Tuesday, December 07, 2021

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Westport Suburbia No More

It didnt attract a whole lot of attention, but the U.S. Census Bureau, in its wisdom, has declared Westport an urban area. And here we were blissfully thinking of Westport as suburbia.

It occurred in the spring/summer of 2002. There’s a lengthy explanation on the U.S. Census Bureau Web page of how urban (and rural) areas are defined.

Basically, the Census Bureau classifies as “urban” all territory, population, and housing units located within an urbanized area (UA) or an urban cluster (UC). It delineates UA and UC boundaries to encompass densely settled territory.

This is defined as those core census block groups or blocks that have a population density of at least 1,000 people per square mile and surrounding census blocks that have an overall density of at least 500 people per square mile.

The South Western Regional Planning Agency (SWRPA) has a map of our area on its Web page—the “Bridgeport – Stamford, CT – NY Urbanized Area.”

If you’re not an urban area, according to the Census Bureau, you’re a rural area. And by modifying its definitions between 1990 and 2000, the agency considers Westport officially as urban. So I guess you can say now we’re not a “‘burb,” but a full-fledged “urb.” Thanks, Washington.

Terrorism and Iraq on Westports Agenda

Somehow you wish we could just hunker down in Westport and block out whats happening regarding Iraq and the war on terrorism. But, alas, it’s not to be.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Westport has stepped up local preparedness by purchasing masks and protective suits for our emergency personnel. The town has also purchased and distributed radiation-protecting potassium iodide pills to residents.

And Westport/Weston Health Director Judy Nelson has made plans for mass smallpox vaccinations to take place at the new Bedford Middle School should the need arise.

Now related events are popping up on our political agendas. The Board of Selectmen on March 12 will consider a resolution urging that the Indian Point nuclear facility in Westchester County be shut down.

It asks that the closure continue until deficiencies raised in an independent review of the facilitys emergency preparedness plan are resolved.

First Selectwoman Diane Goss Farrell told The Hour in Sunday’s edition that she isn’t sure the board will actually vote on the the issue and that it may be referred to the Representative Town Meeting (RTM).

And an Iraq related item is headed to the RTM. A resident has alerted RTM members that their April 1 meeting will include a Sense of the Meeting resolution urging the United States not to act unilaterally on Iraq.

It calls on the Bush Administration to work through the United Nations to achieve a peaceful resolution of the issue.

Of course, by April 1 the petition could be moot. A similar petition was scheduled to be heard by the RTM last fall but was withdrawn when the United States did go to the U.N. Security Council at the time.

Undoubtedly, there will be those who say our local officials ought not to be taking on issues of national and international importance. But there will be just as many who will argue the opposite. After all, this is Westport.

Debate Comes Out of the Closet

First Selectwoman Diane Goss Farrell’s budget message to the Board of Finance Wednesday night (March 5, 2003) wasn’t the news.

We already knew her town budget and the Board of Ed budget would likely result in a 10 percent plus tax increase.

What was news was that a debate long discussed off the record among elected officials and townspeople alike came into the open unexpectedly in the sparsely attended BOF budget session.

It was the majority Democrats (4) vs the minority Republicans (3) on the town budget. (The voting was different on the ed budget—see below.)

Essentially, the Republicans, led by Rob Graham, argued that these are tough times that call for lean budgets. Reduce headcounts, they said. And do it aggressively.

The Democrats, led by chair Steve Ezzes, said that’s an admirable goal but reduced headcounts mean reduced services.

“Frankly,” he said, “I’m not sure the general population wants us to do that. I’ve not heard that from anyone.”

Bingo. Finally the debate was in the open. Westport is a sought-after community to live in and commands top dollar housing values because people demand—and get—top schools and services, the Democrat seemed to be saying.

And, more importantly, he implied, they are willing to pay for it.

The Republicans seemed stunned to hear their chair publicly espouse such an idea and had no immediate rejoinder. They did try to table the entire town budget, hoping it would be brought back in a reduced form. But that effort failed 3-4 on a strictly partly line vote.

The Republicans then proceeded to vote against almost every line of the town budget, including the fire and police budgets. Only on the library and health district budgets did Republican Rick Benson side with the Democrats, making it a 5-2 approval for those items.

In the end, the board approved both the town and education budgets after voting to hold back some small amounts earmarked for bonding capital projects that they have yet to approve.

On the education budget, the vote was 6-1 with the lone holdout Graham. Members have a chance to restore the cuts next month.

Meanwhile, party lines and fiscal philosophies are a lot more legible for voters to see—at least on the Board of Finance.

What’s in a Name? In Westport, Always Controversy

State Rep. Ken Bernhard, a Republican whose 136th District now includes only Westport, wants to name the Post Road bridge over the Saugatuck River in honor of the late Ruth Steinkraus-Cohen.

Ms. Steinkraus-Cohen, who died last year, was a longtime Westporter and friend and supporter of the United Nations.

Each summer, the bridge is decked out in flags of the U.N. members on “jUNe Day” when the town hosts U.N. delegates, mission members and U.N. employees and their families for the day. But nothing is ever easy in Westport.

Because the bridge is state-owned, Bernhard proposed state legislation to make the name change.

“Ms. Steinkraus-Cohen was a remarkable woman with an extraordinary commitment to public service and was active in promoting peace through the United Nations,” Bernhard said.

Bernhard’s bill (House Bill No. 5272) called for the bridge to be named the “Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Memorial Bridge.”

Bernhard asked First Selectwoman Diane Goss Farrell to have Westport’s Representative Town Meeting (RTM) endorse the proposal to make sure the townspeople were supportive of the effort.

As RTM Moderator, I suggested to the First Selectwoman that the Board of Selectmen (which includes her, fellow Democrat Carl Leaman and Republican John Izzo) take up the matter first, as it would under the town’s “Policy for Naming Town Property,” which deals with town-owned property.

The Board of Selectmen considered the issue Tuesday (March 4, 2003). The motion passed 2-1 and will go before the RTM next month. Izzo voted against it.

According to the Westport News, “In a statement released after the meeting, Izzo said he didn’t know Ruth Steinkraus-Cohen, but explained he felt that it wasn’t fair to other Westport notables who might be worthy of such an honor.”

You can’t say party politics was a factor. Or was it? Perhaps Izzo for some reason looked at it as a partisan issue (as he does with many things). But Steinkraus-Cohen was a registered Republican. And it is a Republican rep who is asking the state to approve the name change.

Before Izzo’s vote, some Westporters anticipated opposition might come from those unhappy with the U.N. Security Council’s stance on efforts to disarm Iraq.

Bernhard says he has time to “derail” his proposal before it gets to the General Assembly if Westporters don’t back it. Never take anything for granted in Westport.

Update: At its April 1 meeting, the RTM voted 26-5 in favor of endorsing Bernhard’s bill to rename the bridge.

Main Street’s Battle of the Sexes

Westport continues to be the testing ground for national retailers pushing into new gender territory.

First it was button-down Brooks Brothers which chose Westport five years ago for one of its first freestanding women’s stores. It continues to operate at the end of Main Street opposite its men’s counterpart in Brooks Corner. Now Talbots, which took over the old Remarkable Book Shop for its women’s and children’s lines, is putting the final touches on its first men’s store a stone’s throw down the street.

The store, opening next month, is in space formerly occupied by The Limited. Westporters with long memories will remember it as the site of a one-time Mobil gas station.

While Brooks Brothers and Talbots battle it out with separate his and hers stores on Main Street, Mitchell’s continues to woo the same customers in its all-in-one location, also undergoing renovations, a couple miles up the road on Post Road East.

Mitchell’s, of course, may have an advantage in that it has the ability to host school car washes as well as the DMV license renewal bus. Try those on Main Street.

Update: Talbots Mens (that’s the way they spell it) is having a grand opening Thursday evening, April 3. The champagne benefit will feature informal modeling by members of the Westport Police Department and friends of the Junior League of Eastern Fairfield County. At least that’s what the invitation says.

A portion of the evening sales will benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation of Connecticut and the Westport Country Playhouse.

Arnold B. Zetcher, chairman, president and CEO of Talbots, is hosting the event.


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Congressman Shays Westport Town Meeting Now on Web

No matter your views on a possible (likely?) war in Iraq, you had to be impressed with the “town meeting” Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.) hosted last week (Feb. 23, 2003) at Westport’s new Bedford Middle School.

Despite the frigid night, several hundred turned out for the four-hour meeting. Unknown thousands more watched the first two and a half hours live on C-SPAN. The complete recording of the session is available on the C-SPAN Web site.

Few people seemed to know in advance that the session was to be nationally televised. First Selectwoman Diane GossFarrell says she didn’t know and got a scolding from her parents who found out afterward they missed her on TV.

One viewer from Cody, Wyoming, sent a note to me as Moderator of the Westport Representative Town Meeting saying how much he enjoyed the session and how impressed he was with questions from Westporters and others.

“Great comments and insight by all,” he wrote. But he added: “It is a shame that one lady had to lower the quality of the program by venting her own personal vendetta against the President.” (He apparently confused “town meeting” and RTM, but his comments were interesting nevertheless.)

Don’t hold me to it, but the session may have been the longest nationally televised live broadcast from Westport since Edward R. Murrow interviewed Martha Raye on CBS-TV’s “Person to Person” in the 1950s—and that was only 15 minutes.

Here a Levitt, There a Levitt

Pasadena, Calif., gets a Levitt Pavilion, too.

According to Pasadenastarnews.com, Westporter Mortimer Levitt donated funds to Pasadena to create a Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts.

It’s said to be modeled on Westport’s Levitt Pavilion. The newspaper says similar Levitt Pavilions are planned in Harrisburg, Pa., and Lenox, Mass.

Be interesting to see whether the Westport clones have as much trouble with their benefactor as Westport did. But then again, we seem to have controversy over everything.

Brookstone Does Westport Westport’s Main

Westport’s Main Street welcomes another national retailer—Brookstone.

The store opened March 1 in the long vacant site at the end of the street leased but never occupied by Ralph Lauren. Handsome store. Those knowledgeable about Westport commercial real estate say with the signing, Westport’s Main Street hangs out the “no vacancy” sign.

The nation’s slowed economy has taken its toll on Westport like many other places, but local retailers say the town’s upscale residents have softened the impact.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be howls aplenty when a double-digit tax increase goes into effect July 1.


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