Putting parking in perspective
Thanks to the Westport News for your series of articles on downtown Westport, including the recent focus on downtown parking. It's a subject worthy of attention.
The first selectman, as chairman of the Town Plan Implementation Committee (PIC), commissioned a Downtown Plan Subcommittee charged with developing specific recommendations for downtown. We've been meeting for over a year, engaging the downtown "stakeholders," from the Levitt and the library, to the Downtown Merchants Association and other downtown commercial interests. We've also had conversations with experts on parking/traffic and downtown development, as well as with members of the P&Z on revising downtown regulations to promote priorities stated in the Town Plan.
Although we're still formulating our recommendations, we generally agree that we'd like to see a more vibrant and aesthetically pleasing downtown, an improved destination for all Westporters (in addition to shoppers and diners), with enhanced nightlife and safe havens for teens (such as a movie theater). We envision a new public/private partnership in which businesses can prosper and Westport's unique cultural heritage can be enjoyed by the greatest number. In sum, a great place for Westporters of all ages to linger awhile!
Solving downtown's parking shortcomings -- perhaps more to do with location of spaces than total number -- is important but not purely an end in itself. The possibility of creating a multi-tiered parking facility (most likely on the current Baldwin parking lot) would allow us to transfer spaces from Parker-Harding Plaza and Jesup Green adjacent to the river. Such a shift would facilitate plans for a scenic and recreational riverwalk (as enjoyed by a number of New England river communities) and enhance Jesup Green as a community public space. Along with some changes proposed by the downtown merchants, the overall effect would be a "greener" and more inviting downtown.
We've also discussed ideas that would broaden our concept of downtown and make it easier to realize plans for an "emerald necklace" of pedestrian and bike paths around downtown. We've discussed parking alternatives including: the Imperial Avenue lot; the private/public parking agglomeration of the Taylor Place area (between the Police Station and the Post Road businesses near the Post Office); and behind the Police Station. As with most things in Westport, each area has its own issues and impediments. But any or all of these areas may be part of an improved downtown, whether in the nearer or longer-term.
Lastly, the subcommittee doesn't presume that Westporters will instantly endorse our recommendations. After our plan is formalized and adopted by the PIC, we expect to bring our proposal before the town, perhaps via town meetings. We'll explain how and why the average Westporter would benefit from improving downtown as a town asset, much as we value Longshore, Compo Beach and our superior schools. It will be our obligation to explain how any changes might be paid for, resting on the assumption of minimal burden on taxpayers.
Our subcommittee is excited by the prospect of a gradual and appropriate "makeover" of Westport's downtown. We invite everyone to participate in this ongoing dialogue.
Jonathan Steinberg, chairman of the Downtown Plan Subcommittee, Town Plan Implementation Committee, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.