The Coalition for Westport is a non-partisan political party whose mission is to safeguard Westport’s future by ensuring that our land use policies and decisions thoughtfully and proactively take into account the economic and social realities of 21st century living.
YOU’RE INVITED TO:
– The Future of Main Street –
A forum sponsored by
The Coalition for Westport
Monday, May 13th @ 7PM
Bedford Square – adjacent to HSBC bank
Reimagining Main Street
Where do we go from here—and how do we get there?
Downtown Westport, and Main Street in particular, are hot topics these days. People in increasing numbers are asking themselves whether the unprecedented number of vacant stores is the result of an inexorable trend away from conventional retail driven by the convenience of on-line shopping, a delayed reaction to unrealistically high rents, concerns about the effect of the Norwalk Mall, or a combination of these factors.
Along with the angst provoked by these questions, there is a pervasive nostalgia for the way things were when Main Street was populated mainly by local businesses serving local residents.
Can that nostalgia be put to productive use? Do we dare to imagine a Main Street with a variety of locally owned smaller stores serving community needs, as opposed to the current mix of retail destinations.
Looking back to the future
Just imagine downtown Westport as a place where we could shop for things other than clothing and home furnishings; where there were apartments above small stores generating rent from four units rather than from one large retail chain store; where a movie theater, cafes, and experiential activities would attract foot traffic in the evenings; where we could shop daily in a grocery, hardware store, pharmacy or book store. Would not such a place have wide appeal, better serve the needs of our residents, and enrich the sense of community in our town? In fact, isn’t this what we mean when we talk about the character of Westport?
The Coalition recognizes that this vision of Downtown Westport may strike some Westporters as too radical and counter-intuitive.
Then again, maybe not. For, as it happens, this vision is very much in line with the recommendations of the Downtown Westport Plan that was unveiled in 2014—and followed shortly with the formation of Downtown Implementation Committee, whose mission was to prioritize and set time lines for the more than 60 recommendations in the plan.
It is no secret that, for a variety of reasons, the majority of the recommendations set forth in Downtown Plan have yet to materialize. The good news though, is that the Downtown Implementation Committee appears to be far more focused today than ever before on implementing the recommendations of the Downtown Plan.
The Coalition views this new sense of urgency as a positive sign. We also believe, however, that if the Downtown Plan is to have a meaningful impact on Main Street, the P&Z has to become more actively involved than it has traditionally been in the planning aspects of the implementation process, as opposed to limiting its role to enforcing existing zoning regulations. In other words, if we want to encourage mixed uses— apartments, mom and pop stores, or a downtown theater—we need to to tailor the regulations in ways that would result in these targeted uses.
Putting the “P” back in P&Z
Unfortunately, the P&Z has thus far shown little inclination to assume this role. The emphasis of the 2018 POCD, for example, is far more on preservation than it is on responsible planning. And when the Coalition proposed in October a text amendment that would have encouraged the construction of a downtown movie theater, the proposal was rejected because it would have obliged the P&Z to relax existing zoning restrictions.
The Coalition recognizes and appreciates the value and importance of preservation. And we recognize as well the need for zoning restrictions—albeit with one qualification: more than simply protecting the status quo, zoning decisions need to proactively take into account the future needs of our community.
We, therefore urge the P&Z to do three things that, to our mind, would go a long way to bring vibrancy and greater economic vitality to Downtown Westport: (1) revisit and revise the 2018 POCD in consultation with the Downtown Plan Implementation Committee; (2) include in the POCD the downtown-related recommendations of the Committee; and (3) revise the Zoning Regulations in ways that will foster orderly growth and change—and, by doing so, help to bring to fruition the vision of the Downtown Plan.