Members of the Downtown 2020 Committee thought winning approval of the full $204,000 funding for its downtown master plan was a done deal.
However, approval of that amount for the downtown study -- beset by criticism and questions from planning and zoning officials since it was proposed last year -- fell short at this week's Board of Finance meeting. That's because the finance panel chairman, Avi Kaner, received an email from Planning and Zoning Commission Chairwoman Cathy Walsh just prior to the Monday meeting, saying the majority of her panel had misgivings about funding the entire amount.
The email came after the full P&Z signed off on the $204,000 by unanimous vote days earlier.
That prompted Louis Gagliano, the downtown committee chairman, to resign after leading the group for the past 18 months. The committee was appointed in March 2012 by First Selectman Gordon Joseloff to coordinate plans for major private and public capital plans for the area during the next decade.
"It was a surprise," Gagliano told the Westport News of Walsh's turnabout on the issue. He said Walsh had even asked that an additional $25,000 be added to the first phase of the downtown study, which includes a traffic count. She wanted that part of the study expanded to include the entire town, Gagliano said.
That $25,000 upped the cost of the traffic segment of the master plan study to $65,000 and the entire project's cost to $204,000, the amount up for a vote by the finance board Monday.
However, after Kaner told the board about Walsh's letter, finance members opted not to approve the entire amount, and only approved, unanimously, the $65,000.
"I sent a letter to my committee saying I no longer feel good about the commitment of the town," Gagliano said Thursday.
He said Walsh's email, which was sent only to Kaner, the Republican candidate for selectman this November, said the majority of her commission "felt the $200,000 plus funding was unnecessary."
Walsh, also a Republican, declined comment Thursday.
Gagliano, who suggested organizing the downtown group after discussions with Joseloff, said he's not sure when, or if, he will take over the chairmanship again.
He said several things need to happen, in particular approval by the Board of Finance and RTM of the entire funding for the downtown study.
Ken Bernhard, who is now acting chairman of the Downtown 2020 group, said the panel is encouraging Gagliano to come back on board.
"He has the expertise that is essential," he said. "He is a focused, determined and effective chairman, and we hope to coax him back."
Gagliano said he will stay involved in the downtown group, even though he's not chairman any longer. He said the master plan is vital to the town center's future. "It needs to be done," he said. "There's a tipping point right now in the congestion and inability to walk downtown."