Tag Archives: Westport Planning & Zoning Commission

Stephens, Steinberg Snipe Over Affordable Housing

Recently, the Connecticut General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to loosen the restrictions of 8-30g — the state’s affordable housing standards, which incentivize municipalities to make 10 percent of their housing stock be “affordable.”

(Westport has a long history with 8-30g. Some affordable housing units here were built before the 1990 date on which state standards are based. Developers have proposed large buildings on small lots, marking a few units as “affordable.” Some observers have called those proposals “blackmail.” Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission has denied several such proposals already. They approved one, on Post Road East.)

A proposed 4-story rental property at 1177 Post Road East.

The vote — 30-6 in the Senate, 116-33 in the House — makes it easier for towns and cities to reach “moratoriums,” and in some cases increases those moratoriums beyond the previous 4 years. (For an in-depth analysis of the measure from CTMirror, via WestportNow, click here.)

Governor Dannel Malloy vetoed the bill. The Senate overrode the veto by the closest 2/3 margin possible — 24-12. The House overrode it 101-47.

Local reaction was swift.

Westport Representative Jonathan Steinberg said: “I’m going to tell people in my town, ‘Put up or shut up.’ Build the units. Get to the moratorium. Stay on that path.”

That infuriated P&Z member Chip Stephens.

He emailed an “open letter” to Steinberg:

We got your message.

How dare you grandstand and throw your fellow town officials and residents under the bus last night:

“Steinberg said he plans to take an unwavering message to his town’s leaders — act.

“As far as I’m concerned, I’m going to tell people in my town, ‘Put up or shut up. Build the units. Get to the moratorium. Stay on that path,’” Steinberg said. Only after they have been given that chance, he said, can leaders “talk about whether or not 8-30g is working.””

I suggest you consider that your town officials have worked long and hard on affordable housing, both 8-30g qualifying, and more importantly quality affordable housing as Hales Court, Sasco Creek, Canal Park and other IHZ and multifamily components.

Canal Park offers affordable housing for seniors, near downtown. Because it was built before 1990, it does not count for points under 8-30g standards.

In passing the newest 8-30g complex on Post Road East we will have our first moratorium application ready as soon as the developer completes the project and gets his CO.

Next time you crawl up on that stump and blow hot air directed at your town, think hard before letting your common sense filter down hurling inflammatory and demeaning comments at Westport. We hear and we will remember.

Steinberg fired back:

I have fought for 7 years to amend 8-30g to make it easier for Westport to achieve a moratorium, while you have done very little.

How dare you lecture me on this statute when all I stated that it’s now on towns to take advantage of this new opportunity to get to a moratorium and avoid developer predation.

You have real gall calling me out, given your abject failure as a Commissioner representing Westport’s interests.

I’m responsible for giving you a tool to protect our town. Shut up and get it done.

Like the 8-30 g/affordable housing debate, this political dialogue will continue.

State Representative Jonathan Steinberg (left) and Westport Planning & Zoning commissioner Chip Stephens.

[OPINION] Saugatuck Resident Thanks P&Z For Tesla Response

Last night, the Planning & Zoning Commission heard public comment on a text amendment to allow an electric car service center — and possibly a dealership — on Saugatuck Avenue.

Most of the public was not in favor of the plan. The P&Z heard concerns loud and clear. They’ll revisit the proposal on July 6.

Opponents of the plan — which involves Tesla — took heart from the meeting. Saugatuck resident and “06880” reader Marilyn Harding writes:

Last night the residents of Saugatuck did a brilliant job — through strategies that encompassed fact-based data, tell-tale photographs and their passion of purpose— that saved Saugatuck from a future of more traffic chaos, more misuse of land, and more reckless change to a historic community. Their presentation to the Planning and Zoning Commission fully demonstrates how local communities can work together successfully to preserve the town of Westport.

20 Saugatuck Avenue — the site where Tesla hoped to build a service facility.

The P & Z deserves bunches of kudos for their sound judgment in steering an electric car company away from the already overcrowded streets of Saugatuck, but did embrace the innovative brand.

P &Z members extended welcoming invitations to Tesla, alerting them to locations on the Post Road where the required commercial zoning is permitted for car dealers.

The P & Z took yet another step forward, acknowledging the value of their predecessors’ work when town regulations were written and designed to safeguard Westport’s authenticity as a historic New England town.

Congratulations to the Saugatuck residents, members of the P & Z, and to the wonderful, creative Westporters who have gone before us!

[OPINION] Keep Tesla Out Of Saugatuck!

Alert “06880” reader Mark Kirby is an organizer of Saugatuck Neighbors. As outlined below, he is opposed to the plan for a Tesla service facility in his neighborhood.

Two months ago I got a letter from Mel Barr, former Westport Planning and Zoning director, now a zoning consultant. Tesla Motors wanted to change town zoning to allow a “service center” at one of two sites in Saugatuck, including one that abuts part of our backyard. Would I attend a meeting to learn about the proposal?

I had mixed feelings. I was excited to have Tesla in Westport. I support its vision for a less carbon-reliant future; I signed up for a Model 3 before it was officially announced.

But as a neighbor, I worried about noise from tools like compressors and pneumatic wrenches. A service center isn’t what I’d imagined in the neighborhood—in fact, it’s prohibited. But because it was Tesla, I wanted to keep an open mind.

20 Saugatuck Avenue — the proposed site for the Tesla facility.

The meeting was held on a Tuesday night. Mr. Barr was there, along with the building’s landlord, Bruce Becker (a Westport architect and Tesla enthusiast), 4 Tesla representatives, and Tesla’s realtor.

Mr. Barr handed out his proposed zoning amendment. Something jumped out immediately: the zoning change was for a dealership. I asked him and the Tesla representatives about it.

Me (reading their amendment): “Said establishments may also provide vehicle sales of new and used electric motor vehicles, subject to a State License.

Them: Well, we can’t actually sell cars in Connecticut right now.

Me: But I’ve just signed a petition supporting legislation that would allow you to.

The conversation went on from there, but you get the idea: It was a challenge getting forthright answers from this group. At one point, I asked whether Tesla would be willing to go forward without the dealership. Their answer was no.

What’s so bad about a dealership? I’ve heard lots of reasons from neighbors but I’ll share only mine here.

My wife and I settled in Saugatuck because we liked the easy access to transit, and that it was a walkable neighborhood. Many families in Saugatuck have done so for similar reasons.

It’s not just the immediate neighbors who want to preserve this area. Creating a walkable Saugatuck is a priority for both the current Saugatuck Transit-Oriented Master Plan and the town’s draft 2017 Conservation Plan of Development.

I can’t think of a single example of a walkable neighborhood with a car dealership smack in the middle. Our kids are young, and we’re especially concerned about test drives in cars that are fast, silent and accelerate in ways that startle new drivers. While there may be virtues to having a pioneering company like Tesla in town, I wouldn’t count bringing car dealerships to residential areas as one of them.

I realize that some people will read this and cry NIMBYism! But the kind of zoning change proposed here isn’t just bad for Saugatuck; it’s bad for Westport.

Some Saugatuck residents fear this is what the Tesla facility will turn into.

Saugatuck is already a chokepoint for the town — and that’s predominantly from local trips. Tesla would mean additional cars from out-of-towners hopping off I-95 for gas, a rush-hour service appointment or a test drive.

The fact that Saugatuck has the village character it does today is the result of decades of zoning decisions aimed at keeping highway services out of the area. There’s also the question of why we’d want a car dealership (which even for green cars aren’t pollutant-free environments) either on the river or alongside a stream feeding directly into the river.

While learning about zoning rules and knocking on neighbors’ doors weren’t things I anticipated doing this spring, I’m glad for it. It’s been a great way to meet neighbors, get to know town officials, and learn about the many fights over neighborhood preservation that have made Westport what it is today. We’re pleased that Save Westport Now and the Greens Farms Association are supporting neighbors in protesting this zoning change. If you’d like to support us too, you can here.

Westport is investing a lot of time and effort into studying Saugatuck. Will it be a well-planned, cohesive community with local businesses and residents supporting each other, or will we pre-empt all that by dumping a dealership right in the middle of the village?

My hope is that the Planning and Zoning Commission will listen to the neighborhood at the hearing tomorrow (Thursday, June 15, 7 p.m. Town Hall), and make this decision wisely.

High On P&Z List: Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

Connecticut is not Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon or Washington. Those are all states where weed is — or soon will be — legal for recreational use.

But the Land of Steady Habits is one of 28 that has legalized medical marijuana. The state licenses growers and dispensaries.

Next Thursday (May 18, 7 p.m., Town Hall auditorium), Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission will discuss whether users could buy it here.

Text Amendment #735 would allow medical marijuana dispensaries to be located in commercial districts — so long as they are 1,000 feet away from protected uses. That list includes schools, daycare centers, parks, public buildings and houses of worship.

Only active, licensed pharmacists can apply for a dispensary license. State regulations also require security systems and restrict advertising.

The hearing is open to the public. Westporters are invited to watch our P&Z commissioners hash this out.

(Click here for the full text of Text Amendment #735.)

180 Cross Highway: Saved!

Our country is more polarized than at any time since the Civil War.

But in one corner of Westport, at least, folks negotiate in good faith.

They compromise. And everyone wins.

The Planning & Zoning Commission was all set last night for a contentious hearing on Mark Yurkiw and Wendy Van Wie’s plea to preserve their 1700s property on Cross Highway. The couple — who spent years restoring a home and barn — wanted a waiver to live in the barn, but sell the other structure. That way, they said, it could be loved, cared for and maintained in perpetuity.

One view of 188 Cross Highway.

One view of 188 Cross Highway.

A neighbor opposed the proposal.

Mark and Wendy had a number of supporters in the Town Hall crowd. An “06880” story — with 100 or so comments — was read into the record.

But before anything else happened, both sides huddled. Suddenly, the neighbor’s attorney announced he’d drop the objection — provided Mark and Wendy adhere to a few simple conditions.

Bingo!

The P&Z approved what they needed to. Because it contains historic homes, the property can now be subdivided. The homes will remain.

Everybody wins.

Perhaps we can send that crew down to Washington?

UPDATE: 180 Cross Highway: Important Meeting Moved To November 17

Last month, “06880” highlighted the efforts of Mark Yurkiw and Wendy Van Wie to preserve their 1700s property on Cross Highway. The couple — who spent years restoring a home and barn — are asking the Planning & Zoning Commission for a waiver. It would allow them to live in the barn but sell the other structure, so it can be loved, cared for and maintained in perpetuity.

Nearly 100 people supported Mark and Wendy in the “Comments” section, or via personal emails and letters.

Part of the Cross Highway property.

Part of the Cross Highway property.

Now it’s time to put our money where our mouths are. Tonight (Thursday, November 3, On Thursday, November 17 (7 p.m., Town Hall auditorium), the P&Z hears the waiver request. An attorney for one set of neighbors — who oppose the request — will argue against it.

Mark and Wendy have — very quietly, and with an eye toward history — enhanced their historic neighborhood. They don’t like speaking in public.

But they hope that their presence later this month — and that of other concerned Westporters — will speak volumes about the value of preservation.

Greens Farms Resident Laments Housing Vote

Last night — in a 4-2 straw vote — Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission signaled approval of a new 4-story, 94-unit rental property at 1177 Post Road East. The building would replace an office complex across from Crate & Barrel.

Plans call for 30 of the units to be “affordable,” under state 8-30g guidelines. That would make Westport more compliant with the controversial regulation — and earn the town an 8-year moratorium on further affordable housing construction.

A 15-year resident of Greens Farms is concerned about traffic density and safety, particularly around the nearby elementary school. She also fears that the proposal has not garnered much public attention. She writes:

While other developments are getting attention and being fought back, this proposed development is just slipping by.

Artist's rendering of the 4-story, 94-unit rental housing complex proposed for 1177 Post Road East.

Artist’s rendering of the 4-story, 94-unit rental housing complex proposed for 1177 Post Road East.

Traffic and density has already made driving on the Post Road similar to being on I-95. Now this development, close to new construction where Geiger’s used to be, is making our neighborhood look and feel like we are becoming Stamford or White Plains.

There may be little the P&Z can do. But my neighbors and I want to figure out how best to respond and fight for our quality of life.  Awareness of this issue needs to be raised. It’s getting lost with every other developers proposal on the P&Z table.


Click here for “06880+” — the easy way to publicize upcoming events, sell items, find or advertise your service, ask questions, etc. It’s the “06880” community bulletin board!

Downtown Salt Marsh Threatened By Development

Last Sunday’s photo challenge showed a sign for “Taylortown Salt Marsh.” Though the 3.2- acre preserve sits in the heart of Westport — the Saugatuck River, off Wilton Road and Kings Highway North, opposite the “Fort Apache” medical complex — it’s unknown to many Westporters.

That will change soon.

Tomorrow night (Thursday, January 21, 7 p.m., Town Hall), the Planning and Zoning Commission discusses a proposal for a 45,796-square foot, 5-story, 48-unit apartment building planned for 122 Wilton Road.

122 Wilton Road -- site of the proposed 6-story, 48-unit apartment building -- sits at the corner of Kings Highway North. The property abuts the Taylortown Salt Marsh.

122 Wilton Road — site of the proposed 6-story, 48-unit apartment building — sits at the corner of Kings Highway North. The property abuts the Taylortown Salt Marsh.

The developer — Garden Homes Management — is using Connecticut’s Affordable Housing Statute. Known as “8-30G,” it allows developers to add “affordable units” that override local zoning regulations, in towns where less than 10 percent of the housing stock is considered affordable.

In this case, 30 percent of the units — numbering 15 — would be “affordable,” as defined by state housing law.

Th3 8-30G regulation was part of a 2014 plan to build 200 apartments on the site of the Westport Inn. First Selectman Jim Marpe and P&Z chair Chip Stephens instead found a local buyer who understood the importance of maintaining the lower-impact inn on that small-footprint, already-crowded stretch of the Post Road.

The Aspetuck Land Trust — which owns the Taylortown tract, and spent the last 3 years saving the marsh from invasive weeds — is not pleased.

An email from the organization warns of negative environmental impacts to the marsh and river, as well as destruction of views of the estuary.

Garden Homes believes that development of the site will not impact the wetlands.

One view of the Taylortown Salt Marsh...

One view of the Taylortown Salt Marsh…

Interestingly, the Aspetuck Land Trust itself is a direct result of a struggle to save the salt marsh from being filled and developed in the 1960s.

Back then, there was no legal protection of tidal marshes. Inland wetlands were thought of as boggy areas to be filled for level building lots, the Trust says.

When Barlow  Cutler-Wotton learned of plans to build a geriatric hospital on the Wilton Road/Kings Highway North corner, she contacted attorney Leonard Schine. He based his case on traffic congestion. The P&Z denied the application.

...and another.

…and another.

Cutler-Wotton went on to form the Aspetuck Land Trust, for Westport and Weston. The Trust buys, or receives as gifts, property that it then preserves in natural states as open space. The organization acquired Taylortown Salt Marsh in 1987.

The Trust will have to work hard now to keep it. 830G is a powerful state statute. It overrides most local rules and regulations — except those related to the environment or safety.

Let Westport’s newest battle begin.

(Tomorrow’s Planning and Zoning Commission evening meeting is open to the public. So is a P&Z field trip tomorrow morning to examine the property. It begins at 8:15 a.m., at 122 Wilton Road.)

“Old Man Sues Citi Bike, NYC For $15M After Crash”

That’s not my headline. It’s — in its own inimitable style — the New York Post‘s.

The Daily News is a bit gentler: “Conn. man files $15 million lawsuit against NYC, Citi Bike, claiming nerve damage from bike crash.”

The gist of the stories — the Daily News’ is (surprise!) a bit longer — is that a 73-year-old man flipped over at a Citi Bike docking station last fall. He claims that nerve damage in his brain has robbed him of his senses of taste and smell.

He is believed to be the first rider in New York City’s bike-sharing program to file a personal injury suit.

The “old man” is Ronald Corwin — former Westport Planning and Zoning Commission chairman.

Ron Corwin

Ron Corwin

PS: The New York Times has not yet picked up the story.

Breaking News — Terrain Takes Demolition Request Off HDC Agenda

Sources say that Terrain has asked that its request for demolition of the house on the corner of the Post Road and Crescent Road be removed from tonight’s Historic District Commission agenda.

Terrain is believed to be working with the Planning and Zoning Commission on a parking plan that would preserve  the century-old structure.