WESTPORT — In its first public presentation to the town, Barton Partners, the urban design firm selected to craft the Saugatuck Center project, announced the theme of its project: Saugatuck as a “Gateway to Westport.”

“Whether you’re coming from (Interstate) 95, whether you’re coming from the train, Saugatuck is that gateway,” Seth Shapiro, principal of Barton Partners and lead for the project, said.

Shapiro then listed his initial observations on the state of Saugatuck and what can be done to improve the area, much of it including a focus on the pedestrian, like sidewalks, parks and open spaces. In its research, Barton Partners found that a great deal of the Saugatuck area is dedicated to the automobile, something they believe needs to be remedied.

“Whether it be parking, whether it be streets ... but the relative disorganization of that, it seemed like every place that there could be pavement to park a car there was pavement to park a car,” Shapiro said.

He then cataloged various instances where the sidewalks are uncomfortable places for pedestrians to walk around town, attributing much of it to narrow sidewalks. Particularly, he honed in Riverside Avenue — a one lane street each way — where he believes it can be narrowed to 12 feet to widen up the sidewalks. He said narrowing the road wouldn’t affect traffic, but would allow for more sidewalk space for improvements like trees.

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Subcontractors used by Barton Partners

Langan Engineering (New Haven) — Civil engineering, transportation, survey and landscape architecture firm; worked on Bedford Square, among other town projects.

4ward Planning (New York) — Economic and real estate analysis firm.

Becker and Becker (Fairfield) — Integrated planning, architecture and development.

“Streets are public spaces. Yes, they’re places to drive automobiles, but they’re places for people. It’s not just about moving cars, it’s about moving people,” Shapiro said.

As a firm that usually works in the private sector, Barton Partners expressed sincere interest in the fact that Westport’s request for proposals had an implementation component to it.

“We like to build things. We like to see things get done. We’re really not interested in creating a report that’s going to sit on the shelf until the next report is done and sits on the shelf. You know, we build things,” Shapiro said.

Members of the public voiced concern over the exclusion of the Bridge Street Bridge in the defined study area for the Transit Oriented Development project.

Planning and Zoning Director Mary Young, who chairs the Saugatuck TOD Committee, said she was aware that the public felt it was a “miss” on the town’s part and added that she is working with Barton Partners to see how the defined area might be amended.

@chrismmarquette; cmarquette@bcnnew.com