44 Westport Road neighbors: Lot isn't right for high-density development

Three concerns — over safety, setting precedent, and existing alternatives — are causing neighbors of 44 Westport Road to question the site’s suitability for 20 units of high-density housing.

That’s what developer Patrick Downend hopes to do with the site, having submitted plans to Planning & Zoning that show his intent to build a housing complex on the one-acre lot. That complex would include six units of affordable housing.

One neighbor, Lisa Huff of Dudley Road, said Thursday the top concern of her neighbors is the proposed development’s negative effect on an already unsafe street.

Ms. Duff is the resident behind the Facebook group Save 44 Westport Road, and shares a property line with the proposed lot.

Noting that Westport Road (also known as Route 33) is heavily used by commuters going to and from the Merritt Parkway, Ms. Huff said “people are in a hurry” on the road.

“They’re zooming around corners, and it gets very congested. It’s not just the number of cars, the overall flow of traffic is unsafe.”

Both Ms. Huff and her neighbor, Bob Kettle, said they believe the development of 44 Westport Road would be a danger to the safety of families who live in the area, and to the safety of drivers on the road.

The property proposed for development is located within 100 feet of three side roads off State Route 33 — Dudley Road, Ridge Lane and Clover Drive.

A new entrance onto Westport Road, neighbors say, would create extra competition between cars at each existing entrance, as opportunities to get onto the state road are few.

“There are small windows [of entry], so people take chances they may otherwise not be taking,” Ms. Huff said.

The intersection of Westport and Dudley roads, neighbors say, is a neighborhood that has also seen a recent increase in car accidents.

According to the application for development of 44 Westport Road, for three years — from 2010 to 2012 — the intersection of Route 33 and Dudley Road saw six accidents.

But documents acquired by neighbors from Wilton police show that over the last 17 months there have been six at the intersection.

Precedent and alternatives

Neighbors of the area also say the allowance of such high-density housing at 44 Westport Road would set a dangerous zoning precedent.

Because a large sewer line runs up Westport Road, Mr. Kettle said Thursday “whatever they do here, they can logically propose anywhere on Westport Road” that is a one-acre lot.

While both neighbors stressed they were not opposed to high-density development, they felt there are more appropriate locations elsewhere.

“It not only sets a dangerous precedent, there are better alternatives,” Mr. Kettle said. “Route 7 has quite a few high-density and various-density developments including senior housing near the train tracks. Those areas have wider access points and access to sewers and water.”

Forty-four Westport Road, on the other hand, is not the right lot for high-density housing neighbors say, especially compared to Avalon — which has 10 fewer units per acre than this proposal.

“It’s an attempt to squeeze something out of size and out of character into a neighborhood in a town that is making great steps and good progress in offering affordable housing and high-density development,” Mr. Kettle said.

A portion of the home at 44 Westport Road was originally built in 1759 to provide housing for slaves who worked at the Lilacstead Estate, The Bulletin reported in an article in December 1961.

According to that article, the center-most portion of the main house was the original slave quarters.

“The original slave quarters consisted of two rooms, each measuring about 12 by 15 feet and divided by a central chimney,” the author, Bob Carboni wrote.

Quarters built specifically for slaves would have been fairly uncommon in Colonial Wilton, as former First Selectman Bob Russell explains in his History of Wilton, because few slaves lived in town.

In a 1790 census, for instance, only 12 slaves were owned in town.

While the existence of a rumored underground tunnel from Westport Road to a home at 150 Danbury Road could not be validated by The Bulletin in 1961, Mr. Carboni noted in the article “a tunnel entrance that has been uncovered in the north wall of the Lilacstead [Estate’s] cellar evidently leads to another slaves quarters” on Danbury Road.