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Westport's changes well known to designated downtown planner (and resident)

Published 12:50 pm, Thursday, August 29, 2013

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  • A traffic calming roundabout in Sag Harbor, Long Island, one of RBA's past projects. Photo: Contributed Photo / Westport News
    A traffic calming roundabout in Sag Harbor, Long Island, one of RBA's past projects. Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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David Lapping has lived in Westport since 1994 and remembers well the town's image as an artists' colony in transition.

During the past 20 years, the 53-year-old has coached baseball locally, and he and his wife have been raising two children in town.

But his roots in Westport weren't the deciding factor in the selection of his design firm, RBA Group of Norwalk, to design a master plan for a downtown area that is undergoing a development boom. His ties to town, however, didn't hurt either, said Lou Gagliano, chairman of the Downtown 2020 Committee, which had narrowed the two finalists for the downtown project to RBA and Milone & MacBroom of Cheshire before selecting Lapping's firm last week.

"Was it the most important factor? No. Was it helpful? I think ownership of the project has a lot to do with where you live," Gagliano said. "I don't think it was critical, but it was a check noted. It would not have been the deciding factor, nor was it."

Gagliano said both consulting groups were strong contenders.

"When you look at the strengths of the groups, they both had very good nuts and bolts skills, whether it was traffic or flooding. I thought their creativity and vision was a little stronger than Milone," he said. "I think when we chose RBA, we went through a review of traffic, planning, flooding mitigation, vision, creativity, leadership, and implementation. I think when you look at those factors, they just scored very strongly. Not that Milone didn't. I think it was a clear choice for us. We went around the table and clearly the consensus was for RBA."

Lapping is delighted by the opportunity to help fashion the future of his hometown.

"Westport is changing fast," Lapping said. "What was a real artists' colony when we moved in there has changed as the younger people have moved in. There's different desires among different age groups than what Westport was for many years.

"The town is changing. You see what's happening in Fairfield and down in SoNo near my office. So there's competition on that level, but at the same time there are people who say, `Hey, I don't want to change it, I love the way it is.' "

The Downtown 2020 Committee was appointed last year by First Selectman Gordon Joseloff to prepare a master plan that would coordinate and consolidate downtown planning.

The impetus behind the downtown master plan is the number of current and future capital projects all planned for the town center, including:

• Redevelopment of the Westport Weston Family Y's property as the multi-use complex known as Bedford Square.

• Construction of a senior residential complex at Baron's South.

• "Transformation" of the Westport Public Library's building.

• Construction of a movie theater adjacent to the Main Street restaurant Tavern on Main.

• Construction of a new Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts on the east bank of the Saugatuck River.

The Downtown 2020 Committee will appear before the Planning and Zoning Commission on Sept. 13 to explain the selection of RBA. After some concerns that the 2020 Committee might be circumventing the powers of the zoning commission, the two bodies have been working together on the project.

"We want to emphasis to the commission that we want to work with them." Gagliano said.

The committee has not yet received a commitment of town funding for the proposal. The group, however, has raised more than $65,000 in private funding for the project, and Gagliano has said the panel will ask the Board of Finance and the Representative Town Meeting to fund the remaining portion.

RBA's submitted plan included a cost of $178,500.