Improving Westport's Downtown

Photo by Jeff Cohen

by Roy Fuchs

Melissa Kane, Co-Chair of Westport’s Downtown Plan Implementation Committee recently updated Sunrise Rotary on this multi-year project that “will improve the downtown experience for Westporters.”

The plan was developed over a year-and-a-half using an “unprecedented public outreach campaign” that drew input from over 3,000 people. The Board of Selectman approved it last July and implementation began in October. The plan includes over 60 individual projects scheduled to be completed in three phases over the next twelve years, and funded by a mix of taxpayer money and third party grants.

Ms. Kane and Co-Chair Dewey Loselle are managing the implementation. They lead monthly meetings typically including a dozen or more town department heads and community interest group members who review ongoing work and plan next steps.

She told the group the projects are designed to help Westport maintain and enhance its unique small town character, make it more pedestrian friendly, reconnect downtown with the Saugatuck River and enhance the “public realm” — and do it all in a fiscally and environmentally responsible manner.

She talked primarily about the 15 near term projects, all scheduled to get underway during the next two years.

The committee’s first focus is on traffic congestion, parking, and the downtown pedestrian experience. Projects include increasing and improving maintenance by building out the downtown sidewalk network, upgrading Post Road crossings, creating better wayfinding (signage) for pedestrians and motorists, and expanding public transit.

And locations for five downtown bicycle parking locations are being scouted.

One task already completed is placing a two hour maximum on all downtown parking.

The committee used the plan to win a $650,000 grant from the Connecticut Department of Housing that will fund a downtown drainage study and an analysis of the Dead Man’s Brook drainage system. Both are important first steps to modernizing a drainage system with 100 year old segments in order to mitigate downtown flooding.

The committee is working to join the privately owned Avery parking lot with the Baldwin lot to provide more spaces and improve traffic flow.

Kane said she is “really, really excited” about the Arts & Cultural Heritage Trail. This “Westport Wandernet” will be a network of WiFi enabled interactive kiosk-like beacons that will form a trail throughout downtown highlighting Westport’s arts and cultural heritage, displaying works created by local artists and providing information about what’s going on in town.

The Wandernet is a public-private project overseen by representatives from all of Westport’s cultural organizations, including the Library. Miggs Burroughs will serve as the initial project designer. The group has applied for funding from Connecticut’s Office of the Arts.

The stop you in your tracks piece was “Westport — The Brand,” a broad program to design and place distinctive signage around the town to guide Westporters and visitors to important places — train stations, recreation areas, even parking lots, for which an app to direct drivers to available parking spots in real time is being considered.

And Toquet Hall Director Kevin Godburn is raising $30,000 to install soundproofing, a snack bar and a new kitchen with a microwave to provide “food the teens want” in the town’s teen center.

Finally, Ms. Kane responded to a question about Jesup Green saying the Library renovation will drive its reinvigoration. Parking will be moved away from the riverfront to create more green space without sacrificing any spots, and a cafe kiosk and public restrooms will be added.