A rendering of the Hamlet at Saugatuck.
Architect’s drawings of the proposed “Hamlet at Saugatuck” development in the riverfront neighborhood. / ROAN Ventures
And updated conceptual rendering of the Hamlet at Saugatuck.

By Thane Grauel

WESTPORT — The public had its final chance to comment Monday on the “Hamlet at Saugatuck,” a transformational plan for the waterfront neighborhood.

The Planning and Zoning Commission closed its public hearing on the text amendment proposed by ROAN Ventures to rezone the area between Railroad Place, Charles Street, Franklin Street and the Saugatuck River.

The public hearing had stretched over several meetings.

Several people spoke Monday night at the P&Z’s online meeting. Many identified themselves as investors, speaking in favor of what was said to be a $250 million project. Others spoke against it. Some people were somewhere in between.

Enough commission members expressed favorable opinions of the plan, or at least as it evolved over the course of the meetings, that it appears a majority will back some version of the plan.

Commission members Amie Tesler and Patrizia Zucaro were not among them.

“I don’t know why it has to be this huge endeavor and this huge thing,” Planning and Zoning Commission member Amie Tesler said Monday about the “Hamlet at Saugatuck” project. / Screenshot by Thane Grauel

“I still think it’s way too big,” Zucaro said.

“I just think it’s so much for a small area,” Tesler said. “And I know everyone’s saying ‘change is inevitable, and this has to happen.’ 

“I don’t understand why anything has to happen there,” Tesler added. “I think what gives it the saltiness and grit of New England in Westport … I don’t know why it has to be this huge endeavor and this huge thing.”

P&Z Chairwoman Danielle Dobin had a slide presentation for attendees, explaining how Westport will be subject to housing applications brought under the state’s 8-30g affordable housing law when its moratorium lapses in March. The presentation showed large, multi-story apartment complexes that have been proposed in nearby towns, including New Canaan.

“It’s not make-believe, it’s not fanciful,” Dobin said of the projects. “It’s definitely a likely probability.”

The Hamlet developers have agreed to set aside 25 percent of the proposed housing units as “affordable” in compliance with state criteria. If the plan is approved, it could help Westport qualify for new 8-30g moratoriums.

Joseph Vallone, a local architect, said he’d been before planning boards in three states.

“You have a lot more power than you think you,” he said. “The idea that you are going to make a decision based on potential fear of tomorrow I don’t think is real leadership. I think you really need to give this project a very severe analysis.”

The commission voted unanimously to close the public hearing.

A recent rendering of the Hamlet at Saugatuck, showing reduced heights of buildings using a terraced effect, and with buildings farther from the shore of the Saugatuck River.
A recent rendering of the Hamlet at Saugatuck, showing reduced heights of buildings using a terraced effect, and with buildings farther from the shore of the Saugatuck River.

“Closing this application does not mean that it is approved, it doesn’t mean that it’s denied,” Dobin said. “It doesn’t mean anything other than we are no longer receiving any public testimony …”

Dobin thanked everyone for attending the hearings. She called the plan “one of the most consequential applications for Westport since I’ve lived there, certainly for a decade.”

The workshop discussion by the commission will begin at the next meeting, 7 p.m. Dec. 5.

Thane Grauel, executive editor, grew up in Westport and has been a journalist in Fairfield County and beyond more than three decades. Reach him at editor@westportjournal.com. Learn more about us here.