Pickleball or preservation? Westport considers future of Baron's South parcel

Photo of Amanda Cuda
A view of the Baron's South property, which is located between Compo Road South and Imperial Avenue, near downtown Westport, circa 2012.

A view of the Baron's South property, which is located between Compo Road South and Imperial Avenue, near downtown Westport, circa 2012.

Paul Schott / Hearst Connecticut Media

WESTPORT — Some would like to see the 22-acre parcel of open space known as Baron’s South turned into a bustling park, complete with parking, restrooms, and possibly even pickleball courts. And others want to see it left untouched.

That was the upshot of a spirited discussion Wednesday between town officials, members of the public and the Planning and Zoning Commission, during a virtual meeting of the commission’s revision subcommittee. The subcommittee met to discuss rezoning part of the parcel, which lies between Compo Road South and Imperial Avenue.

In 1999, the town acquired the site, which is near the Westport Senior Activities Center. In 2015, the P&Z commission voted to designate the area as a dedicated open space and recreation district. The designation — known as DOSRD-2 — is fairly restrictive, said P&Z Chairwoman Danielle Dobin during Wednesday’s meeting, meaning it could only be used for “passive recreation,” such as walking trails.

“Essentially, it operates as a private park for the few people who live close enough to walk there,” said Dobin, adding the area has little parking and no restrooms.

An attempt by the RTM to overturn the designation failed in 2015, as the initiative garnered 20 votes — four short of the 24 needed.

On Wednesday, Dobin presented a proposed rezoning of pieces of the parcel as DOSRD-4, which would allow for “active recreation,” such as bocce courts, pickleball courts, indoor and outdoor swimming pools and other facilities.

Dobin and deputy planning and zoning director Michelle Perillie presented a map of the proposed changes, as well as a copy of the proposed text amendment to add the DOSRD-4 designation.

The suggested changes garnered passionate discussion, both from those in favor of rezoning parts of the land and from those who want it left as open space.

P&Z commission members Michael Canmeyer and Neil Cohn said they were in favor of the changes.

Cohn said he’s supportive of mixed use and “keeping open space, while (adding) recreation opportunities.”

Canmeyer said the proposed changes had the potential to get more people — including kids — outside.

“I’m a big proponent of the outdoors,” he said. “I’m a big proponent of children being outside as long as possible and not in front of screens.”

Other supporters of the idea included Jennifer Fava, director of Westport’s Parks and Recreation Department. She said she liked the idea of adding recreation while keeping some open space.

“I think this would be a great way to accommodate more residents,” she said.

But others said they opposed losing the open space. Wendy Batteau, chairwoman of the RTM’s environment committee, said open space areas such as Baron’s South help protect the town’s natural resources.

“I don’t think pickleball rises to the level of keeping open space in a town that is quickly losing its open space,” she said.