Parker Harding Charrette: Cut-Through Road Returns; Parking Spaces Added

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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25 responses to “Parker Harding Charrette: Cut-Through Road Returns; Parking Spaces Added

  1. Let’s hear it for participative town government!

  2. Adrian J Little

    I see large and small parking spaces – how are these going to be monitored as I very much doubt that large vehicle drivers are going to NOT park in a “small” space – we have far to entitled a population.

  3. Maybe you should change the name from Parker Harding to “Hardly Parking?” (Sorry Dan, I couldn’t resist posting this.)

  4. Remembering the Compo shopping center accidents when people drove into the buildings, now there are black safety stops for those spaces. With pedestrians and the river, I hope that those spots will have reinforced stops to prevent an accident.

  5. As a member of the Implementation Commission, I attended last night’s meeting, wherein Pete Ratkiewich provided a very thorough history and analysis of the Parker Harding parking situation. I believe your summary of his presentation is well done. I encourage citizens to take advantage of this opportunity to provide their own thoughts. Time is short for this project to finally get started. There is a great deal to get done. Ken Bernhard

    • Why is time short to get project done?, one revision and so much was changed, maybe more revisions are necessary. Time is not short, ive been hanging out downtown for 55 years, we have all the time in the world to get it right. The PIC by its nature wants to do things whether or not they are good for the town. We must remember the pic has no actual authority, they only provide suggestions. They are an un- elected body of appointees, many times members (over the decades)of this group have an agenda, such as to get stuff implemented, they dont neccesarily care what is done. They would have got rid of cut through if the public didnt stop them.
      To me this plan looks weird. The renders are mis leading. Must hire outside company for better ideas and renders. For instance, why have garbage blocking view of river? The pic should make a flow chart of priorities, simple to create a flow chart.
      I took a course called systems at Cornell, part of the engineering department, we focued on how to solve problems in a systematic way. I don’t see eveidence of this happening with respect to these plans.I see happhazard reactionary political decision-making problem solving is quite simple when solutions are coordinated, as apposed to saying I want green space along the river” that goes nowhere.

  6. John D McCarthy

    I am happy to see progress being made here. Three things I would like to see would be a few more parking spaces, get the dumpster off the river and determine where employees can safely and realistically park

    At the risk of “crossing the streams” it would be a great sign of openness and transparency for the DPIC to post all of the comments received last night on the index cards, as well as opening up the comments that people are leaving on the website to public view. The days where town information is held onto by a few needs to come to an end.

  7. The Parker Harding Plaza Reno MUST INCLUDE pedestrian boxes and buttons at the 33 and post road intersection. With a Reno inviting many more residents and visitors to downtown, that horrible intersection, just before the bridge to town, MUST be addressed…before a tragedy happens! And adding sidewalks along Riverside on the river’s side as well!

  8. I am a firm believer in the idea that if you build parking spaces, you will bring more cars; but if you build walking areas and green spaces, you will bring people. What kind of downtown do we really want? One full of cars and parking lots? The Town hall parking lot goes largely unused during the weekends and yet it is only a very short distance from town center. Parking is not the issue, cars and all the space we allot to them are. Let’s put some space towards people and get this new river walk in!

    • Please require a maintenance plan and budget as well… right now our open space from the river to the Baron’s South property is woefully untended.

  9. I was not at the charrette last night. I am currently away moving one of my children into college as are many who did not attend last night because of the inconvenient and rushed nature of this “charrette” I’m still unsure what the massive rush is all of a sudden to hurry through a disingenuous plan which is going to cause utter chaos in that parking lot and make it far less safe than it is today.

    What this plan seeks to do is to try and divide the support between residents and merchants.
    Course we knew that would be the “compromise”.
    I am a resident and merchant. This is no compromise.
    This plan does not work.

    First of all angled spaces have been replaced with literally “impossible to drive into straight non angled spots”.
    Second loading zones, which are an albeit necessary evil to do business in this area, must be an all day affair.
    Fed ex, ups, dhl, trucks delivering food products etc, do not do it before 10am.
    In fact they deliver all day, until 8pm. As we have zero control over delivery schedules, we have to assume there will be constant all day deliveries.
    Loading zones must be all day long.

    I certainly fully agree with providing pedestrian access via cross walks, and more accessible handicapped parking.
    None of the green space being provided mitigates flooding in any way so please do not be fooled into thinking it does.
    Is this plan trying to provide a buffered view of the parking lot from across the river ? Because the more I look at it, it seems to be trying to hide the unsavory view from across the river, as opposed to doing anything for the view on the PH side of the river.

    I’d also like to know why certain rtm members and not the more involved rtm members had clear and prior knowledge of the details of this plan, while hiding them from the boots on the ground rtm such as for example D9 rtm Sal Liccione.
    So much for transparency and doing our “business in public”
    Business continues to be done through secret closed meetings excluding stakeholders and residents, and pretending to include our views whilst valuable time is being wasted holding non transparent meetings with non merchant business owners etc…

    Last night should have included feedback in person by the general public and business owners and it did not.
    It was another charade to try an push through a ludicrous plan, which increasingly is looking less like a plan to provide green space for the purpose of enjoyment and more like a plan to provide a buffer so buildings on the other side of the river can enjoy a buffered view of the PH parking lot and roadway.
    Incidentally has anybody wondered how the employees from the Starbucks end of PH, will push heavy trash cans down to those new trash areas ? Trash removal from businesses is an all day affair.

    With the new parking regulations coming into effect as early as September, and with chief Foti’s comments on thanksgiving and holidays such as Hanukkah and Christmas coming at the last meeting surely renovating the imperial lot would be a far more urgent agenda item. Provide shuttles, finish the imperial lot for safety, security and parking overflow, as it will no longer be overflow but very much a part of daily life for many.
    There is zero reason to be doing Parker Harding or Jesup first before fixing the parking at imperial so that when repair and renovation happens at the downtown lots and causes us to have massive parking problems, at least the imperial lot will be available for safe, well lit, and accessible parking, including ADA compliant parking. And including a shuttle bus to ferry people from parking on the outskirts of town into town.
    It is absurd to not be renovating and fixing imperial first since it is after all with the removal of parking for green space going to be a necessary parking area.

    We are also still awaiting answers as to where those expected to and being forced down to the imperial lot will park on a Thursday as long as the farmers market is there, and I note from DPIC glossy online brochure will be getting a “permanent “ home there. How is that going to work on a Thursday now that timed parking is back ? And are the residents of Westport expected to build covered pavillions and bathrooms to facilitate this “permanent” home.

    I’m a huge farmers market supporter but if this administration wants its green space and it’s buffers etc, and has cited imperial as the perfect new parking area, going so far as to include it in parking numbers, then those parking spots MUST be in play on a Thursday.

    We do want an answer to that.
    Parking is needed on thursdays also as last I checked main streets and downtowns businesses do not close on a Thursday.
    All questions we have asked time and time again but they have not been answered.

    Seems many many more charrette are needed in order to iron out the finer details of this plan and the order in which the Reno are carried out, again since renovating imperial will provide us then with a shuttle bus lot which during renovation will cause far less traffic chaos and provide us a place to park when the other lots are being redone.

  10. We lived in Westport from 1955-62. Cars peaked in size in 1958-59, when a combination of a steel strike and recession caused their size to shrink dramatically. In NYC, I remember seeing a 1958 car that took up almost two parking spots because of its length; we had a two-tone green 1958 Dodge Challenger complete with tail fins looking like it was ready for take off. Was the parking ever redesigned after those cars passed?

  11. Ciara is right on about angled parking spaces 👍🏼

  12. Very nice coverage, Dan.

    Just one point regarding same: “…DPIC was charged with developing a new plan [for Parker Harding].”

    Actually, DPIC was charged with implementing the plan as it appears in the Downtown Master Plan. That vetted and approved plan called for retaining the now famous cut through road.

    For whatever reason, DPIC quietly tore up that plan and, using taxpayer money, produced the plan that caused all the controversy.

    So, after months of Kabuki theater, we’re essentially back to where we started with the original program as specified in the Downtown Plan.

  13. I’d like to express unconditional support for thoughtfulness and balancing of various interests in the updated plan. This is another example of Westport working well together and moving towards a very positive and needed upgrade to downtown. Lets add some form of metered parking and lets get this going FAST

  14. Dorothy Robertshaw

    We attended part of the meeting last night. The explanation and illustrations were fabulous. The new revised plan is wonderful. We are so lucky to live in a town like Westport. As always, thank you Dan for a well written article 🩷💃

  15. I also agree with Ciara about the angled parking!

  16. Compo Beach and Old Mill should also be angled parking.

  17. Hi Dan- your forum brought out one of the most important points overlooked by the presentation!! As Ciara and Dave say- angled parking gets cars in and out of parking spots more easily, a lot faster and I think more safely. It also widens the two lanes of traffic giving even more room for emergency vehicles and fire engines.

    Greenwich beat us to this on their Main Street
    – they have had angled parking for years!

  18. Absolutely right on the angled spots. It’s quite fascinating just how difficult it is in practice to get in and out of non angled spots.
    Of course anybody who has tried to park in non angled spots will be very aware of it and if they are not please do try and take the opportunity to find a busy parking lot and attempt to park in a non angled spot between 2 already parked cars, this way you will see just how impractical and difficult it is to park in that spot.

    By not angling the spots they are able to squeeze in countless extra spots and show less of a net loss of parking, so in other words if they angled all those parking spots there would be a loss on paper of another 30-40 spots and if the spots were all standard, not small car spaces ( bearing in mind most cars we see on our roads are NOT small, and while that might spark debate on we should all be driving small electric cars, we do not. I do not think people who drive standard cars are going to go out and change the type of car they drive in order to be able to park in 50% of the small car spots.
    So again an incredibly disingenuous attempt of smoke and mirrors to appear to capture parking spots by using small spots and non angled spots.
    Let’s see this exact plan with all standard sized angled parking to appreciate the actual number of user friendly parking spots we will have.
    Let’s also show it with all day loading zones, so delivery trucks are not double parked for 20 minutes whilst unloading furniture for furniture stores, food for restaurants, boxes of goods for other merchants slap bang in the middle of that 2 way traffic lot.
    Merchant restaurants all request early deliveries because our kitchen staff are in work as early as 7/8am.
    The retail shops start their day at 10am.
    How are they supposed to get a delivery between 6 and 10am.
    They are still parking at 9.50( if they haven’t had to park at the imperial lot( once renovated) .
    Then there’s ups, fed ex, dhl, vendor companies, again even if we request early deliveries, so are every other merchant restaurant etc doing the same thing between Greenwich and New Haven, and those companies deliver all day, they do not only deliver between 6 and 10am.
    Loading zones are a necessary part of doing retail and restaurant business.
    I suggest having huge trucks and some are huge, double parked in that lot in the middle of the road, will cause utter chaos from 10am-5pm.
    There’s another loss of 12 spots, because I’m assuming that the loading zone spots are included conveniently in their count.
    I have another question and comment about the forest of trees being planted on the river side of the green space, it looks like we are trying to block the view of the river for those on the Parker Harding side of river while offering a green buffer to buildings so they do not see the parking lot from the Wilton road side of the river.
    This is very very confusing. 🤔
    What exactly is the goal there. Would love it explained. ( refer to dans posted artists rendering)

    Lastly, we do not need justified that this plan is to encourage more people to come into downtown to help the merchants out.
    Town is packed to the gills, new restaurants and new stores have done that all on their own. But on the contrary restricting people to 3 hour parking is going to turn them off coming to the downtown.
    Downtowns are not about walks along the river they are about vibrancy and shopping and dining.

    At no point have DPIC sat down with a single merchant at a meeting to discuss any of these points. Why ? I suggest that the answer is they don’t want to hear the truth of the situation as it doesn’t suit the vision.

    And last but by no means least, since the downtown is already largely unmaintained, and undermaintained, what is and where is the budget for maintaining all this once it is built.
    As it appears to already be a constant struggle, who is going to pay for the maintenance of this.?
    And I sincerely assume the answer is not the “special services district” because that would mean the merchants. And I have yet to hear a single merchant interested in paying a new tax to maintain a plan they were vociferously opposed to in the first place.

    The media has touched on in an article here and there “special services district” but nobody appears willing to speak about the very enormous ELEPHANT in the room.

    Who is going to pay for all this maintenance once built.
    What will the budget be ?
    It is NOT going to maintain itself for free.
    We need clarity and we want it now !

  19. i guess no one raised my idea about a pier over the river for a walking path? that would allow for more parking..

  20. That is a good idea, cantilever the walkway. Have a wide green lightly treed area about 15 feet wide where cut ybrough is now up to the river. Then the new cut throught just skinny enough for a vehicle perfectly straight down the way, with raised pedestrian bridge over cut through to green along river. Slanted parking with loading zones.
    Do the garbage like they did in the 60s: have garbage truck pick up from each store, once in morning and once in evening. In this way you can increase number of spaces, have a green along water, save cut through, and not have garbage lying around.

  21. Kudos to the DPIC for posting all the comments received at the August 22 PH Charrette. I took a lot of work to get the comments typed up. I would have been happy with just copies of people’s handwritten notes, but nice to see they went the extra yard. I encourage anyone who isn interested in the PH topic or the topic of Transparency in Government to check these out

    • Oops, “I took a lot of work…” should, of course have been “It took a lot of work…” Sorry for the egocentric typo!!!

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