Seven firms have submitted bids in response to the town's "request for proposals" to produce a master plan of development for downtown Westport.

The seven bidders who met the town's March 14 deadline for the RFP are: the Manhattan-based BFJ Planning; the Miami-based Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co.; the Cheshire-based Milone & MacBroom, the Buffalo, N.Y.-based Peter J. Smith & Co.; The RBA Group, which has offices in Norwalk; SSC Engineering, of Haddon Township, N.J., and the Philadelphia-based Wallace, Roberts & Todd.

"We think the quality of the responses is very encouraging," said Lou Gagliano, chairman of the town's Downtown 2020 Committee. "We think the costs are reasonably in line."

Of the five bids he has reviewed so far, Gagliano said the costs of those proposals range between $170,000 and $250,000. The Downtown 2020 Committee will not seek a town allocation of more than $175,000 for the master plan and its requested appropriation for the project "could well be less," Gagliano said. Private-sector contributions will cover the difference between the town's allotment and the total cost of the master plan.

Downtown 2020 has so far received approximately $60,000 in commitments from private funding sources, including a $10,000 pledge from the Westport-Weston Chamber of Commerce.

The town issued the RFP on Feb. 27 soon after Downtown 2020 Committee members decided to start a formal bidding process for the master plan that the committee advocates. The RFP stipulated that the master plan examine and make recommendations on downtown issues, such as parking, traffic, flooding and pedestrian access.

While the proposed master plan appears to have broad support from town officials, its RFP has faced criticism from several Planning and Zoning Commission members who want the RFP withdrawn because they said that they were not consulted by the Downtown 2020 Committee before the bidding was initiated.

Gagliano, however, contends zoning officials were involved in the master plan RFP process. As his committee pushes forward with its preparations for the master plan, Gagliano said he envisions a prominent role for the P&Z as the document is drafted.

"There will be active integration with the P&Z in terms of public priorities and zoning changes that may be required," he added.

Gagliano ruled out, however, pursuing a suggestion made by some P&Z members to broaden the scope of the master plan to include the entire Post Road corridor from the Norwalk-Westport line to the town's border with Fairfield.

"I think it would be a mistake to lose our focus on the downtown area," he said.

Downtown 2020 members plan to select the winning bid by mid-April, according to Gagliano. They will then need to secure backing for town funding for the master plan from the Board of Finance and Representative Town Meeting. If those two bodies approve by May a town appropriation for the master plan, the document could be finished by the end of this year. If the finance board and RTM take longer to sign off on funding, the master plan likely would not be completed until early 2014. The master plan is expected to take six to seven months to produce, according to Gagliano.

The proposed master plan has also garnered the support of a number of downtown business owners, including Steve Desloge, president of the Downtown Merchants Association and owner of Rockwell Art and Framing at 236 Post Road East.

"We are really a strong advocate for what the 2020 Committee is trying to achieve," Desloge said. "Their goals and the DMA's goals are, in essence, one and the same. We're all on the same page. We all want to have a workable solution that answers the challenges that this growing downtown has."; 203-255-4561, ext. 118;