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Friday, February 26, 2010

Neighbors Assail Zoning Change for Linxweiler Property

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A proposed zoning amendment that would allow the construction of at least 12 units of supportive housing for individuals battling mental illness or substance abuse at a Post Road East property in Westport was laid bare at tonight’s Planning and Zoning Commission’s public hearing.

Linxweiler Homestead
The Linxweiler Homestead, bequeathed to the Town of Westport by Joanna Linxweiler upon her death in 1981. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

Richard Redniss, the Stamford land use consultant who wants to develop the 1.3-acre, town-owned Linxweiler property for Homes for Hope, formerly known as Interfaith Housing Association, at 655 Post Road East began his appeal by trying to clarify supportive housing to the 60 residents who had gathered in the Town Hall auditorium.

“Child molesters and sex offenders are not allowed to be in supportive housing,” Redniss said. “They must be able to live independently, and conducting any illegal activities on the property is grounds for release.”

His assurances, as well as his conditional site plans for the development of the property did little to quell myriad concerns from residents who live on nearby Crescent Road and Sue Terrace. From 1984 to 2008, Interfaith Housing had operated Linxweiler House as a home for men recovering from alcoholism and substance abuse.

Arguing against the zoning text change for the residential business district, neighbors cited everything from community safety to flooding to overflowing sanitary sewers to traffic dangers to disregarding the wishes of the late Joanna Linxweiler who had bequeathed the property and her historic home to the town in 1981.

“Mr. Redniss calls supportive housing a moral imperative,” said Dan Katz. “We in Westport don’t need to be lectured on moral imperatives from a Stamford resident. If there is a moral imperative, it is to listen to the wishes of Mrs. Linxweiler.”

And that, said Katz and others, was to maintain some green open space along the Post Road.

“I’m opposed to this and would like to leave it as green space,” said Mark Fischer, a resident of Sue Terrace. “And with the proposed development you’re going to be adding more sewage to an overwhelmed, under performing system.”

Redniss offered two conditional site plans, one which would have the two-and-half-story buildings clustered closer together to preserve green space.

He acknowledged that the entire plan depended on the zone change for residential business districts to allow supportive housing. Even if that plan did come about, he would still have to go through a full approval process to begin construction and for Homes for Hope to secure a 75-year lease from the town.

Jeff Block cautioned that the zoning text change could set the stage for “a supportive housing explosion, a danger to property values.”

“It could open up more and more supportive housing here and have an effect on our tax base,” he said.

Catherine Walsh, P&Z commissioner, expressed concern that changing the zoning regulations to allow this supportive housing project would have broad implications for other town properties in similar districts.

“You’re expecting us to throw everything out so you can get this?” Walsh asked.

The commission continued the hearing until next week.

Posted 02/26 at 04:59 AM

Comments:     Comment Policy

Though supportive housing is a noble cause and there is need for more of it in Westport, I’m sympathetic to what I believe was Joanna Linxweiler’s intention when she left her property to the Town of Westport.  I believe she would have been proud to see her house, as it currently stands, used for this purpose.  However, I don’t believe she would have approved of the current proposal to build more units on the property.

For now, this is strictly a zoning debate.  Though changes to the regulations may open up opportunities to create supportive housing on other sites in Westport (probably a good thing), it’s clear that the Linxweiler property will be its potential first test case (unfortunate).

The Linxweiler house is a breath of fresh air along Westport’s Post Road landscape. It provides a glimpse into Westport’s past - a glimpse that should be preserved and embraced.

The house is a small, simple, country home that held two generations of the Linxweiler family.  The house sits on a sweet, partially wooded lot, tucked between McD’s and the Fresh Market commercial strip.

Henry Linxweiler Sr. and his wife Karolina, left Germany in 1890 to come to America.  By 1900 they were already living in Westport and had been naturalized.  Henry (a blacksmith) and Karolina brought three children to America with them.  Joanna, their fourth child, was born here.  Their oldest son, Henry Jr., also became a blacksmith and carried on the business.  All four children lived out their lives in Westport at the corner of Crescent/Roseville and the Post Rd.  Second son, Albert, worked in a dry goods store, but died in his 30s.  Third son, Edward, was a florist and worked for Fillow Flowers.  Joanna worked as a secretary at Westport Bank and Trust for most of her life.  None of the children married and so their were no heirs.  Joanna, the last surviving member of the family, willed the property to the Town of Westport.

It’s astounding to me that in 1981, Joanna said in her will, “I feel that there should be some green areas preserved along the Post Road rather than only commercial buildings.”  She is using the word “green” long before it became a buzz word.  Her recognition that properties like hers were unique in a modern commercial landscape, was visionary.  It was her hope that her home and land would remain as she left it and she expressed a desire that the property be used as a park.

A few years ago, when doing research on another historic project in Westport, I came upon an article in a vintage Bridgeport newspaper describing Henry Linxweiler’s protest of a state project that intended to straighten the curves and widen the Post Rd.  The proposed project was going to run the new, improved Post Rd. right through his property.  He fought the state and prevailed.  It is why, today, there is a significant bend in the Post Rd. at the Roseville/Hillspoint intersection.  The state steered the project around the Linxweiler property.

To me, the Linxweiler’s will to preserve their piece of Post Rd. Westport, was mighty.  It’s why I believe that Johanna and her family would be disappointed in the project being proposed today.  Let’s honor their lives, their home, and their love of Westport by preserving their house and property (and their memory) as they intended.

Posted by Wendy Crowther on February 26, 2010 at 04:16 PM | #

I agree with Mrs. Linxweiler and with Wendy Crowther’s comment above.
Keep it green, make a park!

Posted by John Raho on February 26, 2010 at 05:00 PM | #

Most of us know of an extended family member struggling somewhere with homelessness caused by mental illness or substance abuse. IHA (Homes for Hope) for many years has been a community beacon symbolic of Westport’s compassion for those amongst us needing help.

And the Linxweiler house has been so used for nearly a quarter century. So where have our nouveau historians been the past 25 years?

As a community, we tolerate McMansion expansion on small lots by Wall Street bonus-ers without blinking an eye. (Great for the mill rate!) The P&Z;has had no qualms with passing text amendments supporting wealthy real estate investors (National Hall - “save the deal!”)

And the fear mongering! (child molesters, sex offenders…...)  News Alert!  The McDonalds next door attracts a much more diverse crowd already, including armed robbers!

I think we are a better community than what the ruckus implies.

P&Z;should support the IHA amendment. We, the Westport community, should expand supportive housing for our neighbors and extended family members.

Posted by M Krosse on February 26, 2010 at 06:37 PM | #

Just because the existing home, which is small, has been used for such purposes in the past doesn’t justify leveling it and putting up multiple 3 to 5 thousand square foot buildings to house 12 families in need. Which the town (us the taxpayer) would have to subsidize at a dollar a year for 75 years.

There are plenty of other buildings along the post road that can be acquired for such purposes without destroying limited green areas along the post road.

I don’t believe anyone is arguing the merits of the program, it’s just the location and financing or lack of.

Posted by John Raho on February 26, 2010 at 06:54 PM | #

Huh? Fact check, please. IHA has not proposed “levelling” the Linxweiler house.

If anything, taxpayer burden will likely be reduced by the project with a/ property maintenance burden borne by IHA, not the Town; b/ more Town residents becoming productively employed taxpayers facilitated by supportive housing; and c/ private sector (non-profit) investment towards compliance with CT law 8-30g.

IMHO, IHA’s multi-decade operational track record and community-wide support represents a better credit risk than many existing situations.

Posted by M Krosse on February 26, 2010 at 09:59 PM | #

Highly speculative and wishful thinking. If they’re so fiscally responsible let them secure their own property and not seek out free land that was given to Westport for every-ones benefit.

And comparing their ‘track record’ to bailed-out and bankrupt business’ isn’t much of an endorsement.

By the way, do you have skin in the game? Are you affiliated in anyway to IHA?

And your claim of ‘community-wide support’ is not a fact or even accurate. I’ve been to many RTM meetings regarding affordable housing and the VAST majority spoke against it as did those at last night’s hearing.

Posted by John Raho on February 26, 2010 at 10:18 PM | #

Wow! John Raho & I almost agree 3 times in one month?
“I agree with Mrs. Linxweiler and with Wendy Crowther’s comment above. Keep it green, make a park!”

But… than you veer to the right and it is not about keeping a small green space, it’s about not supporting an important population that has little voice without Homes For Hope. It’s all about I have it & I don’t want anyone else “less worthy” to get it for less than I paid.

As much as you enjoy living in Westport, there are hundreds of people who grew up here and are no longer welcome for lack of decent affordable supportive housing. Supportive means the clients are linked with caseworkers and are monitored on a daily basis, that is just a small part of what Homes For Hope does: every day in big and small ways to assist those in need.

Mental illness and homelessness occurs in every town and city, I am proud of what Westport strives to do and hope we will continue to do even more.

Mary Ann West

Posted by Mary A. West on February 27, 2010 at 12:11 AM | #

Hi Mary Ann,
You are putting words in my mouth, I never said or implied, ‘It’s all about I have it & I don’t want anyone else “less worthy” to get it for less than I paid’.

I have reasons that I’m against affordable housing, which I have articulated previously.

As a matter of fact, I did say, ‘I don’t believe anyone is arguing the merits of the program, it’s just the location and financing or lack of’.

Well at least you didn’t refer to me as a right-wing racist tea bagger, so at least I’ve got that going for me. :)

Posted by John Raho on February 27, 2010 at 12:28 AM | #

For me it’s all about Joanna Linxweiler’s wishes.

Posted by Stacy Prince on February 27, 2010 at 12:47 AM | #

I can empathize - facts can be very, very annoying.

As for your question about affiliation, anyone of faith and good will who follows scriptures’ command to feed the poor, comfort the sick, and house the homeless can be considered an affiliate of IHA. Hundreds and hundreds of Westporters are affiliates of IHA, supporting the mission of IHA, not by their words or speeches, but by their deeds - volunteering and giving generously.

So, I believe that you, too, just like me, are an affiliate of IHA.

Posted by M Krosse on February 27, 2010 at 01:43 AM | #

And my the force be with you too, yada, yada, yada.

Let me ask you again, are you perhaps a little more affiliated than me with IHA other than we both have compassion and love in our hearts…

Posted by John Raho on February 27, 2010 at 03:06 AM | #

Obviously my should of been may; sticky keyboard.

Posted by John Raho on February 27, 2010 at 03:09 AM | #

More compassion of its owner your keyboard seeks, my padowan.

Posted by M Krosse on February 27, 2010 at 11:10 PM | #

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