Plan to guide future development in Westport moves forward
Updated 4:16 pm, Friday, September 22, 2017
After two years and much public feedback, the planning and zoning commission will move forward with finalizing a plan of conservation and development to guide the community in future developments.
After fewer than 30 people showed up to the commission’s final public hearing on the proposed plan, some board members expressed hesitation about closing public comments.
“I think we could do more,” Commissioner Danielle Dobin said at the Sept. 14 meeting. “I’d rather leave it open for comment than make changes that makes our community feel they’re not having proper opportunity to weigh in.”
Despite having a lower meeting turnout than expected, the board still received a high volume of comments on the plan draft, which was prepared by Glenn Chalder of Planimetrics, a multidisciplinary consulting firm based out of Avon.
“I’ve sat in on everything we’ve done the past two years and I have to say this is the highest volumes of questions, wants and needs we’ve gotten from the public,” Commissioner Paul Lebowitz said. “I don’t want to discount it. I don’t want to cut it off.”
Other commission members felt after two years of reaching out to people through social media and meetings, it was time to pass the plan.
To see a draft of the plan, visithttp://www.westportct.gov/index.aspx?page=1072
“I kept my mouth shut the whole time and listened carefully,” commission member Chip Stephens said. “I appreciate everyone that’s come. We’ve gone the extra mile, we’ve done the extra meetings, we’ve done all different times, different meetings, online, offline. Guys, I wish summer lasted all year long. I wish I could have ice cream for breakfast. But I can’t. There are rules. We’ve got to get this done. We can come back and revisit, but if we kept every issue open for everyone to comment, we’d ever get anything done.”
The commission eventually did vote to close the hearing and move forward with finalizing the plan, with four votes for closing, three against it. The input given at the final hearing will be considered when making the final draft and Commission Chairwoman Catherine Walsh said the plan can be amended over the course of the next 10 years it’s meant to be in effect.
The plan, which addresses conservation, development plans and town infrastructure and facilities, was met with detailed critiques from those who did show up. One town member went through the plan page-by-page to offer feedback. Residents expressed concerns about the inclusion of the use of artificial turf in the plan, including the town’s recently adopted Net Zero 2050 goal and addressing the development of Post Road West.
In January, the commission had a public meeting to ask for public feedback on the plan. There also was an online survey for residents to offer their feedback. According to Chalder, this feedback showed residents were concerned with maintaining the character of the town, traffic congestion, studying the downtown and Saugatuck area and emphasizing biking, walking and taking buses. There also is a section focusing on economic development and fixing Route One.
“Some of the things that jumped out from those meetings were their priorities,” Chalder said. “Walking, biking, and busing was the most important issue to the people who came to the meeting and responded to the online survey. There’s a lot of places in the country looking to do that and Westport indicated they’d like provisions for that. We’re not going to build sidewalks in a year, but in the next 10 years, it’s something we’ll focus on.”
According to Chalder, who now is compiling the comments for the commission for further revision, the feedback ranged from minor to more sweeping changes in language. In particular, he said the town’s Green Task Force made several suggestions for improvement to the sustainability section of the plan.
“I don’t know if there’s a huge change in direction,” he said of the sustainability suggestions. “The plan was promoting sustainability, but (the Green Task Force) has more specific language and that’s good. It’s their scope of work, so they’re more knowledgeable.”
“Really the plan is about balancing issues of development and infrastructure and how to be sustainable by balancing all those issues,” Chalder said. “There are no major changes. It’s really about trying to improve the things Westport already does well.”