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Proposed Planning Regulation Threatens Westport

The following letter was submitted by Sidney B. Kramer, Constance Greenfield and Valerie Seiling Jacobs, executive officers of Save Westport Now, an advocacy group:

WESTPORT, Conn. – On Thursday, Sept. 8, at 7p.m., the Planning and Zoning Commission will hold a hearing on a new text amendment that would allow movie theaters and performance venues in areas where they would otherwise be prohibited.

Save Westport Now supports the idea of a movie theater as a welcome addition to the downtown scene. But we believe that this particular text amendment is too broad and poses substantial risk to the small-town character of Westport and to residential neighborhoods. Our most significant objections have to do with size of the allowed buildings.

As currently written, Text Amendment #637 would permit 60-foot-tall buildings as close as 15 feet to the street and would allow buildings with as much as 50,000 square feet of interior space — even if the building contains only one floor. While a building of that size may be appropriate in a true commercial district, the area of the proposed "theater overlay zone" extends far beyond what we tend to think of as "downtown" and may encroach on residential neighborhoods, creating unacceptable aesthetic, traffic and parking problems.

No matter how much we may long for a local movie house, large-scale buildings are inconsistent with our small-town character and will detract from the residential nature of abutting neighborhoods. And this will be especially problematic if a movie theater goes out of business, because the use will revert to retail stores or other commercial establishments. Do we really want to be stuck with — or permanently burden our neighbors with — such overly tall buildings? The fact is, once these structures are built, they are not coming down.

Even more worrisome is that this new amendment appears to be the beginning of what may be the creeping urbanization of Westport. Indeed, one developer, apparently emboldened by this pending text amendment, has already filed a preapplication to raze a house downtown and replace it with a 67-foot-tall commercial structure. Can you imagine what Westport will look like if our charming stores and houses are slowly replaced with five- and six-story buildings?

Our aim is retain the small-town character of Westport and to minimize the negative impact of large-scale buildings on adjoining neighborhoods. If you agree, then please email the Planning and Zoning Department and express your concern. Letters can be sent to lbradley@westportct.gov . Or better yet, come to the meeting and speak your mind. Thank you.

Sidney B. Kramer, Constance Greenfield, Valerie Seiling Jacobs

Executive officers of Save Westport Now

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