our zoning regulations is wrong. Here’s his solution.

Form Based Codes (FBCs) are an innovative way to manage growth and shape development in a way that reflects a specific idea of what a town should look like. They are intended to promote a mix of uses tailored to the needs and desires of a community.

FBCs are not intended to change existing residential neighborhoods, but to bring new life to business and commercial areas and town centers.

Rather than simply regulating development and density as we do now, Form Based Codes concentrate on relationships between public and private spaces, and the way streets and buildings interact in form and scale to create attractive neighborhoods.

Form Based Zoning is more concerned with the appearance of buildings and their relationship to public spaces and surrounding streets than with the uses of those buildings. The intent of this approach is to improve the appearance of buildings and streetscapes, and avoid the unintended consequences of haphazard development by providing a coherent vision which takes variety and appearance into account.

Many Main Street stores share a common setback.

For example: I can imagine Main Street populated by a mixture of apartments and smaller stores serving residents’ needs, with varying setbacks along both sides of the street to create a more interesting streetscape. I would add cafes and a movie theater to create activity in the evenings and contribute to a sense of community. I imagine the westerly side of Parking Harding Plaza as a park with a playground and other amenities.

Your notion of what Main Street should be may differ from mine. But somewhere from the welter of ideas a consensus will emerge, and an FBC would facilitate its translation into reality.

FBCs have been used to good effect in Manchester, Connecticut, to revitalize an outmoded highway commercial center in the Broad Street area, and on Cape Cod’s Buzzards Bay and Eastham, to create village centers after being bypassed or divided by new highway construction.

An FBC requires a comprehensive plan for the area in question. It lays out streets and public spaces, and suggests a variety of building forms and how they relate to those spaces, promoting a mix of uses and emphasizing the over-all appearance and “character” of the area.

Although we talk endlessly about the “character” of Westport, it is abundantly clear that there is no agreement as to what that “character” is.

For those of us who have lived here for many years it may mean a longing for the past, while for newer arrivals it may mean what Westport looked like when they got here. But most of us recognize “character” when we see it, and we value it in places like Provincetown, Nantucket, the fishing villages of Maine, and the islands of the Caribbean where we vacation. “Character” is more a matter of appearance than anything else.

A summer evening in Provincetown.

But no matter how you define “character,” most of us would agree that our current way of doing things — by strict application and enforcement of an ever-expanding set of restrictive regulations — has produced some undesirable and unattractive results that adversely affect our quality of life.

An FBC requires that we reach consensus as to what we mean by the “character” of Westport, so we can create a comprehensive plan which designates different building forms based on that consensus about the desired appearance and physical character of each part of town. This requires a series of public meetings and surveys with widespread citizen participation. It’s a heavy lift to be sure, but I am confident that done properly, a widely held vision for the future will emerge from the welter of ideas on the subject.

The next step is to work toward the desired result by enacting regulations which are not based on uses or density considerations alone, and which do not value uniformity, but emphasize design considerations, massing of structures, and how they relate to and interact with surrounding streets and public spaces.

For example, in an FBC frontage requirements on the same street might differ for buildings devoted to similar uses to add interest and variety and to avoid the monotony of a wall of boutiques, as on Main Street at present.

There are any number of things that we could do to make the streetscape and the pedestrian experience more interesting, attractive, and interactive, but first we need to discard old notions of zoning by division into districts and strictly regulating use and density, and understand that zoning regulations should be used not only to impose limitations and restrictions, but as effective planning tools with built-in design parameters.

The plaza between Saugatuck Sweets and The Whelk is an excellent example of an innovative use of space.

We need to acknowledge that there is real value in encouraging creativity by relaxing restrictions and providing guidelines and incentives to build in accordance with the community’s vision of what a given area should look like and how it should function.

Westport has suffered too long from lack of planning and lack of a coherent vision for areas such as Main Street and Saugatuck Center. The P&Z, overburdened as it is by new applications and enforcement responsibilities, has demonstrated a disinclination to engage in meaningful long-term planning, as witness the wholly unimaginative and inadequate 2018 Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD), as well as the costly studies gathering dust on shelves in the Town Hall.

At the same time, our zoning regulations are sorely in need of comprehensive revision. They are a mix of restrictions on development — some necessary and some, such as parking requirements for medical uses, excessive — and ad hoc reactions to individual cases that have only limited application. They can be difficult to understand and are susceptible to differing interpretations, which leads to inconsistent application. It is my hope that we will one day undertake revision of the zoning regulations, and that when we do, that we give serious consideration to the merits of an FBC.

This is the right time to rethink our priorities, to reform our practices, and to create a coherent vision for our most important neighborhoods, preserving what is worth preserving, planning for orderly, attractive and livable growth and instilling “character” into our most visible and important neighborhoods. A Form Based approach will go a long way toward achieving those goals.

BREAKING NEWS: Westport Gets Moratorium For 8-30g Housing

For years, Westport has grappled with the intent and consequences of Connecticut’s Affordable Housing Law.

Known as 8-30g, the regulation mandates that 10% of a town’s housing stock be “affordable.” It compels local planning and zoning boards to justify any denial of an “affordable housing” application.

The intent of 8-30g is for every community in the state to provide diverse housing stock.

However, for the purpose of calculating 8-30g, only units constructed after 1990, and those that are deed-restricted for 40 years, are considered. Most Westport units serving lower-income groups do not fall into either category.

Canal Park offers affordable housing for seniors, near downtown. However, because it was built before 1990, it does not count toward 8-30g compliance.

Developers began using 8-30g as a weapon. They proposed large developments all around town — Hiawatha Lane, Lincoln Street, Weston Road, Post Road East — with some units designated as 8-30g.

Opponents cited concerns like traffic, fire safety, and environmental encroachment. But because the regulation is written so definitively, fighting an 8-30g proposal is time-consuming, expensive and hard.

And because proposals often included only a few 8-30g units, each development meant that it could be harder — not easier — for Westport to reach the 10% threshold.

One of the most controversial housing proposals with an 8-30g component — 187 units on Hiawatha Lane, off Saugatuck Avenue by I-95 Exit 17 — will be heard tomorrow by the Planning & Zoning Commission (Thursday, 7 p.m., Town Hall). Because it was filed before today, it is unaffected by the moratorium.

However, an end — if only temporary — is at hand.

This afternoon, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe announced that Westport has received a “Certificate of Affordable Housing Completion” from the state Department of Housing. The result is a 4-year moratorium on 8-30g.

The moratorium was granted “based upon the significant progress Westport has made in supplying affordable housing,” Marpe said.

He praised members of the Planning and Zoning Commission, Planning and Zoning Department staffers, and attorney Nicholas Bamonte for helping create affordable housing opportunities, and seeing the moratorium application through to completion.

Planning and Zoning director Mary Young said that Westport joins Brookfield, Darien, Farmington, New Canaan, Ridgefield and Wilton as towns that have been granted moratoriums. Milford has an application pending.

P&Z chair Paul Lebowitz said that the moratorium “will allow the Commission to continue their efforts to create affordable housing opportunities that are in scale with and can be integrated with the community. The 4-year moratorium will not stifle our efforts to provide affordable housing in Westport.”

Fortunately, Westporters Can Get Flood Insurance Discount

Floods are a fact of life in Westport.

Fortunately, homeowners in certain areas can buy flood insurance.

Unfortunately, it’s expensive.

Fortunately, FEMA — the Federal Emergency Management Agency — offers discounts. They’re based on rankings of each community. #1 offers the highest reduction; #10 the least.

Unfortunately, Westport is #8.

Fortunately — thanks to efforts implemented by the Planning & Zoning Commission — that’s up from #10.

The high water mark on an “06880” reader’s garage is very high. This was last October.

Fortunately too, the Westport Progress Report on Floodplain Management is available online. It enables residents to receive a 10% reduction on their flood insurance.

Unfortunately, the report itself is not available online. You’ll click on the town website, and see that the online document merely tells you the next step to complete to receive the information.

Fortunately, I’ve cut and pasted the relevant information:

A copy of the CT South Western Regional Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan (2016) is available either in person at the Westport Planning and Zoning Office (Town Hall, Room 203), or by clicking here.

Unfortunately, the link above does not bring you where you want to be. I think this is the relevant document: https://westcog.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/HMP-2016-WestCOG-South-Plan.pdf

Fortunately, there are no floods in the immediate forecast.

Remembering Ann Gill

As Westport boomed in the 1950s, families flocked to new homes on new streets carved out of thick woods and empty meadows.

The Gill family was one of the first on High Point Road, off Long Lots. Staples High School was rising, just to the west. The street was filled with kids, riding bikes, playing kickball, and going to nearby Long Lots Junior High and Burr Farms Elementary.

The dads commuted to New York. The moms threw themselves into volunteer work.

Ann Gill was particularly active. A 1951 University of Connecticut graduate with a degree in horticulture, she served on PTAs, and with Girl Scouts and the League of Women Voters.

Ann Gill

She spent 8 years on the Planning & Zoning Commission — 2 as chair — and was the Conservation Commission’s hearing officer. She also was treasurer and a director of the Westport Library Riverwalk, and was active in town Republican groups and committees.

Like many women of her time, Ann also joined the workforce. She earned a teaching degree from Western Connecticut State University, and taught 5th grade in Trumbull for 7 years.

Ann was married for 63 years to Ed Gill. She took great pride in her home, her plants and flowers. As High Point Road changed — with  longtime families moving away, new families replacing them, and 1950s-era homes torn down for bigger 2010s ones — the Gills remained. After Ed died, she stayed — the last remaining link to an original family.

Ann Gill died earlier this month — in her beloved home.

Donations in her name may be made to the Ann Collins Gill Fund (#31170), in support of plant science at the University of Connecticut: UConn Foundation, 2390 Alumni Drive, Unit 3206, Storrs, CT 06269.

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)