By James Lomuscio
A Westport Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) text amendment that would limit tenant space to 10,000 square feet downtown has local developer David Waldman seeing red.
Developer David Waldman (pictured at an earlier meeting): “an infringement on individuals’ property rights.” (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com
“I lost my cool toward the end of the discussion,” Waldman said about Thursday night’s public hearing on Amendment 672. “But my opinion hasn’t changed.
“I can’t not believe our town is trying to limit the size of a retail stores downtown, which in my mind is an infringement on individuals’ property rights and a free marketplace,” he added.
Waldman, a principal of Bedford Square Associates, which is redeveloping the Westport-Weston Family Y property on Church Lane into a combination retail, restaurant and residential center, said such an amendment, if approved, would hinder his ability to get tenants.
The amendment states that it aims “to maintain the scale and character of the downtown and prohibit undesirable large scale development.” To do so it would prohibit the consolidation of adjoining lots in all business center districts (BCD) and business center districts/historic (BCD/H).
According to Planning and Zoning Director Laurence Bradley, another reason for the P&Z’s proposed tenant space limitation is to encourage more small businesses to set up shop downtown.
Connie Greenfield, representing the preservation group Save Westport Now (SWN), spoke in favor of the amendment.
Waldman said that those who support the amendment often use false flag fears of big box stores coming to town, and he added that the claim the restriction will attract small businesses is flawed since smaller businesses pay higher rent per square foot.
“This reeks of a completely reactionary event to the approvals of Bedford Square because the biggest project to be affected if this goes into effect is Bedford Square,” Waldman said.
He acknowledged that there is already a regulation limiting the size of buildings to 10,000 square feet, “and that’s fine, but at the end of the day this (proposed) regulation wants to piggyback on that.”
Waldman pointed out that if passed, the regulation would prevent him from leasing the 30,000-square-foot , three-story, historic Bedford Building to one high-end tenant.
He also said there are numerous examples of retailers that exceed the 10,000-square-foot limit downtown, including the Gap, Restoration Hardware, and Talbot’s.
Part of the old Talbot’s complex came from property sold to the landlord by Sidney Kramer, owner of former Remarkable Bookshop building. Kramer is also the founder of SWN, which supports the 10,000-square-foot tenant space restriction.
“Even Mr. Kramer who runs Save Westport Now and who ran a mom and pop sold out to big business,” said Waldman. “He sold it allowing his store to be combined to 13,000 square feet.”
Waldman says he does not criticize Kramer for doing that.
“It’s a free market,” he said. “That’s America.”