The positions the CFW has taken since our inception—and will continue to take in the future—are primarily focused on major zoning and land use decisions that require P&Z approval. Our goal is always the same: to strike the optimum balance between preserving the character of Westport, and responding thoughtfully and proactively to the real world, growth-related challenges that bear most directly on the quality of life in our town.
We gather the information related to each position from a variety of sources, including the zoning application itself, input from town consultants, reports generated by town agencies, feedback from concerned residents as well as from individuals and entities with relevant expertise. We debate and work through each issue and ultimately form a consensus on CFW position, which we then seek to share with the community in our ongonig efforts foster further dialogue.
Where we stand on key issues
A kinder gentler P&Z Commission. Despite the best efforts of the P&Z’s dedicated and exceptionally competent members—both past and present—a high percentage of Westport residents who have been through the zoning process have been dissatisfied with the experience and are often angry at how their concerns have been addressed.
The problem, in our view, is the process itself. It is unnecessarily demanding, expensive, and opaque. More often than not, residents and business owners need help from outside professionals to navigate an increasingly complicated regulatory landscape.
In short, the system cries out for simplification and reform, and by doing so, make it more “user friendly” than it currently is.
Downtown Westport. We strongly support the general findings and proposals of the 2014 Downtown Plan. We believe that the RBA Group did an excellent job of resolving the conflicting requirements of earlier plans and that it emphasizes what makes Westport unique—a destination that attracts visitors from across the region for its small town character, picturesque riverfront, upscale restaurants, events, music, cultural actives and high quality shopping.
Even as the world changes, the Plan recommends steps Westport should be taking now to ensure a vibrant and successful future so that once again our downtown thrives as a town center for our entire community to use, enjoy, and share together.
We therefore urge members of the Planning and Zoning Commission, the Board of Selectman, the Representative Town Meeting and the Downtown Plan Implementation Committee to create zoning regulations specifically tailored to realize that vision. In addition, we urge all elected leaders to proactively secure the funding needed to turn a key visions into reality.
Some of our key recommendations include:
- Encourage a mix of apartments, restaurants, entertainment and retail uses to “populate” the area.
- Redesign Parker Harding Plaza to relocate parking and improve riverfront use and access.
- Explore ways to improve traffic and pedestrian circulation, taking into account increased use of bicycles.
- Create “theatre district” zoning that would increase the likelihood of a downtown movie theatre.
- Create links connecting Downtown with the Saugatuck train station, including safe biking, walking and regular transit connections.
The Cribari Bridge. The most recent CT DOT safety report strongly suggests that at some point over the next few years the Cribari Bridge will need to be repaired or replaced.
We believe that it is in Westport’s best interests to explore ideas for a new bridge, rather than continually repair an aging—albeit historic—bridge that was built for a different time and era. We believe that as a river town, the future health and economic vitality of our entire community depends on reliable bridges that provide multiple options for residents to move safely and efficiently, whether they are driving a car, riding a bike, walking or using mass transit. We also believe that our future—like our past—is connected to the river, and, in particular, its changing tide levels and navigability.
CFW is one of several groups appointed by the CT Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) to serve on the Project Advisory Committee (PAC) established to explore alternatives for the bridge replacement or repair. The views that CFW has shared as members of the PAC include:
- The original Cribari Bridge structure should be preserved as a pedestrian bridge at some other location on the Saugatuck River.
- The Town should create a Transportation Advisory Committee to address ways in which Westport can limit, and if needed prohibit, truck traffic on local roads leading to the bridge.
- The new bridge and approaches should be designed to maximize safe bike and pedestrian access on both sides of the bridge.
- ConnDOT should grant Westport the authority to control truck traffic on that portion of State Rte. 136 which leads to and from the bridge, as has been done elsewhere.
- The Town should explore funding sources—including consideration of railroad parking revenue – to fund infrastructure and enforcement aimed at improving traffic and pedestrian flow across the bridge, through Saugatuck and to the train station.
- The State should allow Westport to hold an international design competition for a new bridge that would reflect Westport’s past and future.
CT Statutes require each municipality to promote housing choice and economic diversity in housing, including housing for both low and moderate income households.
That requirement gives rise to a statutory scheme (known as 8-30g) whereby developers in communities where less than 10% of the housing stock is affordable may essentially ignore local zoning regulations to construct residential projects in which at least 20% of the units are “affordable”.
One of the problems with 8-30g is that the municipality has no control over where the projects are sited, often in a location inconsistent with the comprehensive plan of zoning and the Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD).
Once a community achieves the 10% affordable threshold, it is protected against 8-30g intrusion by a three year moratorium. Westport has achieved moratorium status which makes it all the more urgent that we act during the three-year moratorium period to assure that we continue to meet the statutory goals in a manner consistent with an over-all plan of development.
The Coalition for Westport has long supported planning for “affordable” housing and has consistently urged the P&Z to enact a POCD and to amend its regulations to encourage development of affordable housing inappropriate ( IN APPROPRIATE) locations. To its credit, the P&Z is listening and is considering meaningful steps to meet those goals.
The Coalition suggests the following first principles to guide the work which the P&Z has undertaken:
- Although the term “affordable housing” Is defined in the statutes by a regional formula adjusted annually for inflation and fluctuating real estate values, “below market rate housing” might be a more accurate and understandable description of what is intended.
- Whatever you call it, affordable or below market housing should, whenever possible, be distributed equitably throughout the community rather than clustered so as to create enclaves of low and modest income families.
- An effort should be made to amend the regulations to permit and encourage “starter homes” on smaller lots and as second structures on larger lots.
- The 2017 POCD should be amended to emphasize and locate potential housing options intended to meet the statutory requirements for extending the present moratorium.
Planning is the key to a variety of housing choices and to achieving economic diversity. We all need to understand that social and economic diversity is necessary to the health of any community and that we in Westport have an obligation to our neighbors in less affluent communities. If we don’t want to have these responsibilities thrust upon us by legislative action – which leads to haphazard development – we must take control of our own destiny by responsible planning. We are encouraged by the work of the affordable housing subcommittee to believe that the P&Z has come to understand the need for planning in this and other areas and is considering steps to amend the regulations and to correct the failings of the latest POCD.
Senior Housing and the Baron’s South Property. In 2014, the P&Z made what we believe to be a short-sighted—and, in retrospect—costly decision when it rejected a proposal that would have created a senior housing complex on a small portion (3 1/2 acres) of the 22+ acre Baron’s South property. We believe Westport should reopen a community dialogue around the future use of the Baron’s property for senior housing. with the balance of the property reenvisioned as community parkland/open space that connects to both the Levitt and Winslow Park, forming a greenbelt around downtown.
Restructuring of Planning and Zoning Commission. We seek to restructure the Planning and Zoning Commission in the following way: to create two independent commissions: (1) a zoning commission zoning; and (2) a planning commission for planning. The rationale behind this recommendation is that our P&Z is so overwhelmed at present with zoning issues, there is little no time for planning. .
The governingstatutes give towns the option consolidate the two functions, and have set down rules for how the two bodies would together.
Separating the two functions would require a Charter amendment and also a blueprint for how best to coordinate the work of separate commissions. CFW believes we could learn much by studying those towns that have established separate commissions and, based on what we learn from those, implement a process and can robustly address our critical planning needs.