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Downtown update: Bedford Square, Kemper-Gunn projects moving forward

Two projects that would make the most significant changes to the downtown area in decades -- the new Bedford Square complex and relocation of the historic Kemper-Gunn House -- were the topic of discussion Wednesday at a special meeting of the Downtown Steering Committee. About 20 residents attended the meeting at Town Hall.

David Waldman, developer for both projects, first gave an update on Bedford Square, a multi-use development planned on the site of the Westport Weston Family Y, including renovation of the 1923 Bedford building and historic firehouse, also circa early 1920s. When complete, the project will bring 26 residential units to Church Lane, in the downtown area, as well as retail and commercial space.

"Right now there's 450,000 square feet of commercial space downtown," said Waldman. The Bedford Square project will bring in 110,000 square feet of combined residential, commercial and retail, with an underground parking garage, he said.

Resident Andy Kaplan asked if the residential units will be rental or condominiums. "Today's economy is dictating rental," Waldman said. "But they will be built with condominium standards." He said there will be studio apartments, each about 1,000 square feet, up to two-bedroom units with 1,500 square feet "on average."

Don Bergmann asked if Church Lane, which Bedford Square will abut, could be turned into a "pedestrian-only" street. Waldman said it's not his desire to close the street on a permanent basis, but a "controlled closure could be good for some events, like art festivals."

The issue of adequate parking was raised with some concern expressed that the new housing units, combined with the commercial outlets, would worsen an existing problem. But Waldman said the project also includes about 100 new parking spaces. "We are putting in parking where it wasn't," he said.

Questions also were asked where construction workers would park while the project is ongoing. "There will be no staging there, only off-site staging" and no parking would be provided for those workers at the Baldwin lot, said Waldman. How that's accomplished, he added, is the "burden on our contractors."

Dewey Loselle, a steering committee member and town operations director, asked for a time-frame on the Bedford project. Waldman said that he'd like to begin construction in the winter.

As for the Kemper-Gunn House, all that remains for it to be moved from 35 Church Lane -- to make way for part of the Bedford Square project -- is approval of the lease agreement with the town for a 0.13-acre spot in the Baldwin parking lot, said Selectman Helen Garten, who chairs the Kemper-Gunn Advisory Group. The lease agreement is on the Board of Selectmen's Aug. 13 agenda.

Waldman said he became an "accidental preservationist" when he purchased the Kemper-Gunn property and initially planned to demolish the 19th-century structure.

He added that once the lease is signed, work can begin at the Elm Street parking lot to prepare the new site of the house. The relocation of the house, Waldman said, should happen between mid-October and the first week of November.

"This is truly a public/private venture," said Garten. She said when the town became involved in the Kemper-Gunn project there were several goals in mind. The goals included restoration of the building while being sensitive to its historic significance; using the re-purposed structure for smaller businesses, and making sure there was no cost to the town but that it would bring the town "a financial return," she said.

Wednesday's presentation was one of three the steering committee sponsored as part of the "Your Downtown" campaign, which is designed to inform residents about downtown projects already in development or being planned.

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