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Thursday, April 26 News

Downtown, Village planners pledge to coordinate efforts

Two committees working on "parallel plans" for the future of downtown are joining forces in a collaborative effort to get the project moving forward.

The chairmen of the Village District Steering Committee and the newly formed Downtown Steering Committee came to Wednesday's Board of Selectmen meeting to discuss coordinating their efforts. They were seeking the board's approval to enter into contracts with consultant groups that will conduct planning studies for them.

Since both studies ultimately focus on the town center, there needs go be collaboration, the chairmen agreed.

RBA Group of Connecticut LLC is preparing the Downtown Westport Master Plan, while the Cecil Group Inc. is preparing a Village District Study for the area.

RBA will be paid $139,000 for conducting phase two of the downtown study, which includes review of how a $500,000 state grant will be used to upgrade sidewalks, curbing and lighting, said Dewey Loselle, Downtown Steering Committee chairman.

Phase one of the downtown plan, which included studies of traffic and parking in the central area, has been completed and those findings will be presented at a March 6 meeting, said Loselle, who added the scope of that study had been expanded beyond downtown to about 20 different locations in the town, including the entire stretch of the Post Road.

While the RBA group, in phase two, will be considering the technical aspects of the downtown plan, the Cecil Group's survey will focus on the historic aspects, said Francis Henkels, chairman of the Village District Steering Committee and also chairman of the Historic District Commission. That consulting group will be paid $50,000 from a Connecticut Trust grant to do its study.

He said the Village District study is designed to help keep the "historic texture and fabric" downtown.

Loselle and Henkels both said they plan to respect Westport's small town heritage. "That's part of the charge," Loselle said.

"Our goal is to have a consistent look and feel downtown," he added.

Selectman Helen Garten asked if there is an area of conflict between the two committees, how would it be resolved.

Henkels, who is a member of both committees, said "if it can't be resolved we would defer to Planning and Zoning."

But Loselle said he doesn't foresee "any turf issues."

Loselle said the final report on phase two should be completed by the end of August, adding it won't just be "a plan, but a guideline."

Selectman Avi Kaner said he liked the fact that RBA's study would be "an implementation plan" and won't be something that will "go on the shelf with the other 20 plans" in the first selectman's office that were done, but never implemented.

Loselle agreed. "We can chew off a piece at a time and say, `Here's our wish list of things to do,' " he said.

Loselle said the final, second phase of the report from RBA should be completed by the end of August.

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The selectmen unanimously approved the requests.

Prior to the vote, Kaner thanked Lou Gagliano, who chaired the Downtown 2020 group, which was dissolved by First Selectman Jim Marpe when he replaced it with his own steering committee led by Loselle.

Marpe thanked Henkels and Loselle for their work. "It's been a team effort," said Loselle. "We have momentum now."