Calling it "the most exceptional community participation in the town's history," First Selectman Jim Marpe kicked off plans for the weekend's charrettes on downtown's future with an informational session Monday in Town Hall.

He said that the months of surveys, meetings and workshops leading up the downtown charrettes Saturday and Sunday were all part of an "unprecedented outreach effort to see what needs to be improved and what actionable steps" can be taken.

He said the public input from the charrettes will help determine what the public wants downtown to look and feel like.

The Downtown Steering Committee -- which is providing guidance and technical support to RBA Group, the consulting firm hired to draft a master plan for downtown -- has held a series of meetings where future downtown plans were discussed. The committee chairwoman, Melissa Kane, oversaw Monday night's session.

"This has been an exciting campaign," she said, referring to the prior information-gathering that developed "issues, challenges and opportunities" for downtown.

"Now it's time to find solutions," she said, adding the charrettes will give residents the chance "to have their say" in the solutions.

Mark Keener, of RBA group, gave an overview of what could be expected this weekend. He said the short list of what residents seem interested in is "to reclaim and enhance the riverfront access, enhance pedestrian walkways, enhance the connection between key downtown destinations, enhance and activate public open space and improve traffic flow."

Saturday's charrette will begin at 8:30 am. at Town Hall with an overview presentation followed by walking tours through downtown from 9:20 to 11 a.m. There will be a lunch break from noon to 1:30 p.m.

There will be post-tour work sessions with expert panels and discussions from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. followed by open studio work stations from 3:30 to 6 p.m. in Town Hall.

Sunday, there will be open studio exhibits and work stations from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Town Hall with a closing presentation from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.

There will be three groups of walking tours, which will last about an hour each, Keener explained. The tours will cover a variety of categories such as open space, parks and streets and recent and future building projects.

Besides projects, the charrette will also include discussion on a riverfront walk and redesign of Parker Harding Plaza, as well as greater use of Jesup Green. "Not a lot goes on there," Keener said.

RBA Group has already conducted a survey that garnered 3,100 responses that found there was a broad consensus in several areas, most significantly, that future downtown plans should strive to maintain its "small-town character."

For full details on this weekend's charrettes, visit