Master plan for downtown scrutinized by P&Z
Published 4:11 pm, Friday, January 16, 2015
A presentation on the draft version of the downtown master plan, envisioning a range of new features and coordinated plans, was presented Thursday night to the Planning and Zoning Commission.
"We want to maintain the small-town character of Westport," Mark Keener, director of urban design for consultant RBA, told the P&Z in highlighting the guiding principle of the mater plan. The plan is being compiled by the RBA Group, under the direction of the Downtown Steering Committee.
Jackson Waldres, RBA's director of landscape architecture and planning, said an important aspect of the plan is to make downtown more pedestrian-friendly.
One recommendation calls for improving "four critical intersections" along Myrtle Avenue -- at Post Road East, Church Lane, Evergreen Avenue and Avery Place. The plan is to "redesign each one of them," he said. At Myrtle Avenue and Church Lane there's an opportunity to create a public place by adding green space.
Another recommendation suggests transforming Church Lane into a shared street for both pedestrians and motor vehicles. "That street already has a quaint character and it will take on an exciting and unique identity," he said.
Another project would improve access to the Imperial Avenue parking lot by creating a new street called Library Lane.
He told the commission about a plan to reinvent Jesup Green by creating more "unique green space" that could include a playground, memorial or a cafe. "It will become a real destination for people coming downtown," he said.
A long-term plan would transform Parking Harding Plaza by reconfiguring the parking and putting in 10-foot wide esplanade near the river.
There was also a discussion about the number of parking spaces downtown -- current and future -- and how some of the proposals will affect the amount of available public parking. Valet parking was also suggested as an option in the downtown plan.
Keener said the consultants considered the zoning and planning side of the proposal, and also "looked at how to finance" some of the recommendations.
"We tried to marry that to the town's fiscal forecast," he said. Keener noted the town is doing "OK financially" and the projects could be done without passing on costs to residents.
He said all the zoning recommendations are "consistent with the town's 2007 plan of conservation and development."
P&Z member Alfred Gratrix Jr. asked about shared parking -- private businesses letting the public park on their spaces.
"That's already being done at Gorham Island," said Larry Bradley, the planning and zoning administrator. He said the same is true for parking at church lots during the week. "But I don't see that happening at Sconset Square," he said.
"That's something we can look at," said Chip Stephens, commission chairman. "We don't want to force it, but can encourage that kind of thing."
He also expressed concern about a plan to build up the area along Elm Street. "That's not Westport," he said.
Commission member Cathy Walsh, who said she's sat in on five years of meetings on downtown planning, had some issues with the master plan.
She said some of the numbers related to parking "on the graph" presented by RBA "need to be changed," adding, "What I'm saying is things changed and I think the numbers need to be looked at."
Walsh also said some statements on certain pages of the document are "not completely accurate." "If they are misstated, they can be corrected," said Keener.
She said she approved of "reconfiguring intersections," but added, "I guess I'm still looking for that streetscape design we wanted.
Prior to the presentation, First Selectman Jim Marpe addressed the commission, saying he was pleased to introduce the draft and "get your feedback and input."
"As you know, the development of the master plan has been a months-long process, but I believe the resources expanded have been worth it," he said.
He called the draft report "both visionary and creative," while, at the same time, "practical and well-grounded."
Public comment on the draft master plan can be made at the website www.downtownwestportct.com, where it can be read in its entirety.
There also will be a public forum on the plan Wednesday, Jan. 28, from 4 to 9 p.m., in the Town Hall auditorium.
The open house will include exhibits. There will be several power-point presentations on the draft from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. After that, the draft will go back to RBA, which will prepare a final report.