Protect the Partrick Wetlands
and our Community

Izzo would have Westport buy Partrick property

By:Bonnie Adler , Staff Writer 07/10/2003

Printed in the Westport Minutenan

John Izzo, Republican member of the Westport Board of Selectmen, believes that spending in Wesport is way too high. Since he's been on the Board of Selectmen, Izzo has been trying to come up with ways for the town to get more value out of its spending, and he is now proposing a plan that he is calling a win-win situation for the town.

Despite the fact that the Board of Finance last week approved $185,000 for design, construction plans and specifications for a new parking at Long Lots Elementary School, Izzo wants the town to use the land it already owns behind the school to add 75 to 80 new spaces for parking, and to sell the recently purchased adjacent six- acre Jaeger property (two acres of which are planned to be used for the parking lot).

Izzo suggested using the proceeds from that sale to buy the former FD Rich property across town, a 56-acre mix of wetlands and uplands which is now the hotly contested site of a proposed 22-unit housing development called The Reserve at Poplar Plains.

"Normally I do not advocate selling town owned land. What I am about to propose is that we not only sell the Jaeger property, but that we acquire the Partrick wetlands, preventing the building of 22 homes and protecting the entire 55-acre tract. We would, at the same time, build the badly needed parking lot at Long Lots so that parents and children do not jeopardize their safety by parking on a public roadway," said Izzo.

"We should never have bought the Jaeger property to begin with," Izzo said in a telephone interview, "and we should have bought the FD Rich property when we had the chance. We own the Jaeger property now, but we could still build a new parking lot behind the school for less money than is now contemplated, sell the Jaeger property (and anticipate what will probably be the construction of four to five single family homes) and prevent the construction of 22 houses on the FD Rich property. You have to do what makes sense for the town."

Izzo also took issue with the proposed costs outlined at a recent Board of Finance meeting which estimated the cost of each parking space at Long Lots to be roughly $10,000, which is $2 million spread over 196 spaces.

"If one takes into account the $4.3 million purchase price of the Jaeger property, the $2 million in construction and renovation costs now contemplated, and an estimated debt service of $5 million over 20 years on that total, that's almost $10 million dollars, or $51,000 per parking space," said Izzo.

"If we build a 75-car lot behind the school, I am confident that it would not approach anywhere near the $2 million cost that is now anticipated. I'm looking for a real sense of value," he said. "I want the town to get more for its money.

"This smaller lot would accommodate the entire Long Lots staff of administrators, teachers, etc. The existing lot, with some modifications, would be for parents and visitors only. We can save anywhere from seven to eight million dollars ... Sometimes we must be bold and creative in our thinking."

Izzo said that Westport has one of the highest, if not the highest debt per capita of any town in Connecticut. "At $21 million in debt service, 16 percent of your taxes will go to pay debt service until 2012. It's far too much now. We have a tax, borrow and spend budget."

Russ Blair, who heads the Long Lots Elementary School Parking Lot Sub-committee, said that the Planning and Zoning Commission required 3.5 parking spaces per teaching station at its schools, and therefore Izzo's figure was inadequate for P&Z approval.

"We'd have to add at least 116 spaces behind the school to reach 196 spaces," said Blair. In addition, Blair said, "Access to the back of Long Lots would have to be through Bauer Place, a small residential street off of Old Road, another small residential street, or we'd have to build a road on the north or south side of the school to go around the back. If we cut along the north side, we'd have to cut across a ball field. If we went around the south side we'd go between the last house on Bauer Road and the school. It would be very narrow, but it might be possible. And you'd also have to relocate or eliminate the playground in the back of the school."

Blair said that if the current design was modified to mix the parent drop-off area and the bus parking loop, there was potential for 80 spaces in the front. "But then you have a safety issue," he added.

In addition, the town will have to remove contaminated land on the Jaeger property, which will amount to a cost of $250,000 no matter what the outcome is. As part of an earlier settlement, there is a $117,000 credit from the sellers, but the town will add the remaining portion for the cleanup.