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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

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After clash with P&Z, downtown panel delays master plan until joint meeting

Westport News
Updated 12:51 pm, Tuesday, April 2, 2013
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The latest stage of planning to develop a new "master plan" to guide efforts to revitalize downtown Westport was pushed back Monday by the committee promoting the project.

The Downtown 2020 Committee will delay selection of a firm to conduct the downtown study for a master plan because, after being criticized by the Planning and Zoning Commission, the committee will wait to hear comments from that board. A "request for proposals" was issued in February for consultants to bid on the job.

In response to the RFP, seven firms bid on writing the master plan by last month's deadline, with costs for the work ranging from between $170,000 and $250,000. The committee, which was appointed last year by First Seletman Godon Joseloff, does not plan to ask for town financial support exceeding $175,000 for the project. Private-sector contributions will cover the difference between the town's allotment and the total cost of the master plan. Downtown 2020 has collected about $60,000 in private funding commitments, sources, including a $10,000 pledge from the Westport-Weston Chamber of Commerce.

"I think probably in the next two or three weeks, we'll see if we can narrow the seven candidates to two or three that make the most sense," Downtown 2020 Chairman Lou Gagliano said. "By that point in time, we will be at a point to talk to the P&Z about what we're trying to accomplish and why these two or three groups would make the most sense and possibly get their perspective on the candidates."

After meeting with the P&Z, Downtown 2020 plans to pick a firm sometime in May, Gagliano said. Downtown 2020 members are now targeting a late June start date for the master plan and completion of the project in the first quarter of 2014, according to Gagliano.

Downtown 2020 members are scheduled to convene with the P&Z at a May 9 public meeting to discuss their work and objectives, according to P&Z Chairwoman Catherine Walsh.

A number of P&Z and Downtown 2020 members have clashed in recent weeks over the master plan, a rift that was highlighted by Walsh's call at a March 7 P&Z meeting for the master plan RFP to be withdrawn because she said her board was not consulted before bids were solicited. She said Tuesday that she maintains that position.

"They can do whatever they want to do; I have no reaction to it," she said. "It has to play out. If that's what they choose to do, they're free to do that."

Walsh declined to comment on whether she supports the master plan.

"They need to be involved with us, and they are welcome to participate in our subcommittees," she added. "We're the elected body, and we are looking out for the entire town and are well-aware of what the entire town needs and are working diligently to accomplish goals we have set."

Gagliano insists, however, that his committee has envisioned the P&Z playing a prominent role in the vetting of the master plan.

"We may be the catalyst, but in the final analysis, the P&Z needs to review the impact on zoning regulations," he added. "It's the coordination of all those efforts, along with looking at the priorities of the community for a more vibrant downtown area, that is at the heart of what we're trying to accomplish."

P&Z members, meanwhile, have formed a subcommittee chaired by Vice Chairman Jack Whittle that will study and update parts of the 2007 Town Plan of Conservation and Development. That panel's focus will include downtown issues, according to Walsh.