The cut-through is back.
So are more parking spots than originally planned.
Plus: It’s ADA-compliant. And fire trucks now have the space they need, in case of emergency.
Those are the main takeaways from last night’s “charrette” — a meeting of residents, business owners, the Downtown Plan Implementation Committee and other stakeholders.
Nearly 150 people — including officials from many town boards — filled the Westport Library to look at architects’ drawings and artists’ renderings, listen to Public Works director Pete Ratkiewich, and ask questions about the Parker Harding Plaza renovation plan.
Public Works director Pete Ratkiewich presented the Downtown Plan Implementation Committee’s proposal, at last night’s charrette.
In his presentation, Ratkiewich acknowledged public criticism, following the release in June of DPIC’s then-most recent plan.
The elimination of the cut-through road, along the Saugatuck River from Main Street to the Post Road, elicited the most controversy. Concern was also voiced then about the loss of parking spaces, in a new configuration.
Ratkiewich began with a brief history of the parking lot. Until the mid-1950s, he noted, the river lapped up against the banks of Main Street stores.
For many years, the Saugatuck River backed up right to the rear of Main Street businesses. (Photo/Peter Barlow)
A Kowalsky Brothers landfill project created the plaza, to serve the growing downtown in the postwar boom.
Construction of Parker Harding Plaza.
Designed by landscape architect Evan Harding, the original plan had a row of cars facing the river directly. (See “1970” and “1985” in the aerial photos below.)
A 1985 project removed vehicles from that prime spot. It also reconfigured the area near Gorham Island.
Parker Harding Plaza, through the years.
That created — theoretically — 214 parking spaces. But because many are far tighter than standard spots, cars sometimes take up more than one space.
And because there are not enough handicap spots as legally required, only 37 total spots conform to current regulations.
In addition, large swaths of the narrow lane closest to the back entrances of stores are not wide enough for firefighters to operate.
For those reasons — and to create a safer environment for pedestrians headed through the lot, their cars or the river, as well as for flood mitigation, and as part of a larger redesign that includes the Taylor lot by the Westport Library — DPIC was charged with developing a new plan.
Simply restriping the lot would not work, Ratkiewich said. Complying with current ADA and fire laws would result in only 142 to 157 spaces — and the main lane would still not be wide enough to accommodate fire trucks.
But although a new plan would create two-way traffic in a widened road closest to the rear of stores, the elimination of the cut-through road drew a firestorm of criticism.
The newest plan retains the cut-through, slightly east of the current road. It improves the congested areas near both Gorham Island and Starbucks, and adds lighting, plantings, public art and clearly designated walkways.
The new plan provides 173 parking spaces — with 7 handicap spots, 3 truck loading areas (until 10 a.m. only), and enough room for fire trucks to operate.
The new Parker Harding plan shows the cut-through road, two-way roadway, loading zones (black) and more.
This artist’s rendering shows the cut-through road, heading south from the entrance near Gorham Island. Trash compactors will be hidden on the right. NOTE: The backs of the buildings will NOT be redesigned to look like Staples High School.
The main Parker Harding road will be widened, enabling 2-way traffic. The backs of the Main Street stores (right) will NOT be redesigned, despite this artist’s rendering.
With the cut-through road relocated slightly east of its current location (blue), there will be increased green spacy near the river. The DPIC plan includes public artwork, and more trees.
“This is not going to make everyone happy,” Ratkiewich acknowledged. “But we think it’s a good compromise of competing interests.”
Charrette attendees had the opportunity to fill out feedback cards. Comments can also be made through the Downtown Plan Implementation Committee website, through September 5.
Cards and pens were available for feedback.
Downtown Plan Implementation Committee chair Randy Herbertson (left) and Westport Downtown Association president Maxx Crowley, at last night’s charrette. (All charrette photos/Dan Woog)
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