79 Riverside Ave. / Google Maps
79 Riverside Ave. / Google Maps

By Thane Grauel

WESTPORT — A plan to build a small house on an undeveloped Riverside Avenue lot has been withdrawn from the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Updated plans are expected.

The application to build a structure with a 542-square-foot footprint at No. 79 Riverside was submitted in November by architect Lucien Vita. He is seeking to build a multilevel house on the .09-acre sliver of land along the Saugatuck River.

Because of its proximity to the waterway, it needs Coastal Area Management site plan approval.

The property was made a building lot in 1922, 15 years before the town adopted subdivision regulations. It abuts Eloise A. Ray Park, across from the bottom of Lincoln Street.

Vita noted in his original application that the structure was designed within zoning regulations rather than in a way that would require variances.

There have been a number of critical comments submitted to the commission about the application, largely rallied by Representative Town Meeting member Louis Mall, District 2, who lives a block and half up the hill from the park.

They urge the commission to deny the application and mention a variety of reasons that don’t appear within the purview of the P&Z in this case — bald eagles perching in an oak on the property, the need to preserve open space (the lot is privately owned), and “encroachment” on a town park.

So, why was the application withdrawn?

“Concerns were raised by the Connecticut DEEP [Department of Energy and Environmental Protection] regarding the retaining walls in the rear yard that may serve as flood and erosion control structures not consistent with the Coastal Management Act,” P&Z Department Planner Amanda Trianovich said Tuesday.

Vita wrote to Trianovich on Feb. 9 saying he’d be adjusting the plans.

“Concerning the proposed wall, structural solutions to flood and erosion problems are allowed by CCMA [Connecticut Coastal Area Management Act] policies only in very limited circumstances to protect residential structures existing before January 1, 1995,” environmental analyst Jason Hale of DEEP’s Land and Water Resources Division wrote to the Planning and Zoning Department in January.

A rendering of the house at 79 Riverside Ave., submitted in the initial filing with the Planning and Zoning Commission.

“Accordingly, no shoreline flood and erosion control structures such as seawalls can be allowed to protect new residential development from future flooding or erosion problems at the subject site,” Hale wrote.

“Therefore, the Commission needs to determine if the proposed walls will have the purpose or effect of controlling flooding or erosion from tidal, coastal, or navigable waters and therefore meet the definition of a shoreline flood and erosion control structure contained in Section 22a-109(c) of the CCMA. The applicant should also demonstrate to the Commission’s satisfaction that there are no feasible, less environmentally damaging alternatives to a wall such as the creation of a vegetated slope or the use of living shoreline techniques.”

The house plan has approvals from the Flood and Erosion Control Board and the Conservation Commission.

Vita could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Thane Grauel grew up in Westport and has been a journalist in Fairfield County and beyond for 36 years. Reach him at editor@westportjournal.com. Learn more about us here.