P&Z again delays decision on ‘Riverwalk’ zone for Save the Children site
Updated 1:54 pm, Friday, February 5, 2016
The Planning and Zoning Commission’s decision Thursday to again continue its review of a “Riverwalk District” text amendment proposed for the former Save the Children property, prompted developer David Waldman to sling his briefcase over his shoulder and, in frustration, storm from the meeting.
At P&Z Director Larry Bradley’s last meeting before moving to Florida, the commission members’ discussion went back and forth on the 47-foot height of a three-story building envisioned as part of the redevelopment.
Waldman seeks to establish the Riverwalk District at 54 Wilton Road, with residential and commercial buildings — one of which, at 47 feet, would exceed the town’s existing limit on building height. He also plans to move a historic house at 1 Wilton Road to the riverside development site so Wilton Road can be widened at its intersection with the Post Road.
In a straw poll of P&Z members a week earlier, the panel had told Bradley to prepare a resolution to formally deny the proposal. However, the commission took no vote Thursday and continued its review to a work session set for Feb. 11.
Chairman Chip Stephens and member Jack Whittle were the two staunchest opponents to the text amendment, which they contend will possibly open the door to other developments where buildings as tall as 47 feet would also be proposed.
Stephens said if a project as big as Waldman’s gets built "A Staples grad could come back home and say what happened to our riverfront, what happened to Westport."
Member David Lessing said the language in the proposed text amendment was, "pretty good" and suggested that, if passed, the applicant would have to, "work pretty hard" to meet the commission’s requirements, including public benefits of the project. He added that it allows for a "first mover" to come in and potentially satisfy the requirements for public benefit and then said after those benefits are gone, "there’s no room for a second mover."
"How long til the next text amendment?" fired Whittle. "It won’t be long because we would have opened ourselves up to a willingness to have a 47-foot building, which is really unheard of in this town. They introduced height limitations after the Wright Street building," Whittle said.
Concerns about a another proposed building on the Saugatuck River — the developer of a six-story apartment building has threatened to file suit over the P&Z rejection of that plan — got member Alan Hodge thinking defensively.
Hodge said he does not like the height of Waldman‘s proposed building, but considers the text amendment a possible "lesser of two evils" option. Referring to the rejected Garden Homes Management plan for an affordable apartment building farther north on Wilton Road, Hodge said, "We could be faced with someone similar to the applicant we’ve recent experience of who might not feel quite so well disposed and might have the ability to do something that we really, truly, don’t want.”