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Thursday, July 13, 2017

P&Z OKs Arts Center Use of Baron’s South

The Westport Arts Center (WAC) tonight came a step closer to moving from Riverside Avenue to the 22-acre town-owned property known as Baron’s South.

WestportNow.com Image
The “Golden Shadows” mansion on the town-owned Baron’s South. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

The Planning and Zoning Commission(P&Z) voted unanimously to give a positive report with conditions for WAC to lease for up to 50 years two Baron’s South buildings.

They are the former mansion known as Golden Shadows at 68 Compo Road South and 70 Compo Road South, referred to as the guesthouse.

WAC plans to use Golden Shadows at its main building, and the guesthouse would be reworked into gallery space.

Though the vote was unanimous for the positive report, actual site plan approval would require a text amendment, which may be be an uphill struggle.

The potential problem is that the P&Z more than two years ago zoned Baron’s South passive recreational open space.

P&Z members Chip Stephens and Al Gratrix, who had lobbied for open space, have been outspoken critics of WAC’s proposed move there, portraying it as a commercial use on the property.

At the session’s outset, Stephens downplayed the approval report as “just a suggestion.”

“Keep your powder dry,” said Stephens. ” ...We’ve never come back to these in any of our 8-24s,” he said, referring to the formal name of the Baron’s South use approval sought by First Selectman Jim Marpe.

Among the conditions accompanying the positive use report is that WAC will be responsible for renovation costs, such as putting in an elevator in Golden Shadows, not the town.

There was also the condition that no one could take up residence in the buildings.

During the pre-application hearing late spring, the idea was floated to renovate two smaller rental houses on site into residences for working artists. 

The WAC planned move has been in the works for months, spearheaded by Selectwoman Helen Garten and architect William Achilles on behalf of the WAC.

The goal has been to make a section of the former estate of the late Baron Walter Langer von Langendorf, the founder of Evyan Perfumes, into a community arts campus.

Tonight’s approval came two months after WAC and its supporters presented a pre-application to the P&Z, which received a resounding negative reception. (See WestportNow May 18, 2017)

WAC returned to the P&Z with a modified plan on July 6.

—James Lomuscio

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Posted 07/13/17 at 11:05 PM  Permalink



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