Out of the woods: Time to put downtown plans in action
Published 5:35 am, Thursday, July 30, 2015
Enough small talk about the semantics of moving ahead on implementing the long-delayed Downtown Master Plan, which the Board of Selectmen — technically “accepted” rather than “approved” (the usual procedure) — to allow for new infrastructure investment and maintenance.
Democratic Selectman Helen Gartner disagreed with the vote and preferred the more neutral term “receive.” Her concerns were that the town is lax about maintaining its infrastructure and that there were no cost estimates for parts of the plan.
Whatever the bureaucratic snafu turns out to be, it’s high time that Westporters saw some ribbon-cutting and shovels digging into dirt in the ground to launch this oft-postponed renewal of our town’s downtown business area that has been under study by two administrations.
It is likely to change the entire face and personality of downtown Westport and bring up-to-date, much-needed improvements in the environment, traffic and noise patterns, air and lighting quality, and architectural consistency, according to its backers. In effect, it will modernize the heart of the town’s business district without, as some observers fear “urbanizing” the area beyond recognition.
“This is really an extraordinary document,” commented First Selectman Jim Marpe last week. “I think it sets a standard for urban planning or municipal planning in its depth and structure. We all have things we disagree with, but I hope there are things we agree with.”
Assuming the plan becomes a reality, it will most likely stand out as the most impressive legacy of the Marpe administration's four years in office, a period of change and growth in participation in town affairs by the public at the encouragement of Marpe and his aides.
Over the past two years, the town itself has invested over $225,000 in the planning process, according to Dewey Loselle, the town operations manager, who has made the most of a new position in local town government, created by Marpe.
“A great many people pitched in with a lot of work,” according to Melissa Kane, chairwoman of the Downtown Steering Committee, whose mission will be to review the plans for implementation of some of the recommendations. The committee is expected to be appointed by Marpe in the future, according to a story in the Westport News last Friday by reporter Jarret Liotta.
One highly-respected Westporter, Don Bergmann, who has been active and outspoken in planning matters for many years, said the following about the master plan: “They have put together a very inclusive, very detailed and very well thought out plan ... I applaud their effort.”
State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg said: “It is a tremendously bold document.” He noted that it was designed to be a broad plan at this point and not tied to any of the specifics it offers … It represents a long-term commitment by the town to make a big investment in the future of Westport.”
Such successful major building projects as the Westport Library, the Senior Center and Police Department headquarters, to name just a few, are examples of recent modern additions to the landscape in our ongoing efforts to keep it up-to-date and modernized. And, of course, scores of other improvements at Compo Beach, at the marina, on the Longshore Golf Course, and at other recreation and public areas are underway as part of a continuous long-range effort to maintain Westport as one of the premier Gold Coast towns in the East. For that matter, it is recognized in the media as one of the most attractive in the country.
This observer joins in with those who urge quick implementation of this innovative overdue master plan. The sooner the better. Admittedly, construction in downtown Westport at present looks (and sounds) a little bit like the hub of New York City, but that will pass. I say, ever onward!
Woody Klein is a Westport writer. His column, “Out of the Woods,” appears every other Friday in the Westport News. Klein has been analyzing local planning and zoning issues since he began writing his column in this newspaper in 1971. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.