Sunday, August 12, 2007

Dinner Conversation

Drop Cap Letter: I had a dinner conservation the other night at a charity benefit that I think is worth sharing.

The man, whom I shall not identify other than Mr. X, told me he was a longtime Westport resident, a Staples grad, had known my father 50 years ago, and volunteered that he was a “conservative.”

After some small talk, he wanted to known why I was proposing that the Baron’s South property, which he described as a “pristine parcel in the center of Westport,” be used to house seniors, young people, and members of our municipal workforce, and others working here.

It should be used to build the Y, he said, adding: “Why should the town help those who otherwise can’t make it (financially) be able to live in Westport, Connecticut?”

I explained to him that Westport has always had a diverse population and benefited from it. I said unless we took steps to help out, the town would be made up of predominately millionaire hedge fund managers and well heeled financial types.

He said that he was a hedge fund manager and made clear he had no problem with that demographic makeup.

I added that because of the hilly terrain, the difficulty of getting traffic in and out of Baron’s South and the fact that the Senior Center was already there, it was better suited to housing than any other municipal use (a fact confirmed by a recent study).

I said housing units scattered over the site would not sacrifice the trees and scenic terrain and would not be as disruptive as constructing a massive Y with the required parking for its thousands of members.

I said housing also would have a better chance of passing muster with the zoning board.

A fellow diner on the other side of men chimed in that he had a 27-year-old daughter who could not afford to return to Westport and things were not much better financially for a 94-year-old relative still living here.

That didn’t seem to sway Mr. X.

Then I pointed out that Westport ought to be affordable in some manner for those who teach in our schools as well as some of our police officers, firefighters, and other municipal employees.

I said that in times of emergency, Westport would be in peril if we had to depend (as we do now) on most of our first responders trying to get here from places an hour or more away.

Mr. X paused, perhaps envisioning his expensive waterfront home going up in flames for lack of adequate personnel.

“I hadn’t thought of that,” he said.

The conversation then drifted on to other topics.