The Coalition for Westport supports The Hamlet at Saugatuck
Oct 24, 2022
The Coalition for Westport enthusiastically supports The Hamlet at Saugatuck proposal which presents a rare opportunity to improve the function and appearance of a key “gateway” to our community. Westport has the demand for, and the ability to sustain, two significant commercial hubs: Downtown and Saugatuck.
Thoughtful, even bold, development of both areas should be viewed favorably by those who care about Westport, its economic future and its quality of life. And even as we consider ways of linking disparate areas of downtown, we are presented with an opportunity to consider ways to link a revitalized Saugatuck to downtown by upgrading the river crossing, creating and encouraging use of bike lanes, and improvements to public transportation.
At present, much of the Saugatuck area is unattractive with aging buildings in need of repair. This proposal promises to address much of that problem by upgrading building facades, re-skinning the Saugatuck office building, and creating new, attractive buildings on Charles Street, all in an architectural style compatible with the area and its history.
We have studied the proposed text and map amendments in light of Westport’s Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD), and Transit Oriented District (TOD), (even though the latter has not been adopted.)
In our view The Hamlet brings to Saugatuck residents many benefits which are long overdue, including a significantly improved appearance, public access and active leisure opportunities at the riverfront, improved pedestrian circulation, an increased variety of uses, avoidance of unsightly on-grade parking, and amenities for residents.
Developing Saugatuck is not a new idea. Prior to adoption of the 2017 POCD, 74 percent of those responding to a survey agreed that “We should encourage the revitalization of Saugatuck Center,” a sentiment consistent with CT General Statutes (Section 8-23) which mandates that a POCD incorporate “statewide growth management principles” including “a concentration of development around transportation nodes..”
The Hamlet proposal furthers these objectives and is consistent with the current Westport POCD which recommends:
- Enhancing and strengthening Saugatuck Center.
- Maintaining and enhancing the sense of place and economic strength of downtown Westport and Saugatuck Center.
- Guiding economic development that enhances community character, minimizes potential negative impacts and adds to the Grand List.
- Providing below grade parking to reduce parking as the primary land use.
- Requiring architecture consistent with the surrounding area protecting the historical character of Saugatuck.
- Attracting “appropriate business and economic development enhancing the overall character of the community.”
In sum, the proposal will enhance the public experience by emphasizing waterfront access, additional green space and street-scape improvements; allow and encourage improved public transit options, bike lanes and a new safe and efficient river crossing; promote a mix of new uses and services to visitors, commuters and area residents some of which, (a grocery, pharmacy, and hardware store), are conspicuously absent, and provide parking strategies to support both commuters and local businesses while reducing street side and ground level parking.
The applicant has demonstrated a sensitivity to concerns about height, density, views and traffic and appears to have a willingness to compromise. In our view it is likely, even probable that in the public dialogue about land use and development such adjustments in the proposal should be sufficient to address opposition based on understandable citizen concerns. As further evidence of the applicant’s willingness to address the commission’s objectives, in its revised text amendment proposal the number of affordable units has been increased to 25 percent rather than the required 20 percent. As the review process continues, it is our intention to submit additional comments as warranted.
The undersigned members of the Coalition urge you to give this proposal favorable consideration.
For further information:
Larry Weisman, chair, Policy Committee, email@example.com
Jo Ann Davidson
Town of Westport Affordable Housing Plan – 8-30J
Commentry from the Coalition for Westport on the Town of Westports draft Affordable Housing Plan.
June 12, 2022
To: The Affordable Housing Subcommittee and the Planning& Zoning Commission
From: The Coalition for Westport
The Coalition welcomes the opportunity to comment on the draft Affordable Housing Plan prepared by the subcommittee which, in our opinion, has done an admirable job of soliciting and responding to public comment and focusing on the task at hand.
The State has made it abundantly clear that affordable housing is a priority and that lack of sufficient affordable housing is a threat to local land use control, but even without a state mandate, affordable housing should be a primary goal of the Westport community. In our view there can never be too many housing choices or opportunities to welcome new arrivals.
Having said that, we offer the following thoughts and suggestions:
* We think the plan should insist that affordable housing be fairly and widely distributed throughout town, as individual units or in small clusters, rather than be aggregated and set apart in large developments which may be seen as exclusionary.
* While all housing built in Westport should be designed and constructed in a sustainable manner, it would not hurt to suggest that the same should be true of affordable housing.
* We would like the plan to emphasize adaptive reuse of existing structures for affordable housing and to welcome mixed use projects with first floor retail or offices and housing on upper floors. It is our perception that there is a great deal of vacant space which could be utilized to meet affordable housing goals.
* We enthusiastically support the housing trust fund concept.
* The draft plan uses the term « family ». Since people may differ over what constitutes a family, we would suggest substituting the word « household » to avoid confusion.
We view this as an important document – perhaps equal in importance to the POCD -and while it is by its very nature conceptual rather than detailed, it should set a high bar to be implemented by regulation.
We appreciate the work that the Committee has done thus far, and we look forward to continuing the dialog and to adoption of a meaningful plan.
The Coalition for Westport
October 31, 2021
The Coalition for Westport takes pride that in the debate Thursday night, P&Z candidates acknowledged the timeliness and importance of initiatives that the Coalition has been advocating:
- Relocating parking at Jesup Green and Parker Harding Plaza to provide access to the riverbank for passive and active recreation;
- Increasing affordable housing options and opportunities;
- Activating solutions to ease traffic congestion, hiring a traffic professional, prioritizing pedestrian movement, and building bus shelters;
- Increasing emphasis on planning with appropriate attention to preservation;
- Revising the Plan of Conservation and Development with broad-based public input and attention to issues of Climate Change;
- Infusing Sustainability into all P&Z actions to achieve a timely Net Zero goal.
We are gratified by the wide recognition the Coalition’s platform has attracted and we look forward to continued participation in the collaborative effort to assure Westport’s future.
Ron Corwin. He’s done it before. He’ll do it again.
October, 2021 – Election updates – Coalition for Westport candidate Ron Corwin
Westport League of Women Voters posed the following question to all the Candidates for the Planning & Zoning Commission
What are the most important values you hold with regard to the mission, philosophy and direction of Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission going forward?
Response from Ron Corwin
Planning & Zoning is the expression of neighbors. It is how we manage where we live, work, shop, and send our kids to school. It is both democracy at the local level and an agency of change.
My values for P&Z are to provide a fair, efficient and equitable forum for applicants and the public on all land use applications, proposals and planning.
The P&Z plays an important role in the life of our town. It is a forum for open, transparent and civil discussions to:
- Add to the vitality of our town;
- Protect its natural beauty and ecological well-being;
- Preserve critical environmental areas;
- Integrate aesthetics and historical character that define Connecticut;
- Manage continuity with the past;
- Provide a variety of transportation choices;
- Address community facility and infrastructure needs;
- Increase housing opportunities and choices;
- Promote Sustainable Initiatives.
When I chaired the P&Z (2007 to 2011) we approved major increases in the number of restaurants, permitted outdoor dining, lights at Staples and Bedford sports fields, addressed issues of historic preservation, doubled the number of permitted home offices, and approved the relocation of the “Y” at Mahackeno.
I welcome the opportunity to serve again.
Ron Corwin 9.29.2021
Westport Journal posed the following question to all the Candidates for the Planning & Zoning Commission
If you had the power to completely overhaul Westport in relation to Planning & Zoning, what would you prioritize? (Please include reference to Baron’s South & Downtown)
Response from Ron Corwin
I would actively participate in the key proposals and zoning changes that affect Westporters’ everyday lives.
First, I would establish a new process for routine applications through more efficient Commission subcommittees. This would speed up response time to residents and allow the Commission to focus on town-wide planning and proposals.
Next, I would set up 2 working groups to review all the zoning changes and plans currently in discussion, on the shelf, or languishing in the Commission’s work flow. Each group would then bring their recommendations to the full Commission within reasonable time frames to hold hearings and get public input. And make decisions.
And, most importantly, I would put priorities of Westporters on the Commission front burner:
- Realistic plans for converting Baron’s South from unused, wasted and inaccessible property into a major green open space that town residents can enjoy, an enhanced Senior Center and potentially an assisted care facility using no more than 3 of the 22 open space acres;
- A plan to optimize our beautiful riverfront for the enjoyment of shoppers, residents and visitors, instead of an asphalted parking lot along the river. The Coalition has backed this concept since 2012.
- A downtown parking plan that works for shoppers merchants and diners and which pays attention to flooding and climate issues.
- An activist program for preservation of our most distinctive natural and built resources.
In sum, I would be an engaged participant in an efficient, well-functioning Commission, focused on planning for both immediate and future needs.
Ron Corwin 10.12.2021
October 18, 2020
Regarding: Cribari Bridge and Transportation Improvement Study
From: The Coalition for Westport
Addressed to: Connecticut Department of Transportation.
Dear Sirs and Madams:
Although the future of the Cribari Bridge has long been the subject of debate, no decision has yet been reached as to its future. Nevertheless, a recent email blast from those who are determined to preserve the antiquated bridge urges elimination of a 40-million dollar allocation in the State Transportation Improvement Study to be used to determine and design the best course of action with respect to the bridge.
My colleagues and I in the Coalition* think that to eliminate that allocation before conducting and knowing the result of the study would be irrational and the height of fiscal irresponsibility.
Whether you favor preservation or replacement of the bridge, or even if you don’t yet have an opinion, to refuse to study the available options and to entertain and weigh the merits of alternative solutions, defies common sense.
Please do not allow yourself be persuaded to join an effort to predetermine what should be done about this invaluable resource, which is arguably the most important of our three vehicular River crossings, leading as it does to the Railroad station, I-95, and the most direct route to Norwalk Hospital.
Do not predetermine the outcome.Let things take their course. Leave the allocated funds in the budget. Let the study proceed and evaluate the resulting proposals. There will be plenty of time once the study has been completed to stake out our respective positions.
It would be a tragic mistake to let a relatively few voices prevent Westport from realizing the benefits of an objective and comprehensive study.
Lawrence P. Weisman
Coalition for Westport
* The Coalition is a group of Westport citizens, all of whom have been active in the land use prices as P&Z Commissioners, Chairs, presenters or consultants. The Coalition’s focus is on improving and educating the public about the process and commenting upon Related issues as they arise.
May 8th 2020
Letter to First Selectman Jim Marpe from the Coalition for Westport.
On behalf of the Coalition for Westport, we wish to express our appreciation for the exceptional job you and your administration have done to expeditiously and effectively move against the spread of the coronavirus. Those steps have minimized the effect of this insidious virus in our community and you should be commended.
We are equally supportive of your establishment of the ReOpen Westport Advisory Team and are confident that this group will provide the guidance necessary to plan for the reopening of local businesses while protecting the well-being of our residents and visitors. The Coalition intends to participate in these deliberations as appropriate.
The pandemic has had a great impact on stimulating thought about the future. It is becoming universally understood that getting back to normal is not an accurate or perhaps even a desirable goal. The future normal will clearly be an amalgam of the old way of doing things modified by new imperatives and newly acquired tastes, conduct, expectations and opportunities.
Retailing, in all its guises, may be affected the most. Sheltering in place, the accessibility of the internet and the development of new or altered habits will unquestionably change the landscape. Methods of conducting other businesses in both the private and public sectors will similarly be affected. Transportation will be impacted as will all forms of “entertainment”.
In anticipation of these kinds of changes the Coalition would like to see, and urges you to establish, another task force whose mandate would be to (1) “anticipate” what the new normal will look like in Westport and (2) recommend to your administration and other Town commissions like the P&Z, what changes to Town policy, ordinances and regulations may be required to prepare for these eventual changes. An example might be a suggestion to the P&Z to review retail zoning with a view to re-purposing certain retail zones in various sections of Westport to allow for additional functions. Another might be a suggestion that pedestrian/parking relationships be reconfigured given the expected changes in traffic patterns. Even the Town’s resources like Compo and Longshore as well as quasi-public institutions like the Westport Library and charitable organizations could come under review.
This is obviously a project that in many ways is a think-tank effort. The results would be extremely beneficial for Westport in the long-term, and the Coalition would very much like to play a role in any such endeavor. From its inception, our organization has fostered open discussion (like our Downtown Forum last year) , free of partisanship, on projects and improvements that focus on the future and enhance the Town’s appearance, quality of life and value to its residents.
As you know the membership of the Coalition includes many individuals who have served Westport in any number of Town positions. They all have a positive, not static, vision for Westport and have contributed many, now established, creative ideas that have been embraced by Westport such as curbside/outdoor dining, incentives to encourage preservation during building remodeling, and relaxed patron bar restrictions.
Thank you for considering our proposal. We believe it is in Westport’s best interest to begin planning for a post-coronavirus future and hope that you share this view. A few members of our task force would like to meet with you to discuss additional details. I look forward to hearing from you with some suggested times that are appropriate and convenient for you. Again many thanks for your continued good work on behalf of all of us.
Very Truly yours
G. Kenneth Bernhard
Westport, Connecticut, 2020
In light of the situation we all find ourselves in due to the Corona Virus, some coalition members are spending their time on artistic pursuits that will hopefully brighten your day.
Still Life with Sanitizer by JoAnn Davidson.
May 13th 2019
The Future of MAIN STREET
MONDAY, MAY 13, 2019
Forum Explores Challenges Facing Downtown Westport
By Jarret Liotta for WestportNow.com
It was a packed house tonight for what the Coalition for Westport (CFW) hopes is the first in a series of community forums focused on the future of downtown.About 75 persons tonight attended the Coalition for Westport’s forum on the future of downtown, held at The Visual Brand on Church Lane.
The event by the CFW, a nonpartisan political party focused on Planning & Zoning matters in Westport, was held at the office of The Visual Brand on Church Lane.
The company is operated by Randy Herbertson, president of the Westport Downtown Merchants Association, who was also a panelist.
About 75 persons were in attendance, including town officials, developers, retail landlords and citizens.
They also heard comments from David Kooris, deputy commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Economic and Community Development, and Joseph McGee, vice president of The Business Council of Fairfield County.
McGee shared some of the more alarming and out-of-the-box thoughts, cautioning that the town was unprepared for imminent changes and their impact, including global warming.
“Climate change is real,” he said, noting that rising water levels will not only impact the shoreline but properties along the river.
He also said that, while the town should focus on what aspects of its character make it special — and preserving those — it also needed to become more flexible with increasing its housing stock, particularly with smaller dwellings and more mixed-income housing.
“There are forces changing communities,” he said. “It’s not that you’re doing anything wrong, (but) I’m not sure you’re getting that changes are underway … whether it’s climate change, demographics or the way young people want to live.”
“Your challenge is not the Norwalk mall,” he said, referring to the hugh shopping complex at I-95’s exit 15 set to debut in the fall, but maintaining — and in some cases restoring — the character of what makes Westport unique by augmenting opportunities for a more diverse and therefore “funky” community.
“You really want to encourage younger people to come and live here … You’ve got to grow your population a bit of younger people,” McGee said.
Kooris put more blame on the zoning of the town, saying that while it has proven to be a useful “control” tool, “we haven’t married that with flexibility.”
He said flexibility is necessary to encourage more diverse use of buildings downtown, particular multistory buildings that could potentially house apartments.
“This is by far the most fundamental tool,” he said, to fostering change and telegraphing a message to the private sector that the town invites development of downtown.
Planning and Zoning Commission Vice Chair Danielle Dobin, who was there along with at least two other commissioners, responded by listing a range of initiatives already underway in town, including affordable housing projects and public-private development partnerships.
“There has been a lot of change in Westport over the last several years,” she said.
Herbertson, too, defended aspects of the downtown, in particular several events designed to attract visitors including the Maker Faire and the annual summer art festival.
He said that while there are economic factors creating challenges to downtowns throughout the world, a focus on providing a personal connection — as well as an experience — potentially allow local merchants a chance to thrive.
“This is not to say that smart and adaptive planning — and more of it — is not required,” he said.
Local developer David Waldman, who is currently developing the former site of Save the Children on Wilton Road, shared a quantity of his frustration with the bureaucracy he said he faced in bringing his Bedford Square project to life.
“They make it very difficult some times,” he said, noting the process is “mired down by so many different layers of bulls**t we have to put up with.”
Several people also raised the question of whether rents were simply too high downtown, prohibiting small businesses from opportunity, and put some blame on landlords.
“I don’t think we’re here to blame Westport,” McGee said. “There’s change occurring (and) I believe Westport has the resources to adapt to change.”
Jarret Liotta for WestportNow.com