Slowly but surely, says David Waldman, Westport’s attitude is starting to change when it comes to allowing for changes in regulations governing development.
“We’ve had some difficulties in my lovely town,” Waldman, the founder and president of David Adam Realty, said. “Westport has been shy when it comes to development.”
Now Waldman is — at least figuratively — heaving a sigh of relief, as a four-year struggle to build an office building and separate 16-unit luxury condo building at 54 Wilton Road looks to have finally come to a satisfying end. Development of the site — the former headquarters of international relief agency Save the Children, which relocated to Fairfield in 2014 after a group led by Waldman purchased the property for $11.9 million — is being undertaken by Waldman and Greenfield Partners.
Playing a role in the saga is Bedford Square, the 60,000-square-foot retail, restaurant, office and residential space on Main Street in downtown Westport whose driving force was Waldman, along with partners. Once the site of the Westport Weston Family YMCA — whose development of and move to its current site at 14 Allen Raymond Lane was itself an eight-year journey — it was acquired by Waldman’s Bedford Square Associates for a reported $20 million.
But heated debate with the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission over what Waldman’s $100 million Bedford Square would contain soon ensued — including a proposal to limit the size of retailers to 10,000 square feet, something that Waldman reportedly called during a 2014 commission meeting “counterproductive” and compared unfavorably with living in Russia.
While that hurdle was eventually cleared — anchor store Anthropologie & Co. consists of 35,000 square feet — things again proceeded slowly for the 16-unit building at 54 Wilton, with issues ranging from the physical size of the project to addressing affordable housing issues. The Planning and Zoning Commission maintains that most new residential projects must include an affordable housing component, but several of its members have said they would allow off-site affordable housing to be implemented as a way to meet the requirement.
Based on that, Waldman proposed a pair of potential off-site affordable housing locations, with the commission focusing on 87 Saugatuck Ave. Waldman said that, once approved, the Saugatuck project will provide three affordable housing units at a 40 percent SMI (state median income) level, “thereby making them truly affordable,” he said.
“At the end of the day it’s been very difficult to convince people in a town that’s sometimes averse to any change” of the benefits of bending or amending long-in-the-tooth rules, Waldman said. “But we have been very persistent.”
He cited the fact that Westport’s Planning and Zoning Commission has had a significant amount of turnover, with three of its members — two of whom had been appointed earlier to fill vacancies — elected to the commission in November. Those included Danielle Dobin, who has been strongly in favor of the off-site affordable housing alternative.
“The new commission is more inclined to be flexible, especially in the face of the state’s taking money” away from municipalities, Waldman declared.
The first phase of the Wilton Avenue project, a 26,000-square-foot office building, is already underway and should be wrapped by July 1, Waldman said. Groundbreaking on the condo phase is scheduled for September, with delivery due by late spring/early summer of 2020, he said.