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Westport Weighs Second-Floor Retail Spaces For Downtown

Downtown Westport retailers such as the LOFT may be able to expand to the second floor if a proposal to allow retail space above the first floor of buildings downtown is approved.
Downtown Westport retailers such as the LOFT may be able to expand to the second floor if a proposal to allow retail space above the first floor of buildings downtown is approved. Photo Credit: Vanessa Inzitari

WESTPORT, Conn. – Visitors to downtown Westport may get to enjoy more shopping variety if a proposal to allow retail stores on upper floors is approved.

Under current zoning regulations, retail stores are allowed only on the first floor of buildings on Main Street and areas of Post Road East downtown. The proposal would make it possible for some first-floor retailers, such as the LOFT, to expand to the second floor. It would also allow new retailers to open on a second floor or higher.

“The change would encourage more locally owned, smaller spaces to open downtown,” planning consultant Mel Barr said at Thursday night’s Planning and Zoning Commission meeting as the proposal was presented.

Barr and architect William Achilles — who submitted the proposal on behalf of the owner of 7 Main St., which houses the LOFT — said “mom and pop” stores generally can’t afford the rent for a first-floor space on Main Street. However, they said these types of retailers would more likely be able to afford a space on a higher floor.

Several stores, such as the Gap, have retail space above the first floor. However, these uses were either allowed under a variance or pre-date the current rules, Planning and Zoning Director Larry Bradley said.

Under the proposal, stores looking to occupy both the first and second floor of a building would be limited to 13,000 square feet between the two floors, Achilles said. Additionally, both floors would have to have the same square footage.

New tenants looking to open only on a second floor would be limited to 3,300 square feet, Achilles said.

If approved, the proposal would affect 13 properties. Of those, five are on Main Street, seven are on the Post Road and one is on Bay Street.

Commissioner Ron Corwin expressed support, asking why retail stores are not already allowed above first floors.

“This strikes me as just the kind of thing we ought to do,” Corwin said. “It will create opportunity for people who can’t afford the rent for a first-floor space to bring specialty spaces to town.”

Fellow commissioner Chip Stephens was not sold, questioning the impact that more retail space would have on parking and traffic.

The commission will continue discussing the proposal at its Dec. 20 meeting.

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