By James Lomuscio
UPDATE The Westport Board of Selectmen tonight voted to accept the Downtown Master Plan and to recommend initiating its prioritization and implementation phase.
The vote to accept the plan following a presentation in the Town Hall auditorium was two in favor—First Selectman Jim Marpe and Selectman Avi Kaner—and one abstention by Selectman Helen Garten.
She said she was not comfortable with the word “accept,” instead preferring “receive.” A separate vote to recommend initiating the prioritization and implementation phase of the plan was 3-0.
Marpe said acceptance of the plan draft in his mind does not mean “endorsing every element” and that the second resolution regarding implementation was just a guide.
As outlined tonight by Melissa Kane, chair of the Downtown Steering Committee (DSC), the plan’s directives include:
—Reclaim and enhance riverfront access, views and walkways.
—Improve streetscape and landscape attractiveness.
—Enhance and activate public open spaces.
—Enhance pedestrian connections, walkways, and bike paths.
—Enhance connections between key downtown destinations.
—Improve trafic flow and parking management.
Kane said the plan recommends creating an entity, or hiring a person or group to effectively manage and coordinate the implementation process.
“I think without that it’s unlikely that anything else can happen,” she said.
Equally important is that the town “immediately address and potentially completely reorganize the maintenance of downtown,” Kane said.
“This has been an issue for quite some time and should be addressed before we make any capital investments,” she said.
Kane said financing was an important topic of the recommended plan.
“The major funding concept of the Downtown Master Plan is to take advantage of strategic partnerships and not place the burden of improving this part of our infrastructure solely on the taxpayer,” she said.
In her comments on the plan, Garten said she was troubled that there was no figure given for maintenance, not even a ballpark figure.
“To me that’s a red flag because now to mix metaphors, it’s almost like a green light to say we should make new investments when we really don’t have a plan or an expectation or an acknowledgement that new investments require more money,” she said.
Before the meeting, Marpe said he was “very impressed with this final document” of the plan.
“I am looking forward to tonight’s meeting and the presentation by the Downtown Steering Committee and RBA consultants relative to the final version of the Downtown Master Plan,” Marpe said.
“Over a year-and-a-half of hard work has gone into the master planning process along with input from thousands of Westporters who completed the Downtown survey and and who participated in our many different workshops and charettes,” he added.
The DSC is an outgrowth of the Downtown 2020 group launched during the previous administration of First Selectman Gordon Joseloff and chaired by Lou Gagliano.
“I am convinced that the plan reflects the values that Westporters told us were important to them,” said Marpe, “to maintain our small town character, to make downtown more of a place for Westporters to enjoy, to preserve and improve open space and, to complete and improve downtown where needed rather than growing it.”
“It is the master plan that Westport has long needed to help appropriately guide the future direction of an important area of our town over the next decade and beyond,” he added.
Marpe said he was “very impressed with this final document, but also with the way the entire planning effort has proceeded.”
“This approach serves as a model of how complex, major public planning efforts should proceed in order to take a wide variety of data and opinions into consideration,” he said.
Marpe thanked Kane, Town Operations Director Dewey Loselle, who preceded her, and local resident David Lapping, principal of the RBA Group, the Norwalk-based design group that acted as the DSC’s plan consultant.
“Our consultants from the RBA Group, led by Westport resident David Lapping, deserve our deepest thanks as well for their on-going commitment to making this a comprehensive plan and one that points the way to successful implementation,” Marpe said.