A conceptual rendering of the Hamlet at Saugatuck.
A conceptual rendering of the Hamlet at Saugatuck.

By Thane Grauel

WESTPORT — The Planning and Zoning Commission on Monday night continued to review a request to amend its regulations for a major development in Saugatuck.

The Hamlet at Saugatuck proposal by ROAN Ventures seeks zoning changes so several old buildings could be razed and replaced with structures up to five-stories tall between Railroad Place, Franklin Street, Charles Street and the Saugatuck River.

The development plans call for a mix of retail, residential and restaurant spaces, as well as a hotel.

First, however, the project will need the commission to approve a text amendment and map amendment.

During Monday’s Zoom meeting, the applicant discussed a variety of changes already made to the proposed text amendment in response to extensive questions from P&Z members and staff.

Chairwoman Danielle Dobin said she wanted the commission to address the topic of height. Members had a variety of opinions about the five-story buildings request.

“Do I believe it’s appropriate to have a lot of height right on the river? No, for a variety of reasons,” she said.

The applicant team for the Hamlet at Saugatuck during Monday's Planning and Zoning Commission meeting.
The applicant team for the Hamlet at Saugatuck during Monday’s Planning and Zoning Commission meeting.

“I don’t generally believe five-story buildings are appropriate anywhere in Westport,” Dobin said. “I don’t know that it’s inappropriate on some parts of this lot.”

Jon Olefson said he was still thinking it through.

“This particular site may actually merit or warrant the ability to do something,” Paul Lebowitz said. “If you’re going to consider height in this section, my feeling is that there are certain must-haves in order to put a building in there.”

“For instance, I would not want to see it tower above the water,” Lebowitz said. “I wouldn’t want to see it anywhere near the water, in fact.”

“I also wouldn’t want to see it hard-up against any particular street,” he said. “I think that the setback has to be done correctly.”

Neil Cohn said that in the context of where the project is proposed “I am not that disturbed by the height.”

“We have [Interstate] 95, the big electrical towers,” he said. “Those are not that attractive.”

“If we could bring something up there that actually improves the skyline, then I’m OK with it,” he said.

Planning and Zoning Commission member Amie Tesler at Monday night's meeting.
Planning and Zoning Commission member Amie Tesler at Monday night’s meeting.

“If it’s done correctly, it could be an actual gem for the town,” he said.

Amie Tesler said the height was “in-congruent with Saugatuck and what’s currently there, and just typically for a small New England town.”

“I just don’t understand what we’re trying to do,” she said. “I spoke to some other people. They left the city for a reason. They want a small town. They don’t want to be looking at big buildings when they get off.”

“Yes, it’s walkable and it’s so great, but I feel like so many people made a conscious effort to come to this small community for a small-town feel. To me, my mind … this is against everything this town purports to be.”

“So, no, I’m not OK with the height, especially on the water,” she said.

Michael Cammeyer said he had mixed feelings.

“Thinking about what’s there now, I’m OK with some height,” he said.

He said he had some concerns about the sun being blocked, especially on the water. “So, keep that in mind,” he said. “Where the sun rises, where the sun sets, how it comes up and over.”

There were a few dozen people online for Hamlet discussion, but only one person from the public spoke.

Matthew Mandell, a Representative Town Meeting member from District 1, which includes Saugatuck, at Monday's Planning and Zoning Commission meeting.
Matthew Mandell, a Representative Town Meeting member from District 1, which includes Saugatuck, at Monday’s Planning and Zoning Commission meeting.

Matthew Mandell, a Representative Town Meeting member from District 1, which includes Saugatuck, discussed many aspects of the plan.

He urged the commission to hire an expert consultant to help discern what the text amendment language might actually mean when it came to a development plan.

Lebowitz backed that request, but Planning and Zoning Director Mary Young said an applicant could not be compelled to fund such a consultant.

Eric Bernheim, the lawyer for ROAN Ventures, said that applicants and P&Z staff had enough knowledgeable people to provide that information. It appeared the request fizzled.

P&Z members tentatively continued the hearing to its Oct. 24 meeting. That meeting might be in-person. It’s possible the commission might set a special meeting in early November that would focus solely on the Hamlet plan.

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.