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Westport Library expansion project detailed for downtown planners

Plans for the proposed expansion of the Westport Library, expected to cost about $25 million, were detailed Monday by architect Henry Myerberg during a special meeting of the Downtown Steering Committee.

The session was the first of three public presentations concerning impending downtown projects, part of the "Your Downtown" campaign to coordinate future downtown plans that are being reviewed by the steering committee headed by Melissa Kane. About two dozen people attended.

Myerberg said that libraries have evolved to become modern gathering places and not "just places to collect books." He said they are "hard-working" structures that shouldn't just "look cool," but should also be "timeless and flexible." Plans for the expanded library, he said, are "to enhance the site" and make it a "civic cultural campus" including the nearby Levitt Pavilion, which has recently be rebuilt.

The project would extend the library's footprint about 35 feet into Jesup Green, encompassing an additional 20,500 square feet.

The proposed renovation, he said, would be transparent enabling patrons to look straight through the structure and out the many glass windows.

The first floor will be an open area that will be "tiered down to the riverwalk area," while the second floor will be a "flexible space," he explained.

He called the design "mix and blur," adding that those using the expanded cafe will be able to see what's happening in other areas of the building. "It will be open and visible," he said.

The issue of parking was raised by Dewey Loselle, a member of the steering committee and the town's operations director.

Larry Weisman, the lawyer representing the library, commented that the Planning and Zoning Commission was concerned there might not be enough parking, but said the number of parking spaces, by his count, will remain the same at 320.

A question also was raised about possible restrictions on enhancing Jesup Green, the library's front lawn, which is part of the plan.

Loselle said "so many are interested in any restrictions" that "the town attorney is doing research" on that parcel of land. "We are going back to the original lease and found that different parcels were given to or acquired by the town," he said. "We will have much more details later."

Myerberg said Jesup Green is "a valuable asset" and library officials are trying to determine "how it can be relevant in the future."

"It's a great opportunity to have this open space," he said, adding how to enhance it will be the topic of "great conversation."

Prior to Myerberg's presentation, Carleigh Welsh, the Levitt Pavilion's marketing and development director, spoke briefly about the new pavilion, which cost a total of $9 million to construct. The new pavilion's grand opening was July 20. Read Full Article 

She said plans are to raise $2.5 million in the next two years. That money will go to replenish the Levitt Pavilion's endowment and "offset a portion of the operating costs over the next five years."

Resident Don Bergmann said he wanted to raise a "serious point" about projects on Jesup Green, saying the town should be "sensitive to construction in the Jesup Green area ... to protect its modesty" and "keep its small-town quality."

"I don't want to overbuild," he added.

The next presentation on downtown plans is scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 6, and will include a presentation by Bedford Square on the proposed Bedford Square mixed-use development downtown. It will be at 7:30 p.m. in Town Hall.

On Monday, Aug. 11, at 7:30 p.m. there will be a presentation by the Westport Cinema Initiative and the Westport Arts Center on their plans for, respectively, a downtown movie theater and a new home for the arts center on Jesup Green.

Kane has said the presentations are an important part of the next step in the planning process in order to understand projects already in development or in the conceptual stages, and how these will fit together and potentially affect Westport's downtown in the future.

Anne M. Amato

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