Woog's World: Longshore and the budget should show how Westport works together

Longshore Club Park, in Westport, Conn. June 1, 2022.

Longshore Club Park, in Westport, Conn. June 1, 2022.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

It’s easy for someone – a resident, a politician, a columnist – to fixate on things that are wrong.

Bad situations. Things that don’t work. Controversies. They’re all low-hanging fruit.

From time to time though, we should gaze higher in the tree. The branches there can be bountiful. The stories may not be as juicy. But they remind us that in a town that can be quite contentious, there’s a lot we can appreciate.The Longshore Capital Improvement Plan – a 10-year project aimed at refreshing one of the town’s true jewels – has something for everyone.

And something for everyone to not like.

Golfers are teed off that a new clubhouse – something they’ve waited 60 years for — would be located near the first tee, not more scenically on the water. The golf cart storage area would necessitate slogging through a crowded parking lot.

A proposed parking lot by the water, meanwhile, made waves with folks who want to enjoy the view. Others objected to the razing of a cabin traditionally reserved for town employees; the number and location of tennis courts, platform tennis courts and pickleball courts, and the possible danger of pedestrian paths near a golf course.

All of those are legitimate concerns. But let’s not forget that we’re talking about Longshore. The town of Westport purchased a failing country club in 1959, to prevent 168 acres of prime property from falling into the hands (and bulldozers) of a developer, salivating over the potential to build a couple of hundred homes.

It was believed to be the first municipally owned club in the country. It’s still one of the few. Westporters play golf and tennis at Longshore; we swim, skate, walk, bike and jog there. We dine at an excellent restaurant, and go to events at an inn. When we turn into the handsome, tree-lined entrance – untouched, after an earlier uproar, by the capital improvement plan planners – we feel peaceful, free and easy.

Soon there will be pickleball there too. Whether you play or not, that sounds like a good idea.

Who will pay for this? And for the other capital improvement plans looming ahead: a new Long Lots Elementary School (and possibly Coleytown Elementary too)? A new fire headquarters too, quite possibly?

All of us. That’s part of what it means to live in a community: paying a fair share for the good of all, even if we don’t, personally, benefit from every penny.

Fortunately, we’ve got a smart, realistic, sober-minded and collaborative group of men and women who will oversee the process. The Board of Finance takes its job seriously. They spent hours – days and months, really – poring over budgets, line after numbing line. They ask questions, make projections, suggest tweaks, demand cuts.

They do it calmly, politely, without rancor. It’s a far cry from years past, when – as sure as the maple sap ran – budget season meant partisan battles, cries of outrage, pointed fingers and, inevitably, a referendum (which itself cost money).

Bipartisanship is just a memory in Washington today. But it lives on, and flourishes, in Westport.

The Board of Finance budget must be approved, of course, by the Representative Town Meeting. Ours is non-partisan. Its members are liberals and conservatives, men and women, old and young. Some are woke; others, proud that they’re not. All meet once a month (and, more often, in smaller committees). They listen to each other talk, question, debate and pontificate. Then they vote.

It’s not quite the old New England “town meeting.” But it’s nothing like the city council meetings we see in other places. Our RTM works. And the only reason it does is because we trust our neighbors – our representatives – to make it work.

Another area of frequent contention is affordable housing. It’s a statewide crisis, and one that has Hartford focusing on Westport, and other towns like ours. There is no easy solution, and a one-size-fits-all approach will not work either.

But – as a long-time Westporter – I get the sense that we have moved from a cover-our-eyes-and-ears-and-pretend-it-will-go-away denial approach, to one of “let’s figure out what works, for us and those who need it.”

A realistic Planning and Zoning Commission has worked tirelessly, both behind the scenes and in public, to come up with workable ideas. Cluster housing and accessory dwelling units are two of them. Finding the right sites is difficult, but they are working with state and local officials, and private developers, to figure out how our town can do its share, sensibly and effectively.

Westport will continue to argue about – well, just about everything. It’s in our DNA.

But as spring beckons, the weather warms and we head outside, let’s take a good look at the town around us.

There’s a lot to like – and even love.

Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog's World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at dwoog@optonline.net. His personal blog is danwoog06880.com.