Hearing tonight on plan to allow second-floor retail operations downtown
Published 11:10 am, Thursday, December 6, 2012
LOFT, a Main Street women's clothing store, is seeking to expand operations to the second floor of its building. But it needs Planning and Zoning Commission approval for that change.
Architect Bill Achilles has proposed a text amendment on behalf of the store, which would allow retail use on the second floor of buildings on Main Street and Post Road East in the town center. The amendment is on the agenda for tonight's Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, beginning at 7 p.m. in Town Hall.
Offices, apartments, restaurants and retail food establishments are allowed to operate above the first floor in downtown Westport's Business Center District, according to current town zoning rules. The proposed package of zoning changes, known as Text Amendment 654, would add retail to that list of permitted uses. It would allow a total of up to 14,000 square feet for a two-story retail establishment and 3,500 square feet for a retail outlet based solely on a second floor.
"This text amendment will help to create new retail options on upper floors of existing buildings, without adding additional floor space downtown," Achilles and planning consultant Mel Barr said in a Nov. 19 letter to the P&Z. "More flexible utilization of existing `upper floor' space will contribute to the downtown's vitality."
Damage sustained during Superstorm Sandy has also motivated LOFT to seek permission to add second-floor space to support its first-floor showroom, Achilles said Tuesday in an email to the Westport News.
Citing concerns about traffic and parking, the P&Z denied in 2004 a similar text amendment, which would have allowed retail use above the first floor in the downtown's Business Center District/Historic zone.
While the town's zoning regulations do not officially allow them, second-floor retail operations already exist in the Business Center District. Some establishments have been allowed to operate on upper floors as non-conforming uses, while others are permitted by "variances" or waivers granted by town zoning officials. One of the town center's flagship retail buildings, 125 Main St., uses three floors for Gap and Brooks Brothers Women outlets.
"Anything we can do to create more venues for businesses to locate downtown is beneficial," she said. "And by creating more options for retailers, there will also be more choices for customers. It's a win-win."
Thirteen buildings in the Business Center District would likely be eligible for new second-floor retail use, if Text Amendment 654 were approved by the P&Z, according to Achilles and Barr's letter. They describe Main Street as more likely than Post Road East to accommodate new second-floor retail operations because it has a higher number and variety of existing stores, existing second-floor retail users, access to municipal parking lots and a higher volume of customer foot-traffic.
Changing the use of a Business Center District building's second floor to retail would not require additional parking for that property.
Achilles and Barr also argue that more retail use would not significantly increase traffic in downtown Westport. In recent years, traffic volumes on Post Road East between Wilton Road and Compo Road have ranged from an average of 18,200 vehicles per day in 2004 to a high of 23,300 vehicles per day in 2010, according to Achilles and Barr's letter.
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