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Woog's World / Questions for post-election Westport

Published 6:40 am, Monday, November 18, 2013
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The long election season is over. Mailboxes are again almost empty. The Letters to the Editor page is back to one. Lawn signs have been collected, recycled, or dumped at the dump.

Now the real work begins.

Jim Marpe and Avi Kaner are superb choices for Westport. (Their opponents, Helen Garten and Melissa Kane, would have been, too.) Jim and Avi know this town well. They've lived here a long time. They've served it in many volunteer capacities: governmental, religious, civic. They love Westport and want to make it the best place possible.

We all do. But we all have different visions of what that means.

Some of us long for a Westport that honors and preserves old structures. We revere streetscapes that include an 1880s house on Church Lane downtown, a barn next to Geiger's on North Morningside, and less noted homes and buildings on streets all around town. Whether they are preserved through strong regulations, town money or tax breaks, or any other means, we want our town to look different from every other Fairfield County suburb.

Others of us believe such a vision is completely unrealistic. Westport is changing. New buildings must replace old ones; age cannot determine functionality or beauty. Furthermore, this is America. If you own something -- a house, property, whatever -- you are pretty much allowed to do what you please.

You can't be forced to spend money to maintain an aging structure. And just because some people think it's handsome, historic or otherwise worth saving, that doesn't mean everyone else agrees.

Some of us are concerned that at a time when budget cuts consume Washington, the fallout might hit here. We believe Westport has weathered the long financial crisis relatively well. Real estate values are rising once again; new home construction continues at a solid pace; the unemployment rate is low. We want our town services (cops, firefighters, public works) and amenities (the beach, Longshore, Parks and Rec programs) to maintain their current high levels. After all, that's why we moved to Westport.

Others of us fear that rising taxes will make this town unlivable -- for us and others. We have seen our property taxes rise.

We pay for a dog park that out-of-towners love and a transportation system that no one rides.

We love our quality of life, but we're sure there are dollars to trim, corners to cut, waste to curtail. We can't keep spending as if we're minting money, because we are not the U.S. Treasury.

Some of us are terrified that our pension, health and benefit obligations are on the chopping block. We've worked for the town for decades. We've served it well, in all kinds of ways and every kind of weather. We've done everything the town has asked. But now the bargain we struck may be broken, and we may be stuck with the pieces.

Others of us are terrified that costs associated with benefits have spiraled out of control. The town can't pay more and more money to non-workers living longer and longer lives. If we don't rein in the amount we pay out, the entire town -- and everyone living and working here -- will suffer.

Some of us see a deteriorating downtown. We remember the days of mom-and-pop shops, of movie theaters, night life, life of any kind. We seldom venture downtown anymore, because all the stores look alike. Their storefronts are tired. And once the Y leaves, things will be even worse.

Others of us are excited by the downtown renaissance. New restaurants -- including pop-up dining -- have brought new life. The Bedford Square redevelopment will add a healthy mix of retail and office space, plus -- for the first time in memory -- new residences. The Downtown 2020 plan will add more exciting options to Westport's center.

Some of us worry how -- after a lifetime in Westport -- we can continue to live here. We live in big homes that once pulsed with life, but now feel empty. We can't afford the upkeep and taxes, but we see no alternatives beyond a few condos. We'd love to age in place in a new complex on Baron's South -- but no one else seems to want it.

Some of us worry how the town can let a new assisted living complex be built at Baron's South.

It's prime real estate that we are about to give away -- with no assurance it will serve the senior citizens who actually live in Westport now.

Those are some of the issues Jim Marpe, Avi Kaner and third selectman Helen Garten have to address. They're not easy questions to solve, but they'll give them their best shot. That's the beauty -- and power -- of Westport.

Meanwhile, most of us do agree on one thing. We're glad those damn lawn signs are gone.

Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his "Woog's World" appears each Friday. He can be reached at dwoog@optonline.net. His personal blog is www.danwoog06880.