Thursday, January 28, 2016
‘By James Lomuscio
In a straw vote tonight, Westport’s Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) voted 5 to 2 to deny a proposed Riverwalk text amendment.
The amendment would facilitate a local developer’s plans to build a two-story, 25,000-square-foot office building and a 47-foot tall residential building for between 15 to 17 condominiums at the former Save the Children site at 54 Wilton Road.
Following the commission’s work session straw vote, P&Z Director Laurence Bradley said he would prepare a negative resolution that the commission could vote on at its next meeting Thursday, Feb. 4.
The planned 47-foot building, 12 feet higher that what is currently allowed, seemed the Achilles heel of the text amendment that aims to create a new Riverwalk District (RD) in a current General Business District (GBD) along the west bank of the Saugatuck River.
In putting forth the amendment, local developer David Waldman had hoped sweeten the pie by saying his project would relocate the historic building at 1 Wilton Road to the 2.45-acre development area at 54 Wilton Road.
By moving the building, Waldman has said the problem intersection at Wilton Road and the Post Road would be expanded by one lane. Waldman’s proposal also included building a pedestrian bridge across the Saugatuck River to Parker Harding Plaza.
“The probability of a 47-foot high building, that’s a tough pill to swallow,” said P&Z member Jack Whittle.
At four previous meetings, P&Z Chairman Chip Stephens cautioned against the precedent the increased height would set, causing a tunnel effect for those driving along the river. Tonight Stephens repeated those concerns, saying he feared the result would be that “all along the river all one could see is 47-foot buildings.”
“Putting this in the text amendment opens the door to building height,” he said. “Remember what you open the door to.”
P&Z alternate member Carolann Curry seemed to take the strongest stand against the text amendment, saying there was “very little public benefit to this project.”
She said the foot bridge would only benefit those living at the planned development, and that widening the intersection at Route 33 and the Post Road was up to the state, not the town.
“And last, this project has no affordable housing in it,” she said.
P&Z member Andra Vebell also expressed concerns, saying, “The height is where I stumble.”
P&Z member Paul Lebowitz took an opposite view, stressing that the text amendment is not a site plan.
“What you’re saying is that you’d like to explore the Riverwalk concept,” Lebowitz said. “...For the good of Westport, I’d like to see that happen.”
He said that the commission could approve the text amendment and address issues such as height when the applicant comes forward with a site plan application.
“The text amendment says they have the right to come back and ask,” Lebowitz said.
“I disagree,” said Stephens, arguing that approval would result in increasing allowable building heights in town. “Don’t delude yourself.”
At a previous public hearing, the proposed amendment had the support of First Selectman Jim Marpe, who said the Riverwalk was a continuation of the Downtown Master Plan and town supported redevelopment plans.
P&Z member Alan Hodge said that while he had concerns about the increased height, “I think the philosophy behind it is not a bad philosophy.”
Posted 01/28/16 at 11:21 PM
Let us hope the Commission sticks to its guns on the negative resolution for the destructively tall, propsed development at 54 Wilton Rd.
It may well be that our land use folks cannot stop the awful thing proposed up the road at #22 due to regulation 830-G, but this one they can and should stop in its tracks.