A panel focusing on downtown revitalization wants $175,000 in town money to help finance a new "master plan" of development for the town center, a proposal that has won support from First Selectman Gordon Joseloff.
Members of the Downtown 2020 Committee say that, because of impending construction of several major projects over the next few years, the prospective master plan is crucial to address issues of downtown design, traffic, parking, landscaping, zoning and financing.
A new report by Downtown 2020 Chairman Lou Gagliano pegs the cost of that new downtown development "in excess of" $200 million.
"If we do not do a master plan, the planning that will happen will be iterative, it will be project-oriented and it will not address some of the issues that the community needs and the infrastructure that we need to improve in our downtown area," Gagliano told Wednesday's meeting of the Plan Implementation Committee.
A master plan is one of the top priorities of the Downtown 2020 Committee, appointed last year by Joseloff. Its scope would address some of the panel's goals for the town center, which include a "green necklace" of riverfront access, new open space and extended walking and bike paths; improved traffic flow and parking availability, and greater evening vitality.
A master plan is particularly needed to coordinate the large-scale development projects on the horizon in the town center, Gagliano argues. Those projects include redevelopment of the current Westport Weston Family Y site into a mixed-use development known as Bedford Square; building a downtown movie theater; a senior residential complex at the town-owned Baron's South property; reconstruction of the Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts, and expansion of the Westport Public Library.
Flooding caused by Superstorm Sandy in the downtown area has also highlighted the need to plan for similar events in the future, Gagliano said in his report to Joseloff.
"The operational consequences of all those projects need to be thought through in a way so that we're not hanging a sign on those places in the downtown area saying `come back in two years when construction is over,' " Gagliano said Wednesday.
Downtown 2020 Committee members are weighing proposals from two consulting firms to produce the master plan. The Manhattan-based Buckhurst Fish & Jacquemart Inc. bid $221,000, while the Philadelphia-based Wallace Roberts & Todd made a $285,000 offer. Downtown 2020 members will likely decide within the next two weeks which consulting group will be awarded the master plan project, Gagliano told the Westport News.
Before they received those bids, Downtown 2020 Committee members had estimated that the master plan would cost about $150,000 to complete, with the town asked to cover half of that outlay. The committee is now proposing that the town contribute $175,000 for the master plan, while any additional costs beyond that total would be covered by private-sector funding. Downtown 2020 has so far secured approximately $50,000 in commitments from private sources, according to Gagliano.
Downtown 2020's public funding request could go on the Board of Finance's Feb. 6 meeting agenda. If endorsed by the finance board, the Representative Town Meeting would also have to approve that spending proposal.
Joseloff expressed support Wednesday for town funding for the master plan, but noted some of the challenges faced by the project's planners.
"I commend the committee; it's an expert committee," Joseloff said of the Downtown 2020 panel. "The fact that they're signing off on this and recommending one of these firms in the end I think is significant. The problem is we're up against a timeline. Even if they report in eight months, it could be another six months after that until the deliveries are delivered or tried to be delivered."
Completion of the master plan would probably take six to eight months, according to Gagliano. By the time a master plan is completed, Joseloff may be out of office. He announced Wednesday that he will not run in the November election for a third term as first selectman. A possible successor, Republican first selectman candidate Jim Marpe, has also indicated backing for town financing for the master plan.
"I have a view that if the town doesn't participate to at least some degree in the funding, then the town, meaning the citizens, will not get the opportunity to influence the outcome as much," Marpe said Wednesday.
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