Committee recommends RTM overturn zoning decision
Objecting to how the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) gathered information, eight members of the Planning and Zoning Committee of the Representative Town Meeting voted unanimously on Tuesday to recommend overturning a text amendment that allows the high-end Inn at National Hall to be converted into office space.
"[The P&Z Commission] obviously didn't open themselves to hearing the information they needed to hear," said committee member Diane Cady. "They went into it with their minds already made up, and certainly we do that ourselves because we have values and past experiences, but there were so many questions."
The committee's recommendation will be distributed to the full RTM, which will decide whether to overturn the application on Jan. 13 at 8 p.m. in Town Hall. At least 24 of 36 RTM members will have to vote to overturn the application in order for the recommendation to be successful.
Ron Corwin, chairman of the P&Z Commission, declined comment because he was unable to go to the committee's meetings, but he said that he will be present at the Jan. 13 meeting of the RTM.
Objections as to how the P&Z conducted its meetings and then gave its approval were discussed by the committee, but one of the chief concerns was maintaining the character of the town and interpreting the 2007 Town Plan of Conservation, which outlines goals for community character and quality of life.
"The west bank of Westport can be an artistic place," he said. "It's something different than our mall downtown, which everybody seems to despise. The town plan says we're supposed to create diversity ... and I think that's something we should try to strive for."
In December, the zoning commission gave its approval of the text amendment. The approval alters the zoning requirements in the Historic Design District, which includes several buildings on the west bank of the Saugatuck River along Post Road West, including National Hall. The prominent brick building was constructed in 1873.
The application to amend the zoning regulation was brought forth by Larry Weisman, an attorney, and the approval of the amendment means that a deal can be finalized between the owners, Antares Investment Partners, their lenders at TD Bank and Greenfield Partners, a Norwalk-based real estate investment company that reportedly wants to use the building for their offices.
The deal is worth approximately $9 million, provided the zoning regulations were changed. Greenfield Partners originally owned the buildings, but sold them in 2006 for approximately $20 million to Antares.
In addition to the RTM deciding on whether to overturn the amendment, the Bridgeport Superior Court will also have a say in the matter. Paula Savignol, the owner of the one building in the Historic Design District not included in the potential sale, filed an appeal against the P&Z decision in December. A vote by the full RTM to overturn the P&Z's approval would render Savignol's appeal moot.