By Thane Grauel
WESTPORT — Soil and rocks installed without required oversight at a waterfront property on the market for $13.5 million must be removed, the Planning and Zoning Commission ruled Thursday.
The P&Z’s vote came after an impassioned plea for action by a well-known neighbor of the Compo Mill Cove property who threatened to leave town over the issue, and the commission’s acting chairman called for a break to calm flaring tempers during the meeting conducted via Zoom.
The property in question is 50 Compo Mill Cove, on a spit of land across the footbridge east of Old Mill Beach. The house, owned by Dr. Pasquale Malpeso Jr., has four bedrooms, 3.5 baths, sits on 0.39 acres and currently is for sale for $3 million less than the original asking price.
It can be rented for $50,000 a month, according to realtor.com, or purchased for an estimated $56,000 monthly for mortgage, taxes and other fees. The site sits on Long Island Sound, or Compo Cove to be exact. To the north is the Sherwood Mill Pond.
To the east and west are neighbors, one of whom is very upset.
A slippery new beachfront slope
Malpeso had permission from the town and state to reslope a portion of the waterfront between the beach and the yard, after an old pool was removed. Peter Romano, of the engineering firm Landtech, said the state allowed sand to be used for the work, but it washed away several times.
Shorefront walls, as previously existed, now are not allowed by the state, he said.
Romano said his firm had been working on the project, but after a dispute between the contractor and Malpeso just days before a deadline set by the commission, it had become more involved.
His firm came up with a plan to use soil, landscape fabric and beach grass to secure the slope against the tides. Using sand as before, he said, proved futile.
Work is mostly complete, he said, except for planting the beach grass.
The issue before the Planning and Zoning Commission on Thursday was whether or not to modify the completion date of an earlier resolution, so the grass could be planted in the spring when it would have a better chance of taking hold.
Furor over owner’s history with town, neighbor’s objections
But Malpeso’s history with Town Hall, and neighbor Robin Tauck’s comments and photographs, muddied the waters and led to a lengthy, at times heated, discussion.
Tauck said the activities on her neighbor’s waterfront have contributed to a 10 percent erosion loss of her land, and rubble-like debris strewn across the beach.
Photographs she took in the recently excavated area, showing what appear to be two rows of stone blocks and a larger white formation poking up from the sand, were shared by P&Z staff via Zoom.
Tauck alleged that while doing the regrading, workers built a rock wall that was later buried.
“There was no wall there,” Tauck said of the structure in her photo. “Folks, there was no wall there. This has been created, and then mortared, and added to.”
While the sloping work had been approved by the commission, the P&Z staff was supposed to receive photographs of each stage as the project progressed. The staff was to be given written confirmation the work had been done correctly before the next stage could commence.
That didn’t happen. It wasn’t until the regrading was completed that photos were sent, staffers said.
Peter Gelderman, a town attorney, said there has been a decade-long history of enforcement actions against the property owner.
Consistent violator or erroneous statements?
“I have told [P&Z Chairwoman] Danielle Dobin that I am probably going to leave the town of Westport over this,” Tauck said when it appeared the commission might be ready to OK the work, if not with conditions.
She called Malpeso a consistent violator.
“I’m shocked,” she said, her voice shaking. “I have nothing more to say. I’m done.”
(In addition to the discussion of the town’s enforcement history with Malpeso, town land records show tax and sewer liens, as well as a cease-and-desist order, against him.)
Romano, who has worked in town for decades and told commission members he’d stake his reputation on the project being done correctly, responded to Tauck.
“People have a right to their opinions, but not the facts,” he said. “That is an erroneous statement.”
He said what Tauck called a wall is “clearly pieces of the previous pool that was there. To say those kinds of things about it and to not have any accountability for statements is contradictory to trying to get a resolution here.”
“And coming from a neighbor who has left her slope unprotected for the last year,” he said before being cut off by acting P&Z Chairman Paul Lebowitz (Dobin was absent).
Lebowitz called a five-minute break to calm the discussion.
Unanimous vote to rip out work, start project anew
Several commission members worried about acting in a punitive way, that could harm the environment or make problems worse for neighbors.
But their discussion indicated the tide was turning against the applicant, and that ripping out the soil and rocks, and doing it again with the required oversight, might be ordered.
Commission member Michael Cammeyer told Romano, “This has been extreme, we have been abused. We don’t like it, we’re not going to take it, and I hope your applicant never ends up before us again.”
Lebowitz asked Romano if he’d be willing to set up a camera so commission members could monitor the work.
“I want to be able to see it, infrared, at night, the whole nine yards,” Lebowitz said. “This applicant can certainly put that up and defend his work … a full-time, 24-hour monitor.”
The commission’s vote to rip out the work so the project can be redone was unanimous.
And, as a final action, the commission did vote that once the project is redone, the beach grass can be planted in the spring.