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Save Old Saugatuck

Stephanie Thomas.(Contributed)

The need for affordable housing in our communities is urgent. For too long, Connecticut has been a segregated state, with its poorest residents (largely people of color) clustered in pockets of our cities. Constructing affordable housing is part of the solution, but we must do it on our terms, not those of the developers.

Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission recently rejected Summit Saugatuck LLC’s proposal to build a 187-unit development in Old Saugatuck. The current plan is to transform a historical neighborhood that is already affordable, to build a massive complex in which less than a third of units are actually deemed “affordable housing”. It constitutes a rapid shift in density, one which would cause a spike in traffic on the one existing road in and out. On top of that, Old Saugatuck is low-density right now for good reason – its swampy ecosystem has historically prevented construction of multi-story tenements like the ones proposed. There is no telling what problems construction workers may run into.

Every man, woman, and child in Connecticut deserves a roof over their head, and building affordable housing is necessary. However, this proposal is simply bad (sub)urban planning. The events of the past several months show us that we cannot let corporate interests supplant community interests. Earning a dollar cannot come at the expense of our residents. We must Save Old Saugatuck.

Stephanie Thomas has been endorsed by Democrats as their candidate for District 143 State Representative.

10 comments

Norwalk native June 17, 2020 at 4:15 pm

This is the same racist thinking that prevents any affordable housing from happening in towns like Westport.

To his credit, Lamont is coming for you Westport and he won’t accept your BS excuses any longer.

Babar Sheikh June 17, 2020 at 11:14 pm

Affordable housing never works. It just ends up being cheap housing for all the labor for local businesses to exploit. Fast food jobs and such. The housing might be cheap but everything else gets expensive around them. Any metro area being a prime example. You have to let capitalism/the economy run its course for better or worse. This is how cities develop, you can’t stay a small town forever.

Isabelle Hargrove June 18, 2020 at 9:47 am

oh, the hypocrisy… Local democrats are jamming as many overscaled and overpriced, yet so-called affordable, apartment complexes as they can in Norwalk while shutting out every resident’s voice. What is Ms. Thomas’ view on that I wonder?

ConcernedToo June 18, 2020 at 10:30 am

So, as hundreds gather in Westport to protest George Floyd, is Westport actually going to do anything to address systemic racism? Where’s Westport’s plan to increase diversity and decrease segregation? In 2010 Westport was 92% white according to the census.

A quick google search will reveal numerous articles describing Westport fighting tooth and nail to keep affordable housing (and as a result, minorities) out of Westport. In 2018, the planning and zoning commissioner called a plan to build 7 houses on 2 acres “ghettoizing Westport”… over 7 houses! This is just another one of those efforts.

That this is really about keeping Westport white is obvious based on the numerous thin arguments posted here… it’s an affordable area? Are developers only supposed to develop housing projects in expensive areas? See how the neighbors react to that lol… and a 1400 square foot house that sells for 500k isn’t exactly a bargain.

The “one existing road” leads to a main road and highway exit. It’s fine. This is similar to the East Norwalk Avalon across the border. And similarly, the Avalon in East Norwalk figured out how to build in the “swampy” area. That’s the developer’s problem to figure out and they don’t seem worried.

But the key part that shows what the author really means is the word “tenement”, an unusual word choice that is a dog whistle that conjures up all sorts of images of slums teeming with minorities coming into white Westport. It’s not a slum, it’s an apartment building.

With the recent protests over “black lives matter”, Westport’s First Selectman stated that Westport is more committed to fairness, social equality, and justice than ever. I’m wondering when Westport’s going to back those empty words with some real action, but I’m not holding my breath.

To the commenter above – yes, affordable housing laws may have issues, but also, having entire towns where there’s basically no place to build apartment buildings (which are just a necessary part of a state’s housing requirements) because of zoning laws is also not great. No one is saying Westport has to turn into a city, but it would be nice if this town, where 58% of residents voted for our governor and his pro immigration stance in the last election, actually made a place for those immigrants to live instead of using zoning to keep them in Norwalk and Stamford.

Hundreds of Westporters joined the black lives matter protests over the past few months. Meanwhile, the leaders of Westport continue business as usual, desperately working to maintain segregation. Hypocrisy annoys me.

People might argue that this doesn’t have racist intent, which I understand and is probably true. A lot of people are really just concerned with keeping property values high and having good schools. But the impact is undeniably racist, and that’s what’s important.

It’s easy to pick out a high profile cop shooting and protest it. It’s much harder to admit that you’re unwittingly part of the problem and make sacrifices to help fix it. Implicit racism is a far bigger issue than explicit racism, and just because you didn’t mean for something to be racist doesn’t mean that you get a pass.

Patrick Cooper June 18, 2020 at 12:15 pm

Stephanie Thomas – how about “Save all of Norwalk” ???

Nice to see the political instincts on parade here, it doesn’t take hanging out a flag to know which way the wind blows in Westport regarding this project. My guess is some calculation was used to determine – to win I need those votes.

How about using this exact same reasoning on the following projects –

POKO (101 units – not including what will go on top of the demolished Garden Cinema now parking garage)
Glover Ave (761 units now, 1400 proposed)
The Pinnacle on West Ave (330 units)
230 East Avenue (189 units)
Wells Fargo property planned Mill Pond Place (200+)
Head of the Harbor North (80)
Strawberry Hill Ave (219)
Monroe Street (106 units)

Of course – this is just a partial “what’s coming” – not what is already here. Does Norwalk really want to become a renters city? 50% or more fully transient?

Everybody – take a drive through SoNo – through the neighborhood’s being re-made to pack as many people in as possible – a Hartford agenda – and ask yourself – is this what you want?

Because – this is what Harry & his team are delivering – our protests notwithstanding.

ConcernedToo June 18, 2020 at 8:50 pm

RayJ, not sure you can call it a free market when the government routinely shuts down housing proposals that independent businessmen want to complete (and that therefore they must view as economically viable proposals) because they don’t bring in the right kind of people.

And do you think that complete economic segregation, and the resulting segregation of opportunity, is a good thing? I don’t. It’s scary. Are we developing a class system here?

John ONeill June 18, 2020 at 11:26 pm

Unless Stephenie Thomas wants to protect taxpayers from Hartford’s spending, and unless she can redirect funds from Hartford to Norwalk schools there’s no reason to vote for her. Instead of pontificating on Westport’s housing issues let’s talk about reality. Explain to us how West Hartford school district gets twice Norwalks and how you’re going to reverse that. Why does Hamden (which is going broke anyway) get’s more funding than Norwalk, yet has demographics which should get less. Our area Democrats have let us down over the years. What makes her different? I would appreciate her writing a column on that. Give us something with substance. Norwalk and our schools gave been shortchanged and taken advantage of for decades. Why should we strengthen the caucus that has screwed us historically? Are we freaking nuts, or just incredibly stupid?

Non Partisan June 19, 2020 at 9:21 am

There is no such thing as affordable housing

It is housing subsidized by real estate tax breaks that are funded by the rest of the tax payers

If you want to make housing more affordable- start with rolling back big government and the tax bill that comes with it.

Mimi Chang June 22, 2020 at 2:42 pm

 Save Old Saugatuck? I’ve read that Gail Lavielle has been combatting that Saugatuck development alongside town officials and her constituents, advocating to keep a predatory developer out and a conservation easement from being disrupted by said developer, who sought to amend zoning to jam his unwanted project through. Stephanie Thomas’s political opponent, Patrizia Zucaro, appears to be advocating against this development alongside her fellow residents in solidarity. Many East Norwalkers supported the fight and signed the petition going around for their own sets of reasons, a serious quality of life compromiser called traffic congestion/cut through (which would likely impact East Norwalk on the border) being one, which Ms. Thomas seems to agree with in her letter. Incidentally, everyone knows traffic has become out of control in Norwalk, as our current administration continues to push population density, and hence, vehicle dense gridlock and cut through on our roadways.

This begs the question, “Why isn’t Norwalk Zoning Commissioner/East Norwalk TOD Oversight Committee appointee Ms. Thomas, who is also a DTC member running for Democratic State Rep and will represent part of East Norwalk should she win, advocating alongside East Norwalk residents against unwanted apartment overdevelopment and exacerbation of traffic in the same way that she, in this letter, and our neighboring town‘s leaders, are advocating alongside Westport residents?” Quality of life of existing CT residents is worth fighting for, and should know no geographic or gerrymandered, political boundaries. A political agenda for sure, if Ms. Thomas cannot realize that residents’ quality of life will suffer with the East Norwalk TOD plan’s gradual phase in of potentially 6+ mixed-use apartment buildings which could generate 1200-1500 units, as she has realized in her letter that Westport residents’ quality of life will suffer over just ONE apartment development proposal of a mere 187 units. In the May 18th East Norwalk TOD Oversight Committee Zoom meeting, Ms. Thomas commented that the TOD plan, whose agenda is obviously to increase population in already population dense East Norwalk, and which will permanently bring several hundred, and gradually, thousands, of vehicles, is “…wonderful.”

That proposed Saugatuck apartment development, just like the apartment developments being built at fever pitch all over Norwalk, would hardly be affordable. Sadly, we know by now that the so called “affordable housing” misnomer attached to this gentrification style housing being forced upon communities, resulting in developers profitting generously and governments generating revenue by selling out to them in a vicious cycle, does not literally mean actual, equitable housing. I find it contradictory that Ms. Thomas in her letter realizes the importance of real, affordable housing, yet as a Norwalk Zoning Commissioner, she, and her fellow Norwalk land use decision makers, have not made any strong, proactive push to advocate for it, or to ensure that there will be an appropriate amount of it allocated for development in the “East Norwalk Neighborhood TOD Plan”, which smacks of generational gentrification all the way around. The plan, finally released to the public the other day, includes language under the header “Market Conditions” which reads, “A low population density contributes to low rents”, seemingly as if to justify forcing density to raise rents, and to indirectly imply that equitable housing will not be part of the TOD’s forced density agenda as it simply is not profitable, in order to greenlight even more generational gentrification housing for East Norwalk. Follow the money, at the expense of boxing out socioeconomically diverse families who will be unable to afford the rent in these proposed buildings.

How about “Save East Norwalk“? Multiply the 187 apartment units proposed for the Saugatuck development that Ms. Thomas is worried will generate too much traffic, by 4, 5 or 6, and you will finally get to the scope of what Norwalk Planning & Zoning Director Steve Kleppin and his commissioners, Ms. Thomas being one of them, are deeming a “modest” amount of development for the “East Norwalk Neighborhood TOD Plan”. A proposed gradual phase in of what could reach 1200-1500 apartment units along an already traffic pounded, 1/2 mile East Avenue corridor (East Avenue holds the distinction of having the highest number of crashes of any Norwalk corridor, so let’s just explode that and drive existing East Norwalk residents out with high apartment volume/excessive vehicles?), may take years, or hopefully, may never happen, but even three apartment buildings within two years‘ time will greatly exacerbate an already unacceptable traffic predicament which currently exists, and will further erode quality of life. Where is Ms. Thomas’s advocacy here?

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