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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Another Downtown Consultant Makes a Pitch

By James Lomuscio

One of the consulting firms vying to design a master plan for downtown Westport in the face of major developments tonight offered a vision of a transformed town.

WestportNow.com Image
Louis Gagliano, chairman of the Downtown 2020 Committee, welcomes members of RBA of Connecticut LLC, a Norwalk-based company of 200 planners, landscape architects, urban designers and civil engineers. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

It includes a Main Street with three-story, gable-roofed buildings and two more walkways to Parker Harding Plaza. The plaza would have fewer parking spaces, and there would be an expansive green overlooking the Saugatuck River. There would even be a river ferry shuttling pedestrians to and from the west and east banks.

Such were some of the ideas offered up by RBA of Connecticut LLC, a Norwalk-based company of 200 planners, landscape architects, urban designers and civil engineers. One of its principals, David Lapping, who was present tonight, is 20-year Westport resident.

RBA is one of three respondents to Downtown 2020’s RFP (request for proposals) to develop a master plan of development and implementation for the downtown. Monday night the committee heard from Peter J. Smith, Inc. of Buffalo, N.Y., and on July 31, Milone & MacBroom, Inc. of Cheshire will make its pitch.

Seven members of RBA were present at the public meeting that drew about 20 citizens, including members of town boards and commissions, including Catherine Walsh, chairwoman of the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z). As she did at the previous meeting, Walsh stressed that Downtown 2020 is an advisory group to the P&Z.

Lou Gagliano, chairman of Downtown 2020, began the session describing his group’s mission to to create “a viable, livable and pedestrian friendly downtown” that makes better use of the riverfront, enhances streetscape, widens sidewalks, relocates parking from Parker Harding Plaza and creates “an emerald necklace” of greenway trails from various downtown anchors to shops and restaurants.

Gagliano said that since Downtown 2020’s establishment two years ago by First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, the committee has met with more than 36 community groups and held 50 public meetings.Gagliano has said that the committee decided to issue an RFP for a consultant, expected to cost about $150,000, after it plateaued with its own.

“We have come to the conclusion that the retention of a consulting team is required to improve our downtown and is the heart of our objective,” said Gagliano.

With that Mark Keener, RBA’s project manager, touted his company’s ability to give “a fresh look but also local knowledge.”

“We see the town plan as a wheel that doesn’t have to be reinvented,” he stressed, noting that his company would help fulfill the town plan. “What’s needed is a civic process.”

That process, he said would involve town input to the company’s ideas as it ventures “to fix what needs fixing” and to make the downtown into “an 18-hour environment.”

Community input would come from social media, via online publications, public meetings, even one-on-one meetings at the Westport Public Library. The consultants said they would also provide input on working with town ordinances, RFPs and suggestions for finding funding.

Jackson Wandres, RBA’s director of landscape architecture, stressed that new development projects should not happen in isolation, but be integrated.

He said that Main Street at present is not connected to the riverfront, and that it needs “one or two more pedestian cut throughs to the waterfront.”

Wandres pointed out that the prime waterfront is unappreciated as a parking lot, something that could change as the waterfront green is widened.

He also spoke about the need for taller buildings on Main Street—currently a mix of single-story and multi-story buildings—something the consultants said they could offer guidance for in working with town codes.

He also said that the area south of Post Road East on Taylor Place in front of the Westport Public Library has “the beginnings of an arts district, the theme of a new town that’s growing up before our eyes.”

“We’re going to come up with lots of ideas,” Wandres said. “You might not agree with all of them, but we’ll work with you.”

Gerald Kagan, a Downtown 2020 Committee member, asked how RBA would work with Westport’s “divergent opinions” as they devise a plan.

“It needs to happen at a civic discussion,” he said.

Lapping noted that the town needs a baseline traffic study to discern how pending developments would affect traffic.

“What will base line traffic be is two or three years?” Lapping said. “We will model it.”

Lapping said that the entire planning project would take between seven to eight months.

Committee member Robert Jacobs asked what the town could expect “in terms of deliverables” during that time.

Lapping responded that the plan would not be “pie in the sky” like others that have sat on shelves.

The plan, he said, would offer “a product that can be built with money you can expect.”

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Posted 07/25/13 at 03:18 AM  Permalink



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