This stone wall in front of 174 Hillspoint Road, built in the town’s right-of-way, must be removed after the Board of Selectwomen rejected the property owners’ request for a waiver to allow it to continue standing. / File photos
Gwen Baker, owner of 174 Hillspoint Road, told the selectwomen the encroaching fieldstone wall in front of the couple’s property had not been cited as a safety issue during the many years prior to their ownership. Enforcement now, she said, seems “random.”

By John Schwing

WESTPORT — The wall must fall.

That was the verdict Wednesday as the Board of Selectwomen denied a waiver of the town’s policy prohibiting structures from encroaching on municipal property, which was sought by the owners of a Hillspoint Road property.

David and Gwen Baker, who recently acquired 174 Hillspoint Road where they plan to tear down the existing house and build a new home, petitioned the selectwomen to grant an encroachment waiver allowing a 75-foot-long fieldstone wall — built in the town’s right-of-way in the 1980s — to remain in front of their property.

The application was denied unanimously by the three selectwomen, agreeing the Bakers failed to adequately demonstrate the “good cause shown,” as described in the regulations, to be granted a waiver.

The request, which initially came before the board in December, was opposed by the town’s Engineering Department.

Town Engineer Keith Wilberg, as he had at the earlier meeting, reiterated the engineering staff routinely opposes granting encroachment waivers, particularly in cases such as the Bakers’ where new construction gives officials an opportunity “to rectify” any code violations.

Town Engineer Keith Wilberg, left, and Bryan Nesteriak of B&B Engineering, representing the owners of 174 Hillspoint Road, during Wednesday’s meeting of the Board of Selectwomen in Town Hall.

Not only is the wall clearly built in the town’s right-of way, Wilberg said, but it stands in the path of a new, wider sidewalk currently being designed for that stretch of Hillspoint Road.

That project, which officials said is already funded, is part of an effort to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety along the “busy corridor,” according to First Selectwoman Jennifer Tooker.

Bryan Nesteriak of B&B Engineering, representing the owners, noted the violation existed long before the Bakers purchased the property and contended that its removal for a wider sidewalk would pose “alignment” problems with neighboring properties.

“It’s not hurting anything,” he added.

Gwen Baker also came to the Town Hall podium to further explain the waiver request, saying the wall has not been cited as a safety issue and stands along what she said is one of the widest points in Hillspoint Road.

She also said that no other town officials raised questions about the stone wall as the couple’s plans to tear down and build anew on their property moved through the approval process.

A refusal to grant the waiver “does not seem right,” Baker said. “It seems random.”

Tooker, however, noted that such issues regarding town property — and violation of those regulations — are solely the jurisdiction of the Board of Selectwomen and would not have arisen during the project’s review by other officials.

Several times during the discussion, the first selectwoman also underscored the importance of complying with the town’s policy prohibiting any encroachments in its right-of-way.

Selectwoman Candice Savin, who raised questions about whether there might be options for a compromise on the situation, ultimately decided the Bakers’ application did not cross “the hurdle” set by the rules to qualify for a waiver.

Selectwoman Andrea Moore agreed, and the board’s vote to reject the waiver application was unanimous.

John Schwing, the Westport Journal consulting editor, has held senior editorial and writing posts at southwestern Connecticut media outlets for four decades. Learn more about us here.