A new approach to downtown planning and project coordination was announced Wednesday by First Selectman Jim Marpe, as he replaced the two-year-old Downtown 2020 Committee with a group he calls the Downtown Steering Committee.
Marpe said the new panel marks the first step in moving forward with the Downtown Master Planning Project approved last year by the Board of Finance, the Representative Town Meeting and Planning and Zoning Commission.
He said that, by establishing the steering panel, he wants to adopt a project-management approach for downtown planning.
The DSC will provide guidance and technical assistance to RBA, the consultant team contracted to assist Westport officials in developing the master plan, Marpe said in a press release.
The DSC will collaborate with the Planning and Zoning Commission and specifically with the P&Z's Downtown Subcommittee chaired by Cathy Walsh. The Downtown 2020 group and P&Z often had contentious relations during the course of its existence.
"I thank the members of the Downtown 2020 Committee for their service and valuable contributions over the past two years," Marpe said. The panel had been established by his predecessor, Gordon Joseloff.
"In particular, I would like to thank the former chairman, Lou Gagliano, for his vision, initiative and leadership in helping move our downtown planning process to this stage," he added. "I look forward to some of the Downtown 2020 members continuing to serve on the new committee and sharing their experience and knowledge."
Marpe said Dewey Loselle, a former RTM member who had also served with the Downtown 2020 Committee, has been appointed to lead the new committee.
"I'm looking forward to this new assignment," Loselle said in a phone interview Wednesday. He said he's going taking on the post with no pre-conceived ideas. "I'm a carte blanche," he said.
"I'm looking for everyone involved to have an open mind on what the plan should be," he said. "I think we have on this committee the right people to make this project move forward, be successful and be implemented."
He said the committee is made up of the "right set of people, with the right skills and knowledge" to get the job done. A meeting of the new committee will take place next week, he said.
Loselle will report to Marpe and work to coordinate the efforts of the steering committee with other town bodies.
In particular, Marpe added, the DSC will also work closely with the Historic District Commission's Village District Study Steering Committee, which is focused on creating a downtown "Village District."
Coordination with the Department of Public Works is also expected, as the DPW recently received a $500,000 "Main Street Investment Grant" from the state for sidewalk and other infrastructure improvements.
Loselle, a retired management consultant previously with Deloitte Consulting, has extensive experience managing complex public sector projects, Marpe said.
"This is a fresh beginning for our downtown Westport master planning process," the first selectman said.
"Now is the time for all parties to come together and work cooperatively to help plan for a future downtown Westport which is more vital, livable and pedestrian friendly and offers diverse entertainment, dining, recreational, residential and business opportunities," he added. "At the same time I am committed to a planning process that reflects Westport's small town character and historical heritage."
He said the traffic and parking counts for Phase 1 of the master plan are complete and the consultants are now working on preparation of a baseline traffic model. "I expect Phase 2 of the downtown master plan process to begin in February and to have a final product in approximately six months," he said.
Phase 2 of the project will consist of a development plan, a public realm/streetscape plan, a vehicle circulation plan, a transportation accessibility plan, and an infrastructure plan, together with guidelines and standards for buildings, facades and streetscapes.
Marpe said he hopes to develop a downtown master plan that is widely accepted by citizens and elected officials alike, and which can begin to be immediately implemented.