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Thursday, August 01, 2013

Third Downtown Consultant Candidate Interviewed

By James Lomuscio

Vincent C. McDermott asked the small group assembled at Town Hall tonight to imagine the headline for Westport’s downtown a decade from now.

WestportNow.com Image
Milone & MacBroom, a community planning and design firm based in Cheshire, was the third consultant group interviewed by the Downtown 2020 Committee. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

“What do you see as the headline,” asked McDermott, project manager for Milone & MacBroom, a community planning and design firm based in Cheshire. “What do see yourself becoming?”

That vision would be derived from community input melded with his company’s master plan for development, said McDermott, as he pitched his company’s credentials to win the town contract to be its planning consultant.

Milone &  Mcdermott was the third respondent to an RFP (request for proposals) to devise a master plan of development that came before Downtown 2020. Last week the committee interviewed and heard from consultants Peter J. Smith, Inc. of Buffalo, N.Y. and RBA of Connecticut LLC, a Norwalk-based company.

Tonight is the third and final interview,” said Lou Gagliano, Downtown 2020 chairman, “and I want to thank those who have attended and asked questions.

“Our next step will be to review what we heard as a committee and to arrive at a conclusion,” he added, “and following that, we will look for funding from the Board of Finance.”

Gagliano has said that the outside consultant would cost about $150,000.  He said that the one chosen would not start until early November.

As in the other interviews, Gagliano reiterated his group’s mission to create “a vital, 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, such as the Westport Public Library, 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.

McDermott, in touting his company’s experience in downtown planning for other Connecticut communities, noted that Westport is different from other municipalities.

“You are unique, and understanding the needs of Westport is different than understanding the needs of Hartford or other communities,” he said.

Mark Arigoni, Millone & MacBroom’s urban design and land use regulation specialist, said that seven years he worked with the Downtown Merchants Association to devise a plan for traffic circulation.

“As everyone in town knows, there are many development projects going on in town, and many more are coming,” he said.

To that end, Argoni said that the master plan would need a base line traffic study to see how all of the upcoming and planned developments would affect traffic throughout town.

“If I’m a resident on a particular street, would you be able to tell me how traffic on my street would be affected by a particular development?” asked Gerry Kagan, Dowtown 2020 Committee member.

McDermott said yes, and his company’s traffic engineer Kwesi Brown detailed how the traffic survey would be conducted and modeled.

Since the Milone & MacBroon team stressed that public input via phone surveys and informal community meetings would be key in developing the plan, Kagan asked how the company would resolve a number of conflicting ideas, which he said is not uncommon in Westport.

“We try to build consensus,” said McDermott, “and consensus is not unanimity.”

Brown called such diverse opinions “a positive ...because you have a project that will be vetted.”

During the public comment portion, P&Z Vice Chairman Jack Whittle was the first to speak. Reiterating what P&Z Chairman Catherine Walsh said at previous meetings, Whittle stressed that his commission was the elected body that would have the final say, and that its subcommittee was working closely with Downtown 2020.

Whittle also brought up a P&Z bone of contention that seemed a broadside to some Downtown 2020 members. Whittle said that the P&Z did not have input into the RFP, despite the fact that the matter seemed to be resolved in May.

That was when both groups supposedly mended fences, with the P&Z in a late night work session resolving that it “supports the process of the 2020 Downtown Committee and urges other elected bodies and individuals and town agencies to support the joint process as well.”

Next to speak was Representative Town Meeting (RTM) member Don Bergman who asked why so many other consultant plans never come to fruition.

“What causes these good ideas to never be achieved?” Bergman asked. “What goes awry?”

“It comes down to the need for strong leadership, and that’s what he have with 2020,” McDermott said.

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Posted 08/01/13 at 03:03 AM  Permalink



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