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Letter: Amendment Threatens Westport's Downtown Character

by Sidney B. Kramer, Constance Greenfield and Valerie Seiling Jacobs

On Thursday, Sept. 8 at 7 p.m., P&Z will hold a hearing on a new text amendment that will 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 will permit 60-foot tall buildings as close as 15 feet to the street and will 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, since 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 the fact 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 pre-application to raze a house Downtown and replace it with a 67-foot 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 P&Z 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.

Ellen Linker September 03, 2011 at 01:45 PM
I agree with Mr. Kramer. Large buildings close to the Post Road, or anywhere else in town are out of character, obtrusive and an eye sore. Westport is too congested as is. We used to have small theaters which are now missed. What we don't need is a mega cinema, Ellen L
Judy Starr September 03, 2011 at 07:04 PM
The authors make sound points, which the P&Z will hopefully consider. Based on my present understanding of Amendment #637, there could be more effect to this amendment than simply the creation of a theater, assuming such a threater can sustain itself financially -- not necessarily a sure thing. This proposed amendment could inadvertently lead to an increased intensity of land use and traffic wherever it is implemented, in at least two ways. The first would be resulting from what would happen if the intended use ever fails (as it apparently did at least once before in town); we would be hard-pressed to deny a property owner use of their property. The second would be because #637 could set a precedent for a 60' structure, on which future applicants could base requests for projects or amendments including buildings of comparable height downtown or elsewhere. Additionally, a 60' structure, at any site in town, will bring long-stretching shadows that will loom over any place nearby. While many of us remember and miss the old Fine Arts Theatre, perhaps we should explore another route by which to bring a movie house back to town?
Sandy Lefkowitz September 04, 2011 at 03:01 AM
I URGE EVERYONE TO ATTEND THE TOWN HALL MEETING ON SEPTEMBER 8TH TO LEARN THE TRUTH ABOUT THE PLANS FOR THE NOT- FOR- PROFIT INDEPENDENT ART HOUSE MOVIE THEATER DOWNTOWN THAT THE WESTPORT CINEMA INITIATIVE IS WORKING TO CREATE. 200 SEATS, 6500 SQUARE FEET OF SPACE, WITH TWO TO THREE SCREENS IS WHAT WE ARE AIMING FOR. GENERIC SCHEMATICS WILL BE AVAILABLE, SOME OF WHICH ARE ALREADY POSTED ON THE TOWN WEBSITE. WE WANT TO PRESERVE THE INTEGRITY OF OUR TOWN AESTHETIC. SANDY LEFKOWITZ, DIRECTOR WESTPORT CINEMA INITIATIVE WE CAN'T GO BACK IN TIME BUT, WE CAN HAVE WHAT OUR COMMUNITY NOW UNDERSTANDS IS THE COMMUNAL VALUE OF HAVING A MOVIE THEATER IN DOWNTOWN WESTPORT. SANDY LEFKOWITZ, DIRECTOR WESTPORT CINEMA INITIATIVE.
michael calise September 04, 2011 at 08:18 PM
If a viable theatre only requires 200 seats why do we need to legalize 60 feet of height? The answer of course is the desire for a theatre is being used as a smoke screen for other less altruistic motives Michael Calise
Mom September 05, 2011 at 12:37 AM
According to this article, what concerns me (other than the possibility of mammoth structures in our quaint Downtown) is the wording: "movie theaters and performance venues." As this stands, it could possibly and legally include XXX-rated establishments. In my opinion, this would be a terrible blight on Westport's character. Therefore, while I am in favor of an arts-related movie venue that would enhance Westport culturally and artistically, I think we need to be very careful about building and zoning restrictions, and the character and intentions of the establishments we will allow to join our community!
Marsha Temlock September 05, 2011 at 12:45 AM
I'm with you on this one, Sid. I would love to see a local movie theater but not one that has a dozen stages.
Curious September 05, 2011 at 02:48 AM
I love it! "Sentence first, trial later!" Why don't we go to the hearing and learn the facts before we pass judgement.
Lisa Wexler September 05, 2011 at 04:29 PM
I agree with this op-ed piece and appreciate Save Westport Now and the people who care about the long-term look of Westport. I have started a petition drive here, pls sign if you are so inclined . http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/713/944/407/ The more important thing is to show up on Thursday night Sept 8th to hear the facts and voice your concerns. Lisa Wexler
michael calise September 05, 2011 at 05:46 PM
I love it the sentence is SIXTY FOOT BUILDINGS wake up!
John McCarthy September 06, 2011 at 12:19 PM
I agree with Michael. Everyone wants the theater, but people are using this desire behind the scenes to make zoning changes which could dramatically alter downtown.
John McCarthy September 06, 2011 at 12:19 PM
Ron, we've seen this movie before.
Carol Buffinton September 07, 2011 at 12:31 AM
Sign the petition, put it on your facebook wall and e mail the link to your friends. Red herrings are just that.
Curious September 07, 2011 at 03:05 AM
Wrong!
Doreen Miller October 14, 2011 at 01:38 PM
Mr. Kramer said it perfectly, let's not allow a commercial center when all we want is a downtown. The theatre doesn't have to be 60 feet! and it will be profitable if it meets the needs of the people who live here - shows (movie or live theatre) for little kids, older folks, teens and adults that are of quality, and not necessarily big box office. Wonderful independent and foreign films out there too.

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