Friday, March 07, 2014
By James Lomuscio
UPDATE (clarifies SWN statement) The 1885-built Victorian home known as the Kemper-Gunn House at 35 Church Lane got a green light from the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) tonight to be relocated to nearby space in the town-owned Baldwin parking lot on Elm Street.
The P&Z unanimously approved Text Amendment 669 designed to facilitate the relocation of historic buildings by easing restrictions in a Business Center District/Historic (BCD/H) zone on setbacks, floor area ration (FAR), buffer areas, landscaping and alike.
According to Planning & Zoning Director Laurence Bradley, the text amendment becomes effective March 20.
The house is being moved to make way for the Bedford Square development replacing the Westport Weston Family Y on Church Lane. The text amendment had been submitted DC Kemper-Gunn LLC, a division of Bedford Square Associates.
Speaking on behalf of DC Kemper-Gunn at last week’s meeting, Karen Johnson said that the easing of restrictions to preserve historic structures was consistent with the town’s 2007 Plan of Conservation and Development.
The P&Z originally denied a special permit relocation request in September, a denial that the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) overturned in October.
Johnson, at the urging of Bradley, said DC Kemper-Gunn decided to pursue a text amendment. It passed muster with the P&Z as the amendment consistently stressed that the easing of restrictions be applied to historic structures being relocated.
In other matters, the P&Z unanimously approved an 8-24 recommendation request by First Selectman Jim Marpe for a 1,900 linear foot sanitary sewer extension to service 1 Hillandale Lane and 10 Hilltop Trail and 19 additional properties.
Gloria Gouveia, a Westport land use consultant, stressed the need for sewer extensions, citing poorly percolating soil quality in the area and failing “very old cesspools turned into septic systems.”
“These are the reasons why this is a priority,” she said.
The P&Z had turned down this request in November, stating that some of the data for the homes, developed in the 1960s, were outdated, and that input from the Department of Public Works was needed.
Tonight, Public Works Director Stephen Edwards spoke in favor of the sewer extension, saying that the town’s sewage treatment plant was more than equipped to handle the effluent.
In its work session, the P&Z noted that the extension was consistent with the 2007 Town Plan of Conservation and Development.
The P&Z also continued its discussion for a second week in a row on a controversial amendment it proposed that would limit buildings in the downtown BCD/H district to 10,000 feet and prohibit expansion into neighboring lots.
Helen Martin-Block, a former P&Z commissioner who said she was representing Save Westport Now, said the goals of the amendment were laudatory but that feedback it received from some residents expressed concern that as written, it intrudes on property rights of landowners.
She asked the P&Z to modify the amendment to address this and other concerns identified through public feedback.
Karen Johnson, speaking on behalf of Bedford Square Associates, was surprised and pleased by the Save Westport Now stance. She said it showed that even those who have long held opposing views could come to agreement on the risks posed by the proposed amendment.
Tom Cody, an attorney with Hartford-based Robinson and Cole and also speaking for Bedford Square Associates, said the amendment if passed would be an economic disaster for his client.
“This amendment is misguided,” he said. “It is beyond the scope of the commission’s authority in many ways. It’s not consistent with the rest of your regulations and will do real harm to them.”
He said Bedford Square Associates intends to protect its rights to the fullest extent, and urged the commission to withdraw the proposal.
Commissioner Catherine Walsh objected to his remarks.
“This was not intended to hurt anyone,” she said. “I don’t like being threatened with lawsuits. But it was never intended to hurt anyone.
“This is a public hearing. This is where we get together and we hash it out and maybe we can make some adjustments that will make everyone more comfortable and cozy and hope we get there.”
The commission continued the discussion so it could get additional input from Town Attorney Ira Bloom.
Posted 03/07/14 at 04:40 AM
Way to go P&Z, and unanimous too!!! Thanks for helping to save the history of our town.
Congrats on saving the house and nice job. Hopefully it will turn into something productive.
And thank you Save Westport Now for looking at 672 again. This amendment has serious consequences to this town and the commissioners need to rethink their desire to push this forward.
Sad to see Cathy Walsh comments though, She needs to understand that people are going to get hurt—both building owners and Westport residents,. In any situation there can be reaction to someones action, and if that is what happens she needs to understand she helped cause it. She should not take it personally but understand there can be consequences with her decisions. Elections and the courts can help sort things like this out.
If the town gets sued and it costs the town and the residents money, as her quote claims, she can only look to herself and the other commissioners as to who caused it.
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