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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Legislators to Propose New Budget Plans to Break Gridlock

Keith M. Phaneuf and Jacqueline Rabe Thomas

With the state budget standoff nearing two months, Democrats and Republican legislative leaders announced plans today to unveil revised budget proposals soon.

Majority House Democrats remain focused on a sales tax hike to mitigate severe hits to cities and towns proposed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, and will unveil their latest budget plan Wednesday, said Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin.

And GOP leaders in the House and Senate, who were unable to block a labor concessions deal they still argue will hurt Connecticut in the long run, said they’re also developing a new budget that accepts the labor savings.

But after a nearly two-hour, closed-door meeting, top lawmakers said that while they still were working with the goal of adopting a new, two-year budget during the week of Sept. 11, they didn’t express any optimism this would happen.

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08/22/17 07:45 PM Comments () • Permalink

Comings & Goings: Romanacci Pizza Bar to Railroad Place Image
Romanacci Pizza Bar will open at 50 Railroad Place in late September, according to Graziano Ricci, co-owner with his brother Maurizio.  The brothers currently own two eateries in Norwalk, Osteria since 2009 and Romanacci Pizza Bar since 2012. Since then, the Ricci brothers expanded to Monroe and Trumbull over the past two years. Graziano said the Westport shop, at the beginning, will offer pizza only on a delivery or takeout basis and said commuters can text order from the train and the pizza will be ready for pick up. “We are applying for a beer and wine license,” he said. The space, formerly occupied by Grana Pastificia fresh pasta, is connected to its neighbor Winfield Deli giving customers the convenience of picking up a morning coffee and, according to Breno Donatti, Winfield Deli owner, “selecting a breakfast pizza to complement the coffee that I serve.”  Graziano said Romanacci specializes in Roman pizza alla palla, square and crisp. Romanacci General Manager Anthony Devivo said the pizza will be prominently displayed in the window of the Railroad Place facility so that commuters can view its specialties. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for


08/22/17 04:06 PM Comments () • Permalink

Monday, August 21, 2017

Main Street Retailers Remind It’s Tax-Free Week Image
Athleta, 107 Main St., was among Westport Main Street retailers reminding shoppers today that this is tax-free week in Connecticut. The 17th annual tax holiday began Sunday and runs through Saturday. Most clothing and footwear priced under $100 is exempt from Connecticut’s sales tax of 6.35 percent. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for


08/21/17 11:55 AM Comments () • Permalink

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Comings & Goings: Japanese Gastropub to Vigilante Firehouse Image
Chef Brian Lewis, owner of The Cottage in Colonial Green, today announced plans to open a second eatery in Westport at the landmark former Vigilante Hose Co. No. 3 firehouse, 6 Wilton Road. Lewis describes the cafe as “a modern Japanese Izakaya meets Omakase restaurant.”  Izakya is a type of informal Japanese gastropub that are casual places for after-work drinking. Omakase is a Japanese phrase that means “I’ll leave it up to you” (from Japanese “to entrust.”) Lewis said it is slated to open in late fall. The space was formerly occupied by Neat Coffee and Craft Cocktails, which closed in January. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for


08/17/17 02:18 PM Comments () • Permalink

On the Job With: Sandy Cooper, Cooper’s Auto Parts

By James Lomuscio

For 44 years, seven days a week, Sandy Cooper has come to his same shop in the same location, opening at 6 a.m. and using the same cash register. Image
Sandy Cooper: on the job every day since 1973. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for

The register at Cooper’s Auto Parts at 1763 Post Road East across from Stop & Shop was a gift from a friend the night before he first opened Sept. 1, 1973.

“I was ready to use a shoe box,” he recalled, adding that his friend who had owned a gas station had an old McCaskey register.

Though some of the register’s keys saying gas, tires, ethyl and tubes have never been used, Cooper says it’s served him well. So has the narrow, tight parking strip mall that houses his business.

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08/17/17 05:59 AM Comments () • Permalink

Saturday, August 12, 2017

With Municipal Aid on Chopping Block, a Cordial Chat

By Mark Pazniokas

Evidently resigned to a shrinking pool of state aid, leaders of two municipal associations pressed Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Friday about granting Connecticut’s cities and town flexibility in dealing with public employees to achieve off-setting efficiencies, long a politically fraught topic at the State Capitol.

Malloy’s approach to closing a remaining $1.6 billion state budget shortfall for this year would hit municipalities on at least two fronts: requiring them to contribute to a teacher pension system now wholly financed by the state and teacher conttributions, and writing a new formula to distribute what the governor says must be a reduced budget for education aid.

Given that municipal aid and teacher pensions have been major points of contention in budget talks, the governor’s joint press conference with the executive directors of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM) and Council of Small Towns (COST) was surprisingly cordial, even if some of their comments had the cautious tone of a diplomatic communique.

“I believe that we had a productive meeting,” Malloy said after his closed-door meeting with Joe DeLong of CCM and Betsy Gara of COST. “That doesn’t mean there were any final products to be produced today, but I share a great many of their concerns and, quite frankly, their goals. I expressed that.”

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08/12/17 08:57 AM Comments () • Permalink

Friday, August 11, 2017

Comings & Goings: Ryan John Barbershop Opens Image
Ryan John Barbershop has opened at 235 Post Road West, near Sylvan Road. According to owner Ryan Recupero, “Our luxury barbershop offers precision haircuts for men, children (even a few women), hot lather straight razor shaves, and men’s hair color.” Recupero, a Trumbull resident, also owns and operates a full service salon in Fairfield since 2005. “I chose Westport because it’s a beautiful family town, and I wanted to join the many great businesses that serve the residents and tourists,” he said. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for


08/11/17 06:42 PM Comments () • Permalink

Comings & Goings: Steven Alan Closes Westport Store Image
Steven Alan, the men’s and women’s casual clothing and accessories store at 100 Post Road East, has closed. The store opened in February 2013. Store manager Magda Thompson, said, “Customers have come in to say how sad they feel that we’re closing.” Landlord Rob Haroun said the company is closing around 10 stores around the country, with the store in Greenwich among them. Alan said in April he planned to refocus his energy away from being a specialty multi-brand store and onto his own label. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for


08/11/17 05:14 PM Comments () • Permalink

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Comings & Goings: New Locations for Sports Attic & The Flat Image
Two businesses, Sports Attic and The Flat, which opened on Railroad Place less than one year ago, are relocating to new spaces on the same block. Sports Attic, 26 Railroad Place, is relocating to 24 Railroad Place, currently occupied by The Flat. The Flat will relocate to 40-42 Railroad Place previously occupied by Saugatuck Grain and Grape, which has moved to Post Road West. Sports Attic features new and used sporting goods and gear while The Flat offers home furnishings, accessories, contemporary lighting and vintage furniture. Pictured are Becky Goss (l), owner of The Flat, and Greg Dilenge, owner of Sports Attic. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for


08/09/17 08:25 PM Comments () • Permalink

Comings & Goings: Bar Bucha Closes Image
Bar Bucha, at 597 Riverside Ave. in Westport’s Saugatuck area, has closed, according to a neighboring business owner. Bucha was owned and operated by the entrepreneurial former Staples High School student Aishah Avidu who was honored as a young entrepreneur at the Westport-Weston Chamber of Commerce 1st Citizen Citizen award dinner in June (see WestportNow, June 13, 2017.)  Bucha, which opened in November 2016, featured nonalcoholic kombucha-based beverages. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for


08/09/17 06:37 PM Comments () • Permalink

Marpe: Responding Cautiously to State Request for Budget Information

First Selectman Jim Marpe said today Westport is responding cautiously to a state request for town budget information for fear it may be part of a “picking our pockets” effort to help solve state budget woes.

He told a Board of Selectman meeting that he had received a letter on Monday from Ben Barnes, secretary of the state Office of Policy Management, requesting the information.

Barnes asked about the general fund total balance and unassigned fund balance as well as supplemental information on the potential impact of the state budget problems and Westport’s contingency plans to deal with them, Marpe said.

Specifically, Barnes wanted information about Westport’s possible plans to utilize the fund balance and any plans to issue supplemental tax notices.

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08/09/17 09:45 AM Comments () • Permalink

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Bedford Square Pop Up Promotes Skin Care Company Image
There was a pop up shop in Bedford Square today to promote a new 100 percent chemical-free skincare company and a professional line of make up called Limelight by Alcone. In May, it was announced the French beauty brand L’Occitane had acquired 40 percent of the direct sales company’s U.S. business. On hand for the one-day promotion were Westporter Monica Chusid (r ), independent beauty guide with LimeLight by Alcone, and Heather Bessey. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) photo


08/05/17 03:28 PM Comments () • Permalink

Friday, August 04, 2017

Comings & Goings: Jonathan Adler Closes on Main St. Image
After five years, celebrity designer Jonathan Adler has closed his store at 166 Main St., space formerly occupied by Achorn’s Pharmacy. An employee at the Greenwich store said the Westport store has closed permanently, although some neighboring retailers initially thought the 2,162-square foot space was undergoing a renovation. An email request to Jonathan Adler corporate headquarters in Manhattan for comment was not answered. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) photo


08/04/17 01:56 PM Comments () • Permalink

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Comings & Goings: Restore Cryotherapy to Post Road East Image
Restore Cryotherapy will move into the 2,500-square foot space vacated in May by Radio Shack at 877 Post Road East. Its founders describe the business as aimed at “reducing the chronic pain epidemic.” By using Cryotherapy, clients “experience an endorphin rush, reduced pain, tighter skin, and potentially some weight loss due to a 500-800 calorie burn after each session,” according to its website. Broker Robert Lewis of Vidal Wettenstein represented the landlord and Peter Levine of Charter Realty & Development represented the tenant. Lewis said Restore Cryotherapy, a franchise, is aiming for an October opening. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) photo


08/03/17 04:14 PM Comments () • Permalink

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

700,000 CT Taxpayers Claim a Deduction That’s at Risk in D.C.

By Jake Kara

Among the proposals being considered in Washington for reforming the federal tax code is one that would eliminate the deduction that Connecticut taxpayers rely on most.

The president and House Republican leadership have called for eliminating the federal income tax deduction for state and local taxes, which disproportionately benefits high-income, high-tax states, such as Connecticut, that lean Democratic in national elections.

The change is one of many proposals being considered as part of a plan to overhaul the federal tax system. According to Tax Foundation summaries of President Trump’s and House Republicans’ plans, both would eliminate all individual itemized deductions except those for charitable giving and mortgage interest. In exchange, the plan would lower tax rates, so it is impossible to know exactly what the net impact would be for particular taxpayers.

The deductions being targeted include those for state income tax and local property taxes. In states that don’t have an income tax, taxpayers can deduct sales tax.

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08/02/17 07:02 PM Comments () • Permalink

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

RTM OKs Arbitration Award that Trims Employee Benefits

After years of effort, the Town of Westport tonight succeeded in gaining approval to trim employee retirement benefits that a town negotiator said could eventually result in $1.3 million or more in annual savings.

By a vote of 30 to 0 with one abstention, Westport’s Representative Town Meeting (RTM) voted not to reject an arbitration award involving a pension plan for 13 different municipal and Board of Education unions — not including certified teachers and administrators.

The police and fire unions have had separate pension negotiations, and a fire arbitration decision is expected soon, according to town officials.

The RTM vote culminated an effort dating back at least six years to reduce employee retirement benefits to bring them more in line with the private sector, said Floyd J. Dugas, labor counsel for the town.

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08/01/17 09:36 PM Comments () • Permalink

Monday, July 31, 2017

After Day of Drama, Senate Democrats Unite to Back Concessions

By Mark Pazniokas and Keith M. Phaneuf

On a tie-breaking vote by Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, the Senate gave final approval today to a state-employee concessions deal after Democratic leaders mollified three dissenting colleagues with a promise to make a good-faith effort for fiscal reforms.

Uniting all 18 members of the caucus hinged on the willingness by Senate Democratic leaders to at least endorse in concept a dozen fiscal and collective-bargaining reforms sought by three wary Democratic colleagues, any one of whom held the power to kill the deal by voting with Republicans in the evenly divided Senate.

”I’m very pleased that we achieved Democratic unity on this proposal today, and it now helps set us up for the remainder of what will be very difficult budget negotiations,” said Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven.

The show of unity did not go beyond the vote. The three holdouts — Sens. Paul Doyle of Wethersfield, Joan Hartley of Waterbury and Gayle Slossberg of Milford — skipped a post-session news conference with Looney and other Democrats, a sign of remaining difficulties in resolving an impasse that has left Connecticut without a budget for 31 days.

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07/31/17 09:47 PM Comments () • Permalink

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Budget Standoff About to Take a Big Toll on Cities and Towns

By Keith M. Phaneuf

As Connecticut begins its second month without a state budget next week, the cost to cities and towns will take a big leap, topping $100 million.

And while Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration warned the toll on municipalities gets much worse in September and October, the governor and his fellow Democrats in the legislature are nearing gridlock, weighing higher sales taxes against reductions in local aid.

The administration confirmed Thursday that, absent a budget, it will not release the $78 million in sales tax receipts due Tuesday to communities as part of a revenue-sharing program enacted two years ago.

The budget standoff already cost municipalities $30 million in road repair grants in July. And if it continues until Sept. 30, property tax relief grants that sent $182 million to cities and towns last fall also would be withheld.

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07/29/17 01:29 PM Comments () • Permalink

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Affordable Housing Redo Offers Westport ‘Breathing Room’

By James Lomuscio

The state’s affordable housing statute 8-30g has long been the bane of local municipalities because it allows developers to override zoning regulations if a municipality does not have 10 percent of its housing stock deemed affordable. Image
Developer Philip Craft of Easton shows off a redesign of his proposed four-story affordable housing complex at 1177 Post Road East, which he presented to the Representative Town Meeting last October. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for

Westport is one of those towns, and 8-30g has been on the mouths and minds of local officials for years. The fear is that an unscrupulous developer could use it to ride roughshod over zoning regulations by providing just a small percentage of affordable units.

In the meantime, towns have been seeking four-year moratoriums to reach the state mandated housing stock goal by way of points based on affordable housing units in place.

On Monday, concerns over 8-30g lessened, with 138 of the state’s 169 municipalities not at the 10 percent goal catching a break.

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07/25/17 08:30 PM Comments () • Permalink

Monday, July 24, 2017

House Approves Union Concessions Deal

By Keith M. Phaneuf

The House of Representatives today narrowly approved the state employees’ concessions deal that is expected to save as much as $1.57 billion this fiscal year and next combined.

The Democrat-controlled House voted 78-72 almost entirely along party lines to endorse the deal.

The concessions package, which workers ratified earlier this month, tentatively is scheduled to go before the Senate on July 31.

Meanwhile, House and Senate Republican leaders objected to today’s vote. They argued that nonpartisan analysts — who hadn’t received all documentation from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration until last Friday — were unable to conduct a full review.

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07/24/17 09:10 PM Comments () • Permalink

Friday, July 21, 2017

GOP Leader Decries House Push for a Monday Vote on Union Deal

By Keith M. Phaneuf

While legislative voting on the proposed union concessions deal could begin Monday, the top Republican in the Senate said the House Democratic leadership was irresponsibly rushing action on a crucial agreement.

Legislators must be at the Capitol on Monday for a constitutionally mandated, one-day session to consider overriding measures vetoed this year by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

“We will finalize decisions on any potential veto override votes at our caucus meeting Monday, as well as discuss the labor concession agreement, which we expect to vote on later that day,” House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, wrote in a statement.

But while Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, also scheduled a vote, he’s waiting until July 31 to accommodate lawmakers awaiting more information on the deal.

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07/21/17 07:52 PM Comments () • Permalink

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Awash in Concerns, Water Tanks Decision Moved to September

By James Lomuscio

The Aquarion Water Company’s plan to replace a failing 1.5 million gallon North Avenue water tank with two 2.5 million gallon ones drew concerns from neighbors and commissioners at tonight’s Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) hearing. Image
Work was recently completed on a new pump station at the North Avenue Aquarion site. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for

Neighbors argued that Aquarion had not given them adequate notice, just three weeks, about a project that could negatively affect their home values and quality of life.

“I do want you to know that we feel as though we’ve been hit in the gut a little bit, and I want you to be aware,” Jodi Hardin of 58 North Ave. told Aquarion officials.

She and others said North Avenue already is busy because of Staples High School, which sits across from the current, 1956-built tank, and nearby Bedford Middle School.

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07/20/17 11:06 PM Comments () • Permalink

Connecticut’s Private Sector Jobs Finally Rebound From ’08

By Mark Pazniokas

Connecticut’s private sector appears to have completed its painfully slow recovery from the Great Recession of 2008, as the state added 7,100 private-sector jobs last month on top of more than 5,000 in May, the state Department of Labor reported today. Unemployment, however, still rose a tenth of a point to 5 percent.

With private employment reaching 1,460,400, the state has regained 102 percent of its lost non-government jobs and entered an expansion for the first time in 88 months. With losses in the public-sector, which includes the state’s two tribal casinos, Connecticut still needs to gain 19,100 jobs for non-farm employment to return to overall pre-recession levels.

“June showed another sharp increase in payroll jobs over May, and private sector jobs have now completely recovered from the 2008 – 2010 employment recession, although these numbers are preliminary and subject to revision,” said Andy Condon, the DOL’s research director.

“Our unemployment data continues to show growth in the labor force and employment, indicating that workers are entering or rejoining the labor force and most are finding jobs.”

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07/20/17 09:10 PM Comments () • Permalink

Comings & Goings: Vine Wine Room Closes Image
The Vine Wine Room, 190 Main St., has closed after less than a year in business.  The cafe opened last August in the space formerly occupied by Luxe Wine Bar, which closed in April, 2016. According to an employee at its next door neighbor, Joe’s Pizza, the location is under new ownership but plans are undetermined. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for


07/20/17 05:32 PM Comments () • Permalink

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A Facelift for Former Save the Children Home Image
The building at 54 Wilton Road, former home of Save the Children, is getting a facelift, according to developer David Waldman, one of the owners. He said workers are removing the “exterior skins” from the center section. A new middle section will then be created that will house the lobby of the new building. He said the construction is an “adaptive re-use” since the internal support structure remains. Future regulatory hearings will address the disposition of the remainder of the existing structure, Waldman said. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for


07/19/17 03:21 PM Comments () • Permalink

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

State Employees Ratify Concessions by Wide Margin

By Keith M. Phaneuf and Mark Pazniokas

Unionized state employees have overwhelmingly approved a $1.57 billion package of concessions over two years, providing major savings to help close the state budget gap. Image
Union representatives at a news conference announcing ratification of a concessions agreement with the state. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Mark Pazniokas for

The focus now shifts to a closely divided General Assembly, where Republicans say they will attempt to reject the agreement.

The State Employees Bargain Agent Coalition announced that more than 80 percent of the votes cast were in favor of accepting concessions that will freeze wages and increase contributions for health and pensions.

Bargaining units representing state police troopers and assistant attorneys general did not vote on the wage concessions.

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07/18/17 11:25 AM Comments () • Permalink

Monday, July 17, 2017

New Ops Manager Harris: ‘What Better Place’ Than Westport

By James Lomuscio

Perhaps the biggest question for Sara A. Harris, 37, the town’s new operations manager, is, “Why Westport? Image
Sara Harris: ‘honored and humbled’ to be in new position. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for

She has held top posts with New York City’s Bloomberg administration from 2004 to 2013. She served in the Big Apple’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) managing more than $2 billion in city revenue.

In 2014, she became chief of staff for the city’s Department of Parks & Recreation’s Capital Division. There she oversaw a staff of about 400 responsible for the design and construction of all parkland projects.

In 2015, she returned the OMB, focusing on financial efficiencies and whether money was being well spent in different governmental areas.

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07/17/17 07:57 AM Comments () • Permalink

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Place Your Orders: Pearl Patio Cleared for New Serving Regs Image
Guests at The Pearl Restaurant’s patio at Longshore Club Park will soon be able to sit at the bar and tables and order food and drinks. The Westport Planning and Zoning Commission, by a 3 to 2 vote with 1 abstention, tonight approved new regulations for the restaurant. Until now, the patio bar had been a service bar only and no food could be ordered at the tables. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for


07/13/17 10:35 PM Comments () • Permalink

Comings & Goings: Villa del Sol to Post Road West Image
Villa del Sol Mexican restaurant at 36 Elm St. will be moving to 170 Post Road West with approval tonight from the Westport Planning and Zoning Commission. The restaurant had asked for the okay involving some parking issues at the new location, which has been empty since the May 2015 departure of Peachwave frozen yogurt.  Developer David Waldman is purchasing 36 Elm St. as part of a land swap with the town that would see construction of a retail and residential building across the street behind Lux Bond & Green. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for


07/13/17 10:20 PM Comments () • Permalink

Malloy Recognizes his Budget Proposal is $121M Out of Balance

By Keith M. Phaneuf

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has said repeatedly that all of the budgets legislative caucuses have proposed are so flawed he would veto them.

But the Malloy administration conceded this week that there are some holes in the governor’s budget as well — worth more than $120 million.

The $40.6 billion, two-year budget Malloy unveiled on May 15 effectively assumes $46.7 million in labor savings in the first year and $74.5 million in the second that the administration now acknowledges it can’t achieve — at least as originally planned.

Why? Because those cost-saving measures — which largely involve reducing staff and closing and consolidating facilities — would require layoffs that would be prohibited for four years under the concessions deal pending before state employee unions.

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07/13/17 09:53 AM Comments () • Permalink

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