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Westport Woman Defends Homeowners' Right to Build

UPDATED 1/6/11: Some people sat on the floor. Others stood where they could find room. And a few more huddled outside the doorway of Room 309 at Westport Town Hall on Wednesday night to hear resident Valerie Seiling Jacobs present her case against a zoning amendment that essentially limits house sizes.

Under Amendment 621, building coverage for homes in AA zones and AAA zones will be limited to 15 percent of the net lot area. AA zones are defined as 1-acre lots; AAA zones are 2-acre lots.

This is the biggest drawback of the amendment, Jacobs said, as it creates hundreds of nonconforming properties— properties that are in violation of zoning regulations and as a result, worth less money when owners go to sell.

"P&Z now agrees with me that 315 houses will absolutely become nonconforming simply because of the 15 percent building coverage," Jacobs, who lives in a AA zone, told the Representative Town Meeting's Planning & Zoning Committee.

But it doesn't stop there. Jacobs estimates that a total of more than 1,000 houses will become nonconforming when you consider all parts of the amendment, like the fact that swimming pools will be counted in total coverage instead of building coverage and that tennis courts will be counted in total coverage at 100 percent instead of 50 percent.

"After this amendment is passed, almost half the lots that are on a half-acre or less in Westport will become nonconforming," she said. "I thought the job of the P&Z was to create more conformity, not less."

According Eleanor Lowenstein, vice chairwoman of the P&Z Commission, the amendment's purpose is to address runoff and drainage issues. While Jacobs said controlling runoff and drainage are laudable goals, "these regulations are not the best way to do that."

And she wasn't alone in her opinion. Resident and Realtor Edie Anderson said these regulations are an "assault" on homeowners.

"We already saw our values slaughtered by the market," Anderson said, referring to revaluation results. "And to have own town slaughter us again is absolutely a travesty."

Resident Gerald Romano shared similar sentiments. "I don't think the P&Z listened to the people. Now we're here, again, but I hope you [RTM P&Z Committee] hear the people say, 'We don't want this,'" Romano said. "The P&Z should work for the citizens of its town, not create problems for them."

The RTM P&Z Committee will meet again Jan. 12 at 7:30 p.m.

Do you think the RTM Planning & Zoning Committee should recommend to the full RTM that the amendment be overturned? Why or why not? Leave a comment below!

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