Textbook case: Town cites self for book storage at Baron’s mansion
Updated 1:40 pm, Wednesday, June 3, 2015
Some might call it a textbook violation of town regulations. Except the violator, in this case, is the town.
The town has been cited for violating town zoning regulations by allowing the Westport Library to store vast stacks of books at the town-owned Golden Shadows, the former residence of perfume magnate Baron Walter von Langendorff at 60/68 Compo Road South. The mansion sits on the town’s open-space property known as Baron’s South.
The violation notice, dated May 27 and signed by Zoning Official Susan Reynolds, states that using the residence and a storage trailer to store the books is “not allowed” in a DOSRD2, or dedicated open space and recreation district.
Library books have been stored at that location for the past 15 years.
Representative Town Meeting Member John Suggs, District 5, told members of the legislative body at a May 4 budget meeting that books are stacked high in every room of the structure, and the combined accumulation in the dining room caused the floor to collapse. He then suggested cutting the library’s new budget by $15,000 to pay for the damages, but that motion was defeated.
The same day, local historian Morley Boyd filed a zoning violation complaint, citing the “illegal placement” of a mobile storage container in front of the mansion the past several years. In a companion complaint, also dated May 4, Boyd stated the storage of the books in the single-family, residential structure is “not a permitted use” in either an AA zone, which the property had been zoned, or in its current DOSRD2 designation.
First Selectman Jim Marpe said an arrangement for the library to store materials at Golden Shadows for its annual book sale was approved more than 15 years ago by then-First Selectwoman Diane Farrell and accepted by subsequent administrations.
He added that using the mansion for storage has been considered “beneficial to the Westport community” since it helps the library raise additional operating funds while providing “an opportunity for citizens to re-purpose their books for a good cause.”
He said use of the mansion for book storage had not been criticized “until relatively recently.”
Marpe said that, as a result of a complaint, the Planning and Zoning Department reviewed current use of Golden Shadows and found using it as a storage facility, as well as the storage container on the property, to be in violation of regulations.
He said his administration realized “some months ago that it was likely that the building could no longer be used for the significant amount of book storage that was now taking place.” He said the town began to discuss alternatives with the management and directors of the Westport Library.
Marpe said that when he received the notice of the zoning violation, he informed the library that they would have “to cease the use of Golden Shadows as a book storage facility.”
He said that, as a practical matter, the town will let the library use the building for storage until its mid-July book sale. “But after it is over, they will need to clear any remaining materials out of the building and remove the storage trailer from the property,” he said.
“Our zoning regulations allow for up to 60 days to remedy a violation which will coincide with the end of July and the completion of the book sale,” he said, adding he expects library officials to comply.
“At the same time, we are continuing to work with the leadership of the library to help find appropriate additional storage for future book sales, which have become a great Westport tradition,” Marpe added.
But Maxine Bleiweis, the library’s executive director, said library officials have been “searching for space with no real possibilities yet.”
“We hope the community can help us identify storage space as the ability to accept books year round and the book sale events are such an important part of the fabric of the community,” she said. “Storage is critical for these events to continue.”