WESTPORT, Conn. – Two restaurants, shopping, office space and a public plaza may be in store for the National Hall complex on the west bank of the Saugatuck River in downtown Westport.
Greenfield Partners, a Norwalk-based real estate investment firm that owns most of the buildings in the National Hall complex, plans to breathe new life into the area by changing the use of the historic National Hall at 2-8 Post Road W. and neighboring buildings on Wilton Road.
Under the proposed project plans, presented to the Planning and Zoning Commission Thursday night, the buildings at 6 and 12 Wilton Road will be allowed to house restaurants. National Hall—dormant since the Inn at National Hall closed in March 2010—would be changed from hotel use to retail space on the first floor and office space on the upper floors. Greenfield Partners would relocate its offices there.
“I think history has proven that prior uses on site were not successful,” William Fitzpatrick, an attorney for Greenfield Partners, told the commission. “In this case, the occupation of a significant portion of space by the owner itself ensures a longtime tenant and ensures, in part, clientele for the restaurants on site.”
The project would also include an approximately 1,600-square-foot addition to National Hall and the removal of five parking spaces located between National Hall and 12 Wilton Road for the creation of a landscape plaza. This public plaza would be adjacent to the existing Saugatuck River boardwalk and would create a space where people could gather.
The plans for 6 and 12 Wilton Road call for a change of use from retail to restaurant. At 6 Wilton Road, the site of the historic Vigilant Firehouse, the change in use would only apply to the first level. The existing offices on the top floors would not be changed.
The owners of Safita, a Middle Eastern restaurant in Fairfield, are interested in the space, which is approximately 1,400-square-feet. The restaurant sought for 12 Wilton Road would be about 798-square-feet and would seat approximately 48 people.
“I think these applications comprise the best opportunity for the town to include [this zone] as a vibrant, active part of Westport’s expanded downtown,” Fitzpatrick said.
Members of the commission expressed enthusiasm for the project. However, there were also concerns over parking and increased traffic at the intersection of Post Road West and Wilton Road, an area commissioners said is already a problem.
Greenfield, which owns the parking garage at 27 Wilton Road, is approved to add a third tier, which will add 36 spaces and increase total garage parking to 133 spaces. Fitzpatrick said this would provide enough parking for the proposed project. Despite that, the project does not include sufficient on-site parking, as required by town zoning rules.
With regard to rush-hour traffic concerns, Michael Galante, a traffic consultant for Greenfield Partners, said because the complex would be mixed-used and not all offices, it would break up traffic patterns.
“Not everyone would be coming in at 9 a.m. and leaving at 5 p.m.,” he said.
Commission Secretary Chip Stephens, a native Westport resident, said while he’s “excited” about the project, he does not believe traffic will not be increased.
“Let’s not try to fool each other here saying there’s no problem. There’s a problem,” he said. “There’s great promise here. Let’s think out of the box to figure out what to do.”
The commission will continue its review of the applications June 7 at 7 p.m. in the Town Hall auditorium.