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Petition Targets P&Z Theater Amendment

By James Lomuscio

UPDATE (clarifies Bradley statement) While a radio talk show host argues Westport’s Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) “wants to allow 60-foot tall movie theaters” downtown, the town’s planning and zoning director says that’s not the intent of its proposed amendment.

Zoning Director Laurence Bradley stressed that if the amendment passes, the 60-foot high theater would be permitted but not required. He also said the amendment does not guarantee such a tall building would be approved by P&Z as part of a site plan.

Lisa Wexler, host of Cox Radio’s “The Lisa Wexler Show” on WSTC-AM and WNLK-AM, is taking aim at the P&Z proposed Text Amendment 637 scheduled to be heard tonight. She has launched a petition drive on her website and aims to present signatures to the P&Z at its meeting.

“Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission wants to allow 60-foot tall movie theaters with up to 50,000 sq. ft. of interior space in the downtown area,” her petition reads. “While we all want a movie theater, we think that this idea will ruin Westport’s quaint, historic character and will open the door to other oversized buildings.

“This plan may also have devastating consequences for abutting residential neighborhoods—if a theater fails, the building would revert to retail or some other commercial activity,” Wexler continues. “If you want to preserve Westport’s small-town charm, please sign this petition.”

But Laurence Bradley, P&Z director, stressed that the proposed amendment allowing a theater overlay in the downtown business district does not aim to construct a 60-foot high building. It simply allows a theater to be as high as 60 feet, he said.

The maximum height would only happen if the land were not wide enough to accommodate two 25-foot-high screens on the same level, and they had to be stacked one on top the other, while allowing a 10-foot high first floor for retail space, according to Bradley.

“It means it gives us flexibility to design this in many ways, horizontally or vertically,” he said, noting that a P&Z committee met more than a half-dozen times over the summer with members of the Westport Cinema Initiation (WCI) to get input on the regulation..

Bradley said the theater overlay zone (TOZ) would allow a number of incentives to construct a movie theater.

“We’ve given relief on coverage, setbacks and building height that would make it easier and more flexible for someone to come in and construct a theater, and we want to give relief on parking and floor areas,” he added. “Whatever we thought was viable, we put into the regulation.”

He said the WCI offered guidance on the regulation “for a building that could be used for more than just movies,” including lectures and presentations, as well as a retail component.

Bradley also took issue with some of the elements in Wexler’s petition. In it she writes that the proposed amendment would “increase square footage of certain commercial buildings from 10,000 square feet to a maximum of 50,000 square feet.”

“We already have that,” he said.

He also said that the downtown already has its share of tall buildings.

“Where GAP is it’s 48-feet to roof surface, 55 feet to the top of the stair tower,” said Bradley. “The Inn at National Hall is at least 45 feet, the Patagonia building is at least 35 feet, and the Bedford Building at the Y is close to 45 feet.”

One part of the petition Bradley called misleading was Wexler’s comment that “one developer has already filed a pre-application to raze a downtown house and replace it with a 67-foot commercial building.”

“That has nothing to do with the movie theater regulation,” he said. “That was (local developer) David Waldman’s application for the Bedford Square project on Church Lane.”

5 thoughts on “Petition Targets P&Z Theater Amendment

  1. STOP THE MADNESS   This issue would bring outrage and crowds if we had a proper newspaper in town that reported on town issues, as good as 06880 and WN are they do not bring political issues to the forefront like a hometown paper, and don’t start that we have the Westport News aka small bridgeport post issue or minute man.s 3 pages of westport related news.
    And so fellow Westporters I propose allowing a 15 story 250K sq ft newspaper building to revitalize Westport !  ( no more outragous or stupid than a stacked movie theater)

  2. By the way Mr Bradley read the posts here later or the ones on 06880 The project to destroy the historical bldg on Church Ln , close Church Ln to cars, and build the glass tower of condos DOES relate to the movie building issue.  In case no one has told you lately,  SIZE MATTERS !

  3. Why open the door for all with a zoning change.  Why not deal with an exception, IF AND WHEN it comes for any developer who wishes to stack two screens on top of one another!  A ludicrous idea to begin with.  There will be others who walk through that open door with less welcome ideas.  If you want to see what a 5 or 6 story building looks like, check out the apartment development on Post Road by the Norwalk border.  It’s opposite from Paneras.

  4. Another building to check out is the office building in Saugatuck. That building really sticks out like a sore thumb, no trees or anything around it, just the high building. And very often, there is a huge sigh on the roof (way bigger than zoning allows) advertising available office space.
    Yes, attending the meeting tonight at Town Hall is a very good idea!

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