Like any developer, David Waldman has enjoyed watching his latest project take shape. Bedford Square will redefine downtown, tying together Church Lane, Elm Street and Main Street, while offering an exciting new mix of retail, office and residential space.
Yet for a long time Waldman felt frustrated. One small but key piece of property did not fit.
36 Elm Street — the site of Villa del Sol restaurant — interrupts the new streetscape Waldman is creating. It intrudes into the sidewalk. And the adjacent parking lot — near the back entrance to the old Y and the former Klein’s — is a poorly configured, hard-to-navigate, chaotic mess.
The owner of 36 Elm Street did not want to sell. The town of Westport owns the parking lot. It looked like Waldman would have to build, as best he could, around those existing properties.
But a solution may be at hand. If town officials agree to a land swap, everyone could benefit: Villa del Sol. Drivers. Pedestrians admiring the streetscape. Merchants. Apartment dwellers. And, of course, Waldman.
He is currently negotiating to buy 36 Elm Street. (Ironically, he once owned it. He and his father bought what was then Brasserie Saint Germain in 1993. Waldman sold it several years later.)
His plan is to swap the property for a section of the town-owned Baldwin parking lot, across the street. Waldman would then build a 9,750-square-foot building behind Lux Bond & Green.
Villa del Sol would reopen there, alongside 3 small retail stores. Above them would be 4 apartments — 1 of them rented under state “affordable” guidelines.
The town would demolish the Villa del Sol building, creating additional parking. Waldman says that despite taking Baldwin spots for the new building, the town would net a gain of 2 parking spaces in the new lot.
If approved, Waldman says his plan will “really and truly complete the ‘Golden Triangle’ downtown.
“I really feel this is the last piece of the puzzle in downtown Westport. The proposed building will solidify the importance of Elm Street, and its connectivity to Main Street and Church Lane. It also improves pedestrian safety.”
In addition, Waldman says, “it provides beautiful sight lines for the Bedford project, and the new design for the back of 44 Main Street” (the Banana Republic building).
Frederick William Hoag — the architect collaborating with Waldman — is also working with the owners of 44 Main Street, and the Bobby Q’s building. Those projects will benefit from the new parking lot too, Waldman says.
Finally, he notes, the Elm Street land swap is in keeping with feedback about downtown development. One popular idea was for storefronts on the Baldwin property, adding retail while blocking the view of an ugly parking lot.
Town officials seem receptive to the plan, in its early stages. Now Waldman must finalize the contract for 36 Elm Street, and begin the land swap process with regulatory bodies.