[OPINION] Longshore-like Option Needed For Parker Harding

Robert Augustyn, his wife Katie and son Will moved to Westport in 1996. He has coached Little League, and volunteered with the Westport Library, Food Rescue US and Bridgeport First Serve.

Robert Augustyn

He has spent most of his professional career as a dealer of rare maps, books and prints. In 2019 he opened Robert Augustyn Rare Maps & Prints here, which has deepened his interest in Westport’s history. He has spoken widely on the subject of early maps to groups like the Rotary Clubs, and is the author of the award-winning Manhattan in Maps.

Robert writes:

In 1960, Westport did the unthinkable and purchased a failing private country club in a weak economy for just about $2 million — roughly $20 million today.  Sheer insanity!

Yet it happened. And today we enjoy as public amenities what private country club members pay many thousands of dollars to partake in.

The audacity of this acquisition drew national acclaim.  It’s a great story of a few visionaries, and a bipartisan effort leading to sudden and overwhelming enthusiasm in the town.

What magnificent courage! Without it our beloved Longshore would have become Longshore Estates or some such, and Westport would have been set on a path to become another sequestered haven only for the very rich, where most of the town’s most beautiful areas would be irrevocably privatized.

The town’s purchase of Longshore in 1960 prevented it from becoming an 180-home residential development.

We are, I believe, at another such point in our town’s history in facing the question of what to do with the Parker Harding parking lot, our Saugatuck River frontage, and in a larger sense, the character of our downtown.

In debating this, I believe we have left off the table the bold, brave, Longshore-like option.

There has been much well-meaning discussion in recent years regarding the need for greater community connection and public spaces that foster interpersonal interaction. Having a more pedestrian-friendly downtown that invites lingering, that is more pedestrian friendly, more village-like, has been offered as an answer to the above needs.

Parker Harding Plaza (Drone photo/John Videler for Videler Photography)

None of the recent plans for our downtown really address this generally felt desire for a downtown with a more community feel.

Also, there is nothing in these plans that would meaningfully enhance enjoyment of the river, especially as long as there is a clogged parking lot adjacent to it; nothing in them that would encourage anyone to linger longer in downtown for the sheer pleasure of the experience.

Most would agree the Parker Harding lot is unsightly and unpleasant to navigate to say the least, and that it all but obliterates enjoyment of our riverfront, which could and should be the true focus in the re-making our downtown.

The current plan with the added greenery and trees, I believe, would hardly change at all the felt, on-the-ground experience of being in our downtown.

What would? True transformation, I believe, could only be realized by completely eliminating the Parker Harding lot, and building out another layer of retail space from the existing retails spaces. The rest would be a spacious promenade all the way to the river.

A good portion of the new retail space would be occupied by restaurants that would extend seating into the promenade, as found in many European port or riverside cities. COVID taught us that restaurants can offer outdoor seating virtually year-round, as is now commonly seen in New York.

Riverfront in Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana.

I believe this configuration would also draw a much wider range of retailers than we currently have, and that the promenade can host kiosks for well-selected specialty retailers.

Also, there would be ample room for a bandshell or its modern equivalent, carefully curated food trucks, and whatever else might be added to a welcoming and fascinating space.

Overall, the goal of this approach is both modest and profound: to create a beautiful space where time can be spent pleasantly, where people would want to linger and slowing take in their surroundings. I believe much good can come of this simple end — both in terms of community connection and commercial vigor.

What about parking?

This would be the other audacious part. Build a parking garage in the conveniently located, very large Elm Street parking area. The first — of many I’m sure — objections would be that it would be an eyesore.

I answer that by saying I’m sure that Westport, with its devotion to the arts, can find a way to make this an appealing structure, by challenging local artists to help make it so.

Cost actually should not be a great obstacle. Searching online regarding the cost of such a structure, I came up with a back-of-an-envelope calculation of $10 million for 300 to 500 cars.

Another possibility resulting from the presence of of a parking garage would be the option to ban parking on Main Street and convert it to a 2-way road to compensate for the loss the Parker Harding cut-through.

It is often difficult to be aware of when a community is standing at a crossroads regarding its future. But as we contemplate the future of our downtown, let us at least be honest with ourselves.

Proposed project in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

There is a choice to be made here that will influence subsequent generations.  It is this: Do we want our downtown to remain a not particularly pleasant place to quickly shop, dine and leave?

And in the case of the Parker Harding lot and the cut-through road along the riverfront, a decidedly unpleasant experience to be gotten through with hardly a glance at river?

Again, we must be really honest here: the current proposals for the Parker Harding lot would not substantively change this.

Or do we want our riverfront to become a true destination for both our own community and those from outside of it, where one would actually want to leisurely congregate, de-compress, stroll and mingle, take in the lovely, tidal Saugatuck River, and provide for us and future generations a soul-nourishing experience?

To put it another way: Are we content to essentially leave things as they are regarding the Parking Harding lot and our downtown, which would be the case if some version of the current plan is adopted, or do we want to do the hard, brave thing that would truly transform our downtown?

As always, readers are invited to respond. Click “Comments” below.

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59 responses to “[OPINION] Longshore-like Option Needed For Parker Harding

  1. This guy is so right. I’ve been saying this to my friends for years.

  2. Ahhh, would be so lovely, and I mean that. Ischia, where my husband is from has a port like you describe. All this would great IF the parking garage debated for decades would get built to include employees ( that would also increase) AND you figure out the on going garbage debacle also with some state of the art well funded BY landlords and supported my merchant employees. I’m curious to hear what my neighbors, restauranteurs, and town officials think. But again can lovely and practical and possible come together. (Yikes can you imagine the construction)

  3. Robert Colapietro

    Truly visionary! Let’s get to it!

  4. This could be amazing.

    When I was a kid, Main Street was two-way.

  5. Yes

    • Bravo! This post represents what I had less articulately been driving at with my recent Opinion ‘Where is the Westport Vision’.
      Let’s study more ambitious options such as this, as opposed to minor tinkering around the edges.

  6. Some of us have been suggesting for years now – at least as far back as the Heneage administration when I was Town Attorney -that the space occupied by Harder Parking Plaza could be reclaimed and repurposed and Main Street made more pedestrian friendly if there were a modest parking structure on the Elm Street lot. That idea was made even more attractive by construction of the liner buildings on Elm Street which will effectively screen such a structure from view. I applaud Mr. Augustyn’s ideas.

  7. Love this idea! This would truly enhance the downtown area while affording residents and visitors a true riverfront experience including retail and dining. These proposed changes will ensure actual residential and visitor use, rather than just a pleasant looking parking lot.

  8. No better way to wake up than to a beautiful post like this. Yes please and thank you!

  9. Not a new idea but a well articulated regurgitation of what many have suggested for many years. As always, requires political leadership, money, ability to navigate and overcome the increasingly absurd regulatory restrictions, and again, money. Plus everyone in the town will have an opinion – logical and otherwise – and little will actually happen largely due to the absence of sustained leadership. Call me pessimistic but tell me why I’m wrong, and I’ll point to Westport’s last 10-20 years.

  10. Great ideas! My husband and I frequently lament that we live in a community on the water, but there are hardly any options for dining on the water. As far as a parking garage is concerned, why couldn’t we build one where a portion is underground to limit its height profile? It’s time to take back the river!

  11. As a newcomer, I am surprised that this approach has been long discussed but never moved forward. I, like many of my new neighbors, have visited or lived in cities in the US or abroad that have wonderfully transformed their riverfronts this way. I have lived in towns similar in size and demographics to Westport, and all of them have built parking garages that are well accepted in their communities. In my role as a new local voter, I will look at what candidates intend to do to make this happen.

  12. Creating a second row of storefronts would create value which could pay for part of the construction. It is an idea many have had but we need bold leadership to make it a reality.

  13. Exactly…

  14. Love this idea! Visionary and with the right priorities!

    • In keeping with the visionary opportunity of Longshore there is now a similar possibility of expanding Buring Hill Beach, with the property next to it, which could be a beachfront park, picnic area.

  15. This is an idea we totally support. It has come up before. How do we rally for this in the town?

  16. So refreshing to see people thinking outside the box, something that always seems to be a challenge. Now will the powers-that-be at least be open to discussing it?

  17. Fully support the bold & beautiful!
    What are the next steps o make this a reality?

  18. Let’s get Westport into the chaos of imagination and change. We are living through change on the Post Road, but the rewards of a beautiful downtown river would trump the changes in the Post Road and leave a park-like downtown to be proud of.

  19. An excellent proposal.

  20. Amazing. It’s almost as if the community conversation of the past half year regarding traffic flow and parking never occurred. Nor does there seem to be the slightest recognition that encroaching upon a flood zone is contrary to our POCD – to say nothing of common sense.

  21. What a great idea. And a walking bridge with outdoor seating and kiosks connecting retailers on both sides of the river would add to this.
    “Build it, and they will come!” Let’s make our downtown a destination point and more inviting!

  22. Dolores Noble Steadly

    excellent thinking. totally support this idea.

  23. While at first glance, I would agree with Robert’s concept. Though, what he hasn’t considered in his solution are logistics for waste removal, Delivery truck, handicap vehicles, and Fire truck access. Certainly, these are all items which could be addressed.
    As far as a parking garage, it’s about time Westport consider this as an option. While underground parking would be ideal, only an engineering survey would confirm if this would be possible downtown. (High water table, sewer lines, etc.)
    Even with the existing plan for Westport written a number of years ago, the COVID years have changed significantly with the town’s growth in population. Creating an inviting downtown, as a destination, one which takes advantage of our town’s beautiful waterfront is worth rethinking the entire downtown project.

  24. Great plan!! Makes sense.

  25. Many things about this proposal seem appealing, but there is still a real worry about the growing traffic problems in the downtown area as well as flood mitigation. Those are REAL things that are NOT going away and WILL need to be addressed if we toss out what has been negotiated so far.

  26. an option is to create more space. build a pier over the water. piers can handle pedestrians, vehicles, etc. so it can be a bike path, parking, etc. whatever the town wants it to be. whatever happens, parking and the roadway canNOT be eliminated, that would be catastrophic.

  27. While this idea is debated/explored/fine tuned move forward with “decking” the Elm St. lot.

  28. Beautifully articulated. We have an opportunity here – let’s grab it. Logistics can be worked out by the experts (architects, engineers, surveyors, etc) if we can just stay focused on the vision.

  29. I fully support this vision. Let us be bold and create this pedestrian friendly riverfront!

  30. Bingo! We need visionaries like Robert Augustyn. What madness to have a parking lot on prime riverfront? Other towns would do anything to have Westport’s riverfront and would not squander this opportunity. Westport is missing a community destination to anchor the shopping area. Robert’s suggestions are bold but also obvious. Now it will take leadership to consider it.

  31. Bill Strittmatter

    To Morley’s point, lest everyone forget, downtown Westport is in a flood zone. The flooding issue not just from random hurricanes. Plenty of pics on Dan’s blog. For example:


    If we get creative though, as part of the project maybe Westport can dredge the Saugatuck to make it navigable again, use the dredged material to build a dike along the riverfront (and build the new restaurants on top of that) and protect downtown for the next 50 years. Of course, that might take awhile to get CT DEEP approval and fight the environmental lawsuits so we should get started sooner rather than later.

  32. An obvious and excellent suggestion. Let’s have the 06880 blog set up a survey to test town interest in this option.

  33. Dredging will have no impact on flooding, unfortunately. And the proposed scope of dredging is very short and very narrow. At any rate, the Army Corp’s testing results of the Saugatuck sediment are sobering. You don’t want spread that stuff around on land. In any event, deflecting flood water with a dike solves one problem but often creates another since the water is displaced.

    • hit the nail on the head. what would be great is if westport can get some dinghy docks in down town so once its dredged boaters can go by dinghy to dinner. phase ii, get transient moorings in the mooring field. phase iii, sea wall / protection extending out from compo and maybe near cedar point to protect the harbor, like stonington and others. westport harbor is a gem and far from its full potential.

  34. Amazing idea for a carless society. However, we don’t live in a carless society. So in the real world of 2023 and for the foreseeable future, automobile traffic flow, not just parking, is the key problem to solve for downtown. The DPIC recognized that and has reinstated the PH cut through road, and is on the path to Implementing the Downtown plan of 2015. We can debate this for another 8 years and all we will have to show for it is more of the same: a terrible, garbage ridden eyesore of a parking lot. Implement the plan, clean it up, and let’s move on.

  35. This is fantastic. My husband and I often say Westport just doesn’t do things right with regards to maximizing its natural beauty. This plan is so right!

    I hope the parking structure would also provide longer term pay parking, so one could meet a friend for lunch at restaurant, shop a bit, have a coffee by the river, and do all this at a leisurely pace.

    I’m sure flood zone issues could be worked around. Maybe there could not be this second row of shops but another way to increase retail downtown.

    And—As for another place to gather, church street needs some benches and a Kilwin’s ice cream/chocolate/fudge shop to give it a draw other than just restaurants and stores without Main Street frontage.

  36. Thank you Robert for the insightful ideas for what downtown Westport could be. If the town listens to such workable ideas we could provide our community with something special

  37. This is a visionary long term solution that would uplift the desirability of being in Westport for decades

  38. We recently spent a weekend at Washington’s magnificent new Wharf riverfront complex, which is a jumbo-sized version of this idea. This is exactly what should be done with Harder Parking Plaza. Get to it, Westport.

  39. Love this idea!

  40. David J. Loffredo

    You guys are funny.

    This concept is at least 40 years old, ever since the town dump was closed and moved, and the award winning library emerged.

    Two huge issues:

    1) You might have to walk a half mile to your Range Rover. I watch people circle the lot multiple times rather than park at the surface lots across the Post Road.

    2) As Bill reminded us, this place will be under water at least once this Fall. The combination of global warming, strong tides, and a river that barely flows makes this most likely uninsurable.

    Move on, focus on saving the gardens.

  41. Perfect. Right on point.
    Let’s now allow the few, but loud, squeaking wheels to destroy what could become an incredible downtown for all Westporters and visitors.
    Re: parking garage. Perhaps the slope outside the library could be a location for a quasi underground garage?

  42. In the interest of full transparency, just got the below email notice from the HDC and ARB. The HDC does a great job with providing all relevant information online well in advance of its meetings. So thank you Donna Douglas and Grayson Braun, your helpful transparency is recognized and appreciated.

    This notice has links on it to the full plans for PH, which will be reviewed https://www.westportct.gov/home/showpublisheddocument/80385/638309948616818798?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery

    “Notice is hereby given that the Joint Committee of the Historic District Commission and the Architectural Review Board will hold an electronic public meeting on Tuesday, October 3, 2023, at 7:00 PM for the following purpose:

    To review and comment on the proposed redevelopment of Parker Harding Plaza (Parcel ID# C10/086/000) submitted Peter Ratkiewich, Director of Public Works, for property owned by Town of Westport. Comments offered at the meeting will be considered in anticipation of further zoning review and approvals.”

  43. An eloquent and seductively written poke in the eye to the faint of heart. Rome wasn’t built in a day…but if the vision, will and money are there…go big or go home. Why not get those who can and do around a table and play with some ideas. Most recent changes of some scale have been Bedford square (parking garage include) and the downtown Saugatuck area. Folks like Waldman, Gault, Kowalsky, etc. all know how to do this stuff and they love this town; perhaps some kind of public-private arrangement could be fashioned. All great goals have obstacles and in this case flooding and necessary traffic patterns as well as others are real, but that doesn’t stop the Dutch from living in the Netherlands… just saying.

    • Many people, over many years, around many tables, have created many ideas about PH. Now stuff is being brought forward for approval which takes into account the reality of us living in a car culture. DPIC is now on track largely to do what they were tasked to do….Implement the Plan. Time to move ahead.

  44. Best ideas for a solution to a huge problem. Let’s get it done, Westport!!

  45. Wow!
    I’ve spoken before about Westport’s identity crisis but never envisioned a charming Southrrn New England Town’s transformation into Slovenia, Ischia, Fort Wayne, or a street in Disneyland. Residents moved here captivated by its New London Mystic, Cape Cod character and this is what that looks like? Mind-boggling.

    Rehabilitate Baron’s South, get Longshore’s plan constructed, build our Longshore Waterfront Clubhouse, and buils a new Long Lots school while saving the Community Gardens & Preserve, and maintain the many Town properties that require attention. Get the Imperial Lot repaired and move on with Parker Harding.

  46. Love the idea! Thanks for sharing, Robert.

  47. A great idea would be to have the parking structure have it’s first of three levels below ground and the the upper two levels above ground. This would mean visually and above ground presence as only a two level parking strucure which would greatly lessen it’s mass and scale. As for outward appearance that should have planters that would be all around its outer faces that were only about four foot high and have great landscaping to hide and soften the look of a concrete parking structurre on both above ground levels. This form of a parking structure would soften and give a very enhanced asthetic for adjacent residences and businesses.

    • And — as I’ve said before — put an athletic field on top of it!

    • Bill Strittmatter

      I would imagine the lower levels might get quite wet at times but I suppose one could close them off during flood warnings and have massive pumps to dry them out after the storms.

      Another thought. As I was driving by the new condos across the river from downtown, it struck me that the new strip of restaurants in the original poster’s proposal would similarly have to be built to FEMA standards – elevated with wash through parking area below. That suggests building a deck over Parker Harding Plaza, keeping the parking and cut through street below (and maybe increasing parking by cutting out the grassed areas) but having the lovely green space/park/plaza above. Maybe even baseball/soccer field over part of it saving the Community Garden. Connect it to existing buildings and create a second level of valuable first floor retail (old one off Main Street, new one off the new plaza) to maybe get the property owners to contribute. Win, win, win.

      Combine that with building the levees to protect downtown for the next 50 years and, wow, home run.

      Morley is correct about dikes displacing water though. However, since downtown is relatively close to the sound, probably could just build levees on both sides of the river as necessary. Probably only need 6-7 feet in most places. Put bike/pedestrian paths on top of it making Westport more bike/ped friendly and connecting downtown and Saugatuck. Or maybe a trolley on top. Just to be safe, maybe build the levees all the way up to the Mahackeno dam.

      With sea level rise, something eventually will need to be done to protect low lying areas in Westport. Need to think ahead like the Dutch and New Orleans did.

  48. At $30,000+ per space, we might be looking at a (certainly out of character) structure that costs upwards of $20,000,000. Is this a case of new Coleytown El or parking garage? These pipe dreams don’t include cost estimates or what taxpayers can afford, do they?


  49. Let’s be a little more careful throwing out cost numbers for a parking structure. I have also done some reading, study and learning about the costs for building parking structures and if one uses averages a typical structure is 350 square feet per vehicle and at 200 spaces which is a reasonable size we are talking about $70 per sq/ft for 70,000 sq//ft comes in about 5 million dollars. Parker Harding has 214 spaces.
    There obviously might be a need and wish for more spaces however if a project like this stays away from over priced consultants, architects who most don’t have parking garage design or engineering experience and uses instead the specialty parking garage construction entities who will design, engineer and build a parking garage as needed in a more cost effective and cost basis. There are many of the parking garage builders who the town can solicit bids from to secure a proper bid process from. The town just needs to achieve a good result by using the “Kiss” theory!

  50. I think most people do not understand some of the practices and methods for handling water from possible flooding.
    A single lower level of a parking structure can and if needed be equipped when 9built with a simple sump and piped de-watering system. Depending on grade levels established at an Elm 0street structure the lower level might only have to be at a 1/2 level below grade and still meet overall structure height wishes.

    As for downtown flooding from a 50 year flood event on the Saugatuck river the entire downtown and surrounding atrea would have to be raised! Not going to happen in most Westporters lifetimes. This 50 year flood event horizon is a real threat and Westport should start taking notice of the possibility and the course of action for mitigation.
    Can’t raise the Town, then lets Lower the River! The Saugatuck is horribly silted and this means it could not handle the volume in its shallow current state that lets say 10 feet of additional water could create. Westport the State and the Army Corps of Engineers needs to get busy and drop the bottom of the Saugatuck by a similar amount. ( hence drop the river). I know dredging the river has been over talked and under actioned for years. Well sounds like it is time to get busy and raise a priority for this needed remediation before in the future most of downtown ends up deposited along the lower Saugatuck and intl our bays and out into the sound! Lets not say NEVER and realize it CAN HAPPEN.

  51. Go big. Go bold. Go transformative! Public space is public benefit.

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