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Westport Takes The Next Step Toward A Whole New Downtown

The walkway in front of Oscar's shows what Main Street in Westport will look like when the sidewalk project is complete. Photo Credit: Roy Fuchs
Westport is looking to bring its downtown into the 21st century. Photo Credit: File
Second Selectman Avi Kaner, First Selectman Jim Marpe, Third Selectman Helen Garten lead the Wednesday meeting. Photo Credit: Roy Fuchs
Committee Chairman Melissa Kane explains the downtown plan. Photo Credit: Roy Fuchs
State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg addresses the board. Photo Credit: Roy Fuchs
Committee member Ken Bernhard Photo Credit: Roy Fuchs

WESTPORT, Conn. — The Board of Selectman on Wednesday evening accepted the Downtown Master Plan that will upgrade and enhance what is already a unique public asset.

Under the plan, Downtown Westport will, over as many as 10 years, evolve from an attractive 20th-century small town commercial center into a 21st-century model for downtowns, while retaining its focus on “its small-town character.”

First Selectman Jim Marpe opened the meeting by thanking members of the Downtown Steering Committee, particularly Chair Melissa Kane and former Chair Dewey Losell.

Second Selectman Avi Kaner set the tone, calling the plan “fantastic,” and saying he had Googled “Best downtowns in New England … Westport did not make any of those lists. … I was saddened by that.”

Committee member Ken Bernhard summed up, almost two-and-one-half hours later, the intent of the plan: “We’re ready to put the polish on the jewel."

The object of all this is a complex plan, seven-plus years in the making and 182 pages in length, the work of multiple committees, encompassing 53 capital projects — "inter-related, but not interdependent" in the words of  Kane. Projects range from the essential, such as sidewalking the entire area; to the desirable, including the building of a proposed library addition; to the “playful,” by creating a barge restaurant.

The projects are grouped into three planning horizons -- Near Term, within the next two years; Mid-Term, two to five years; and Long Term, beyond five years.

But funding for the project — a real concern of Third Selectman Helen Garten — will be no slam dunk.

Some projects will be taxpayer supported, others will require a combination of state, federal and private-public collaborations. All will require additional maintenance spending after the fact.

The meeting ended with two resolutions. First, a discussion among the three selectmen as to whether to "receive," "accept," or "adopt" the plan ended with Marpe and Kaner voting to "accept," believing "adopt" was too much of an endorsement of the individual elements. Garten wanted only to vote to “receive,” and so abstained.

The second motion, to begin implementation, was unanimously approved.

So Marpe walks into his office on Thursday facing the task of setting priorities and assigning staff to make it happen.

To read the entire plan, go to this website .

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