A view of the undeveloped Baron’s South property, which has been the subject of debate since the town acquired the tract in 1999. / Photo by Gary Webster

By Gretchen Webster

WESTPORT — Language was the focal point when the Planning and Zoning Commission discussed — yet again — what kind of activities should be permitted on the Baron’s South property.  

The definition of words such as “organized,” “passive” and “recreation,” among other terms, caused difficulties when the town-owned property was first zoned, and the language regarding permitted uses remains at issue in a proposed amendment to allow more activities at the park, P&Z members agreed at Thursday’s meeting.

“Flawed” language

“That’s the problem, the language is flawed,” said Danielle Dobin, the P&Z chairwoman. Definition of the terms used in the zoning regulations must be clear “so everyone is on the same page without having some subjective opinion on the language,” she said.

Dobin and several others P&Z members favor permitting broader use of the park so that school groups, the senior center and others can hold more organized activities there, such as yoga classes or educational field trips. 

Currently, they say, such activities are not permitted on the undeveloped 23-acre property under terms of the existing zoning rules.

Make property more accessible, but add no facilities

 “We want to make sure that the Baron’s property becomes more accessible,” Dobin added. “It is one of our underutilized open spaces.” 

She assured the commission that an earlier plan to allow pickleball courts to be constructed on the property was no longer on the table and that the draft amendment would not permit the addition of any permanent facilities.

The commission Thursday was considering whether to hold a public hearing on the draft amendment and not on whether to approve amendment itself. 

Why change regulations if “passive” activities already are OK?

All of the commissioners voted to bring the amendment to a public hearing, except Amie Tesler Bentley. She said she didn’t understand why the existing zoning rules need to be changed if the new amendment still would allow only what is called “passive” activity.

“Isn’t passive use allowed now?” Bentley asked. “Why are we doing this? We need to get the park in order first,” she said, including improving access to the property and paths within the park, before considering re-zoning the area. 

Last week, the P&Z’s Zoning Regulation Revision Subcommittee discussed the draft amendment for Baron’s South, and heard from a representative of the senior center and some Representative Town Meeting members on their views regarding how the town-owned land should be used.

The subcommittee voted to pass the amendment on to the full P&Z, which now will set a date for a public hearing on the draft amendment.

“We definitely need to bring the text amendment up for public hearing, so we can talk through it,” P&Z member Michael Cammeyer said before the vote. 

The P&Z’s next scheduled meeting is Thursday, Jan. 27. The commission’s regular meeting on Jan. 20 has been canceled.