This is Peter Gold’s report on the June Representative Town Meeting. He is an RTM member writing for himself, not in an official capacity.
The regular June RTM meeting dealt with 2 noncontroversial items. A third item, dealing with police and fire pensions, was withdrawn and will be considered at a subsequent RTM meeting.
Andrew Wilk and Jeremy Price were reappointed to 4-year terms as trustees of the Westport Library. Price is currently vice president of the board of trustees, while Wilk is responsible for sourcing and producing many of the Library’s cultural events.
The RTM unanimously certified Homes with Hope and the Westport Country Playhouse as organizations eligible to receive grants under Connecticut’s Neighborhood Assistance Act Tax Credit Program. corporations can make grants to eligible not-for-profit organizations in lieu of paying a portion of their corporate income taxes. No town funds are involved with the grants.
The maximum amount any organization can receive is $125,000. The Playhouse hopes to receive $14,210 to upgrade its parking lot with LED lights, and $10,500 to acquire assisted listening devices for the theater. Homes With Hope is asking for $24,340 for roof replacement at the Bacharach Community housing
In addition to the regular monthly June meeting, the RTM will also meet next Tuesday (June 8) to consider overturning the Planning and Zoning Commission’s decision to permit a 157-unit housing development, including 47 affordable units, at Hiawatha Lane.
The P&Z approved the development as part of a settlement of a lawsuit seeking to overturn its earlier denial of the project and revoke the town’s moratorium from the affordable housing requirements under Connecticut statute 8-30g. A two-thirds vote of the entire RTM (24 votes), is needed to overturn the P & Z’s decision.
This week, the Representative Town Meeting’s Planning & Zoning Subcommittee voted 5-1 to uphold the P&Z’s agreement with Summit Saugatuck, to build 157 units of housing — some of it deemed “affordable” — on Hiawatha Lane, near I-95 Exit 17.
The debate now moves to the full RTM. That meeting is set for June 8 (7:30 p.m., Zoom).
Members of the public may attend the meeting by video. Send an email before or during the session to RTMcomments@westportct.gov, with your name and address. Meeting details will be emailed to you. Registered electors attending by video can comment (3-minute time limit).
Emails to all members may also be sent before the meeting: RTMmailinglist@westportct.gov.
Artist’s rendering of one of the buildings at the Hiawatha Lane development.
Charlie Capalbo’s battles with cancer have inspired people around the world.
The 23-year-old Fairfield native — and grandson of Westport writer Ina Chadwick — beat lymphoma and leukemia. Now he’s facing off against leukemia again.
It’s a costly fight. And the need is great. Charlie’s dad lost his job at the beginning of COVID, and is just getting his new real estate career off the ground. His mom, Jen, has been working per diem. That’s now on hold.
Fortunately, Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask and radio personality Greg Hill have pledged to match every $1 donated — up to $20,000 each. That could mean a total of $60,000 to support Charlie and his family.
And finally … John Davis died this week, of complications from COVID. He was 66.
You may not recognize his name. But he was one of the real singers for the fake duo Milli Vanilli. They won a Grammy for their debut album in 1990, but lost it when news broke that the singers had not actually sung. Click here for a full obituary.
The Representative Town Meeting Planning and Zoning Subcommittee voted decisively yesterday to uphold the P&Z’s agreement with Summit Saugatuck, to build 157 units of housing — some of it deemed “affordable” — on Hiawatha Lane, near I-95 Exit 17.
The vote was 5 to 1 to uphold the P&Z decision,, with one abstention. Member Matthew Mandell recused himself.
The meeting was required by law, following a petition by more than 60 electors in the wake of the P&Z vote earlier this month. The matter now moves to the full RTM, early in June.
Artist’s rendering of one of the buildings at the Hiawatha Lane development.
One week after the Planning & Zoning Commission agreed to a settlement with Summit Saugatuck — allowing a scaled-down 157-unit housing development to be built on Hiawatha Lane (off Saugatuck Avenue adjacent to I-95 Exit 17). seemingly ending 18 years of proposals and litigation — there is a new twist.
Earlier this afternoon — one day ahead of the filing deadline — a petition signed by over 60 electors was delivered to the town clerk. Lead petitioner Gloria Gouveia and Save Old Saugatuck leader Carolanne Curry presented the signatures.
If Town Clerk Jeffrey Dunkerton ascertains that there are at least 20 valid signatures, the petition will be forwarded to the Representative Town Meeting, as provided by the Town Charter. A public hearing would follow.
The RTM has 30 days from today to hear and decide the petition.
Gloria Gouveia is a longtime Westporter. Since 1984 she has worked as a land use consultant, specializing in planning and zoning permit and subdivision applications, Zoning Board of Appeals applications, neighborhood opposition advocacy and Historic District compliance.
In the wake of Wednesday’s 5-0 Planning & Zoning Commission vote to accept a settlement with Summit Partners — allowing a 157-unit project to proceed on Hiawatha Lane, with modifications from the original plan — she writes:
Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” Although he was referring to a baseball game, the same can be said for the proposed 157-unit Summit development approved by the Planning & Zoning Commission Wednesday night.
Although a neighbor’s recourse in circumstances like these is usually limited to an expensive court appeal, the Summit matter is different. Along with approvals for construction and site development, the P&Z also approved a change of a zoning boundary.
Thanks to our early lawmakers, organizations like Save Old Saugatuck and Save Westport Now, as well as the many residents who opposed Summit’s plans, may have another opportunity to challenge the developer in a public forum: the RTM.
According to the Town of Westport Charter: “The Representative Town Meeting shall have the power to review any action by the Planning and Zoning Commission adopting, amending or repealing any zoning regulation or fixing or changing the boundary of any zoning district…”
To start the process, a petition endorsed by 2 RTM members or 20 electors of our town must be submitted to the town clerk. When transmitted to the RTM it will be scheduled for hearing, where all may be heard.
So to all of the disenfranchised residents of the Hiawatha Lane neighborhood, and all of those good citizens of Westport who oppose this Brobdingnagian development: Let us join together and rally once more to ask the RTM to reverse the Planning & Zoning Commission’s decision, and save old Saugatuck.
I reached out to town attorney Ira Bloom. He responded this afternoon:
“That is correct. A petition must be filed within 7 days following the public notice of a P&Z decision.” That notice was filed yesterday (Thursday, May 13).
Bloom added, “I will certainly look carefully at any petition that is submitted.”
I spoke with Planning & Zoning director Mary Young too. She noted that the full text of the Town Charter (quoted above) says: “Any action by the Planning and Zoning Commission adopting, amending or repealing any zoning regulation or fixing or changing the boundary of any zoning district, or a negative 8-24 report by the Commission [italics mine] shall be subject to review by the Representative Town Meeting.”
Young said that the P&Z decision Wednesday night was a positive report — not a negative one.
The zoning plan for Hiawatha Lane.
A few minutes ago, Gouveia added this information:
“Summit’s project will have to be reviewed by the Connecticut Department of Transportation.
“According to my reading of their permitting requirements, Summit is classified as a major traffic generator. Any project with 200 or more parking spaces meets that definition. Although housing projects with 100 cars or less are exempt, that is not the case with Summit. I can’t believe DOT is happy with any development likely to result in more backups on the exit ramps and onto I-95.”
“Also, the Planning Director may contact DOT about Summit’s approval. The DOT will immediately start the review process.”
Artist’s rendering of one of the buildings at the Hiawatha Lane development.
Actually, we have 2. This week, the Representative Town Meeting approved both the town and education budgets.
Here is Peter Gold’s report on the May 3 and 4 RTM meetings. He is an RTM member and a director of the Westport Transit District writing for himself, and not in an official capacity.
At back-to-back meetings this week, the RTM approved a total town and education budget of $220,814,210. That’s approximately 2.65% more than the current year.
On May 3 the RTM passed the town budget for the fiscal year ending June 20, 2022 of $77,103,992 — a 2.2% increase over the current year.
It also approved several smaller budgets for Earthplace, Westport Library, Westport-Weston Health District, Westport Transit District, railroad parking and Wakeman Town Farm, for a grand total of $85,509,447. That is a 2.59% increase over the current year.
Over 80% of the town’s budget goes to 4 areas: public safety (30%), funding for pensions and other post-employment benefits such as retiree health care (27%), public works (15%) and parks and recreation (9%).
All budgets except for Westport Transit District were unchanged from the budget recommended by the Board of Finance, and all passed unanimously.
In a 32-1 vote, the RTM restored $157,500 cut by the Board of Finance from the Westport Transit District‘s budget for its Wheels2U shuttle service introduced last October. The RTM took note of the letters it received from over 100 individuals and organizations in support of restoring the funds. RTM members also felt the pandemic made it difficult to fairly evaluate the Wheels2U service, and that it should be given a chance to prove itself as life returns closer to normal.
On May 4 the RTM approved the Board of Finance’s recommended budget for the Board of Education. The $135,304,763 approved by the RTM, while $1,347,716 less than the Board of Ed’s original request, is still a 3% increase over the current year.
The Board of Education chose not to ask the RTM to restore funds cut by the Board of Finance. Instead, it managed to make up the amount through increased state aid, and funds received under emergency grant programs like the Coronavirus Relief Fund and the American Rescue Plan.
As in prior years, the overwhelming majority of the Board of Education budget —81% — goes to salaries and benefits.
Prior to voting on the budget, the RTM was briefed by Board of Finance chair Brian Stern on the town’s financial condition. Despite unexpected expenses due to COVID and Hurricane Isaias, the town is projected to finish the fiscal year on June 30 within 1% of the amount budgeted last May. This amount — which can be covered by the town’s reserves — is due to hard work by town employees, and financial aid from state and federal governments.
This is Peter Gold’s report on the December Representative Town Meeting. He is an RTM member writing for himself, and not in an official capacity.
January’s RTM meeting, one of the shortest ever, focused on keeping the town’s infrastructure in good shape. Legislators unanimously approved 2 sewer projects and 2 paving projects.
Sewer project #1 was an appropriation to $600,000 to replace the 1,100-foot, 40-year old force main pipe at Pump Station 5. The town’s sewer system includes 18 pump stations and 117 miles of sewer lines (16 miles are force mains). The new force main will permit the system to handle 650 gallons per minute. It will be paid for by the annual charges paid by all households connected to the sewer system.
Interestingly, the highest sewer flow in the year for Westport’s sewer system comes during half time of the Super Bowl.
The second project was $59,400, for an engineering design study to extend the sewer system to 37 homes on Whitney Street, Roseville Road, Fernwood Road, Plumtree Lane, Pamela Place and Ledgemoor Lane. The cost of the design study, plus the eventual construction cost of installing nearly a mile of pipe to expand the system, will be paid over 19 years by residents of those streets connecting to the sewer.
The sewer system is expanded if sufficient residents in the area request the extension. It must be within the sewer service area of the town (known as the “blue line”). Areas north of the Merritt Parkway are generally not within the line.
Next came approval of $295,000 to repave the upper lot at the library. The area between the library and Levitt Pavilion was last paved about 30 years ago.
Concerns were expressed about environmental issues that might arise due to the location on landfill, steps to be taken to prevent future settling of the lot, and proper disposal of the asphalt.
The Westport Library and Levitt Pavilion parking lot is built on landfill.
Pete Ratkiewich, town director of Public Works, explained that a rototiller-like machine would grind up the existing asphalt and mix it with the existing subsurface material. This would strengthen the base on which the new pavement would be laid, and help prevent future problems due to settling. The rototiller would not disturb the landfill material, which is located at a deeper level.
The paving project is expected to begin in the spring, and take 1 to 2 weeks. Plans are to complete the project before the Levitt opens in June.
The last item was $320,000 to repave the parking lot at the Senior Center. The lot was last paved 16 years ago, but is in poor condition. Work is also expected to begin in the spring.
This is Peter Gold’s report on the December Representative Town Meeting. He is an RTM member writing for himself, not in an official capacity.
December’s RTM meeting featured several housekeeping items, and 3 appropriation requests.
Dan Woog’s invocation gave thanks for America’s democratic traditions. He thanked the RTM for all it does for Westport, describing the RTM as ”its own tradition. It is non-partisan. It represents every segment of town. It is unique. It is quirky. It is ours.”
Members then reelected Velma Heller as moderator and Jeff Wieser as deputy moderator for the 4th time, and thanked retiring Town Clerk Patty Strauss for her 23 years of service to the RTM and the town.
The RTM also thanked Marty Fox and Patsy Cimarosa, who resigned as directors of the Westport Transit District, for their nearly 5 years’ service as directors.
The most expensive appropriation was $4,635,408 for a new public safety radio system. The current system is 15 year old, and has parts that can no longer be repaired.
The new system will piggyback on the state’s existing system. making it significantly less expensive than buying a stand-alone setup. The new system enables the Police Department, Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services to communicate together for the first time, and expands the area covered by the system.
$230,000 was approved to repair the seawall along the river at Jesup Green. The project adds a railing atop the seawall to help minimize accidental falls into the river. While the RTM agreed safety should be a priority, hope was expressed that the railing will obstruct river views as little as possible.
Repairs will be made along the Saugatuck River seawall.
The RTM also approved $80,000 for the design and permitting stage of a project to repair the Old Mill walkway and tide gates.
The final agenda item was to appoint a new volunteer director for the Westport Transit District.
Peter Gold, former chair of the RTM Transit Committee (and the author of this article) was nominated, because of his familiarity with the Transit District’s operations. He would resign once the town came up with a plan for the future of the Transit District.
A motion was made to delay appointing a new transit director until February to give the town additional time to decide on a course of action.
While some thought the absence of a director would prod the town to take action more quickly, others noted that a director must be in place now to deal with day-to day operations, including the new Wheels 2U Westport on-demand door-to train station commuter service, and to prepare the Transit District’s budget for the next fiscal year.
The appointment of a director would not prevent the town from formulating its own solution. Based on this, and Gold’s knowledge and experience with the Transit District, he was appointed as a director by a vote of 34 in favor, and 1 abstention.
This is the first of Peter Gold’s regular reports on the Representative Town Meeting’s monthly sessions. He is an RTM member writing for himself, not in an official capacity.
October’s RTM meeting was one of the longest on record. It began at 7:30 p.m. yesterday, and ended at 2 a.m. this morning.
Six of the 7 agenda items were disposed of quickly. The last item — a 2-page sense of the meeting resolution declaring racism a public health crisis, and asking the town to help combat it — led to 5 hours of debate.
The final version was adopted unanimously (28-0). It says:
The Westport RTM condemns racism in all its forms and hereby commits to actively working toward combating racism and valuing all people as deserving of equitable treatment. We see the world around us and recognize racism as a crisis, having negative effects on the public health, welfare and lives of Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC). Racism diminishes us all. Therefore, we ask the Town of Westport to commit to continue work already begun, and we ask the Town of Westport to develop means to evaluate our community’s progress in the areas of racial equity and justice.
All RTM members spoke out against racism, while acknowledging it exists in Westport.
A primary area of discussion focused on whether or not the resolution should be limited to condemning racism, or if it should be expanded to condemn sexism and all other forms of discrimination as well.
While many RTM members felt that expanding the resolution diluted its impact by taking the focus off racism, many others felt that all forms of discrimination, including sexism, anti-Semitism and discrimination against LGBT people are equally reprehensible, and should be condemned too.
Other areas of concern involved the appropriateness and accuracy of several of the “whereas” clauses in the original resolution; whether or not the original resolution was too “partisan,” “political,” or otherwise beyond the scope of the RTM’s powers; and the feeling that the original wording was a one-size-fits-all resolution adopted by many other towns, instead of being tailored to Westport and expressing Westport’s values and concerns.
Many RTM members spoke eloquently and passionately on both sides of these and other issues. The full debate will be posted on the town website.
The other votes were also unanimous, and straightforward:
Ratification of the Conservation Commission’s approval of bridge replacements for the Cavalry Road and Bayberry Lane Extension bridges over the Saugatuck River (work begins in the spring, and will last 6-8 months).
Approval of $310,000 for new lights at the Greens Farms Elementary School softball field; replacement of the 30-year-old lights with new LED lights will save the town approximately $185,000 over the next 25 years in electricity and maintenance costs.
Approval of $150,000 for an uninterruptable power supply for Town Hall and the Parks and Recreation Department. Town Hall had 3 major power failures leading to IT problems in the last 5 years — most recently during Isaias. The new power supply will provide “clean” power.
Approval of $349,000 for several Public Works Department requests, including designing a replacement for underground fuel and storage tanks with above-ground tanks to address environmental concerns and meet state requirements; replacing garage doors at the Public Works Center and old, non-functional doors at the transfer station to improve safety and security, meet state requirements, reduce maintenance expenses and improve efficiency in storms; upgrading the waste oil storage shed to meet state spill standards, and replacing an aging truck and excavators.
Coming soon: An uninterrupted power supply at Town Hall.
Most Representative Town Meeting agendas focus on local matters. The 36 members discuss budgets, the library, parks and recreation, public protection and transit issues.
Occasionally though, national events intrude.
In 1972 the RTM made the New York Times, with a 17-15 vote demanding an immediate withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam. In 1982 the body voted 24-2 (with 7 abstentions) in favor of a nuclear arms freeze.
On Tuesday, October 6 (7:30 p.m., via Zoom) — after voting on new lights at the Greens Farms Field, and replacing 40-year-old transfer station doors — the RTM will “take such action as the meeting may determine” to adopt a sense-of-the-meeting resolution asserting that “racism is a public health crisis affecting the Town of Westport and all of Connecticut.”
The proposed resolution — sponsored by Harris Falk, Mark Friedman, Amy Kaplan, Sal Liccione and Lisa Newman — says that “racism and segregation have exacerbated a health divide resulting in people of color in Connecticut bearing a disproportionate burden of illness and mortality including COVID-19 infection
and death, heart disease, diabetes, and infant mortality.”
Because “Black, Native American, Asian and Latino residents are more likely to experience poor health outcomes as a consequence of inequities in economic stability, education, physical environment, food, and access to health care” — and because those inequities are “themselves a result of racism” — the sponsors want the town to commit to “progress as an equity and justice-oriented organization, by continuing to identify specific activities to enhance diversity and to ensure antiracism principles across our leadership, staffing and contracting,” through a variety of means.
In addition, the sponsors hope to “solidify alliances and partnerships with other organizations that are confronting racism and encourage other local, state,
regional, and national entities to recognize racism as a public health crisis.”
The October 6 RTM meeting will be livestreamed at www.westportct.gov, and shown on Optimum Channel 79 and Frontier Channel 6020. Emails to RTM members can be sent to RTMmailinglist@westportct.gov. Comments to be read during the public portion of the meeting can be emailed to RTMcomments@westportct.gov.
Here’s the full text of the proposed resolution:
WHEREAS, racism is a social system with multiple dimensions: individual racism that is interpersonal and/or internalized or systemic racism that is institutional or structural, and is a system of structuring opportunity and assigning value based on the social interpretation of how one looks; and
WHEREAS race is a social construct with no biological basis; and
WHEREAS racism unfairly disadvantages specific individuals and communities, while unfairly giving advantages to other individuals and communities, and saps the strength of the whole society through the waste of human resources, and
WHEREAS racism is a root cause of poverty and constricts economic mobility; and
WHEREAS racism causes persistent discrimination and disparate outcomes in many areas of life, including housing, education, employment, and criminal justice, and is itself a social determinant of health; and
WHEREAS racism and segregation have exacerbated a health divide resulting in people of color in Connecticut bearing a disproportionate burden of illness and mortality including COVID-19 infection and death, heart disease, diabetes, and infant mortality; and
WHEREAS Black, Native American, Asian and Latino residents are more likely to experience poor health outcomes as a consequence of inequities in economic stability, education, physical environment, food, and access to health care and these inequities are, themselves, a result of racism; and
WHEREAS more than 100 studies have linked racism to worse health outcomes; and
WHEREAS the collective prosperity and wellbeing of Westport depends upon equitable access to opportunity for every resident regardless of the color of their skin: and
WHEREAS in August 2005, recognizing the need to achieve and celebrate a more welcoming, multicultural community, the Town of Westport established the TEAM Westport Committee to advise Town officials; and
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Town of Westport asserts that racism is a public health crisis affecting Westport and all of Connecticut;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Town of Westport will work to progress as an equity and justice-oriented organization, by continuing to identify specific activities to enhance diversity and to ensure antiracism principles across our leadership, staffing and contracting;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Town of Westport will promote equity through all policies approved by the Town of Westport and enhance educational efforts aimed at understanding, addressing and dismantling racism and how it affects the delivery of human and social services, economic development and public safety;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Town of Westport will improve the quality of the data Westport collects and the analysis of that data-—it is not enough to assume that an initiative is producing its intended outcome, qualitative and quantitative data should be used to assess inequities in impact and continuously improve;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Town of Westport will continue to advocate locally for relevant policies that improve health in communities of color, and support local, state, regional, and federal initiatives that advance efforts to dismantle systemic racism;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Town of Westport will further work to solidify alliances and partnerships with other organizations that are confronting racism and encourage other local, state, regional, and national entities to recognize racism as a public health crisis;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Town of Westport will support community efforts to amplify issues of racism and engage actively and authentically with communities of color wherever they live; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Town of Westport will identify clear goals and objectives, including periodic reports to the Representative Town Meeting, to assess progress and capitalize on opportunities to further advance racial equity.
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