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Friday, June 21, 2013

Housing Amendment Called ‘Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing’

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By James Lomuscio

Attorney Lawrence P. Weisman got a cold, if not hostile, reception from Westport’s Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) tonight as he presented a text amendment to a zoning regulation promoting affordable housing in commercial areas.

As soon a Weisman began his presentation, asking that the current regulation be modified to allow a third driveway on corner lots for residents of mixed commercial and residential sites, P&Z Chairwoman Catherine Walsh scolded him.

“We’re not looking at a site plan,” she said. “This is a text amendment.”

The problem was that Weisman represents Joe Feinleib, owner of Coastal Construction Group under contract to buy Geiger’s Garden Center, a 2.5-acre site at 1135 Post Road East and Morningside Drive North. And Weisman came with a site plan on huge poster board of that property.

That did not sit well with Walsh who demanded to know what other properties would be affected by the proposed text amendment.

“If you’ll let me talk,” Weisman said.

He explained that there are 43 properties in the inclusionary housing zone (IHZ), 17 of which are corner lots, seven of them fronting two main roads.

P&Z member Alfred Gratrix recused himself because the Geiger property had been mentioned. The commission then waited about 15 minutes for alternate Carolanne Curry to arrive.

When the matter resumed, Weisman said that it was a matter of safety and security that residents on corner lots have access from side streets to their homes. He noted that the provision would allow for a comfortable separation between residential and commercial activities.

Weisman was joined by Mel Barr, a land use consultant working for the same client. Weisman noted that developers of rental housing in such zones would welcome the flexibility afforded by the text amendment.

“If you don’t do this, the IHZ is never going to be used,” said Weisman.

P&Z member Ronald Corwin noted that for reasons of aesthetics and security, “I would much prefer to enter the property through a residential entrance.”

Planning and Zoning Director Laurence Bradley pointed out that the text amendment was compatible with the Town Plan of Conservation and Development, “and that this affects potentially 17 sites.”

Corwin suggested Weisman come back with a more detailed analysis of other properties that would benefit, and Weisman agreed.

P&Z member Chip Stephens, however, had harsh words for the applicant.

“What you showed us gentlemen is one property,” said Stephens. “This is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I’m really, really upset.”

Stephens said the way the text amendment was broadly pitched even though aimed at one property prevented neighbors who oppose the Geiger development from being aware in advance so they could have attended to have their say at the meeting. The public was allowed to address the matter at the session.

P&Z member Howard Lathrop seemed to agree, calling the presentation “spurious.”

Upon the recommendation of Walsh, the application was kept open and will be reheard on July 25.

Posted 06/21 at 03:03 AM 

Comments:     Comment Policy

Thank you very much P & Z.  Yes, neighbors would like to know about these plans and have a say in how it will impact the quality of our neighborhood.  Please communicate with the public about further meetings on this topic.

Posted by Sharon Horowitz on June 21, 2013 at 11:15 AM | #

And, when and why did these plans stated below change?  The community was thrilled Geigers planned to remain in Westport.  What changed.. and why was the community not notified?  Unless I missed it?

Geiger’s Garden Center will remain in Westport, abandoning plans announced last July to sell the 2.5-acre Post Road East property to a prospective buyer for residential and commercial use.Geiger’s Garden Center at 1135 Post Road East abandoned plans to become a mixed use commercial and residential development.…

Posted by Sharon Horowitz on June 21, 2013 at 11:57 AM | #

Regarding the third to last paragraph in the report:

Why wouldn’t neighbors of the “example” property ab allowed to speak to the text amendment? 

What about the rights to expression of neighbors of any of the other potentially affected properties (whether there are 43 or 17 or any other number)? 

    It would appear contradictory to the principles of representative government that residents would not have the right to express an opinion about something that could—whether actually or conceptually—affect their very property. 

    I hope I simply misunderstood the comment, and that the P&Z will invite the opinions of all residents regardless of proximity to any potentially affected site.

Posted by Judy Starr on June 21, 2013 at 12:58 PM | #

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