Out of the Woods / It's your downtown, so speak up!
Published 6:11 am, Thursday, May 22, 2014
Our new first selectman, Jim Marpe is wisely exercising one of the most cherished traditions in our town's history -- making a major decision with the full participation and involvement of everyone who lives here. The process for generations has been called "grassroots democracy."
It is one of the most important legacies Westporters have nurtured since our founding on May 28, 1835 -- exactly 179 years ago next week.
A press release from Town Hall last week carried this headline: "Westport Launches Your Downtown Campaign: Debuts Downtown Master Plan Website and Community-Wide Downtown Survey."
This invitation from our first selectman comes as welcome news. Usually, voters here are not up-to-speed before the fact on all the happenings at sparsely attended meetings of the various town departments and agencies. Formal notices are sent out by officials about meeting agendas, but they are written in bureaucratic language and few who read them really understand what's going on.
With the wide range of news coming from our first selectman's office in recent days, hopefully you have not missed his announcement of launching the new "Your Westport Downtown Campaign," which will enable everyone to have a say in what the future of our vital downtown will look like.
This inclusive gesture reflects Marpe's intention to improving our town and in making certain that everyone knows what's going on behind the scenes. Hopefully, his administration will be as transparent as those of predecessors Gordon Joseloff and Diane Goss Farrell.
"Your Downtown" involves two opportunities for every Westporter to express his or her views on this vital issue: 1) a new interactive website, www.downtownwestportct.com and 2) an online downtown survey has been launched to inform and involve Westport citizens regarding the downtown master plan process
There have been numerous announcements about a plan for downtown in the past, but if you have been confused about what the plan will include, now is your chance to find out -- and to contribute your ideas. As an avid observer of the Westport scene for the past 46 years, I believe Marpe's announcement is a clear opportunity for all to make themselves heard.
"The website will serve as the main online portal for news and information about the plan and will allow the public to comment and provide feedback throughout the entire Downtown Master Planning process," Marpe said.
"The purpose of the survey, which is linked to the home page of the website and also available in paper form, is to gather baseline information on how Westporters feel about their present downtown and what improvements they might like to see in the future.
Marpe added: "For those who cannot access a computer to take the survey, paper versions and drop boxes will be available at the Library, the Senior Center and the lobby of Town Hall.''
"In addition to the website and the survey," Marpe explained, "there are multiple public Your Downtown events planned over the next several months that will allow citizens to actively participate in the plan development. Events, including a public visioning workshop, will be announced on the website and in local newspapers."
It is important to point out that in his announcement, Marpe said he and the Downtown Steering Committee (DSC) will be working with Westport's numerous civic and cultural organizations to urge their constituencies to participate in the planning process starting by completing the Downtown Survey.
The DSC, he said, is providing guidance and technical assistance to the consultant team, led by the RBA Group, in developing the master plan. The full membership of the DSC can be viewed on both the town's and the new project's website. The town anticipates completing the Downtown Master Plan by this coming September. That, in itself, would be a major accomplishment.
There is so much else going on, that I will refrain in this column from commenting on other changes already scheduled to get underway -- for example the clean-up and modernizing of Compo Beach; plans for transforming the Westport Library for a variety of new uses, essentially turning it into a town cultural center; upgrading the security of our public schools; involving Staples High School students more than ever on town boards and commissions; building affordable housing for the elderly and for those employees of our town departments (such as first-responders policemen and firemen), and, finally, when the work of a new panel appointed by Marpe makes its recommendation for someone well qualified to fill the new job of town operations director at a salary of $90,000, to focus on the reorganization of town government.
No doubt that most of you -- together with this longtime Westport observer -- will be watching with eagle eyes.
Woody Klein is a Westport writer. His "Out of the Woods" column appears every other Friday.