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Proposed Westport Zone Change Faces More Scrutiny

WESTPORT, Conn. – A proposal to rezone the property at 35 Church Lane in downtown Westport failed to garner substantial public support during Thursday night's Planning and Zoning Commission hearing — the second one on the issue.

Submitted by the development group Bedford Square Associates, which owns the property, the proposal would allow for larger, denser buildings to be constructed on the site by seeking to have the property rezoned from Restricted Office-Retail District 2 to Business Center District. If approved, the zone change would triple the maximum building coverage and allow almost 20,000 square feet of floor area.

Although the proposal is strictly for a zone change, Bedford Square attorney Tom Cody said it would allow developers to forge ahead with plans for a mixed-use project with retail, restaurant and residential space, which it hopes to incorporate with its redevelopment of the adjacent Westport Weston Family Y property.

However, no definitive site plan has been brought forth, which worried several residents, including Representative Town Meeting member Matthew Mandell.

"There should be a plan on the table, and there isn't one. All they’re saying is they want a zone change. We don't have to give it to them,” Mandell told the commission. “The question you should be asking is ‘What are you giving us in return? Are you going to give us a movie theater, more restaurants, more mom and pops?’ You don't have go for it unless there's a plan and you can negotiate."

Don Bergmann, a candidate for RTM District 1, agreed with Mandell, saying it was “bizarre” to think that the commission could approve a zone change without knowing for sure what would be built on the property.

Bergmann added that be believed Westport developer David Waldman, a Bedford Square partner, should withdraw the proposal and come back to the commission with a detailed plan for the site.

Lisa Shufro, a member of the League of Women Voters, also supported the idea of having the developers submit a site plan before the commission makes a decision.

“We’ve heard the developers say they will build something all Westporters will be proud of,” she said. “I don’t think I appreciate hearing ‘Trust us, we know what's good for you.’ I don’t think it’s a good basis for making zoning changes.”

If the property were rezoned to the Business Center District, Bedford Square would be allowed to build up to 19,859 square feet in floor area over two buildings, neither of which could be larger than 10,000 square feet. The allowable building coverage would be increased to 14,894 square feet, which is about 10,000 square feet more than what’s currently allowed in the Restricted Office-Retail District 2 zone.

Although most of the speakers during the meeting spoke against the proposal, resident Gerald Romano urged the commission to approve it.

“It will help Bedford Square create a more balanced project that will enhance downtown Westport for the better,” Romano said. “The grander [downtown] becomes, the more valuable our real estate becomes. I think David [Waldman] has proven himself in his projects.”

The commission closed its public hearing on the proposal and will vote on it during its next meeting on Nov. 10.

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