Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Committee Aims to Make Foresight 2020
By James Lomuscio
Though the date is more than seven years away, Lou Gagliano, chairman of the Downtown 2020 Committee, says “the time is now” for Westport to plan its future.
Downtown 2020 Chair Lou Gagliano tonight with committee member Craig Rebecca Schiavone. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) James Lomuscio for WestportNow.com
“We have a unique opportunity here,” Gagliano told about 20 persons assembled in the Town Hall auditorium tonight at the committee’s first evening public meeting. “The time is now, so we’re here tonight to hear from you, the members of the community, to tell us what your concerns are because it’s an important path we’re walking together.”
Formed by First Selectman Gordon Joseloff in March to plan the revitalization of the downtown while integrating planned projects such as Bedford Square, National Hall’s redevelopment, the library’s planned expansion and a cinema, the seven-member committee is now in the process of raising $150,000 to hire a consultant to draw up a master plan.
To reach that amount, Gagliano says the committee plans to raise $75,000 by Jan. 1 and seek the rest from the town. He said Downtown 2020 already has $17,000 in its coffers, including today’s $10,000 gift from the Westport Chamber of Commerce.
Gagliano, who was joined by committee members Dan Kail, Craig Rebecca Schiavone and Valerie Smith Malin, noted that the committee has eight main objectives in planning the town’s future.
They include: preserving its character and historic fabric; reclaiming river access; improving streetscape; improving traffic flow; encouraging greater nighttime use; multi-generational downtown living; preserving and stimulating retail growth; and enhancing both pedestrian and commercial connections between the east and west banks of the Saugatuck River.
Kail, for one, stressed that reconfiguring parts of the downtown to take advantage of its river views would be key to revitalization.
“Parking-Harding Plaza, that’s riverfront space that’s now being used as a parking lot,” said Kail.
Gagliano agreed, asking, “Does parking on the river serve our best purpose?”
He added that resident input is critical since “a significant part we’re considering” for redesign the is town-owned land.
Peter Eyes, a longtime town resident who moved to West Hartford before moving back to Westport, pointed out that many of the changes he has witnessed in Westport have not been for the better, and that the town has become more crowded.
“If you polish the jewel too much, you have to wonder where you’re going to put al the people,” Eyes said.
Gagliano stressed that “intelligent balanced growth is at the heart.”
“We’re not trying to make this a regional center but for the people who live here,” he said. “If it’s out of whack, who are you doing it for?”
Lou Mall, a member of the Representative Town Meeting, requested that any master plan include a “comprehensive traffic study,” to which Gagliano responded, “There’s no way we can do a master plan without doing a traffic study first.”
Board of Finance member John Pincavage, in the wake of the downtown flooding damage due to Storm Sandy, questioned whether Downtown 2020 would incorporate ways to make the area “physically protected from flooding.”
“Who’s going to go there?” Picgavage asked. “Are you going have to bulldoze it or make it into a riverbank?”
“I’m not Moses,” quipped Gagliano, adding that the national chain stores that remain shuttered in the wake of Storm Sandy did not take the proper precautions.
“We have to teach the lessons learned and knock on the door of every national (chain store),” he added. “Preparation has something to do with it.”
Gagliano also said that dredging the river could minimize high tide storm sewer backups that flood Main Street and Parker-Harding Plaza.
“And to just throw your hands up and say nothing can be done,” Gagliano said, is not practical.
Francis (Randy) Henkels, chairman of the Historic District Commission (HDC), said he was excited by the prospect of the committee’s master plan, one that puts maintaining the town’s historic character as a top priority.
“I think all of the objectives are great ones,” he said, adding that the HDC has been proposing a Historic Village District. “I look forward to the opportunity of interfacing with this group. I’m excited by the whole process.”