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Saturday, June 07, 2014

Envisioning a Vibrant, Improved Downtown

By James Lomuscio

From the outset, Westport First Selectman Jim Marpe and Dewey Loselle, chairman of the Downtown Steering Committee, today thanked the 75 persons assembled in the Bedford Middle School cafeteria for showing up on one of the season’s best days so far to sit indoors for several hours.

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Stephen R. Desloge (c), president of the Westport Downtown Merchants Association, shows a photo card to fellow attendees at today’s Downtown Visioning Workshop. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

Loselle even quipped that he had prayed it would rain as not to discourage attendance at the Downtown Visioning Workshop held from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m.

“But it is so important to have your input today,” Marpe said about the need for a downtown master plan in the wake of current and future development, “Main Street and the Post Road and the area around it are so important to us and the people who visit our town.”

Loselle noted that his group has already received about 2,100 suggestions posted at http://www.downtownwestportct.com, and that he welcomed more.

And with that and under the direction the town’s consultants, Steve Cecil of the Cecil Group, and Mark Keener, architect for the RBA Group, those assembled hunkered down in groups of five and six.

Each participant discussed and answered questions and made comments on backs of 32 picture post cards depicting proposed changes. The question on each card: “Is this good for the downtown?”

At one table Westporters Bob Jacobs, Jeff Wieser, Michael Guthman, G. Kenneth Bernhard and Susan Ross tackled the first card in the deck: a proposed pedestrian bridge linking the east and west banks of the Saugatuck River to Parker Harding Plaza.

“Absolutely,” said Wieser, a member of the representative Town Meeting (RTM).

Jacobs, an architect, explained that the bridge could extend from the old Save the Children building to Gorham Island, which has a causeway to Parker Harding. All agreed it was a good idea.

The next card, depicting a Windjammer ship in the Saugatuck, called for dredging, making the river deeper downtown. Ross said no.

“I’m not a boater,” she said.

Jacobs said it was not just for boaters, but to save the waterway which has grown shallower and narrower due to silt build up. Ross later conceded.

Similar discussions followed with card showing a restored town dock on the north side of the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge.

“Historically there has been a dock,” said Jacobs.

Bernhard cautioned that the river would be regulated by the Coast Guard, and the town could not prohibit motorboats from docking there.

“I don’t want to see a bunch of stink pots there,” Bernhard said about the possibility of motorboats docking not far from the Levitt Pavilion.

One card they unanimously rejected was a proposed Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge walkway with shaded structures. The consensus was that shade protection would not be needed since the walkway is designed to keep pedestrians moving.

Another proposal was a two-level parking garage set behind a “liner building,” a parking garage with a facade that included upstairs apartments and offices. Bernhard suggested that the rents from such space could help to offset the cost of the garage if it were to be constructed in the Baldwin parking lot.

Flood-ready parks, parking and buildings was another concept that received unanimous approval from this group.

“If you’re going to have merchants in the downtown, you’re going to have to have no flooding,” said Guthman.

“We want whatever we can (i.e. culverts that later release the water into the river) to protect our commercial base,” said Bernhard. “It’s a no brainer.”

All of these comments and suggestions, as they were at other tables, were collected to be compiled by RBA as planners move forward with a master plan.

“We call this a visual preference,” said Jackson Wandres, RBA landscape architect.

“Urban designers use these to open other people’s eyes, as a way of opening discussion,” said Cecil.

In addition to the cards, today’s workshop had break-out groups on fiscal management, maintaining the town’s historic significance via a Historic Village District and the need for revitalized, public open space.

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Posted 06/07/14 at 06:54 PM



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It was a great afternoon Downtown Visioning session where Westporters got to explore many topics and give there preferences on a number of issues.  By the end of the day approximately 125 Westporters joined the effort . It was also gratifying that a great number of those attending were new participants not the just the usual group of known and dedicated, civic minded Westport volunteers.In addition to the interactive Downtown 101 session of images that might apply to a future Westport there were three in-depth workshops that delved deeper into issues of historic preservation, zoning, open spaces, streetscape changes etc. 

The event was so successful and we received so many regrets from people who wanted to come ,but just couldn’t that we are going to try and find an evening session later this month where we can hold a re-run of the session for the many who couldn’t make it today.

I encourage all Westporters to complete our Downtown Survey for Westport residents found at our Downtown Steering Committee website www.downtownwestportct.com Over 2100 of your friends and neighbors have already done so. Don’t be left out.  Log in with your opinions. 

This is just the beginning of the Downtown Master Planning process.  Pay attention there will be numerous other events and meetings to follow as well as interactive ways to participate..

Dewey Loselle
Chairman, Downtown Steering Committee

Posted by Dewey Loselle on June 07, 2014 at 11:09 PM | #
 

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