Residents contest senior housing at former nursery

The property at 500 Main St. may become a 12-unit residential development if the P&Z Comission so approves next week.
The property at 500 Main St. may become a 12-unit residential development if the P&Z Comission so approves next week.Contributed Photo

WESTPORT — From 1939 until around 2013, the property at 500 Main St. was a nursery. But it may soon become a small residential development.

The Planning and Zoning Commission will vote at its Thursday meeting whether to approve a special permit and site plan for a small home development of five two-family buildings and two one-family condominium-style units on the 2.18-acre site at 500 Main St.

Mel Barr, of Barr Associates, LLC, will present the proposal on behalf of the property owner, named Westport 500 Main St. Development LP.

The road to approval likely will not be easy for Barr and his client, however, given the degree of resident opposition for the proposed development.

A packed house filled the Town Hall auditorium last month at the P&Z’s November 16 public hearing, when Barr unveiled details of the development and residents near-uniformly voiced opposition to the project.

Residents’ aversion to the proposed 12 new dwellings, 60 percent of which are planned to be age restricted to people 55 years or older, are grounded primarily in concerns for traffic at the busy intersection of Weston Road and Main Street.

“This is one of Westport’s most dangerous intersections and as neighbors, we are concerned that this development would pose additional traffic and safety hazards to the area,” Cross Highway resident Jennifer Salik wrote in an email to the P&Z in advance of the November meeting.

In total, 17 residents wrote letters and emails to the P&Z protesting the development before its meeting last month.

“This is the worst intersection in town and cannot handle any more traffic — I cannot begin to fathom the tremendous delays that a housing development would have on that already horrific and dangerous intersection,” Punch Bowl Drive resident Candace Twiss wrote.

Despite residents’ concerns over traffic and safety, a traffic impact study for the proposed development — conducted by traffic engineer Kermit Hua of KWH Enterprise and paid for by the applicant — said it would have very little impact on traffic at the intersection.

“The 12 residential units will generate very few vehicular trips during peak traffic hours,” according to the traffic study. “The proposed land use change from a nursery to the residential units will reduce the site’s vehicular trips from 87 (percent) and 93 (percent) during the respective weekday morning and afternoon peak hours. The weekday daily trips generated by the 12 residential units will represent only about 0.5 (percent) of the daily traffic volume on Main Street.”

The P&Z has mandated the applicant pay another consultant to conduct a third-party review of Hua’s traffic study. Although paid for by the applicant, the consultant will be working for the P&Z. The third-party review had not yet been received by the P&Z as of Dec. 7.

Traffic wasn’t the only worry of concerned neighbors.

Albeit to a much lesser degree than the frequency residents protested the plans on the grounds of traffic, they also said the density of the development is not in keeping with the character of the neighborhood.

“Twelve dwellings on a site of little more than two acres is completely out of scale and character with the surrounding area,” Kristin Schneeman wrote in an email to P&Z.

“This site and the proposed type and scale of housing seems far from optimal for either senior housing or affordable housing, both of which are needed in Westport but not at the center of a dangerous intersection with little access to community services and resources,” added Schneeman, a Main Street resident and recently-elected Representative Town Meeting member. “Community priorities like senior and affordable housing must be planned thoughtfully to maximize their value to the community, not in response to property owners’ desire to maximize the value of their investment.”; @SophieCVaughan1