Weston 2017 Year in Review

The landslide victory of Weston Democrats in the municipal election was Weston's top story of 2017. — Gregory Menti photo

The landslide victory of Weston Democrats in the municipal election was Weston’s top story of 2017. — Gregory Menti photo

Weston was defined by both finality and uncertainty last year, as reflected in the top stories of 2017.

Westonites embraced some finality with the 2017 municipal election. After a lengthy campaign, the town voted overwhelmingly for the Democratic ticket, shepherding Chris Spaulding into the role of the town’s chief elected official.

There was also finality with the completion of extensive library renovations, and filling key staff positions, such as the police chief.

There was also finality with a court decision in the Kopulos animal hoarding case.

But other issues remain uncertain. At the start of 2017, the creation of a dog park in Weston seemed to be well on its way to becoming a reality. But the plan has undergone design changes and has become a hot-button issue with some residents.

Uncertainty also looms as the Kyle Navin murder case is scheduled to go to trial in February.

As for the onslaught of coyote and bear sightings, that will always be an uncertainty in Weston.

Here are the top stories for Weston in 2017:

Municipal election

Voter turnout was about the same as two years ago, but the results were completely different. In 2015, Republicans won every seat for every board and commission they could. On Election Day, Nov. 7, 2017, Democrats won every seat they could win.

In the race for first selectman, Chris Spaulding handily defeated Republican incumbent Nina Daniel, getting twice as many votes as she did.

Democrats Gina Albert and Samantha Nestor were elected to the Board of Education. — Gregory Menti photo

Democrats Gina Albert and Samantha Nestor were elected to the Board of Education. — Gregory Menti photo

Spaulding’s running mate, Brian Gordon, won the selectman’s race, with Republican Stephan Grozinger getting the third seat because he got more votes than Daniel.

The Board of Finance was more crowded than usual with the addition of two petitioning candidates, Effie Thieme and Peter McGinnis. Steve Ezzes, the lone Democrat on the ballot and chairman of the finance board, handily won re-election along with the other incumbents, Jerry Sargent, Bob Ferguson and Rone Baldwin.

Democrats took control of the Board of Education with three Democrats earning seats. The Planning and Zoning Commission also had a shift in the majority, when the Republican chairman, Tom Failla, lost his seat to newcomer Harry Falber, a Democrat.  

“It’s very exciting that all our hard work and all the work of our volunteers paid off,” said Barbara Reynolds, campaign manager for the Democrats immediately after the election results were announced. “I’m thrilled that we turned Weston blue.”

A total of 3,084 votes were cast in the election, representing a 47.2% voter turnout.

Navin murder case goes to trial

Kyle Navin, who is charged in the shooting deaths and murder of his parents, decided not to take a plea deal offered by the court on Dec. 6, and his case is headed to trial. Jury selection is expected to start in February.

Kyle Navin

Kyle Navin

Navin is charged with two counts of murder and one count of murder under special circumstances for the 2015 shooting deaths of his parents, Jeffrey Navin, co-owner of J&J Refuse of Westport,  and Jeanette Navin, a longtime paraprofessional at Weston public schools.

The couple were longtime residents of Weston and had recently moved to Easton when they were reported missing in August 2015.

Their bodies were discovered a few months later, inside contractor bags and buried under leaves in a yard at an abandoned home in Weston. Both had been shot.

According to police reports, Kyle Navin was a heroin user and killed his parents because he was concerned that he was going to be cut from their wills.

Navin’s girlfriend, Jennifer Valiante, reached a deal with the court on Nov. 17,  pleading guilty under the Alford Doctrine to conspiracy to commit murder and hindering prosecution for the deaths of the Navins.

Valiante faces eight years in prison under the deal, and is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 26.

Dog park

The saga of the Weston dog park continued throughout 2017. In April, the Planning and Zoning Commission denied an 8-24 approval for a dog park at the 36-acre town-owned Moore property on Davis Hill Road.

In April, a divided crowd gathered to discuss a proposed dog park. — Gregory

In April, a divided crowd gathered to discuss a proposed dog park. — Gregory Menti photo

A September town meeting to discuss the dog park lasted nearly three hours, and dozens of people spoke both in favor of it and against it.

Concerns were expressed about sightline issues with the entrance to the dog park.

A scheduled town meeting to vote on the dog park was canceled after Town Engineer John Conte worked on a plan to relocate the entrance to Lords Highway East. The new plan would also increase parking capacity.

The new Board of Selectmen has said the dog park is a top initiative for 2018.

Animal hoarding decision

Many Weston residents were shocked with the lenient court decision rendered in May in a notorious animal hoarding case.

Daniel Kopulos

Daniel Kopulos

Daniel Kopulos, a New York pet store owner, was charged with more than 200 counts of animal cruelty after hundreds of exotic birds, snakes and reptiles were found dead or in poor condition at his home on Newtown Turnpike in October 2016.

Although the animal cruelty charges could have carried a sentence of as much as one year in prison and up to $1,000 in fines, Norwalk Superior Court Judge Bruce Hudock only ordered Kopulos to get regular therapy and psychiatric treatment. If Kopulos does that for two years and avoids arrest during that time, the charges will be dismissed.

After the court decision, it was learned that the town of Weston had expended more than $85,000 on relocating the birds that were seized from Kopulos’s home and maintaining them at a Rhode Island parrot rescue group, and other related expenses.

Nina Daniel, who was first selectman at the time, signed a memorandum of understanding with Kopulos in January 2017 giving him until Jan. 12, 2018, to pay the town of Weston $40,000 for expenses the town incurred in the case.

If Kopulos does not pay $40,000 by that date, the town has the right to foreclose on his Newtown Turnpike property.

Microburst

It initially seemed like just another summer storm. But what appears to be a microburst hit Weston hard in July, knocking out power to nearly half the town.

A 50-foot pine tree crashed through a roof during a microburst in July. — James Pratt-Heaney photo

A 50-foot pine tree crashed through a roof during a microburst in July. — James Pratt-Heaney photo

In about the same amount of time it takes to make a hard-boiled egg, a hard-hitting thunderstorm tore through the northern part of Weston. Strong wind gusts took down trees and utility lines — partially or completely blocking 44 roads in town.

At a home on Cristina Lane, off Valley Forge Road, wind knocked down 10 pine trees, some measuring more than 50 feet tall. One of the trees crashed through the roof of the house on the property.

Microbursts are similar to tornadoes — but on a smaller scale — and are quick-hitting and capable of extreme damage.

The storm was centralized, and some areas in Weston had no damage. And no other area towns reported any significant damage.

The surprise storm also led to a controversy about the town’s CodeRED telephone emergency notification system. First Selectman Nina Daniel decided not to send out a CodeRED notification after the storm. However, residents complained that due to the storm’s surprising nature, they should have received notification about power outages and road closures.

Coyotes and bears

First it was wily coyotes, then it was big, bad bears.

In February, residents complained about packs of coyotes howling and prowling around neighborhoods in Weston. In Westport, a dog was viciously killed by a coyote.

Bears were spotted throughout Weston in 2017. — Tatiane Roberts photo

Bears were spotted throughout Weston in 2017. — Tatiane Roberts photo

Then in April, a woman on Overbrook Lane got entangled with a coyote when she went outside to rescue one of her dogs, which the coyote was attacking. She yelled and screamed at it, but instead of turning away, the coyote started to attack her. Fortunately, the woman’s two dogs chased the coyote away before it could bite her.

A few hours later, on Good Hill Road, a woman found a coyote on her porch attacking her dog. She made loud noises and the coyote ran away. Animal Control Officer Mark Harper said it was not clear if it was the Overbrook coyote.

Before winter hibernation was even over, black bears were wide awake. In February, a resident on Blue Spruce Circle spotted a bear attacking a bird feeder, looking for food.

Bears were suddenly popping up all over town. In March, a resident even filmed a black bear strolling through the woods on Birch Hill Road.

Then in June, the “Treadwell Beargular” appeared and proved he was smarter than the average bear. Displaying a keen sense of smell, the bear broke through a screen porch at a home on Treadwell Lane when no one was home, then pried open a window to climb inside and look for food. The homeowner had stored bags of birdseed in the home, which apparently caught the bear’s fancy. Animal Control said the bear was likely attracted to the residence because the homeowner kept a number of bird feeders stocked with suet on the property.

A couple of weeks later, the Treadwell Beargular returned to the scene of the crime, and once again tore through a screen on the porch, attempting to break into the house. But this time the homeowner had put away the birdfeeders and reinforced the windows, thwarting the furry bandit’s attempted heist.

Library renovations

The Weston Public Library celebrated completion of a major interior renovation with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in January.

Library employee Helen O’Kelly enjoys a cup of the medium roast from the library’s new Starbucks machine. — Gregory Menti photo

Library employee Helen O’Kelly enjoys a cup of the medium roast from the library’s new Starbucks machine. — Gregory Menti photo

The final cost for the renovation came in just under $1.6 million, including $924,000 from the library board fund, approximately $400,000 from the town of Weston, and $256,357 from a Connecticut state library construction grant.

Renovations include creation of more meeting and gathering spaces, more outlets for charging cell phones and laptops, an Internet café, and a self-service Starbucks coffee machine for patrons.

There is also access from inside the library to a patio that has wi-fi access so patrons can use their laptops outside on nice days.

There is also a new small makerspace, an area designed to foster creativity. The space allows people to experiment with circuitry and utilize a 3D printer and 3D scanner.

New faces

There were some high-profile personnel changes in Weston in 2017. In January, Jonathan Luiz replaced longtime Town Administrator Tom Landry, who retired.

Edwin Henion addresses the crowd at his swearing-in ceremony. — Gregory Menti photo

Edwin Henion addresses the crowd at his swearing-in ceremony. — Gregory Menti photo

Edwin Henion was hired as police chief in September. He served with the state police for 28 years and left there as a lieutenant colonel.

Henion replaced John Troxell, who retired in February after serving nine years as police chief following a long career as a police officer in Weston.

Veteran police sergeant Matthew Brodacki was promoted to a newly created captain’s position and was sworn in to that role in December.

Library Director Karen Tatarka, who left Weston in February to work at the C.H. Booth Library in Newtown, came back to Weston in July.

In April, Dominic Esposito was hired as the town’s new building inspector, replacing longtime employee Rack Gleason, who took an inspector’s job in Milford. Gleason subsequently passed away, in December.

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  • ELFS

    I did not know Rack Gleason passed away as I had seen him this Fall. I am shocked and saddened. He was a lovely man.

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