Right now, Westport’s rules for “accessory apartments” (units in a principal dwelling) and “accessory dwelling units” (those in detached structures) are strict.
An owner of an accessory apartment must either be at least 62 years old, or the apartment must be deed restricted as “affordable” (which can limit the owner’s ability to easily resell or refinance).
The apartment can be no larger than 800 square feet or 25% of the floor areas (whichever is smaller), and there is an annual certification process.
This top-floor apartment is one of a limited number of legal ones n town.
Accessory structures of up to 300 square feet are permitted. However, they can have only 2 of these 3 three plumbing fixtures: sink, toilet or shower. Kitchens are not allowed. They cannot be rented out, and — importantly — they cannot be used as a dwelling unit.
These are not really “apartments.” They’re more like pool houses.
If the accessory structure is a barn, they cannot have bathrooms, kitchens or central heating. They must be used for livestock or storage of farm products, equipment and/or feed.
“Accessory Dwelling Units” — where people can actually live — have been permitted. But only with special approval, with evidence that the structure is “historic.”
But if the Planning & Zoning Commission’s Affordable Housing Subcommittee has its way — and they’ve approved the proposal unanimously — a text amendment would permit Accessory Dwelling Units throughout town.
It would open up our housing stock. It would add affordable housing. It would provide added income for residents who are going through life changes — the loss of a job, say, or divorce, or those whose children have moved away and who want to move into a smaller place on their own property, while renting out their larger home.
An apartment like this (which is not in Westport) is tightly regulated now.
The text amendment — on the P&Z agenda for this Thursday (April 8, 6 p.m., Zoom) would permit Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) on lots that do not have an Accessory Apartment, anywhere in town.
Lots of 1 1/2 acres or less could have a footprint of up to 650 square feet. Lots of more than 1 1/2 acres could have up to 1,000 square feet. The height of the structure would be capped, to guard against “monolithic tower-like ADUs.”
In addition, the owner of the property must live in either the principal or accessory dwelling. Any lease must be for a minimum of 6 months.
The P&Z will also consider modifications to its Accessory Apartment regulations. The age requirement would be removed, and the maximum size would increase from 800 square feet t0 1,500. However, the apartment could still not exceed 25% of the floor area of the entire house.
Gabled roof ADU, on Cape Cod.
The proposals are in keeping with the Affordable Housing Subcommittee’s mission of encouraging the development and preservation of affordable housing choices in Westport.
(Click here and scroll down for the full text amendment. The April 8 meeting will be livestreamed on www.westportct.gov, and shown on Optimum channel 79 and Frontier channel 6020 until 7:30 p.m. Public comments may be sent before noon on April 8 to PandZ@westportct.gov.)
NOTE: A technical glitch prevented some readers from receiving today’s first “06880” post. Here it is. Apologies if you already got this.
One of Connecticut’s hottest topics is zoning reform. Action in Hartford will have a direct impact on Westport.
It’s not easy making sense of the fast-moving legislative action. A number of bills are moving toward votes.
“06880” is here to help.
This Tuesday (April 6, 6:30 p.m. Zoom), Westport Planning & Zoning Commission chair Danielle Dobin hosts an in-depth discussion of the bills that have advanced to the full legislature. The focus will be on what they mean for our town.
Danielle will be joined by Westport’s 4 legislators: State Senators Will Haskell and Tony Hwang, and Representatives Jonathan Steinberg and Stephanie Thomas.
And I’ll be the moderator. Click here to register.
Meanwhile, Danielle Dobin sends this report, on the status of several bills:
Senate Bill 1024: As-of-Right Multifamily With No Parking
The original proposed language of this bill rezoned all towns (with a population of over 7,500) in Connecticut to permit as-of-right market rate fourplexes within .5 miles of that town’s primary train station, and triplexes around Main Street corridors. Density of 15 units per acre would be permitted.
“As-of-right” means there would be no public hearings or comment around these new developments. Towns would be explicitly prohibited from requiring any off-street parking for the new units. The P&Z would have been required to conserve sewer capacity for the new as-of-right development instead of utilizing it for larger mixed use, mixed income projects (like Belden Place and Saugatuck Center) with affordable units included.
The Belden Place apartments by the Saugatuck River, off Main Street near Parker Harding Plaza.
Examples of streets that would have been impacted with new as-of-right multifamily – up to 15 units per acre with no parking for the new residents — include St. John’s Place, Evergreen and Myrtle near Main Street, and Stony Point, Davenport, Eno Lane and Burritt’s Landing near Saugatuck.
The original bill also included a litigation-enabling statute that invited constant lawsuits from anyone, regardless of whether they have filed an application for development, against towns regarding inadequacies in a town’s zoning code.
This bill was advanced out of committee without the very harmful provisions that would have limited future opportunity for the development of mixed income multifamily and supportive housing in Westport. The mandate to permit as-of-right multifamily without parking in single family neighborhoods has been removed.
There is language requiring some changes to Westport’s zoning code, and language permitting freely rentable Accessory Dwelling Units) by administrative approval.
Westport is revising its own ADU regulations with a proposal for a text amendment scheduled for April 8 that has already unanimously approved by the P&Z Affordable Subcommittee.
Also included is language exempting ADUs from the overall unit count for 8-30g calculations. This means permitting ADUs will not set back Westport’s compliance with 8-30g.
There is also language setting out a working group to design an optional model zoning code for the state. Right now, the proposed working group has no representatives from suburban towns.
NOTE: Yesterday Sara Bronin, the main proponent behind SB 1024, said that she and her team are working to have the as-of-right multifamily without parking inserted back into the bill before it is voted on by the full legislature.
House Bill 6107: Zoning Enabling Act Changes
This bill, part of the Partnership for Strong Communities legislative agenda, prohibits consideration of the word “character” in zoning decisions. The Westport P&Z does not utilize “character of the community” in their decision-making. Westport’s special permit standards look at height, massing, etc., and the as-built aesthetics of streets.
This bill creates a working group to examine affordable housing statewide. A modernization of 8-30g (now 30 years old) could come out of this.
This bill has some of the same language as SB1024 requiring changes to Westport’s zoning code, but never included a litigation enabling provision.
NOTE: It’s critical to ensure the as-of-right multifamily without parking isn’t tacked onto this bill before it is voted on by the full legislature.
House Bill 6611: The Fair Share Plan
Unlike SB 1024, this focused on creating more affordable housing across Connecticut. It proposes a completely different process than 8-30(g) (though as drafted now it does not replace 8-30g) to determine the amount of affordable housing each municipality should create, and leaves it to each town to create a 10-year plan for achieving this “Fair Share” goal.
I have a call scheduled with staff from the Open Community Alliance, who proposed this bill, to better understand the requirements and impact to share at Tuesday’s session. SB 1024 garnered so much attention, it’s important that this bill – proposed by longtime advocates for affordability in Connecticut – finally receives a fair hearing.
Among Westport’s affordable housing options: Sasco Creek Village.
Senate Bill 6570: Transportation
The Transportation Committee, under Senator Will Haskell’s leadership, has advanced a bill that requires towns to look at state-owned land near transit stations in their 8-30j affordability plans, and empowers the Department of Transportation to utilize 5 lots from across the state to plan for mixed income housing, while retaining all existing parking spaces.
This bill initially contained the similar as-of-right multifamily language as SB 1024, but it was removed. This language is designed to help fully built-out towns (like Westport) leverage state-owned property for housing, including cottage clusters and townhomes (much like the Westport Housing Authority is working to create on the DOT land off Post Road East and West Parish. Westport’s innovative approach has created a template for towns across the state.
A number of other bills advanced as well. They will be reviewed during Tuesday’s discussion. But these are the big ones to watch.
Chip Stephens’ resignation last night from the Planning & Zoning Commission surprised many Westporters. The 3-term member — and native Westporter — has taken a new full-time job in Maine.
But his resignation was bracketed by 2 others. Al Gratrix resigned hours earlier, after 7 years as a full commissioner, and the past 4 as an alternate.
This afternoon, former chair and 13-year member Cathy Walsh submitted hers too.
All 3 are Republicans. Jon Olefson is the lone Republican remaining, on what should be a 7-member board. By statute, the remaining commissioners choose the trio’s replacement. All must be registered Republicans.
Today, Stephens offers these tributes to his fellow former P&Z members.
Al is the poster boy; the jack of all trades. He brought wisdom, understanding and service to the commission.
He knows the regulations and how they related to the applications at hand. He is well versed in all building technicalities, codes and everything else, and he gave his wisdom and guidance to all his fellow members.
From left: Al Gratrix, Cathy Walsh, Chip Stephens.
Additionally, he co-chaired the Enforcement Sub-Committee that dealt with all types of offenses and issues that went against the rules that 95 percent of time are followed, but when broken must be addressed, fixed or handed to lawyers.
Al also held a volunteer position on the Tree Board for 3 years. He earned expertise as a Trumbull firefighter and policeman, a part-time builder, and through various degrees in biochemistry and environmental biology.
Al initiated the Westport Evergreen Land Initiative, which helped create the beautiful Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum adjacent to Earthplace.
Al and his vast knowledge of planning, zoning, conversation and landscaping will be sorely missed by the commission, the staff and most of all Westport. Please thank Al for his service. And if you see his wife Nancy Austin around town, thank her for her patience and support of his time spent for our town.
Cathy, meanwhile, was the non-partisan leader as chair, and even more so when not in her official role.
She is smart, savvy, and always had her say, win or lose (she did not lose very often).
She led the commission on town character, local land knowledge, landscaping and planning initiatives that faced almost every submission, study or issue that came up.
Cathy, along with Al, Jack Whittle and I, spearheaded the Save Baron’s South open space project. She created over 6 open space park designations, maintaining sparse valuable open land in Westport for all.
Cathy Walsh and Chip Stephens, at a Planning & Zoning Commission meeting.
She got her smarts and strengths from her upbringing in Pennsylvania steel country, and her hard-driving success trading steel as a profession.
Her local smarts come from her relationships and many friends in Westport and statewide. Fairness and firmness is always Cathy’s modus operandi.
Although she is thorough and fair in her deliberations and decisions, you don’t want to mess or cross Cathy.
On her soft side, Cathy is a huge proponent of outdoor dining and dancing events.
Cathy co-chaired the landscape committee with Al Gratrix, sat on the Downtown Plan Committee, the Saugatuck Transit District Plan Committee, and dozens of other plans and committees. She always won the most votes when she ran.
Westport will be hard pressed to replace Cathy. Hopefully she will stick around and help newbies as they come aboard. After all, she still has her full-time steel business, and 2 daughters and their 6 kids.
You better thank Cathy when you see her around town!
It’s one of Westport’s best-kept secrets: a working farm a few yards from the intersection of Bayberry Lane and Cross Highway.
Since 1946, 4 generations of Beltas have worked the land. Gone are the poultry, livestock and slaughterhouse. The farm no longer supplies Stew Leonard’s with a ton of tomatoes a day, as it did in the 1970s.
An aerial view of Belta’s Farm from several years ago shows fields, greenhouses, a compost pile (near the top), and two homes (bottom).
But for over 70 years the Beltas have been good neighbors — and great providers of fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers to the neighborhood, plus any other Westporters savvy enough to stop at their stand.
Belta’s Farm Stand, right on the road.
Last week, the Planning & Zoning Commission unanimously approved a plan to subdivide Belta’s Farm into 9 building lots.
The 23-acre site will be developed as an Open Space subdivision. P&Z regulations permit a reduction in lot size, in exchange for land used as open space.
The open space set-aside totals almost 5 acres of the site. Two of the newly approved building lots will be retained by the Belta family, along with existing residential structures.
A proposed new Beltas Farm Road — without an apostrophe, at the request of emergency services — will extend nearly 1,000 feet from Bayberry Lane. It will be served by 2 fire hydrants, and landscaped with 20 shade trees.
The 23-acre Belta’s Farm, at 126 and 128 Bayberry Lane, is outlined in red. Bayberyy, (dark on the left), is partially obscured by trees.
An earlier subdivision plan was denied by P&Z in 2019. It proposed more dwelling units per acre than currently allowed, an agriculture site for farming in lieu of open space, and a seasonal farm stand.
The Belta siblings said, “As we transition to the enjoyment of our retirement years, the time has come to provide for a zoning-compliant and environmentally sensitive development of our property for single family homes.
“We could not be happier with this outcome. It will provide almost 5 acres of open space and conservation easements on over 2 additional acres of the property.
“Our family plans to retain 2 lots for our use. We are very pleased about this. It is good to know that the Beltas can remain a presence on the property and in Westport, as we have for over three-quarters of a century.”
The Planning & Zoning Commission seldom hears “thank you.”
Their decisions are often controversial — or humdrum.
But this month’s unanimous vote to extend outdoor dining until further notice was met with effusive praise from restaurant owners throughout town.
From Tutti’s to downtown (where the other day all the well-spaced tables outside Basso were filled) — and even spots like Sherwood Diner — outdoor dining has been an important lifeline during a difficult time.
Basso. on Jesup Green (Photo/Dan Woog)
If neighboring property owners give consent, restaurants can use otherwise unusable setbacks, as Rizzuto’s has done with their popular igloos.
Rizzuto’s popular igloos. (Photo/Joel Treisman)
They can use adjacent property too, as Rive Bistro does.
Restaurants can even request Board of Selectmen permission to put tables in street parking and on sidewalks. Railroad Place (Romanacci, Tarantino, Harvest) and Church Lane (Spotted Horse, Manna Toast) are prime examples of town-restaurant cooperation.
The application process is simple. It’s managed by P&Z director Mary Young, with support from fire marshal Nate Gibbons, to ensure the safety of patrons and staff.
As the weather gets better, more outdoor dining options are sure to appear.
And who knows? They’re so popular, the P&Z may decide to keep them, long after the pandemic ends.
Westport Planning & Zoning Commission alternate Neil Cohn started the Economic Growth Subcommittee, and reached out to 3rd Selectwoman Melissa Kane. As subcommittee chair, he made this a P&Z-sponsored text amendment.
The initiative is part of the P&Z’s broader approach of looking at many types of equity.
Pippa Bell Ader and Jennifer Johnson have worked on the issue for a long time too.
In addition, P&Z chair Danielle Dobin made an important comment at last night’s meeting. She noted that women waiting on the side of the road, waiting to wave down buses after a long day at work, face an additional hazard besides bad weather and safety.
Too often, men driving by honk, yell out crude invitations and remark on their bodies.
“It’s terrible. But we can do something about it,” Dobin said. “Shelters don’t just protect against wind and rain. They also reduce street harassment.
This is not a Westport bus shelter. It’s located at Lexington, Kentucky. There, says former Westporter Fran Taylor, the city initiated an art/design competition, called Art In Motion..Clever and beautiful bus shelters emerged, including solar panels. Lexington used federal funds as seed money.
Maybe you’ve seen them, but never given them another thought.
“They” are the men and women who work in Westport, live elsewhere, and rely on Coastal Link buses to travel back and forth.
They wait, after hours of work, by the side of the road.
They stand in the heat of summer, in rain and sleet. They stand as cars race past, sometimes spraying water from puddles. When snows piles on the sidewalk, they stand in the road.
Our lack of concern, care and protection for bus riders is a townwide embarrassment.
Waiting for the bus. (Photos courtesy of Planning & Zoning Commission Bus Shelter Working Group
In May of 2009 — 2 months after launching “06880” — I wrote about this topic. Twelve years later, nothing has changed.
Finally, it might.
Last night, the Planning & Zoning Commission’s Economic Growth Subcommittee heard a presentation about the need for covered bus shelters.
3rd Selectman Melissa Kane — representing the Bus Shelter Working Group — addressed the need. They’ve worked for months with TEAM Westport, town officials and other stakeholders.
TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey says:
Bus shelter support is a portal into the issue of who belongs in Westport. That is an issue upon which TEAM Westport is squarely focused. Citizens, workers and visitors use bus transportation, and deserve protection from the elements when waiting for a bus.
Addressing this issue not only enhances the experiences of those who live, work and visit Westport, but sends a clear signal that all three truly “belong” here.
The working group has drafted language for a P&Z text amendment. They’ve reached out to the Connecticut Department of Transportation, which controls US 1 (the Post Road). State legislators Will Haskell, Jonathan Steinberg, Tony Hwang and Stephanie Thomas are all on board.
So are Westport officials, including 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and Public Works director Pete Ratkiewich.
Funds would come primarily from the state, and private groups. Some town money has already been earmarked.
Covered bus shelters would provide safety and shelter. They’d include information on routes and schedules.
They’d also be visible. That, in turn, would make bus riders — the men and women who work to make Westport work — more visible too.
There are not many ideas for improvements that should get 100% support, from 100% of the town.
East Norwalk residents — and their neighbors around the corner in Saugatuck — are breathing easier today.
Developers of a 330,000-square foot distribution center proposed for Norden Place have withdrawn their application.
Norwalk’s Zoning Commission was scheduled to discuss the plan tonight. The meeting has been canceled.
Artists’ rendering of a distribution center.
The warehouse and distribution facility included 19 loading docks. It would generate up to 190 truck trips a day, and more than 350 trips by car.
According to “Nancy on Norwalk,” owners promised to keep traffic to the hours of 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. — “to the extent commercially practicable.”
Much of that traffic would spill onto Route 136. In Westport — around the corner from Norden Place — that’s Saugatuck Avenue. A few yards away in Norwalk, it’s called Winfield Street.
Westporters were also concerned about truck drivers mistakenly getting off I-95 Exit 17 — rather than 16 — and becoming stuck under the railroad bridge.
The proposed Norden Place warehouse and distribution center is shown in yellow. Truck routes are also marked.
The proposal generated tremendous opposition, including a petition signed by more than 1,700 people.
Westport 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, Planning & Zoning director Mary Young, the full Planning & Zoning Commission and Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce president Matt Mandell were among the most vocal opponents.
In December, P & Z members Cathy Walsh and Chip Stephens presented a letter to Norwalk’s planning board. They said:
East Norwalk and Saugatuck operate as one ecosystem. We share the same air, water, roads and traffic. We have extensive shared service agreements in place for EMS, fire and police.
Both towns have made substantial progress toward increasing our sustainability, walkability and safety by investing in sidewalks, crosswalks and roadways. This project runs contrary to our collective long term goals and will negatively impact the health, safety and welfare of the residents of our community.
(To read more, click here for the “Nancy on Norwalk” story)
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.
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