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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Change—Current and Future—Consumed Westport in 2014

By James Lomuscio

Every year is marked by change, but in Westport, current and planned change came at fever pitch in 2014.

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The opening of the new Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts was one of Westport’s top stories of 2014. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo

Several time-honored, mom and pop businesses integral the town’s identity either shut their doors or moved from their storied, if not legendary, locations.

Several prominent individuals whose service epitomized town spirit died, each one leaving heroic example, as well as a hole, behind.

New beginnings marked 2014, from Church Lane’s redevelopment to the new Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts and the finally relocated Westport Weston Family Y.

Metaphorically, the town moved some mountains. Literally, a historic house.

From downtown to Compo Beach, committees, with the help of public input, have focused on pending and proposed change.

Many say development can be either friend or foe to the town’s charm, an issue certain in 2015 to test the quality-of-life, fighting spirit that is distinctly Westport.

Following is a look back at some of the major Westport stories of 2014: 

WestportNow.com Image
The ceremonial ribbon cutting tonight at the home of the new Westport Weston Family Y will be followed by its opening to members next month. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

New Y Finally Opens—After more than a decade of planning, fundraising, approvals, court cases, and construction, the new Westport Weston Family Y opened at 5:30 a.m. on Oct. 6. The $38.5 million, 54,000-square foot facility at the Y’s Mahackeno campus replaced its downtown facility on Church Lane, its home since 1923.

A New Levitt Pavilion Kicks off 2014 Season—Tributes, thanks, tears of joy and standing ovations marked the inaugural season of the new $9 million Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts on July 21. Headliner Jose Feliciano of Weston donated his performance. The new facility, named after the late Mortimer Levitt and his wife Mimi, who arrived on a golf cart, was the star, reborn after 40 years of providing free, riverfront summer concerts to more than 1.5 million persons.

Kemper-Gunn House Moved—The 1885-built Victorian on the corner of Church and Elm moved to .13 acres in the town-owned Baldwin parking lot on Nov. 18. The house was relocated to accommodate the planned Bedford Square project along Church Lane. The plan is to lease space to Westport businesses at a below market rate.

WestportNow.com Image
The Kemper-Gunn House move came after months-long efforts to preserve the 1885-built home. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Bob Eckman for WestportNow.com

Nyala Farms Corporate Center Sold —The largest real estate transaction in Westport’s history—and the largest in Connecticut for the year—took place late June with the purchase of Nyala Farms Corporate Center for $130 million. The buyer was Stamford-based Building and Land Technology (BLT), a firm with close ties to Westport’s Bridgewater Associates hedge fund. Westport reaped $325,000 from the sale while the state got $1,625,000 in conveyance fees. Bridgewater announced almost simultaneously it was not moving to Stamford after all and would remain in Westport for the time being.

P&Z Halts Senior Housing Complex —After more than six years of planning meetings, reboots and town approvals, a proposed senior housing complex on town-owned Baron’s South hit a dead end on Sept. 18. Westport’s Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) in a work session voted 6 to 1 deny a text amendment that would have made the 135-unit facility possible. The reason? The text amendment would have reduced the number of affordable units from 60 to 20 percent.

School Security Measures and Costs —Over the summer, the school system installed 1,425 high security interior door locks costing $200,000, as well as $500,000 worth of clear film on each school’s first floor windows and doors to slow down access for those who would do harm to children. The security measures were recommended by Kroll Security, Inc. in response to concerns generated by the Newtown shootings in December 2012.

Master Plan for the Downtown—From spring through September, the Downtown Steering Committee (DSC), formerly known as Downtown 2020, held a series of workshops, visioning sessions, charrettes and walking tours of downtown. The activities were part of an effort to devise a master plan of downtown development as major projects move forward.

Compo Beach Improvements Planned and Opposed—The aim had been to polish one of the town’s jewels, Compo Beach, with a number of improvements to enhance the beach and park experience while improving safety. But much of the public’s reaction to the consultant’s plans commissioned by the Compo Beach Site Improvement Committee was strong opposition. Instead of polishing the jewel, most public response indicated the plan would shatter it by the planned removal of waterfront parking in the South Beach and East beach areas

A Westport Village District study aimed at preserving the historic character of a swath of the downtown—while encouraging future development—was made public Dec. 15 at Town Hall. The zone including residential, business, retail and historic districts would stretch along the east bank of the Saugatuck River to Avery Place to Myrtle Avenue to Jesup Road and Imperial Avenue.

Body Cameras and Glass Doors—Transparency was the operative word, literally and figuratively, with two Westport Board of Finance unanimous approvals Oct. 1 —$20,000 for police to have body-worn video cameras and $23,399 for Human Services Department renovations that include glass panel doors to make social workers less vulnerable.

Looming Fears of 8-30g —January should prove a busy month when it comes to addressing planned multi-family housing developments in Westport—- the stuff that sleepless nights are made of for First Selectman Jim Marpe. Set for consideration are a developer’s plans to build a five-story, 200-unit complex at the site of the Westport Inn on Post Road East. The P&Z will also consider a sewer approval request for another local developer, Felix Charney, who plans a 186-unit development on Hiawatha Lane Extension in Saugatuck.

Westporter Leaves $40 Million to Alma Mater—Ruth Bedford, the Standard Oil heiress who died June 15 at 99 at her Beachside Avenue estate, stunned Foxcroft School, a small boarding school in northern Virginia hunt country, by her $40 million bequest. She attended the school from 1928 to 1932. Also lost this year, her niece, Lucie C. McKinney, a blunt and strong-willed activist and philanthropist best known to the public as the daughter of a famous sportsman, widow of a congressman and mother of a state Senate leader. She died May 10 of complications from cancer. She was 80.

After-School Bus Stops and Starts—Parents felt left in the lurch late in the summer when the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) said that the Westport Transit District (WTD) after-school bus service to myriad activities was out of compliance with federal regulations for a public bus route. But after much effort by local, state, and federal politicians, the town managed to obtain two extensions of the service, one to Jan. 1, and another to July 1.

School Board Chair Steps Down—Elaine Whitney, Westport’s Board of Education chairwoman, relinquished the chair at the school board’s annual meeting Nov. 17 but remained on the board. Whitney joined the board in 2009 and became chairwoman two years ago. She said she was stepping down to re-launch her career in healthcare strategy and policy. Michael Gordon, who had served as school board secretary, replaced her.

FEMA Changes Mind, Helps Shoreline Homeowners —Westport’s shoreline homeowners learned in January they would not receive the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) money promised to raise their homes above floodwaters. But pressure from local and federal officials reversed the order and funds eventually were earmarked for elevations, buyouts and infrastructure.

Old Mold Cost Overrun—A mold removal project from 2007 to 2014 at the Kings Highway Elementary School had a $1.65 million overrun. But School Superintendent Elliott Landon did not disclose the magnitude of the financial issue to the Board of Education, Elaine Whitney, board chair, said in September. The board subsequently approved new procedures to avoid a similar situation. Landon said the overruns were paid via transfers within the school system’s budget, something he said he had the authority to do.

Mom & Pop Shakeup

Westport Pizzeria—After 45 years on Main Street, Westport Pizzeria owner Carmelo Mioli emotionally tapped his trusty pizza oven, shut it down and turned out the lights at 107 Main St. 1 at 10 p.m. on Feb. 23. But without missing a slice, Westport Pizzeria opened the following day at its new location at 143 Post Road East. A steady stream of customers came to check out the new restaurant.

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The closing of Westport Pizzeria on Main Street after 45 years and its move to Post Road East was among the top Westport mom and pop stories of 2014. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

Silver of Westport—Stephen Silver, co-owner of the 110-year-old family-run business, announced the day after Thanksgiving that the business at 390 Post Road East would close after the holiday   shopping season. He said he had been thinking about it for a long time due to competition from the Internet and not having fully recovered from the recession. Adding to the store’s troubles was an ongoing construction project.

Max’s Art Supplies—Max’s Art Supplies, a gathering place for artists, illustrators and cartoonists for 59 years at 68 Post Road East, shut its doors Aug. 31. Owner Shirley Mellor said Max’s thrived during an era when pen and ink and charcoal and paint—not computers—were the stock-in-trade of the creative process. In recent years she said she had to subsidize the business that has not only yielded to computer-aided art, but Internet purchases as well.

The Mansion Clam House, 541 Riverside Ave., a Saugatuck mainstay since 1958, abruptly closed in October. No explanation was given.

Great Cakes -– After 30 years in business, Great Cakes closed in January at 772 Post Road East. Owner Rick Dickinson later opened in Weston, and Calise’s on Post Road East offered Great Cakes selections to its customers. 

Splash—Westport’s Splash Restaurant & Bar, a shorefront haunt at Westport’s Longshore Park since 1995, shut its doors in late October. The owners initially said the closure was due to repairs, but the restaurant never reopened.

Sun Sets on Daybreak Nursery—After almost 73 years, Westport’s Daybreak Nursery closed down, and in February a builder who purchased the 2.2-acre property in a foreclosure sale said he planned to build four homes on the site. Evan H. Harding and his family had owned Daybreak Nursery since 1941.

Francois DuPont Jewelers—After almost 32 years on Main Street, Francis DuPont Jewelers moved on Feb. 22, reopening April 1 at 6 Sconset Square. The jewelry store and neighboring Westport Pizzeria moved to make way for Athleta, a division of GAP Inc., which is also took the space on the other side of Francois du Pont Jewelers formerly occupied by Kate Spade.

Top Drawer —After 37 years, Top Drawer, a women’s boutique at 1537 Post Road East, announced it was closing this month. Owner Joan Rotman said. “It’s time.”

Notable Deaths:

William F. “Bill” Meyer III, the avuncular, ever present cheerleader during announcements at the Representative Town Meeting (RTM), the indefatigable Westport volunteer celebrated town wide last year for his myriad community service roles, a tour de force among seniors and a statewide proponent of the right to die, died at home June 29 after a two year battle with melanoma. He was 85. 

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Westport mourned the loss of Bill Meyer in 2014. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Larry Untermeyer for WestportNow.com

Sidney Kramer, a literary lion who seem to roar loudest when it came to preserving the environment and character of his hometown, died early Dec. 10 at home, just six weeks shy of his 100th birthday. An attorney, literary agent and co-founder of Bantam Books, he was also the prime mover in formation of the local preservation group Save Westport Now.

Allen Raymond, aka Mr. Westport , who has a road leading to the new Westport Weston Family Y named after him, died May 1 at 91. Raymond’s donation of $500,000 to the Y to facilitate its move from the downtown to its Mahackeno campus capped his long history of service to the town he had called home since 1923.

Roy Dickinson, a longtime Westporter died Feb. 14 of heart failure in Chester, where he and his wife had moved when his health began to decline. He was 85. He was revered as a prime mover of the Westport Historical Society (WHS), a Westport Library booster, Y’s Men member, and a low key, gray eminence with a knack for convincing others to volunteer.

David Royce, longtime activist for various causes in Westport—including taking part in weekly peace vigils in Westport’s center—died April 4 in Greenwich Hospital after a two-year battle with lymphoma. He was 82. An inveterate letter writer to local newspapers, Royce said he took pride in a 1974 campaign he launched to have the newly shuttered Bedford Elementary School converted to a new Town Hall. He was initially rebuffed, but Town Hall opened there in 1978.

Michael “Mickey” A. Gilbertie, a three-term member of the Westport Representative Town Meeting (RTM) and longtime advocate of reducing town spending, died Sept. 19 at his Westport home. He was 74. From 1969 to 1978, he was co-owner of Westport Taxi and in 1991 won a court suit after claiming the town forced the company out of business with introduction of its “Maxytaxy” service.

John F. Akers, chief executive of IBM for eight years during the company’s struggle to shift from the mainframe to the personal computer era, died Aug. 22 at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. He was 79. Akers was a 39-year Westport resident, making his home on Sturges Highway. The family also has a summer home in Nantucket.

Glen Britt, the former chairman and CEO of Time Warner Cable, died June 11 of cancer. He was 65. In addition to his Long Lots Road home in Westport, where a favorite activity was gardening, Britt also maintained homes in New York City and Hawaii.

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Posted 12/30/14 at 12:00 PM



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Terrific job of recapturing for the events of the year in Westport.
James Lamusico did a wonderful piece for all of us.

Posted by carolanne curry on December 31, 2014 at 09:32 AM | #
 

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