Woog’s World / ‘Build someplace where I don’t care’
“Don’t tax you. Don’t tax me. Tax that fellow behind the tree.”
That statement - attributed to former Louisiana senator Russell Long - refers to money. It’s appropriate, given that this is the weekend when every Westporter who is not one of those fastidious people who must get everything out of the way early, will spend enormous amounts of time figuring out how to send as little money as possible to Washington and Hartford, while at the same time hoping that all the program important to him or her will continue to be fully funded, if not expanded exponentially.
But that’s not what this column is about.
“Don’t tax you…” can also be applied to real estate. “Don’t build here. Don’t build there. Build someplace where I don’t care” seems to be the mantra behind nearly every zoning issue that flares up in Westport. Lately, the fires of controversy have burned hotter than ever.
Proposals to open marijuana dispensaries here - there are currently four applications on the table, competing for the two sites allowed by local legislation - sparked shouting at a public meeting last week that Planning and Zoning Commission members (no strangers to squawking) said was the loudest and rudest they’d ever heard.
The P&Z is also grappling with a proposal to build nine homes on 2.2 acres off Main Street and Weston Road, near Merritt Parkway exit 42. No matter that the plan has been scaled down twice, from the original 12 homes; that each house is just 2,000 square feet, with two bedrooms, and limited to owners age 55 and over; or that for decades the land was occupied by a floral shop, drawing plenty of traffic (and which included several trucks parked all over the property).
“Don’t build here. Don’t build there. Build someplace where I don’t care” is a common theme throughout the arguments against both the dispensaries and the senior housing.
It’s not always stated that baldly, of course. Arguments against the medical marijuana facilities include claims that the sites are too large; fears that if (or when) recreational marijuana is legalized in Connecticut, the dispensaries will be overrun by non-medical customers; and terror that nearby children will see a medical marijuana facility and immediately want to try the drug themselves.
Opponents of the Daybreak development cite traffic issues at the confusing, congested intersection with Easton and Weston Roads, and Main Street; the possibility that folks 55 and older will cram young children into their 2-bedroom homes, thus straining our school system and causing massive bus delays; and worry that the soil has been contaminated by all those floral shop trucks, meaning new home construction would expose neighbors to toxic something or other.
Not everyone agrees a medical marijuana dispensary should be built in Westport. Nearly everyone, however, realizes that medical marijuana is beneficial for people suffering from a wide range of ailments, from cancer and its treatment side effects to epilepsy. The nearest dispensaries to Westport right now are in Milford and Bethel. Maybe that’s too far, those opposed to the local plan say, but maybe Westport is, well, you know, just not the right place.
Besides, they add, why do we need two? (To encourage price competition and eliminate gouging, the P&Z said when it wrote the local regulations a few years ago - and heard virtually no citizens’ concerns, I should add.)
The Westport jury is still out on senior housing as well. Arguments rage over whether 55-year-olds are actually “seniors”; on whether they truly want to downsize here, or will flee to Florida once their kids are gone; and on and on.
But dispensaries and Daybreak are not the only items on the P&Z docket.
There is the little - actually, large - issue of 81 units proposed for Post Road West. They’d be built on land bordered by Lincoln Street and Riverside Avenue. It’s highly trafficked, near two schools - two concerns of Westporters who oppose the plan.
And - this is important - it’s also an 8-30g proposal. This refers to a carrot-and-stick Connecticut statute that rewards town for building “affordable housing” - and punishes them if they don’t. It also overrides many local zoning regulations, on topics like density.
Westporters generally agree that affordable housing is a noble goal. Too many teachers, police officers, firefighters, workers and others cannot afford to live here (or anywhere close). We already have several affordable housing options in Westport (some of which predate the 8-30g statute, and which for some unfathomable bureaucratic reason don’t count toward our goal).
But Westporters also worry that affordable housing is big - both physically and demographically. It adds kids to the school system, and strains town services and utilities. So maybe this noble goal should be situated somewhere else.
“Don’t build here. Don’t build there. Build someplace where I don’t care.”
Wherever that is.
Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog's World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His personal blog is danwoog06880.com.