A view of the 1 Glendinning property from Ford Road. / Photo by Thane Grauel
A view of the 1 Glendinning property from Ford Road. / Photo by Thane Grauel

By Thane Grauel

WESTPORT — The Planning and Zoning Commission on Monday took its first look at a proposed text amendment that would enable construction of 10 residential structures at the Glendinning Place corporate campus.

During a public hearing, it discussed the future of the old home of Bridgewater Associates, just north of the Merritt Parkway. The office building, built in 1966, will remain.

It appeared to have a warm reception from commission members.

But neighbors expressed concerns including traffic, the fragile environment where several waterways meet, and the ability of the land to handle septic systems.

And an uneasy focus appeared to be on the developer’s dedication of units for special needs housing, which would boost the town’s effort to reach another moratorium on the state’s 8-30g affordable housing guidelines.

The latest plan by Glendinning Westport LLC calls for eight detached market rate single-family homes on a northern portion of the property. Two other buildings would contain three efficiency studios in each to house five special needs individuals, plus a support staff person.

The inclusion of housing for people with special needs was a touchy issue, viewed suspiciously by some as a way to move the project along, welcomed by others.

“There’s a lot of really good housing here for people that need it,” said member Neil Cohn. “I think this use is in line with what should be in a residential neighborhood as it is.”

The town is seeking a new moratorium from the state’s 8-30g affordable housing legislation, which gives developers considerable leeway when building in municipalities that haven’t met the state’s benchmarks for affordable housing stock.

Land-use consultant Rick Redniss is handling the application on behalf of the owner, which bought the roughly 16-acre property for $10.6 million in September 2023. One of the principals is David Waldman of David Adam Realty in Westport. With partners, he developed Bedford Square and the Bankside House condos on Wilton Road.

Gloria Gouveia, a consultant hired by the neighbors, questioned the wisdom of housing people with special needs in a setting far from the services and amenities they might need.

‘These two buildings are being proposed in such isolated environments where the residents will not be able to walk anywhere, they will be completely, completely reliant upon someone providing them with transportation’
gloria gouveia

Gouveia mentioned she had two relatives with special needs and that she served on the board of STAR.

“As a relative of family members who depended on specialized housing for them to thrive, I have to tell you, the idea of creating two housing developments so remote from town services, from transportation, from medical needs, from shopping needs, from social needs, from recreation, from the need to be able to be able to engage in community events like parades or special events down on the green …”

“These two buildings are being proposed in such isolated environments where the residents will not be able to walk anywhere, they will be completely, completely reliant upon someone providing them with transportation,” Gouveia said.

She also objected to the application on the grounds it didn’t conform to the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development.

Planning and Zoning Director Mary Young noted that plan is something that needs to be considered by the P&Z, but, “It is an advisory document, it is not binding.”

The neighbors invoking concerns about locating people with special needs there, and how could they get around, did not play well.

“It’s a beautiful, beautiful neighborhood, and people with special needs should be allowed to live there,” Redniss said.

“It’s not the special needs housing,” said Jenn DeLeonardo, an abutting neighbor. “In fact, I would challenge you to make all the 10 of those special needs housing, then you would not hear a peep from me. It’s the eight market-rate homes that are coming along with the special needs housing. That’s the issue.”

Adam Frey and Jenn Leonardo.
Adam Frey and Jenn DeLeonardo

Neighbor Adam Frey said he thought it “disingenuous” to say the health district had positive feedback.

“They still had concerns about significant bacteria levels,” he said.

“I think your traffic study was incredibly disingenuous,” Frey said.

Kathryn Turley-Sonne.
Kathryn Turley-Sonne

Kathryn Turley-Sonne, a mother a neuro-divergent adult, also spoke.

“I’d just like to say some of these comments about typical housing and typical transportation are a little naive,” she said. “Because there is not typical housing and there is not typical transportation for these neuro-divergent adults that live in our community.”

“Many of the parents in this community are sending their children a hundred-plus miles away to find housing and community. And it makes it really difficult to stay connected as a parent, as a community.”

“I’m so grateful to David and to his group that they are starting encourage this in our community, and to create opportunities in our community because there are none,” Turley-Sonne said.

“And to imagine that my daughter could live 10 minutes away from me is like a dream come true,” she said. “I would have no problem getting in a car and transporting them everywhere.”

‘To imagine that my daughter could live 10 minutes away from me is like a dream come true. I would have no problem getting in a car and transporting them everywhere.’
Kathryn turley-Sonne

Redniss told P&Z Chairman Paul Lebowitz he’d like to address some of the points made.

Rick Redniss.
Rick Redniss.

“This has been an unusual application with unusual comments,” he said. “I try to listen and understand where people come from, I’m having a little difficulty with some it here.”

“When you hear that if this were all special needs housing it would be OK, really?” he said. “An all-special needs housing on septic systems is OK?”

“An all-special needs housing in terms of the environment and the existence and the trees is OK, if it’s all special needs?” he said.

“So, there’s something wrong with market-rate housing,” Redness said. “So, that’s unusual …”

DeLeonardo tried to break in.

“Excuse me, excuse me,” Redniss said.

“A lot of times we hear that they don’t want the affordable housing in their neighborhood so it’s very unusual and we haven’t had a chance to talk or talk these things through.”

He said special needs housing would require septic, and all the same issues.

“With a lot of these applications, if not here, where?” Redniss asked. “Someone else’s neighborhood?”

He then detailed his history of working on affordable housing issues with the town.

“When you got your first moratoria,” he said of relief from the state’s 8-30g housing legislation,
“Seven out of the first 10 projects that got you those points I had the pleasure of working with you on.”

“So, when I’m called disingenuous, it really kind of rubs me the wrong way,” he said. “Disingenuous about traffic from 10 residences …”

‘To those who oppose this right now I would ask that you try to refrain from advocating on distance and transportation needs of those who live there. It’s patronizing and it does not come across well.’
john bolton

Lebowitz asked him to focus back on the application. “I know you’re passionate, so I appreciate that,” he said.

Member John Bolton wanted to weigh in before the commission agreed to keep the public hearing open.

“To those who oppose this right now I would ask that you try to refrain from advocating on distance and transportation needs of those who live there,” he said. “It’s patronizing and it does not come across well.”

“There’s also something called the Americans with Disabilities Act, and that’s something that someone could zero in on,” he said.

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.