Thursday, May 18, 2017
By James Lomuscio
A plan to move the Westport Arts Center (WAC) to the 22-acre town-owned Baron’s South property received a resounding show of disapproval from the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) tonight.
And this was only a pre-application hearing.
“I don’t think it’s going to fly, so go back to the drawing board,” P&Z Chairwoman Catherine Walsh told the plans supporters. “That would be my recommendation.”
The plan, months in the making and presented by Selectwoman Helen Garten and architect William Achilles on behalf of the WAC, is to make the four empty buildings of the former estate of the late Baron Walter Langer von Langendorf, the founder of Evyan Perfumes, into “a community arts campus,” Garten said.
The renovation would be in phases, Garten said, the first being transforming the former mansion, Golden Shadows, into WAC’s main building. Next, the guest house would be reworked into gallery space, Garten said, followed by the renovation of two smaller rental houses into residences for working artists.
“It would be a single integrated property as it was when it was the baron’s estate,” Garten said.
The problem is that the P&Z zoned Baron’s South more than two years ago as passive recreational open space. That was the reason why a seven-year-in the-works plan to building a senior housing complex there was defeated.
Commissioner Al Gratrix, who was not present, had his letter read by commissioner Chip Stephens. The letter urged that the plan “be denied as it is not in keeping with passive open space.”
Other commissioners agreed.
Danielle Dobin said while she was a fan of the WAC, she was not sure if the WAC using all the buildings was consistent with the land’s intended use.
Stephens was the most vocal opponent, saying he “was somewhat nauseated and very much betrayed by this whole presentation.”
He said an arts center there was “definitely a very busy setting …events that bring in hundreds of people.”
“Quite frankly, if I was a senior in this town and this came to pass, I’d be asking for my piece on the other end again because this is developing what I see as a sacred piece of open space that we just don’t have very much more of in this town,” Stephens said.
Walsh reminded the applicants that opinions stated during a pre-application are nonbinding.
Posted 05/18/17 at 10:02 PM Permalink