Jesup Green. / Photo by Thane Grauel
Jesup Green / Photo by Thane Grauel

By Thane Grauel

WESTPORT — The Representative Town Meeting on Wednesday made it clear that it would not allow any part of Jesup Green to be paved over to replace parking lost elsewhere.

In a debate rekindled from the embers of six-and-a-half hour meeting overnight Tuesday into Wednesday, RTM members rejected some proposed amendments to the resolution — including one floated by the first selectwoman — and passed one that made it clear a $630,000 appropriation using federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to redesign Jesup Green and the Imperial Avenue lot could not be used to design parking on the green.

In the earlier meeting, a lot of things happened, including passage of an amended resolution adding language saying parking at the police station would be considered and the possibility of a parking deck on either side of the Post Road should be explored.

But a couple things didn’t happen.

One of them — no language was added guaranteeing Jesup wouldn’t be paved over.

That caused confusion and differing opinions over whether the green was indeed protected. Some felt they’d had a solid commitment from First Selectwoman Jennifer Tooker. Others thought whatever assurances were made were vague at best.

The other thing that didn’t happen was a final vote, something of a procedural hiccup.

The RTM uses Robert’s Rules of Order to guide its proceedings. Moderator Jeff Wieser apologetically told members Wednesday night that he should have called one final vote that early morning, to pass the amended resolution as the main resolution.

To the chagrin of some Wednesday night, that crack in the door kick-started the debate that had gone so late just hours before.

Longtime member Wendy Batteau, District 8, having attended the long meeting the night before, reviewed the town’s recording of it.

‘We weren’t given any of those assurances on the record … for that reason, I think it is a good idea to put in some language.’

wendy batteau

“I voted yes last night because I was given assurances that Jesup Green would not be developed and that the only use that would be explored of Jesup Green was to increase green space,” she said.

“Today I went back and I listened to the whole meeting … and we weren’t given any of those assurances on the record,” Batteau said. “… for that reason, I think it is a good idea to put in some language.”

Member Melissa Levy, District 2, made a motion to amend the resolution as it last stood, adding a parking study and language protecting the green.

It read:

“To take such action as the meeting may determine upon the recommendation of the Board of Finance and a request by the director of public works to approve an appropriation of $630,000 from the American Rescue Plan Act fund for design of the redevelopment of Taylor Parking Lot, the Imperial lot, police station land, the exploration of structured parking using an updated parking study. In addition we are unanimously eliminating the option for design or creation of parking on Jesup Green.”

Seth Braunstein, District 6, took the podium and called it “Déjà vu all over again.”

But there were differences from the night before, he said.

“We don’t have proper notice … there’s no one from the public here, because no one knew we were going to have this discussion tonight,” he said. “There’s no one from the town here, because they didn’t know we were going to have this discussion tonight apparently either until the last minute.”

He suggested the RTM honor the spirit of what members thought was adopted the night before.

“Any effort to amend what was agreed to last night, and again, barring the procedural error, is in bad faith,” Braunstein said.

Before a vote was taken on Levy’s amendment, Tooker called in and suggested her own amendment.

Public Works officials, RTM members and others at Jesup Green.
Public Works officials, RTM members and others at Jesup Green.

“The wording I’m suggesting is, ‘As part of the design phase, we will prioritize pursuing an alternative to the P&Z Coastal Plan approval, specifically the Jesup Green portion of the approval,’” Tooker said.

Prioritizing pursuing something struck some as suspiciously squishy.

“I’m not a land-use body, and the RTM is not a land-use body,” Tooker said, repeating what appeared the talking point du jour.

“I thought I was on record for that last night, I will be on record for it again tonight,” Tooker said. “I heard you loud and clear last night.”

Planning and Zoning Commission Vice Chairman Neil Cohn then said that changing what was approved by the P&Z would mean the matter would have to go back to that body.

“The problem with that amendment is saying you’re going to change the site plan of the P&Z,” he said. “That can’t be changed without going back in front of the P&Z.”

‘It still evades the nut — which is take Jesup off the table.’

toni simonetti

Toni Simonetti, a member of the public, questioned whether it was appropriate for the first selectwoman to propose amendments.

“Am I the only one who’s a little flabbergasted that the first selectwoman just dictated a motion for this body?” she asked.

“We are on such new ground here,” Wieser told her. “Nothing like this has ever happened.”

“She has heard us,” he said of Tooker, “and she is trying to be accommodating. I would just say she is being responsive to the RTM, which I think is what for months people have been asking for the RTM to demand.”

‘I would just say she is being responsive to the RTM, which I think is what for months people have been asking for the RTM to demand.’

jeff wieser, regarding the first selectwoman

“In that spirit, I believe you,” Simonetti said. “And I believe that she is really trying to accommodate getting this thing passed. But it still evades the nut — which is take Jesup off the table.”

“I’m also flabbergasted that the first selectwoman came to make an amendment because last time I checked, she was not a member of the RTM,” said former member Harris Falk, before an exchange with Wieser and Deputy Moderator Lauren Karpf, who he appears to have thought was laughing at him.

“It’s repugnant, it’s repulsive that this happens,” Falk said of Tooker’s involvement. “The town deserves better than this.”

“We shouldn’t be governing based upon blogs,” Lou Mall, District 2, observed. “And what people say and react to the bloggers.”

Tooker’s suggested amendment went down to defeat in a 6-29 vote.

Levy’s amendment also was voted down, 10-25.

That left the previous meeting’s amended resolution the last on the dance floor.

‘We shouldn’t be governing based upon blogs. And what people say and react to the bloggers.’

lou mall

Batteau suggested adding the wording, “provided however that no portion of the funds shall be used to design or construct parking on any portion of Jesup Green.”

A simple hands-off-Jesup clause that was lacking in the early-morning version.

Wieser whittled out the word “construct” because construction is not yet requested.

Batteau’s revamped motion read:

“Resolved, that upon the recommendation of the Board of Finance and the request by the director of public works that the sum of $630,000 from the American Rescue Plan Act fund for the design of Jesup Green, the Imperial lot, the police station land and the exploration of a green parking structure north and south of the Post Road is hereby appropriated, however, that no portion of the funds shall be used to design parking on any portion of Jesup Green.”

It appeared to pass 17-13, with 5 abstentions.

Wieser said another vote was needed, despite some murmurs from the attendees, to then pass that amended motion as the main motion.

Few are intimately familiar with Robert’s Rules, so proceedings following them can be like watching a shell game in the subway.

“This is the mistake we made last night,” Wieser said, adding that if the vote failed, then they’d have to vote on the original main motion.

So, Batteau’s amended motion, built upon that proposed by the night before by Kristin Mott Purcell, District 1, faced one last vote. It passed 23-10.

Thane Grauel grew up in Westport and has been a journalist in Fairfield County and beyond for 36 years. Reach him at editor@westportjournal.com. Learn more about us here.