WESTPORT — Following in a long line of organizations formed to protest applications for large housing complexes in town, a group has coalesced to oppose the Lincoln Street development.
“Westport is a beautiful town and that’s the way we want it to stay, a town. We have cities surrounding us and they’re cities and that’s great, but we came here because it’s a town rich in history. We have all kinds of culture, we just want to keep it a town,” Tina Torraco, a 20 year resident of Riverside Avenue, said.
Torraco and a group of her fellow neighbors have formed the organization Westport Neighbors United LLC to convince the Planning and Zoning Commission not to approve an application for an 81 unit affordable housing residential development that would span six parcels of land on Post Road West and Lincoln Street.
The neighbors first heard about the proposal, brought by Cross Street LLC, in a letter from the development company’s attorney in March, Torraco, who lives on the corner of Riverside Avenue and Lincoln Street, said.
Alarmed about the potential impact of a 137,000 square-foot building in their neighborhood, Torraco and her fellow concerned neighbors met in the Riverside Avenue home of Richard Bailey, who became the group’s chairman. Over the ensuing months the group’s meetings became larger, about 40 to 50 people, Torraco said, and established a steering of about eight residents.
“We are not opposed to affordable housing. We understand that people want to come and live here, and that’s fine. It’s just about trying to put 81 units in that spot,” Joan Miller, a Riverside Avenue resident and member of the Westport Neighbors United steering committee said of Cross Street’s application for the 3.15-acre piece of land that would include 27 one bedroom and 54 two bedroom apartment units.
“I liken it to putting 20 pounds of sugar in a 5-pound bag. You could try to stuff it any way you want, but it’s still going to overflow and the overflow effects everything around it,” Torraco added.
The density of an 81 unit development on three acres is at the heart of the group’s concern about Cross Street’s proposal. They say the development and the new residents it will bring to the neighborhood will cause increased traffic issues in an already busy section of town and that the added cars will pose safety hazards for pedestrians in the neighborhood.
Most prominently among Torraco and Miller’s concerns, however, is the buildings fire safety, they said. “What they’re proposing is a Stamford style sized building in a town that’s used to fighting fires in two-story capes and colonials,” Miller said, adding town’s fire department doesn’t have the manpower or capacity to fight fires at the proposed four-story wood framed building.
Indeed, town’s Fire Marshall Nate Gibbons said himself at the June 21 Planning and Zoning Commission hearing on Cross Street’s proposal that the development as designed is unsafe for residents due to the inadequate access roads to the site if a fire was to occur at the development. Cross Street reneged the application discussed at the June 21 meeting and submitted the proposal on July 16 with minor modifications.
“It’s like a monster towering over us and it’s unsafe,” Torraco said of the proposed development.
Fortunately for Westport Neighbors United, fire safety and traffic concerns are the only potential reasons why the commission could deny Cross Street’s proposal because the developer plans for 25 (30 percent) of the building’s units to be affordable, which means the project qualifies under the 8-30g statute of the Connecticut General Statutes.
Because Westport does not have enough affordable housing in the eyes of the state, any 8-30g application brought before the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission can skirt town building regulations and only be denied on traffic or safety grounds.
“It’s safe to say that the 830g is more favorable for the developer because they don’t have to follow the rules that they normally would so it puts us and this whole neighborhood at risk, Torraco said.
In order to build the development, the developer would demolish many of the current homes on the parcels, including homes dating back to the 1800’s, which would endanger the historic character of the neighborhood, Torraco said.
“I feel like if none of us stuck up for the history, the character, the safety of this area, it would be trampled over. We’re kind of taking on that position of the watchdogs of this part of the river,” Torraco said.
The proposal’s attorney, Fairfield based John F. Fallon, denied to comment on the application that will come before the Planning and Zoning Commission for another hearing on the night of Sept. 6.
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