Downtown Plan Nears Final Approval

Remember Westport’s Downtown Master Plan?

The 1st draft of the 159-page document — the result of several years’ worth of meetings, surveys and studies — was introduced with moderate fanfare in January.

Now — after 5 more months of restructuring and reorganization — the final draft is done.

Larry Untermeyer’s spectacular aerial photo in the opening pages of the planning report highlights the inherent charm — and problems — of downtown.

Larry Untermeyer’s spectacular aerial photo in the opening pages of the planning report highlights the inherent charm — and problems — of downtown.

The 44 recommendations from the RBA Group consultants — ranging from big-picture creative ideas to practical smaller improvements — are are almost all the same.

But the document itself is much more intuitive and user-friendly. It includes far more illustrations, demonstrating some of the concepts and proposed changes. The section on storm waters and flooding — crucial to any Westport downtown plan — is deeper (ho ho). The “design guidelines” section has been beefed up with more examples, guidance and photos.

Greater emphasis is placed on management issues — for example, how to implement all these projects, and how to improve downtown services.

A newly detailed implementation and funding section notes — for each project – who will be involved, and which permits to obtain, legal issues to address and approvals to secure.

Finally, there are new cost estimates, accompanied by likely sources of funding: private developer contributions, other private partner funds, state and federal grants, and/or town capital funding.

The Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge looks spectacular -- in this view. The river is one key to unifying all of downtown. (Photo/Alan Hamilton -- William Raveis Real Estate)

The Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge looks spectacular — in this view. The river is one key to unifying all of downtown. (Photo/Alan Hamilton — William Raveis Real Estate)

Downtown Steering Committee chair Melissa Kane and her group have done a thorough, clear job. They have made their plan as easy to understand as possible.

On June 4, her committee voted to accept the report as the final document. Next, they’ll present it to the board of selectmen — hopefully at a nighttime meeting, with all town boards in attendance. That date has not yet been set.

“We’re very proud of our work,” Kane says. “A lot of ‘Westport’ has gone into this.'”

To read the full report, click here.

Meanwhile, here are some highlights:

Short-term

  • Improve and complete the sidewalk network throughout downtow
  • Redesign Church Lane into a “shared street”
  • Support improvements to Toquet Hall
  • Support the redevelopment of the west side riverfront
  • Restore and revitalize Elm Street
  • Coordinate with and integrate redevelopment of the west side riverfront
  • Build a pedestrian bridge crossing the Saugatuck
  • Create a Westport Arts & Culture Heritage “Trail”
  • Improve pedestrian safety at Post Road crossings
  • Improve pedestrian and vehicular safety at Post Road intersections through traffic signal modifications
  • Redesign Myrtle Avenue intersections
  • Improve traffic movements at the Route 1/33 intersection
Traffic often backs up on Wilton Road, near the Post Road intersection. Development of the west side of the river is an important element of the Downtown Master Plan.

Traffic often backs up on Wilton Road, near the Post Road intersection. Development of the west side of the river is an important element of the Downtown Master Plan.

  • Improve the wayfinding system for motorists
  • Develop directional and informational signs for pedestrians
  • Support initiatives to access and connect downtown through transit
  • Provide amenities for public transit passengers
  • Provide bicycle parking in downtown
  • Combine and co-manage public and private parking lots (Baldwin lot with Avery Place; Gillespie Center with old Town Hall)
  • Redesign the Main  Street/Elm Street intersection
  • Change parking from 1-hour to 2-hour maximum in downtown
  • Implement seasonal valet parking
  • Relocate long-term parking to south of Post Road
  • Coordinate flood prevention efforts with neighboring upstream towns
  • Replace existing culverts and pipes; conduct flood audits of downtown commercial properties; control building development in downtown’s flood hazard zone

Mid-term

  • Coordinate with and integrate the library transformation project
  • Transform Parker Harding Plaza
  • Reinvent Jesup Green
  • Provide public restrooms (either on Jesup or Parker Harding)
  • Redesign Taylor Place into a “shared street”
  • Coordinate with and integrate the relocation of the Westport Arts Center
  • Coordinate with and integrate the Westport Cinema Initiative
  • Implement/install standard streetscape elements throughout downtown
  • Create/improve pedestrian passageways
  • Create a new street: Library Lane
  • Build a bridge to connect to the Imperial Avenue parking lot; improve the appearance and safety of the lot
  • Redesign Jesup Road
  • Evaluate implementing a real-time parking information system
  • Evaluate a fee-based system to manage parking in certain locations
  • Evaluate the need for structured parking at Baldwin/Elm lots
Modifications to Elm Street are shown in this rendering. The old Westport Pizzeria is on the right; Vineyard Vines is hidden behind trees at center.

Modifications to Elm Street are shown in this rendering. The old Westport Pizzeria is on the right; Vineyard Vines is hidden behind trees at center.

An illustration of the possible reinvention of Jesup Green shows a pier, and relocation of parking.

An illustration of the possible reinvention of Jesup Green shows a pier, and relocation of parking. The library is at right.

Long-term

  • Place a cafe on the green
  • Construct a downtown landing
  • Create a barge restaurant
  • Extend the westside riverwalk
  • Evaluate the need for structured parking on police station lot or Gillespie Center/Old Town Hall lot
  • Evaluate strategies to combat tidal events/sea level rise

16 responses to “Downtown Plan Nears Final Approval

  1. Near term, short term, long term, the plans are the same; spend taxpayer dollars based on a forecast of the future that is almost certainly wrong. The seers, planners, and “experts” who are advancing this plan, cannot know the future. Yet, they are willing to spend taxpayer dollars, and give away public assets to private entities based on their flawed vision.

    In the not so distant past, another group of seers, planners, and “experts” inflicted their vision on Westport, and schools were closed based upon the certain knowledge that young people with children would not move to Westport because it was “too expensive”. Acting on that vision cost the taxpayers of Westport tens of millions of dollars when new schools were required and older schools needed to be expanded and renovated when young people with children moved to Westport.

    On balance, this current plan is a very bad idea.

    Another bridge across the Saugatuck? Really? Follow the money.

  2. Sort of amazing what happens when you have academic types (who most certainly live in Brooklyn) looking to quaint European villages for urban planning favors of the month like “shared streets” and “real time parking information systems.” How about real world things like: 1) a grocery store; 2) more casual dining options beyond Oscars & Bobby Q; 3) incentive e.g. tax break to bring back local mom and pop retail tenants; 4) left turn lanes on all sides of Rt 33/US intersection and traffic cop at rush hour; 5) parking on Rt 33 (West Side of Saugatuck) that isn’t restricted to office tenants.

  3. And 6) one thing they DO have in Europe that our traffic experts can’t figure out here are pedestrian crosswalks that really work.

  4. I agree with above and wonder in cases like “expanded green and cafe on the river” in Parker Harding and in several other suggestions where the space required is coming from. There is already a shortage of parking.
    And a pedestrian bridge to what???

    • To someone’s commercial development on the west side of the river. Think of the bridge as a gift from the taxpayers of Westport to a developer or developers.

  5. FWIW, we have a pedestrian bridge across the Saugatuck, and it is so ingeniously designed that it also carries cars and bicycles!

  6. Morley Boyd

    A small point of clarification: not everyone on the Downtown Steering Committee voted to accept this plan in its entirety. Apropos to some of the above comments, I was the sole “no” vote.

  7. The library has consistently been among the busiest in the state in terms of the number of daily users or visitors. Parking is not always easy to find currently. Especially when you consider the number of elderly patrons and the number of parents with very young children who frequent the library, I think it is a mistake to eliminate or significantly reduce the Jesup Green lot for the purpose of extending and “reinventing Jesup Green.” There are, in theory, improvements that can be made to the existing Jesup Green without forcing library patrons to park even further from the library.

  8. Sandy Soennichsen

    Right off the bat, I see something like the Westport Cinema Initiative. What is that? From what I have read and heard, it’s a small group of people that think they should share their love of old movies with the masses and have a theater in which to do it. Sheeesh. If I want old movies, I’ll watch them on Netflix or any number of other streamers in the comfort of my own home and at the time I want to watch. That should be stricken from the agenda and plan. They want it, let them pay for it out of their own pockets.

  9. I realize the committee has done a ton of research, with plenty of internal debate, and lots of editing, but this reminds me of a buffet lunch at an Indian restaurant, with four times as many offerings as one can conceivably sample. I think the 44 (!?) recommendations should be stripped down to the small subset that may make sense over the next one-to-five years… Perhaps, one hopes, that’s exactly what will happen now as the document goes before the selectman and town boards.

    • (sorry) selectmen…

    • The purpose of the “plan” is to fill up the public trough. There is no evidence that a “plan” is needed except as a blueprint for rewarding special interests. Think of the plan as Christmas in June, and you are paying for the presents.

  10. I like many of the concepts in the plan (putting aside the big question of costs for a second), but I am concerned that it doesn’t really address what I see as the key issue… Why go to downtown in the first place? Other than the Library (A+++), the new Pavilion, and a few restaurants clustered on the west side of the bridge or by the Spotted Horse, downtown seems like a holiday shopping destination. I personally love Patagonia, J. Crew, and Brooks Brothers, but I shop at these places once a year, at best. With the Y gone and the pizzeria banished to the Post Rd, everyday reasons to walk down main street are few. Where is the grocery? The outdoor dining? Things that are attractive to families and kids? And men? Forgive me for saying so, but the current downtown is very heavily oriented toward high end women shoppers. I am all for these places, but in a larger context that draws people to actually live and enjoy their lives, friends, and families downtown, not just shop in high end retail stores. I recently moved to Westport and love it here and would love to see our downtown a gathering place for people who live here (and beyond). Many of the ideas in this plan could help, but I am not sure they will create a draw in and of themselves.

  11. Michael Calise

    The Downtown is nothing more than brick and mortar that people choose to visit or pass through. The fact that it has a beautiful river passing through it is what makes it the place that it is. Gilding the Lilly with millions of dollars of the peoples money without dredging the river as it progressively silts up is no different than putting a new roof on a house with a crumbling foundation.

  12. Bart Shuldman

    Wow. 182 Pages to this report. That is right 182 pages. And what is missing is a summary section showing the different parts of the plan with THE COST AND WHO PAYS.

    To ask residents to either support or not this project by issuing 172 pages seems wrong to me. While to back up is great, it would be much more helpful to be able to review the different items and how much it will cost taxpayers.

    This was almost-inundate the public with so much information nobody will actually read it all.

    The committee was dedicated to get this done and this is not a comment on their work. But as a resident I don’t believe it right to issue 182 page document and the ask-what do you think? And I know I will hear-well come to the meetings.

    I will work and get thru all 182 pages and report back, hopefully how this massive project effects and affects all of us.

    Maybe in the meantime the firm that spent all this money assembling this huge document can issue a better summary so we can easily understand the different projects inside this huge project and who pays.

    Bart

  13. James Erlich

    We need more space for the local residents, and yes visitors too, to gather, better and safer connectivity via sidewalks, bike paths, etc. We also need to invest in storm protection and infrastructure. We already have Waldman’s project which will add more retail and residential to an already dense concentration of retailers. I do think that the west side of the river could be activated better and that will require some give and take with the current owners or future developers. However, I do think one issue is that the Town is trying to cram all commercial development downtown because any development or redevelopment outside of that area would “disrupt” our residents. The more they cram downtown the more and more congested and unmanageable it will be come. Spread it out a little bit and then it will be more manageable and can happen organically over time.