Recently, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe appointed a Saugatuck Transit Oriented Development Steering Committee. The group is charged with developing a master plan for that ever-changing retail/restaurant/residential area.
The Coalition for Westport — a non-partisan group originally formed to seek election to the Planning & Zoning Commission — commended Marpe for establishing the committee, then sent this note to co-chair Mary Young:
The time is right for the Saugatuck area to be carefully studied. It is attractive to residents, visitors and developers for a variety of reasons: It is the historical root of Westport; it provides attractive access to the river; it is a destination for foodies and perhaps most importantly, it is a primary transit hub.
What is more, many of the buildings in the area defined as Saugatuck in the Town Plan of Conservation and Development retain features of their original design and construction, despite having been repurposed.
In the 1920s, Esposito’s gas station stood on Charles Street. Today it’s Tarry Lodge.
The challenge for land use agencies and planners is a classic balancing act: What shall be saved and what replaced? Do we envision the area as a 2nd downtown? Or, as seems lost likely and most prudent, do we encourage/require a mix of controlled residential (including multi-family and affordable housing within walking distance to the train station) and commercial development which respects the scale and character of the neighborhood?
The Coalition believes that Saugatuck should retain its historical heritage and small town character. Therefore we support an expanded and enhanced neighborhood concept rather than the idea of a 2nd downtown. We come down squarely in favor of a mixed-use plan favoring residential expansion and enhanced essential services — local businesses, to cater to the requirements of the residential population that will need a pharmacy, hardware store, market and other essential services not now present in the area, which can be provided in a “mom and pop” form without competing with Main Street retail. We also foresee new retail and dining services that would attract additional visitors.
One area that can and should be developed for those types of commercial uses is Railroad Place. This can be done without sacrificing the architectural features or facades at the easterly end of the street which are deemed worth preserving. A drop-off lane could also be created for the station.
The Coalition recommends that the remainder of the square block (with the possible exception of the office building) be devoted to a mix of housing types — 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom apartments and townhouses, both rental and condos — with adequate parking and passive open space. An appropriate percentage should be truly affordable.
LandTech has already developed plans for a mixed-use development at a new Railroad Place. Mario’s is, of course, now Harvest restaurant.
To address the ever-present need for additional railroad parking, we urge adoption of a “Transit District” zoning regulation that provides an incentive to private developers to create parking to be administered by the town, in exchange for increased (but controlled) development density calculated in accordance with a regulatory formula.
Saugatuck residents will need relief from additional vehicular traffic. Therefore both additional visitor and commuter parking should be created — most efficiently at, above or below grade in the ordinary course of construction.
The Coalition would also support traffic flow rerouting plans that would alleviate congestion without any major construction or disruption for residents.
We encourage the new Saugatuck Steering Committee and P&Z to adopt a plan that implements these thoughts, and to coordinate efforts to arrive at a consensus to be formalized in the 2017 Town Plan of Conservation and Development.
Two months ago, “06880” reported on a radical plan for redesigning downtown Westport.
According to the concept from the downtown subcommittee of the Town Plan Implementation Committee, the area could be revitalized by
constructing small brownstone-scale buildings combining retail, commercial and residential uses;
expanding the riverwalk from Gorham Island to the Levitt Pavilion;
adding paid parking, and
overhauling existing zoning regulations.
In ways big and small — partnering with private developers; creating a new town director position; moving dumpster locations and rejiggering garbage collection times — downtown could join the growing “greenfield” movement.
The psychic change would be as monumental as the physical one. Downtown would look and feel different. Traffic patterns would change; the mix of stores, and our ideas about commerce, would shift. We’d conceive of all of Westport in a different way.
First Selectman Gordon Joseloff backs the plan — or at least an intense conversation about it. “I think it’s time for the naysayers to take a back seat,” he says.
The next Town Plan Implementation Committee meeting is in 2 months. That’s the heart of the holiday season — the one time each year downtown is truly vibrant, swamped with shoppers and decorated nicely.
Between now and then, let the debate begin.
Will the downtown Westport of the future look anything like this?
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