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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

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Marpe to downtown panel: Act on master plan, or 'all of this is for naught'

Updated 5:24 pm, Tuesday, February 4, 2014

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  • First Selectman Jim Marpe addresses the new Downtown Steering Committee at its first meeting Tuesday in Town Hall. Photo: Jarret Liotta / Westport News contributed
    First Selectman Jim Marpe addresses the new Downtown Steering Committee at its first meeting Tuesday in Town Hall. Photo: Jarret Liotta

 

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Efforts to coordinate downtown planning and infuse more life in the town's center got a re-boot Tuesday morning, as the new Downtown Steering Committee convened its first meeting, focusing on the general mission that had been championed by the just-disbanded Downtown 2020 Committee.

The new committee was established last week by First Selectman Jim Marpe to replace the downtown panel that had been appointed by his predecessor two years earlier.

The Downtown Steering Committee's top priority, which was the main topic of discussion Tuesday, will be to oversee preparation of a downtown master plan -- a project shepherded by the 2020 panel -- but also to see it put into action.

"In the end, if we don't implement what we talk about and what we're planning, then all of this is for naught," Marpe told the group.

"Planning is not enough," he said. "We need to take those next steps."

"I hope this is not a committee in perpetuity, that it has a beginning and an end," he said. "There are a lot of things to do."

Much of the discussion focused on how the committee could get the word out to the general public about the master plan project.

"We need to make sure that we're casting the widest net so we can get as many opinions as possible," said committee member Melissa Kane.

Member Catherine Walsh, who also serves on the Planning & Zoning Commission, concurred. "It's the same set of people who show," she said of most public forums, adding that they end up as the decision makers.

"It's the Westport 200 or 300 that we always see," agreed committee Chairman Dewey Loselle, who said he would like to see more young parents involved.

To help make a broader impact and gather more input, questions were raised on how to use social media and other outlets.

"This is a journey," he said at the beginning of the meeting. "We're just beginning."

Three representatives of RBA Group of Connecticut, LLC, the firm that has been commissioned to create and implement a two-phase plan, were on hand to answer questions.

David Lapping, a Westport resident who works with RBA, said the data gathering is nearly complete, and will likely be presented in the next couple of weeks.

"We got a real baseline of existing traffic in the town," he said, including cars pedestrians and bicycles.

"We're going to let the data speak for itself," he said, and not offer any preconceived ideas.

"The long-range goal of this plan is to look for measures to improve the parking, improve the traffic, improve pedestrian mobility in the town," he said.

Steve Edwards, director of the Department of Public Works, also spoke about his timeline for the use of a $500,000 state grant he secured for some downtown infrastructure improvements, including about 25 new street lights.

"We wanted to look into something that we could put into effect as soon as possible," he said, referencing the time limits on the use of the grant money, which must be spent by June 2015. Edwards said his intention was to purchase lights of the same design that have been put up along Church Lane in the recent development project by the Spotted Horse Tavern.

Walsh also noted that her commission is waiting to hear from the same developer about the Bedford Square project, which will replace the Westport Weston Family Y, and its landscape design plan.

Committee member Gerald Kagan expressed his concern about installation of lights moving forward until the town has first agreed what kind of lamps it might want throughout the center district.

"I'm really perplexed by all of this," he said. "It is not for a developer to tell us how we're going to light our community. There has to be a standard."