Tuesday, September 24, 2013
By James Lomuscio
After almost three hours of discussions and public comments, Westport’s Board of Finance meeting in special session tonight approved $65,000 of a $204,000 request from First Selectman Gordon Joseloff to hire an outside consultant to create a master plan of development for the downtown.
The $65,000 was approved for the town wide, base line traffic study portion of the master plan to be undertaken by RBA Group, Inc., which has offices in Norwalk.
In voting for the partial appropriation, Finance Board Chairman Avi Kaner noted that a town traffic study was a priority that must begin before Nov. 15, and that he and board members would revisit the remaining $140,000 of the request when the Board of Finance reconvenes at its regular Oct. 2 meeting.
The move to partially fund Joseloff’s request was put forth by finance board member Tom Lasersohn and unanimously approved after the full amount request was defeated by a vote of 3 to 2 with 1 abstention. Kaner, Janis Collins and Lasersohn voted against funding the full amount, while Brian Stern and John Pincavage voted for it. Finance board member Helen Garten, who is running for first selectman, abstained.
Joseloff’s request, which had been given a unanimous recommendation by the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) Thursday night, was made on behalf of the Downtown 2020 Committee, an advisory committee he established 18 months ago to plan for current and future development downtown.
But that unanimous P&Z sense of the meeting resolution was called into question by an email Chair Catherine Walsh sent to Kaner late this afternoon. In it she said of the Thursday meeting: “The majority of the commission feels that the $200,000+ is unnecessary. In our view, to accomplish the goals of the P&Z, this proposal is inflated.”
Walsh went on to say the P&Z feels the immediate need for a town wide traffic study, downtown traffic analysis, and design guidelines and streetscape design.
She was not at tonight’s meeting and there was no explanation for her changed account as to what occurred at Thursday night’s meeting. The P&Z acted following a meeting earlier that day which produced a signed letter of agreement to seek the full funding amount.
Signers were Walsh, Joseloff, Lou Gagliano, chair of the Downtown 2020 Committee, and David Lapping, principal of RBA Group.
Downtown 2020’s role, and by extension RBA’s, is to help the town plan for donwtown projects. They include Bedford Square, replacing the Westport Weston Family Y, a movie theater on Main Street, redevelopment of National Hall, rebuilding the Westport Library and the Levitt Pavilion, and the redevelopment of Save the Children.
“Why wouldn’t you vote on the whole thing?” G. Kenneth Bernhard, Downtown 2020 member, asked about the request for $204,000. “Why would you have a professional break up the project? The developers aren’t waiting.”
His comment echoed that of Second Selectwoman Shelly Kassen, who said she feared that the delay would only postpone the plan.
“To me it’s a no brainer,” she said. “We need the whole thing.”
When Kaner asked Lapping, the RBA principal and 20-year Westport resident, at the meeting’s outset if the board could just approve the traffic study now, Lapping advised against it.
“It dies,” Lapping said of the plan, especially with new municipal elections on the horizon. “The time is right. You can’t wait.”
Lapping also took the opportunity to criticize the P&Z as a “reactionary body” that does not work with developers to plan.
“We do not get anything but mixed development,” he said.
Finance board member Stern, who voted for the full amount, agreed.
“It seems to me we don’t have a Planning and Zoning Commisison right now,” he said. “We have zoning, but no planning.”
Lapping noted that in adition to the traffic study, the master plan would include a review of current and future projects and a vision of the future that would establish public-private partnerships.
The other item on tonight’s agenda was consideration of a salarly increase for the first selectman, which has not been raised in 12 years.
Garten and Kaner, the Republican second selectman candidate, recused themselves from the discussion.
Garten, the Democratic first selectman candidate, said if elected she would not accept an increase over the current $101,475.
Jim Marpe, the Republican first selectman nominee, said he would give any authorized increase to charity.
In the end, the Board of Finance took no action on the item.
Posted 09/24/13 at 03:15 AM Permalink
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Interesting from many perspectives. First, it is good to see Avi Kaner who is running for 2nd Selectman vote. We know where HE stands.
However, once again, we see Helen Garten not step up and be accountable. She abstained. No vote-no record. No vote and we don’t really know her position.
2nd, we approve a plan for $50,000 yet we do not know how much the town would be willing to spend to implement it. If traffic is of concern, then is it the developers that pay for the change, or the town? if the town, then how much? Do we know what the potential outcome might cost? Or do we spend the money first, with no guidelines, and the shelf another study? Time will tell us.
Is it not the role of the P&Z to engage in planning? And to make matters worse it seems nothing is ever done with good plans. We have a number of solid ideas from multiple plans and the Town collectively ignores them and allows (as an example) a car park to be a priority over a park.
I am also alarmed as a matter of process that the Chair supports the 2020 plan and then behind closed doors expresses an opposing view and attempts to scupper an open vote. Is this the type of leadership we want???