WESTPORT — The town will interview five firms by mid-January to determine who is the best fit to design Saugatuck Center.

The firms will be bidding for a two-part design contract totaling $440,000 funded by a state grant encouraging growth around transportation hubs.

Whittled down from a list of 13 applicants, the Saugatuck Transit Oriented Development Subcommittee will interview BL Companies, Harriman/Tighe & Bond, Barton Partners, BFJ Planning, and Milone & MacBroom.

NV5 (formerly RBA) was initially on the list of five selected, but was eliminated as a contender by the committee members at the Dec. 22 meeting. At that meeting, it was noted NV5 worked as a consultant for the town on the Downtown Master Plan, and Public Works Director Steve Edwards said the firm provided him with input on the application for the $440,000 state grant for Saugatuck Center.

Committee members and the public voiced concerns about a possible conflict of interest by enlisting NV5 as a consultant for the Saugatuck project.

After receiving an email from NV5 contesting its removal from contention, the committee discussed the circumstances of the removal at a Jan. 3 meeting. Gail Kelly, the assistant town attorney, determined there was no legal issue in considering NV5 for the project.

Westport Downtown Merchants Association President Randy Herbertson, founder of the Visual Brand (one of the subcontractors listed in NV5’s bid on Saugatuck Center), said NV5 was asked to help out with the grant proposal as a favor to the town and were told by the town its involvement would not preclude it from bidding on the project.

“I think this sets a very dangerous precedent,” Herbertson said.

Committee member Eileen Berenyi said she did not think it fair for NV5 to be precluded from bidding on the project solely because of a potential conflict of interest.

Young said the conflict of interest issue was one of a variety of reasons NV5 was not selected.

“But I also heard other rationale given for why they were not shortlisted,” Young said. “Specifically, I think what I heard was a fresh and new perspective might benefit the town.”

Walsh said there were “a lot of other reasons” for NV5’s disqualification. “It was a performance issue. ... We’re on a deadline. We need to be with people who can make deadlines,” she said.

Shiavone said the decision not to consider NV5 was not necessarily based on a conflict of interest, but on the proposal and previous work experience with the firm.

@chrismmarquette; cmarquette@bcnnew.com