Westport approves temporary closure of Church Lane
WESTPORT — The Board of Selectmen has unanimously approved closing Church Lane from the intersection of Elm Street to Post Road East for the month of August.
“To be clear, what we’re trying to do is close lower Church Lane temporarily for the month of August to allow for expanded outdoor dining,” said Randy Herbertson, president of the Westport Downtown Merchants Association.
The selectmen already had approved additional pedestrian access on Main Street in June to support outdoor dining, and provide a safe environment for shoppers. The approvals are designed to assist downtown businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Herbertson on Wednesday said the collaborative effort between various businesses and town bodies was designed to create an expanded, more European, outdoor dining feeling on Church Lane.
“I would also say the merchants on the streets that are not restaurants are also planning to do things to welcome people to safely shop in this area,” he said.
The road would be closed every day, but signage would allow for trash collection and deliveries in the morning. Barriers would be erected to notify regular traffic there was no parking and entry wasn’t allowed.
“We’ve had a cooperation both with the restaurants as well as with the police and fire department on this,” Herbertson said. “We do think we have proper access for not only merchant vehicles, but for trash and for deliveries.”
Selectwoman Melissa Kane said she had concerns for traffic flow and potential retailers worried about losing the car traffic.
“I’m all for Church Lane to be a shared street. We’ve been trying to do that for a long time so I want to find a way to make it work. But I am sensitive to concerns about that,” she said.
Herbertson said the closure could be an opportunity to have more shoppers on the street.
“The reason to close it, frankly, is to give it more of a festival experience, more of a special experience,” he said.
Herbertson said there were no plans for music or activities that could create extra noise, and businesses would still follow normal dining hours.
“This isn’t designed to be a ruckus kind of thing, it’s designed to be more ambient dining just as we’ve seen elsewhere,” he said.
The selectmen said they were in favor of the proposal with the caveat it would be reviewed before it receives an extension.
First Selectman Jim Marpe said the concept of closing streets downtown has been around for years.
“I think this is an opportunity in an unprecedented situation to give this a try,” he said. “We’re approving for one month with the option, of course, to continue, but that will be a part of the review process.”