Town Hall at night. / Photo by Thane Grauel
Town Hall at night. / File photo

By Thane Grauel

WESTPORT — Five of the six candidates running for four open seats on the Planning and Zoning Commission discussed their positions on land use at a League of Women Voters debate Wednesday night.

The gathering was moderated by Laurel Anderson, who’s active in the LWV in Trumbull. It included incumbents Paul Lebowitz, a Democrat; Patrizia Zucaro, a Republican; John Bolton, a Republican alternate, and Amie Tesler, a Republican. Michael Calise, a former member and Republican, also took part. Joe Strickland, a candidate on the Coalition for Westport line who has served in various town positions, could not attend because he has Covid.

Because Strickland couldn’t be there, the league read a letter from him. He is chairman of the town’s Blight Board and the Public Building and Site Commission.

Joe Strickland.
Joe Strickland

“I have witnessed firsthand how our commitment to community has shaped us into what we are today,” he wrote. “Through the years we have preserved the heart and soul of Westport, and under my term as Planning and Zoning commissioner, I aim to continue to be that spirit, while recognizing that the world and our town is evolving at a fast pace. And we need to accommodate new ideas and perspectives brought here by our newest residents, while maintaining the strong values and sense of place created by the those that have come before them, and drew them to move here in the first place.”

He wrote that four issues came to mind — preserving the town’s heritage, embracing sustainability, supporting local businesses and building a sense of inclusion to attract a wide variety of citizens.

Anderson asked several questions during the 90-minute debate. The first was, what are your qualifications for being on Planning and Zoning?

Michael Calise.
Michael Calise

“My qualifications are my past history of involvement in the real estate industry and my participation in zoning functions throughout Westport for the last, greater than 50 years,” said Calise.

“I’ve gained a lot of knowledge, I know the regulations well, I have a deep understanding of what makes a community work,” he said. “I understand site function and design, it’s an area of great interest for me, and always has been.”

Tesler said her family moved to the town nine years ago. She has two children.

“I have worked about 25 or so years in New York City in the commercial and development domains,” she said. “Working with architects both domestically and internationally, general contractors, subcontractors, doing permitting, doing expediting, variances. It’s what I’ve done for eight, 10 hours a day, six days a week for over 20 years.”

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

“I’m a big believer in that if you want to enact change, you have to be a voice and step up and show your children and those around you that willing to do something,” Tesler said.

Lebowitz said he’s a 30-year resident and small business owner. He served three years on the Representative Town Meeting from District 6.

“In 2015, I ran for a won a seat on the Planning and Zoning Commission,” he said. “So I’ve served on the Planning and Zoning Commission now for eight years, first as a commissioner, then as the chairman, and now currently as the vice chairman.”

Planning and Zoning Commission Vice Chair Paul Lebowitz.
Paul Lebowitz

“During these eight years, I’m very proud to have led the efforts to revitalize downtown, by expanding what is allowed,” Lebowitz said. “For example, second-floor retailers finally are able to open. I’ve also helped expand Westport’s outdoor dining, and permitted the conversion of many vacant office buildings into new medical office facilities.”

He also mentioned construction of sidewalks, helping secure the town’s first 8-30(g) moratorium, and approving more than 160 units of affordable housing.

Zucaro said she grew up in Westport and graduated from Staples High School, UConn and Pace University Law School.

Patrizia Zucaro featured image
Patrizia Zucaro

“I have served this community on the Planning and Zoning Commission for two and a half years,” Zucaro said. “I’m running because I care about our community. I really care about Westport because it is my home …”

“Growing up here, I’ve learned to love and appreciate this small town, this small, quaint, vibrant town,” she said. “I want to foster that historic preservation while moving our beautiful town forward.”

“While on the commission, I have been reminded that Westport is the best place to live, work and raise a family,” she said. “I want to keep it that way. I want to use my experience as an attorney and as a P&Z commissioner to help Westport navigate its growth through sound development, cohesive townwide planning, and conscientious environmental considerations.”

Bolton said he moved to Westport in 1997 and is a proud Staples father. He’ practiced law for 33 years, and appeared before land-use boards throughout the region.

Planning and Zoning Commission member John Bolton.
John Bolton

“I understand the process very well,” Bolton said. “And it’s kind of nice to be on the other side for once.”

“I also am proud to be from 06880,” he said. “It has a very strong reach, and it was said at a zoning hearing a month or two ago that almost everything that goes on in this town passes through zoning. And so in many ways I am going to be, with my other commissioners, the gatekeeper to make sure things are being done in Westport to keep the quality of life in Westport Triple A, and to make sure also that we have a strong tax base.”

“It’s a balancing,” Bolton said. “Everything in zoning is a balance.”

Among the other questions from the moderator was what are the three most critical issues facing Westport, relating to planning and zoning, and why?

Tesler listed the state’s 8-30(g) affordable housing statute, traffic and overdevelopment.

Lebowitz said traffic, affordable housing and protecting open space.

Zucaro agreed with Tesler, but added the need for cohesive town planning, which she was most important to her.

Bolton listed affordable housing, quality of life and preserving and promoting the tax base.

Calise said he’s concerned about the aquifers, the amount of wastewater dumped into the Saugatuck River and the shortage of housing stock in every area.

The League of Women Voters will host two debates Thursday night at Town Hall — the first at 7 p.m. for candidates running for the Board of Education and another, set to start at 8:15 p.m., for candidates for the Board of Finance.

Thane Grauel grew up in Westport and has been a journalist in Fairfield County and beyond for 35 years. Reach him at editor@westportjournal.com. Learn more about us here.