Westport residents speak out about Daybreak development
WESTPORT — The Planning and Zoning Commission won’t reconvene to discuss the proposed development at the former Daybreak nursery until Jan. 18, but residents are mobilizing to oppose, and support, the project.
The fate of the 12-unit development across from one of the town’s most controversial intersections is still up in the air after a contentious meeting in which residents spoke for and against the project.
More than 60 people packed Town Hall auditorium last Thursday for a public hearing on the project. Pam Kopack, a resident of Daybreak Lane, asked the Planning and Zoning Commission to reject the development.
“We have a nice little neighborhood and a nice little street, and we’d like to keep it that way,” Kopack said.
Asking the Planning and Zoning Commission to approve a special permit and site plan for the project, developer Mel Barr, of Barr Associates, said the project would benefit seniors. All 12 units will be restricted for ownership to those 55 or older.
The 100 percent senior age restriction is an increase of Barr’s of the 80 percent senior age restriction Barr included in his original project proposal.
One of the primary activists opposing the project, Daybreak Lane resident Bonnie Dubson, disagreed with Barr’s comment that the project will help seniors. “This proposal in no way helps seniors because it doesn’t properly define who seniors are,” Dubson said, noting the project’s definition of senior as anyone 55 years or older.
Dubson’s primary concern and that of many of the residents who spoke was safety at the busy intersection of Weston Road and Main Street, which abuts the proposed project.
“I think this plan should only be considered after this intersection has been mitigated,” Dubson said. She said the intersection is not safe for seniors to walk around and cited a University of Connecticut crash data repository that found 44 percent of the 122 pedestrian deaths in the state from 2012-14 involved those 60 or older. “This is simply the wrong intersection to put seniors and the disabled,” Dubson said.
Resident Dr. Sheldon Greenberg concurred with Dubson’s concerns about the project’s safety and cited 22 car accidents at the intersection over the last three years. “You’re talking about 22 accidents as if it’s nothing,” Greenberg said, and added, “Does somebody really have to die? Is it that important these 12 buildings be built?”
In addition to safety concerns, many residents said the project would increase traffic at the already congested intersection during peak hours. Two independent traffic consultants who spoke in advance of the hearing said the impact of 12 additional units would present a small traffic impact to the intersection, especially because they said seniors don’t usually travel at peak school traffic periods. The consultants, however, acknowledged the intersection itself has an “F” grade.
P&Z Chairman Paul Lebowitz said the issues at the busy intersection will be the same, regardless of the project. “The current conditions are F, the no-build is an F and if we build it, it’s an F.”
Newly elected P&Z Commissioner Greg Rutstein said he spoke with state traffic engineers and they reported the project’s construction would not inhibit the state’s ability to fix the intersection at a future date. The state owns land above the 500 Main St. property, and if it were to reconstruct the intersection it would build a roundabout at that location, Rutstein said.
Those in favor of the project spoke primarily on the grounds that it would satisfy a demand for senior housing in town. Local Realtor Maryann Levanti grew up in Westport, though no longer lives in town, and said many families want to stay in Westport and downsize after their children are gone, but can’t do so because of the lack of small homes. “They go to Norwalk; they go to Fairfield; they go farther away,” Levanti said.
Resident and Westport Realtor Steven Thomson also spoke to the high demand in town for smaller homes appropriate for downsizers.
Barr said another positive aspect of the project would be an increase of $130,000 to the tax base. Daybreak Lane resident Anca Micu contested this assumption, saying if kids who live in the proposed units go to Westport schools, the annual taxes on one of the property’s units won’t cover the cost of education for one Westport student per year.
A few residents raised environmental concerns. Paul Conti, a resident of Weston Road, which abuts the property, said preliminary construction at the development location has caused his deck to be inundated with soot. Conti said he’s had a sore throat for months and is concerned about building on the possibly contaminated soil.
Copack seconded Conti’s concerns about environmental contamination, saying she’s been coughing for six weeks and speculates it might be due to the property, but acknowledged she can’t know for sure.
Both residents and the P&Z agreed on the need for better communication with the public about proposed developments. “We received no notification that any of this was happening,” Dubson said.
“We can choose to do better,” Danielle Dobin said of the commission’s communication with residents about proposed land-use changes. Dobin said she’s co-chairing a new communications subcommittee that’s going to work to avoid repeating another situation, “where neighbors feel as though there’s something going on in their neighborhood and were improperly notified.”
As for the issue at hand, the P&Z voted to continue the public hearing will reconvene to consider the proposed special permit and site plan for the senior housing development on Jan. 18.