Tag Archives: Westport Planning & Zoning Commission

Roundup: Westport Inn, Black Duck, Playhouse …

The proposal to upgrade the Westport Inn has been pulled from the next Planning & Zoning Commission agenda. A public hearing has been postponed to September 12.

The first plan included hotel rooms and housing units. Housing was eliminated from subsequent plans.

The current proposal would redevelop the existing 116-room hotel to 85 rooms. Site improvements include addition landscaping, a new 3-story addition, demolition of the front building, minor additions to the rear building, pool, rear dining terrace, and driveway and parking improvements.

All application materials can be viewed here (scroll down for 1595 Post Road East).

Westport Inn property: aerial view.

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Jennifer Howe Rosen headed to the Black Duck the other day. With live music, she thought it would be packed.

It wasn’t. She writes:

“Pre-COVID the Duck was packed with families, salty dogs, townies, tourists, and post-train business people.

“The Duck built a new deck, and refreshed the place. They managed to stay open during the worst of the pandemic.

“They are our local watering hole and burger/seafood destination. They have live music, boat access, and their signature tilt toward the river. It’s time to get back to our loyal, salty roots and frequent the Duck!”

The Duck (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

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Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, James Naughton, Eva Le Gallienne, Jack Klugman, Imogene Coca and Sandy Dennis are just a few of the actors who lived in Westport or Weston, and made the short trip to star on the Westport Country Playhouse stage.

Clay Singer too.

The 2013 Staples High School graduate and former Players star has already performed at the historic theater, in “Romeo and Juliet” and “Man of La Mancha.” He returns in the next WCP show, “4000 Miles.”

There are many reasons to love the Playhouse. Seeing homegrown — and excellent — talent is an added bonus. Click here for tickets, and more information.

Clay Singer

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Thursday night’s Levitt Pavilion show with the Kitchen Dwellers was a smash. They roared through classic bluegrass and psychedelia, with both rock riffs and acoustic flair.

The Grateful Web noted their appearance, calling the Levitt an “iconic venue.”

There’s plenty more ahead for the Levitt, including the July 29-30 Twiddle Festival. Click here for tickets and more information.

The Kitchen Dwellers crowd. (Photo/Marc W. Halpert)

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Congratulations to Matthew Fleming. He just completed his Eagle Scout project.

The rising Staples High School senior built 2 picnic areas at Sherwood Island State Park. He dug holes, placed grills, planted 16 trees, hammered poles and added fencing.

Matthew calls the project a great lesson in leadership, finding and filling anew, and environmental stewardship.

Matthew Fleming (left) at work on his Eagle Scout project

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Cheese Fries & Froot Loops” — the funny, poignant solo show written and performed by Weston’s Chris Fuller, about this lifelong dream to play on the PGA Tour while living with bipolar manic disorder — has added a pair of benefit performances.

The July 23 and 24 shows (8 p.m., Westport Woman’s Club), will raise funds for the Artists Collective of Westport’s project to provide art supplies and instruction to underserved children.

Reservations (suggested donation: $15) can be made by email (aspetuck@optonline.net) or phone (203-349-8786).

Chris Fuller, in “Cheese Fries & Froot Loops.”

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Builders Beyond Borders hosts an open house on Wednesday, July 13 (6 to 7:30 p.m, 66 Fort Point Street, Norwalk).

Students and parents are invited to learn more about B3’s service projects, including trips to Ecuador during next year’s school breaks.

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Susan Garment spotted today’s “Westport … Naturally” star, all color-coordinated on Sylvan Road North.

(Photo/Susan Garment)

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And finally … in honor of our story above about Westport’s longtime favorite dive bar:

 

 

Roundup: Pickleball, Trampolines, Duck Race …

The agenda for next Monday’s Planning & Zoning Commission meeting (July 11, 7 p.m., Zoom) includes important discussions, such as converting the current Westport Rehabilitation Complex on Post Road West into a more modern eldercare facility, and redeveloping the 117-room Westport Inn into a smaller hotel with a restaurant, bar, event space, fitness center, pool and site improvements.

The existing Westport Inn (left), and the proposed new structure.

Two other interesting items are up for discussion too.

Birchwood Country Club wants to construct 4 pickleball courts, near their existing tennis courts. They’d fill a need — at least, for members of the private club — but they’re close to a few homes.

The ball will be in P&Z’s court.

The other intriguing item involves trampolines: Should they be regulated by zoning? And if so, how?

Most trampolines are above ground. But what about permanent, in-ground trampolines? A resident has asked for an interpretation.

Click here for the full P&Z agenda, including a Zoom link.

In-ground trampoliine.

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Westport Sunrise Rotary’s Great Duck Race returns this Saturday (July 9). There’s a new location — Jesup Green — but the same family fun.

The day begins with a 10 a.m. Fun Fair in the Westport Library parking lot. Activities include a Nerdy Derby, face painting and bubble machines.

At 1 p.m. on Jesup Green, 3,000 plastic ducks will slide down a 160-foot sluice course. Each wears a number, matching a $20 raffle ticket. The first 10 ducks down the course win money for their ticket holders. First place is $5,000. Second place wins $1,000. The next 8 finishers get $500 each.

The event is a major Sunrise Rotary fundraiser. Proceeds support charitable endeavors in this area, the state and around the world.

Click here for tickets. Click below for a sneak quack peek.

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The Great Duck Race is not the only water-related activity this weekend.

Sunday marks the 43rd annual Westport Weston Family YMCA’s Point-to-Point Compo Beach Swim. The mile-long event includes competitors from across New England and the tri-state region.

All proceeds go to the Y’s aquatics programs to improve aquatics safety in the community, including swim lessons for all ages.

There are 4 heats, based on ability. Advanced swimmers start at 8 a.m., followed by intermediate swimmers (8:05), beginners (8:10) and myTeamTriumph (8:15).

That last group is special. My Team Triumph is a national non-profit serving children, teens adults and veterans with disabilities who could otherwise not experience endurance events like open water swims, road races, or triathlons.

“Captains” (special needs athletes) are paired with able-bodied “angel” volunteers, who use specialized racing equipment such as rafts to pull their captains during the race. Special needs athletes who would like to participate must register in advance with My Team Triumph.

Eegistration can be done online at westporty.org/43rd and is $50. Walk-registrations costs $60, starting at 7 a.m. The top 3 men’s and women’s finishers win awards. Swimmers get Point-to-Point swim caps and t-shirts.

The start of the Point-to-Point swim.

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No small potatoes: 19 teenagers and 9 adults just returned from Saugatuck Congregational Church’s High School Youth Group mission trip to Maine,

They stayed in Old Orchard Beach, and worked on a Growing to Give farm in Brunswick. The organization raises organic vegetables using climate-friendly methods, and donates them to food banks and pantries.

The youth group also cleared trails for the Saco Land Trust.

Saugatuck Church youth group, in Maine.

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Whatever’s old is new again.

Back in the day, movies like “Casablanca” drew large audiences to drive-in theaters across America.

Most drive-ins are long gone. But Westport has one: The Remarkable Theater, in the Imperial Avenue parking lot.

Last night’s screening was (of course) “Casablanca.” Here’s a classic photo, of a classic scene:

(Photo/Pippa Bell Ader)

Next up: “Caddyshack,” on Monday. Click here for tickets, and the full schedule.

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Westport Lifestyle Magazine’s July issue is out. Among the highlights: a deep dive into the Westport Library’s Verso studios. Click here to learn more about the professional-quality production facilities right under our noses (and open to the public).

One of the Verso studios. (Photo/Brendan Toller for Westport Lifestyle Magazine)

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Today’s “Westport … Naturally” feature is this visitor to Franco Fellah’s garden. Judging by its looks, I wonder if there is anything left for Franco to eat.

(Photo/Franco Fellah)

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And finally … on this date in 1928, sliced bread was sold for the first time (on the inventor’s 48th birthday) by the Chillicothe Baking Company of  Missouri.

There is no record of when the phrase “the greatest thing since sliced bread!” was coined.

(“06880” may not be the greatest thing since sliced bread. But we do rely “greatly” — okay, entirely — on reader support. Please click here to help.)

Roundup: Affordable Housing; Car Thefts, Traffic, Tax …

The Planning and Zoning Commission adopted a 5-year affordable housing plan last night. The bipartisan vote was 5-0, with 2 abstentions.

Highlights include:

Creating a new affordable community designed specifically for families.

• The formation of a town-funded Affordable Housing Trust Fund to direct resources towards future development of affordable housing.

• The immediate development of location specific plans for town-owned land to meaningfully expand and/or renovate existing rental housing/structures to create affordable housing, and potentially partner with nonprofits engaged in this work.

• Allocation of the approximately $1,700,000 in the town’s Real Property Fund to acquire land for future development of affordable housing.

• The deed restriction of existing town-owned rental properties so that they are affordable and remain affordable to renters.

• The adoption of a new zoning district at Powell Place to ensure that existing deeply affordable housing (40% State Median Income or less) can be more intensively redeveloped with flexible parking requirements reflecting the availability of public lots nearby.

There is much more in the 5-year plan. Click here for a full “06880” report.

Part of the 5-year affordable housing plan envisions a “model pocket neighborhood/cottage commons” design. (Courtesy of Ross Chapin AIA)

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You’d think by now everyone would have gotten the message.

Nope. Here’s the latest Groundhog Day news from the Westport Police Department:

On Saturday, several cars were broken into. All were unlocked. Go figure.

This often happens at night. However, these crimes occurred in late afternoon and early evening.

The WPD once again reminds Westporters to lock your cars and bring your keys or fobs inside. And never leave valuables — cash purses, wallets, electronics — in your car.

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The Police Department also offers this advice, for the June 30th fireworks:

Spectators should arrive early. Traffic delays are inevitable.

Compo Beach closes at 4 p.m. Only vehicles with fireworks passes can remain.  Parks & Recreation staff will collect passes. The beach should reopen to ticket holders by 5 p.m.

Vehicles with tickets can access the beach through South Compo Road only. Hillspoint Road south of Greens Farms Road will be open to residents who live south of that intersection.

Firework attendees should display their ticket prominently on the dashboard. It will be collected at the parking gate.

All ticket holders must be inside Compo Beach by 9 p.m.  No beach traffic will be allowed south of the Minute Man monument after that time.

Vehicles without tickets will not be allowed any further toward Compo Beach than the Minute Man.

Uber, Lyft or taxi users will be directed straight past the Minute Man, on Compo Road South. They can be dropped off at Soundview Drive. Return service will not be available until after 11 p.m., due to 1-way traffic leaving the beach.

When the fireworks end, there will be 2 lanes of 1-way traffic only on Compo Beach Road and South Compo, to the intersection of Greens Farms Road. Residents of that area returning from elsewhere should expect a delay of 1 hour or so.

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The fun doesn’t end with the fireworks. On Saturday, July 9, Westport Sunrise Rotary’s Great Duck Race returns. There’s a new location — Jesup Green — but the same family fun.

The day begins with a 10 a.m. Fun Fair in the Westport Library parking lot. Activities include a Nerdy Derby, face painting and bubble machines.

At 1 p.m. on Jesup Green, 3,000 plastic ducks will slide down a 160-foot sluice course. Each wears a number, matching a $20 raffle ticket. The first 10 ducks down the course win money for their ticket holders. First place is $5,000. Second place wins $1,000. The next 8 finishers get $500 each.

The event is a major Sunrise Rotary fundraiser. Proceeds support charitable endeavors in this area, the state and around the world.

Click here for tickets, and to learn more about Sunrise Rotary. 

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When Dick Lowenstein received his 2022-23 tax bill yesterday, he was surprised to see that the gross assessment had risen on his 2 vehicles. The dollar amounts were not huge, but the percentages were: 29% higher for his 2002 Lexus, 11% for his 2014 Honda CRV.

He called tax assessor Paul Friia. The immediate response: Gross assessment is based on standard information provided to the assessor. “Presumably, because of supply shortages, new car production has been delayed. Many people are instead buying used cars, which has driven up their value,” Dick reports.

I wonder what this Maserati will be assessed at next year. (Photo/Jerry Kuyper)

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Yesterday’s rain postponed the Remarkable Theater showing of “Caddyshack.” The new date is Monday, July 11 (8:30 p.m.; gates open at 7:30 p.m.).

Click here for tickets, and more information.

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Our “Westport … Naturally” feature is open to everyone. We run photos of anything “natural” in town: animals, birds, flowers, trees — you name it. If it lives, we want to showcase it.

We are especially interested in images from young readers. Today we welcome 15-year-old Benji Porosoff, who captured this scene:

(Photo/Benji Porosoff)

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And finally … on this day in 1969, the Stonewall riots began in New York. The uprising — sparked by a police raid on the Stonewall Inn gay bar — is considered the start of the LGBTQ rights movement.

Ten years later, Diana Ross commissioned Chic founder (and current Westporter) Nile Rodgers to create material for her new album. One song was inspired after he saw drag queens dressed as Diana Ross at a New York club. It is now considered an anthem of the LGBTQ community.

(“06880” is supported solely by readers. Please click here to contribute.)

[UPDATE] New Life For Old Nursing Home?

This story has been updated to include an artists’ rendering of the proposed renovation of the Post Road West building.

It’s a jarring sight.

On one side of Post Road West, heading toward town, sits the classic-looking Kings Highway Elementary School.

A few yards away — on the other side of Burr Road — looms an industrial-type building, showing its age.

The current name is nondescript: Westport Rehabilitation Complex. So was the previous one: Westport Health Care Center. Many Westporters still call it “Mediplex.”

Connecticut Rehabilitation Complex. In the background: Kings Highway Elementary School.

It looks like a stereotypical “nursing” or “old age home.” Sure, those are outdated terms.

But so is the structure.

Next Monday (June 27, 7 p.m., Zoom), the Planning & Zoning Commission holds a public hearing on a text amendment that would substantially change the look of the building.

And adapt its use to more modern “senior care.”

Connectictu Rehabilitation Center’s current Burr Street entrance …

Rick Redniss — principal at Redniss & Mead, a surveying, civil engineering and planning firm, who has been involved in Westport projects like the renovation of Richmondville Mill and the conversion of 136 Riverside Avenue to housing for adults with special needs — hopes to expand the current standards for nursing homes to include a new medical facility specializing in Alzheimer’s, dementia and other memory impairment care.

The new proposal would gut renovate the interior, and redo the façade and roof, but essentially maintain the current footprint. Additional square footage would be added to the top 2 floors, to accommodate the new use.

The existing 120 beds would be reduced by almost half, to 68 units. Redniss notes that memory care — a growing segment of eldercare — requires a less intense use of staff than a skilled nursing home, too.

The property would be modernized and enhanced, with better landscaping and protections for nearby residents. Redniss says the height and feel of the renovation will complement the elementary school directly across the street.

… and the proposed renovation. The look and feel of the building mimic Kings Highway School, across Burr Street.

This is not the first time a new use has been proposed for the old site.

During the past few years, the landlord has submitted applications or pre-application requests to either change the use to a luxury hotel, or demolish the existing structure and construct a new assisted living facility.

Both proposals faced obstacles, and were withdrawn.

The timing now is important. Westport Rehabilitation has an option to extend their lease, and continue to operate as they have been. An agreement in place would allow this new project to proceed.

Redniss says that feedback from town departments and engineers — as well as a pre-application meeting with P&Z — has been included in this current plan.

(The June 27 public hearing will be livestreamed at 7 p.m. at westportct.gov,  Optimum Channel 79 and Frontier Channel 6020. Comments may be sent prior to the meeting to PandZ@westportct.gov. Interested parties may offer live testimony via Zoom.)

(“06880” reporting relies on reader support. Please click here to contribute.)

New Life For Old Nursing Home?

It’s a jarring sight.

On one side of Post Road West, heading toward town, sits the classic-looking Kings Highway Elementary School.

A few yards away — on the other side of Burr Road — looms an industrial-type building, showing its age.

The current name is nondescript: Westport Rehabilitation Complex. So was the previous one: Westport Health Care Center. Many Westporters still call it “Mediplex.”

Connecticut Rehabilitation Complex. In the background: Kings Highway Elementary School.

It looks like a stereotypical “nursing” or “old age home.” Sure, those are outdated terms.

But so is the structure.

Next Monday (June 27, 7 p.m., Zoom), the Planning & Zoning Commission holds a public hearing on a text amendment that would substantially change the look of the building.

And adapt its use to more modern “senior care.”

Rick Redniss — principal at Redniss & Mead, a surveying, civil engineering and planning firm, who has been involved in Westport projects like the renovation of Richmondville Mill and the conversion of 136 Riverside Avenue to housing for adults with special needs — hopes to expand the current standards for nursing homes to include a new medical facility specializing in Alzheimer’s, dementia and other memory impairment care.

The new proposal would gut renovate the interior, and redo the façade and roof, but essentially maintain the current footprint. Additional square footage would be added to the top 2 floors, to accommodate the new use.

The existing 120 beds would be reduced by almost half, to 68 units. Redniss notes that memory care — a growing segment of eldercare — requires a less intense use of staff than a skilled nursing home, too.

The property would be modernized and enhanced, with better landscaping and protections for nearby residents.

This is not the first time a new use has been proposed for the old site.

During the past few years, the landlord has submitted applications or pre-application requests to either change the use to a luxury hotel, or demolish the existing structure and construct a new assisted living facility.

Both proposals faced obstacles, and were withdrawn.

Connecticut Rehabilitation Complex;s Burr Street entrance. 

The timing now is important. Westport Rehabilitation has an option to extend their lease, and continue to operate as they have been. An agreement in place would allow this new project to proceed.

Redniss says that feedback from town departments and engineers — as well as a pre-application meeting with P&Z — has been included in this current plan.

And, he adds, the height and feel of the renovation will complement the elementary school directly across the street.

(The June 27 public hearing will be livestreamed at 7 p.m. at westportct.gov,  Optimum Channel 79 and Frontier Channel 6020. Comments may be sent prior to the meeting to PandZ@westportct.gov. Interested parties may offer live testimony via Zoom.)

(“06880” reporting relies on reader support. Please click here to contribute.)

“06880” Podcast: Danielle Dobin

Nearly every Westport issue — affordable housing, traffic, a changing retail environment, trees — involves development, and the changes Westport undergoes, embraces, accepts, rejects or otherwise undergoes.

Which means they all involve, in some way and at some point, the Planning & Zoning Commission.

Chair Danielle Dobin sees it all. The other day, I chatted with her in the Westport Library’s Verso Studios for the latest “06880” podcast. She spoke candidly and insightfully about the pieces of the P&Z puzzle we all see — and those most of us never think about.

Click below for our podcast:

5-Year Affordable Housing Plan Draft Released

The Planning & Zoning Commission has released the draft of the town’s 5-year Affordable Housing Plan. It was posted to the town website last night.

There is now a 35-day review period. It will include a Zoom community conversation, for feedback. The date and time has not yet been set.

The draft begins with a “Community Value Statement”:

To encourage the pro-active development and preservation of affordable (and below market rate) housing, including the development of affordable housing designed specifically to attract new families to Westport. The thoughtful creation of affordable housing is critical to ensuring a diverse community of residents in Westport.

With proper planning, new affordable development can be encouraged while preserving Westport’s charming small town feel, historic resources, green spaces and the suburban lifestyle that attracts residents to want to live in this community and raise their families here.

The issue of insufficient affordable housing is not unique to Westport and is not easily addressed in a community with such high land values, but this does not absolve us of the responsibility to create solutions.

Maximum monthly housing costs for “affordable units.” There are different requirements for different types of housing.

Then comes an “Executive Summary”:

Connecticut has become a very expensive place to live. Over the last decades, the costs of land, housing development, home building, and rent have risen faster than incomes. The town of Westport, like many Fairfield County communities that provide a suburban alternative to living in New York City, is zoned predominantly for single family homes.

For many years, the development of multifamily rentals and condominiums, accessory apartments and accessory dwelling units in Westport was limited. Multifamily units that were developed were often deed restricted for seniors
making it challenging for any families unable to afford a single family home to live in Westport.

Westport’s zoning regulations have changed and are continuing to change in order to foster the development of more affordable housing and provide opportunities for all demographic cohorts to live in Westport. Over the next several years, a significant number of new affordable units will be created in Westport based upon approvals and projects in the pipeline.

Accessory dwelling units have now been legalized. This is at 350 Greens Farms Road.

Action items to continue this momentum over the next 5 years include:

• Creating a new affordable community designed specifically for families, spearheaded by local elected officials with the assistance of the Department of Housing, on +/- 2 acres of state-owned land located in Greens Farms adjacent to public transit, grocery stores, retail and within walking distance of one of the State’s highest ranked elementary schools. Feasibility study funds have already been allocated by the Town using federal ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds.

• The formation of a town-funded Affordable Housing Trust Fund to direct resources towards future development of affordable housing.

• The immediate development of location specific plans for town-owned land to meaningfully expand and/or renovate existing rental housing/structures to create affordable housing, and to potentially partner with nonprofits engaged in this work. Potential properties include existing cottages at Longshore Park (260 Compo Road South), Linxweiler House (655 Post Road East), Adams Academy (15 Morningside Drive North), existing housing at Baron’s South (60 Compo
Road South) and the vacant lot adjacent to The Saugatuck (0 Bridge Street). Significant consideration should be given to the creation of pocket neighborhoods (small cottage/small home commons clusters).

A “model pocket neighborhood/cottage commons” design, courtesy of Ross Chapin AIA.

• Allocation of the approximately $1,700,000 in the town’s Real Property Fund to acquire land for future development of affordable housing.

• The deed restriction of existing town-owned rental properties so that they are affordable and remain affordable to renters.

• The elimination of zoning barriers to foster additional projects pursuant to Westport’s Inclusionary Housing Zone overlay by expanding the overlay zone and revising the regulations.

• The adoption of a new zoning district at Powell Place to ensure that existing deeply affordable housing (40% State Median Income or less) can be more intensively redeveloped with flexible parking requirements reflecting the availability of public lots nearby.

• Explore the process by which public funds can be used to “buy down” market rate units in approved/existing buildings to become affordable or more affordable, perhaps via the new Affordable Housing Trust Fund or existing Real Property Fund or both.

Westport’s progress toward achieving state-mandated 10% “affordable” 8-30g housing. Only units built after 1990 count toward the total.

• Explore opportunities to allow greater density in residential districts with a meaningful affordability component via the adoption of zoning code changes to permit historically contextual pocket neighborhoods with a shared commons when an antique home is preserved.

• The development of 225 multifamily units, including 70 affordable units as a result of the Westport Planning & Zoning Commission’s affirmative choice to settle several long-running lawsuits. Nineteen 3-bedroom units will be included because of the specific demand of the Westport Planning & Zoning Commission to address the needs of families seeking housing in Westport.

Not all affordable housing is in large buildings. 260-264 Riverside Avenue includes 9 units; 2 qualify as “affordable.”

• Focusing the commission & staff efforts on constantly reviewing new technology to create sustainable and inexpensive new construction via modular construction and prefab tiny/cottage home building. Advances in housing construction should be leveraged for development opportunities on town owned land and in order to incentivize developers to create aesthetically appropriate cottage communities around existing antique homes to ensure such homes are preserved.

The remainder of the 47-page report includes sections on “The Importance of Planning,” “Affordable Housing Basics,” “Existing Affordable Housing in Westport,” “Housing Needs Assessment,” Westport’s Current and Projected Population Profile,” “Current Strategies for Fostering Affordable and Below Market Rate Housing,” and “Implementation: The 5-Year Plan.” 

Click here for the full report. 

Two large affordable housing neighborhoods are Sasco Creek and Hidden Brook. A newer building, at the foot Long Lots Road, includes affordable units.

Roundup: Outdoor Dining, Old Dominion, Billy Joel …

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Over the past 2 years, the restaurant industry has been rocked by COVID. Amid all the bad news, one bright spot was the rise — and popularity — of outdoor dining.

This Monday (March 14, 7 p.m. Zoom), the Planning & Zoning Commission meets to consider permanent outdoor eating regulations.

Under new state legislation, the P&Z can determine the size of an outdoor dining area, when it can operate, and what public safety protections are needed.

Planning and Zoning Department director Mary Young says, “The Planning & Zoning Commission looks forward to hearing from food establishment owners to help set reasonable standards, allowing the Restaurant Renaissance in Westport to continue and provide safe and secure dining options for patrons under the ‘New-Normal’ conditions.”’

Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce director Matthew Mandell predicts, “some restaurants are going to love this. Some are not going to like it at all. It depends on whether you have the land, an amenable landlord, a parking lot to use or a town road to be able to do it. The Chamber sees both sides to this.”

Monday’s public hearing will be livestreamed at www.westportct.gov, and on Optimum channel 79 and Frontier channel 6020.  Comments can be sent to the meeting to PandZ@westportct.gov. Click here for the full text amendment.

Out door dining on church Lane. (Photo/Dan Woog)

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Lynsey Addario’s photo last Sunday — of a family killed by a Russian mortar attack — horrified the world.

Yesterday, the New York Times photojournalist — a Pulitzer Prize winner, and 1991 Staples High School graduate — spoke compellingly about that image, and the events surrounding.

In an in-depth interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper — at 3:30 a.m. Ukraine time — Lynsey talked spoke of her surreal feelings as she realized the Russians were targeting civilians. With mortars whizzing just 30 feet away, she witnessed the killings.

Cooper asked her thoughts as she took her photos. She felt she had to document the event for the world. With a 10-year-old of her own, she had to maintain her professionalism — even as she noticed the family’s luggage lying next to them.

She also talked about her feelings afterward, and what it’s like to witness such scenes over and over again.

It was excellent journalism from Anderson Cooper — and one more reason to pray for Lynsey’s safety, and that of everyone in Ukraine.

(Photo/Dan Woog)

Lynsey’s photo was also featured on “60 Minutes” this past Sunday. Scott Pelley used it to frame that night’s Ukraine story. Click here for the link. (Hat tips: Susan Woog Wagner and Hedi Lieberman)

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A bright young man from Westport
Who really cares about transport,
Said to get to the train,
Wheels2U is a gain!
It’s like your own private escort!

Okay, it’s not Keats. It’s not even Ogden Nash. But it’s a good way to introduce the Westport Transit District’s limerick contest.

The goal is to raise awareness of Wheels2U Westport, the on-demand, group ride, door-to-train platform shuttle service.

The top 7 entries win gift certificates to Westport restaurants of their choice, ranging from $100 to $25.

Want some info before writing your poem? WTD director Peter Gold calls Wheels2U “easy, inexpensive and convenient. It comes when you call it, picks you up at your door, and takes you right to the platform at the Westport and Greens Farms stations. No more walks from the parking lots in the cold and dark. And it’s a greener way to get to the train.”

Westport residents use the Wheels2U Westport app to request a pickup between 5:45 and 10 a.m., and 4 and 9:30 p.m., almost anywhere in town. Pickups should be requested 20 minutes before you would normally leave to drive to the station.  The fare is just $2, when paid with the Wheels2U app.

The contest is open to all Westport residents. Enter as often as you like. Email entries to pgold@westportct.gov no later than March 25. Put “Limerick Contest” in the subject line, and include your name, address, and email. Click here for the full rules.

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For Old Dominion, winning awards is old hat.

The group — whose lead guitarist is 1997 Staples High School graduate (and former soccer star) Brad Tursi — was named Group of the Year at Monday’s ACM ceremony in Las Vegas.

It was the 5th consecutive year they’ve won country music’s top prize.

Their acceptance speech included a tribute to the citizens of Ukraine. (Hat tip: Tricia Freeman)

Old Dominion, at the CMA Awards. Staples grad Brad Tursi is on the far right.

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Speaking of music: Every month, Billy Joel sells out Madison Square Garden. Now his music is coming to the Levitt Pavilion!

Yeah, read that sentence again. “His music” — not the Piano Man himself.

But this is no tribute band. It’s Mike Del Guidice & Big Shot. He tours all over the world with Billy Joel. His band performs astonishing renditions of those songs, plus others by Elton John, the Beatles and other beloved artists.

The concert is Friday, May 20 (7:30 p.m.). Levitt Pavilion member pre-sales start today (Wednesday, March 9, noon). Click here to become a member. Sales to the general public start Friday (March 11, 10 a.m.).

Mike Del Guidice and friends.

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On April 7, some of Westport’s best chefs will leave their kitchens. They’ll head to Aitoro’s, the great appliance store just over the Norwalk line. There — amid high-end appliances — they’ll offer great food for a good cause.

It’s a benefit for the Make-a-Wish Connecticut chapter. The nonprofit helps fulfill the dreams of critically ill children.

Among the celebrity chefs: Bill Taibe (The Whelk, Kawa Ni, Don Memo); Matt Storch (Match Burger Lobster, Match Restaurant), Jes Bengtson (Terrain Garden Café, Amis Trattoria), Robin Selden (Marcia Selden and Naked Fig Catering), Dan Kardo (Oar & Oak), and Christian Petroni (Food Network star).

Tickets include samplings, and complimentary beer and wine. Click here to purchase, and for more information.

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Bill Webster sends today’s captivating “Westport … Naturally” photo, and adds:

“People often hear the tom turkey gobbling on spring mornings, but seldom do you get a chance to see a wild turkey strut. The turkey strut is an incredible courtship display that is intended to attract hens and display dominance.”

(Photo/Bill Webster)

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And finally … in honor of the great photo above:

Roundup: Mask Mandate, Downtown Stores, Another Olympian …

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Masks in schools may not be required statewide after February 28.

Governor Lamont announced yesterday recommending lifting a mandate for students and staff.

The topic has been a hot one. Last week, a group posted “Unmask Our Children” signs around town. Others countered that masks are still needed, to prevent vulnerable populations.

School mask decisions will now be made by local authorities, such as boards of education. Westport Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice — who is empowered to make the decision, based on town COVID protocols — said at last night’s Board of Ed meeting that he’ll consult with medical experts and others, before making a recommendation.

A number of parents spoke at last night’s session, urging an end to Westport’s mask mandate.

Last December, participants in Staples High School’s Candlelight Concert wore masks. (Photo/Dan Woog)

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The Planning & Zoning Commission also met last night. Members adopted 2 downtown text amendments. One will eliminate a prohibition on retail operations above the first floor. The other allows will allow stores over 10,000 square feet (after applying for a special permit).

The P&Z continued to tweak zoning language for permitted uses at Baron’s South.

The Gap (left) has been grandfathered in for retail above the first floor. That will now be permitted elsewhere downtown.

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A bit of personal news: To celebrate my retirement as Staples High School boys soccer coach, I’ve helped endow a fund.

The Dan Woog Staples High School/LGBTQ Fund brings together my passion for high school soccer and LGBTQ advocacy, and my work with United Soccer Coaches — the 30,000-member professional organization I’ve served since 1983.

The fund will enable high school coaches who have shown commitment to the LGBTQ sports community to attend annual conventions, for education, networking and professional growth.

As founder of United Soccer Coaches’ LGBTQ & Allies member group, I’ve worked closely with Black, Latino, Native American, AAPI, disabled and faith-based groups. I’m honored to give back to this inclusive, progressive organization, which helps grow the sport of soccer for all coaches and players.

For the full press release, click here. To contribute to the fund, click here; then click “Select for a list of funds to support,” then “Options,” then scroll (way) down. (You may have to click “View More” at the bottom of the list …)

This poster greeted visitors to last month’s annual United Soccer Coaches convention in Kansas City.

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Speaking of Staples soccer : As Westporter’s celebrate the silver medal of our neighbor, Julia Marino, in slopestyle at the 2022 Olympic Games, we’ve got another nearby athlete to cheer for too.

Freestyle skier Mac Forehand grew up in Southport. His father — Ray Forehand — was on the Staples soccer team in 1976. Click here for details. Click here for a story about Ray and his wife, as they watch Mac compete half a world away.

Mac also competes in freeski slopestyle. (Hat tip: Rick Leonard)

Mac Forehand

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You know Earth Animal for its steadfast commitment to dogs and other creatures.

But since 1979, the local business has cared for people too.

Last year, the Post Road East store’s Mitten Project raised $40,000. Thanks to CT Foodshare, those funds will help local residents who struggle with food insecurity.

The Mitten Project began in 2007, with Earth Animal founder Susan Goldstein. She raised $300 that year.

Now, there’s plenty of help from area businesses, neighbors, friends, proceeds from the Earth Animal store, and matching contributions from Earth Animal Ventures in Southport.

Special thanks go to J. McLaughlin, Millie Rae;s, Farmer Sal, Outdoor Design & Living, Appleberry Farm, BP Provisions, Pine Creek Deli, KL & Sam, and Westport Hardware.

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Voices Café honors Black History Month with the noted duo Reggie Harris and Greg Greenway. Their signature performance — “Deeper Than The Skin” — comes to the Westport Unitarian Church’s long-running live music venue on Sunday, February 20 (7:30 p.m). It will also be livestreamed.

“Deeper Than The Skin” is a deeply personal presentation, in story and song. of race in America. Harris and Greenway face down racial injustice with creative resistance, friendship, music and joy.

Proceeds from Voices Café’s performances benefit local social justice causes. Future guests include Westporter Suzanne Sheridan (March 12) and Connecticut’s creative artists Caravan of Thieves (April 9).

Click here for more information about Voices’ spring season, and for tickets.

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The Westport Library’s strong support of the arts continues. A generous grant from the Drew Friedman Community Arts Center will support upcoming exhibits.

Next up: “Stepping Out on Faith: The Art and Journey of Charles Joyner.” The event — with the world-renowned (and Staples High School graduate) artist opens with a panel discussion and reception on March 10.

This exhibit, with a corresponding podcast series and musical performance, is also supported by a grant from CT Humanities.

“Village @ Ntonso” (Charles Joyner)

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Our “Westport … Naturally” feature has highlighted wild turkeys. But none have been as close-up — and wild-looking — as this shot by David Vita, from Lyons Plains Road:

(Photo/David Vita)

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And finally … want a little taste of Voices Café’s Black History Month presentation of “Deeper Than the Skin” (above)? Click below:

P&Z To Address Downtown, Baron’s South Regs

Two important parts of Westport — downtown and Baron’s South — are on the Planning & Zoning Commission’s agenda next week.

The virtual meeting on Monday (February 7, 7 p.m.) includes text amendments to eliminate the prohibition on retail above the 1st floor on Main Street and environs; another to remove the prohibition limiting tenant size to 10,000 square feet in the same area, and an amendment to permit certain non-team activities in the open space nearby.

Proponents say removing the ban on 2nd floor retail would attract mom-and-pop-type shops, thanks to lower rents. A change allowing larger stores would eliminate the current practice of some tenants having separate entrances and branding for what are essentially the same stores.

The Architectural Review Board and Historic District Commission would retain oversight over the looks of downtown properties.

Retail is not permitted above the first floor on Main Street — though certain properties (like the Gap) are grandfathered in.

 

The Baron’s South proposal addresses current regulations, which prohibit organized non-team activities like guided walks, hikes and yoga classes in the meadow outside the Senior Center. Both the Senior Center and Parks & Recreation have indicated support for the text amendment, which would still prohibit organized team sports.

A prohibition against new structures — for example, pickleball courts — would also remain.

Guided hikes are currently prohibited on Baron’s South. (Photo/Judy James)

At the meeting, the P& will also consider proposals to opt out of 2 state provisions. One would enable the town of Westport to maintain its own requirements for accessory dwelling units. The other would allow the town to retain current regulations for the number of parking units required for multi-family dwellings.

If the P&Z chooses to opt out of those less strict state requirements, the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) must also agree by a super-majority vote.

Full details are available here. Monday’s meeting will be livestreamed at www.westportct.gov. To submit comments, click here.