The Hamlet intends to ‘revitalize’ Saugatuck, faces premature opposition
Uncertainty surrounds Westport while local real estate company ROAN Ventures has proposed a plan to implement affordable housing, a hotel and commerce on Saugatuck’s shoreline.
BY TOBY GOLDFARB
ROAN Ventures announced plans to enliven the coastal Saugatuck area by catalyzing commerce and safeguarding access to Westport’s cherished waterfront.
Designed to be “an oasis of comfort, optimism and nostalgia,” the project, entitled The Hamlet, intends to utilize the land over the railroad — and between the train station parking lot and interstate-95. Proposed infrastructure includes new affordable housing developments, a hotel and local artisanal businesses. If approved, the plan is projected to be finished in 2026.
“Well, the once quaint Saugatuck is being slated for high density stacked overdevelopment by people who left the city for Westport’s historical and aesthetically pleasing small town charm,” Edward Bonaham wrote in the comments of the 06880 blog post. “All the history, all of what was given to us by the little Italy that once existed, is now going to be ripped up for profit and greed by developers.”
A few skeptical community members have voiced their concern over the potential plan, claiming that the construction would ruin Westport’s historical restaurants and landmarks.
The currently proposed architecture is another topic of concern for Westport residents, as its design largely juxtaposes the historical feel of the Saugatuck coast, according to Bonaham. Most of the proposed infrastructure plans utilize current parking lots, and Westport residents worry about overall parking and traffic concerns.
However, some Westporters are excited by the prospect of the implementation of The Hamlet, as they claim that Westport lacks proper commerce near the waterfront as well as a hotel for visitors. Eva Simonte, who has lived in Westport for 13 years and the Saugatuck area for four, is apprehensive about the impact of the project on Saugatuck’s lower income residents, but looks forward to potentially furthering economic activity on the shoreline.
“The Hamlet on Saugatuck project is complicated,” Eva Simonte said. “However, it’s going to really help the town because it’s going to bring a lot more tourism which has potential because even the few businesses that are currently there already get a lot of customers, which is good for the town’s economy and the overall culture.”
Though these plans were recently publicized, the Planning & Zoning Commission of Westport has yet to review the proposition. Part of their consideration will be the affordable housing component. Due to Connecticut’s regulations, 20% of Westport’s houses need to be affordable. Other Westport real estate initiatives approved by the P&Z board include Daybreak Commons.
When a new development has been proposed, the plan will be brought before the P&Z board for a multi-step official hearing. The first step is approving the redesignation of an area of land. In this case, ROAN Ventures proposed a new zone called General Business District/Saugatuck Marina that covers a rectangle of land near the Westport train station (see here for specific plan). This hearing will most likely occur within the next three weeks.
If the zoning is approved, the P&Z will hold another hearing where they evaluate the architectural plans. Factors in their consideration at this point will include public safety, aesthetics, traffic, parking and more. At the earliest, according to Michael Cammeyer, member of the Planning & Zoning Commission, these plans would be officially proposed late 2022 or early 2023.
“We’ll listen to the plan, the people and the neighbors to come to a final decision,” Michael Cammeyer, member of P&Z, said.
Though premature, there has been minimal opposition from the fire department, health district and the parks and recreation department.
“My main concern is the traffic congestion the project could generate,” police department’s Staff Corporal Alan D’Amura wrote in a publicized email. “We currently receive many complaints about traffic in this area and how it impacts commuters and residents daily.”
D’Amura has requested a traffic study in order to “to see what traffic implications the project would create.”
In reality, if the rezoning of land and architectural plans are approved, construction would not begin until 2023 and the final project would most likely be done by 2026. So, despite any public sentiment, there is still ambiguity surrounding the plan. Supporters of the project are encouraged to send a letter of approval by September 12.
“Saugatuck” was initially the name for the entire town of Westport upon incorporation in 1835.