What do we believe could be better ...
A kinder, gentler P&Z Commission
Despite the best efforts of a dedicated and exceptionally competent staff, large numbers of our neighbors who have been through the zoning process emerge dissatisfied with the experience, if not downright angry at the way in which they were treated.
The process is unnecessarily demanding, expensive and opaque, more often than not requiring the assistance of professionals to navigate an increasingly complicated regulatory landscape.
The system cries out for simplification and reformation at all levels to make it more “user friendly” and to provide an efficient and more acceptable experience.
This is the kind of change that the Coalition stands for and for which its candidates will advocate.
The Compo Beach Site Improvement Committee submitted its Draft Master Plan to the Parks and Recreation Commission at the end of September 2014 amidst much controversy over the extent of improvements proposed. The Plan (either Option A or Option B) called for extensive and dramatic improvements and changes. A significant and vocal segment of the citizenry opposed such changes. Many citizens were against fixing what isn't "broke" and others were against the proposed financial commitment of at least $6 million.
The Coalition would like to see the Parks and Rec Commission extract from the Plan and implement those suggested changes that will obviously improve and repair the Compo area without massive physical disruption or expenditure of money, and without upsetting the character and charm of the beach. In other words: If it is broken, fix it. If it isn’t up to code; fix it. Improvements and enhancements need not be extensive. Modest in-place adjustments to ingress and egress to beach parking, improved bathroom, bathhouse and personal storage facilities, additional restrooms at South Beach and some walkway extensions are achievable and done carefully will improve the quality of the beach without changing its character.
The Coalition for Westport does not want to see the Plan languish and eventually drift away, another in many Town efforts to make constructive changes over the years only to end up in the Committee Reports Graveyard. We urge the Commission to take action so that the constructive suggestions of the Committee do not go unheeded.
We urge the Parks and Recreation Commission to be proactive, mindful of the sentiments of many residents who do not want dramatic and expensive changes to one of Westport's jewels.
The coalition for Westport supports the general findings and proposals of the 2014 Downtown Plan. The RBA Group has done an excellent job in coalescing the often conflicting requirements of a Plan for Downtown Westport. The plan builds on unrealized contemporary past plans that were first developed in 2001 and provides details for the recommendations for Downtown Westport enumerated in the 2007 Plan of Conservation and Development.
The Coalition encourages the Planning and Zoning Commission, the Board of Selectman, and the Board of Finance to begin implementation of the Near Term Initiatives, which one hopes, leads to the completion of all recommendations
Text Amendment #672 - A hammer in search of a nail
Text Amendment 672, proposed in 2015 by the P&Z Commission itself, limits the size of Downtown commercial space to no more than 10,000 square feet, and is ill conceived. Yet it passed unanimously on January 8th.
The purpose of the amendment appears two-fold. First, it is an attempt to make smaller units of Downtown commercial space available to small business. But small business and small size do not necessarily equate. The Text Amendment does nothing to assure that small business would be attracted to Downtown. A retailer looking for 5,000 square feet might very well opt for space at a Post Road shopping center that has higher traffic and lower rents than Downtown.
The other purpose is to ensure that Downtown is not invaded by big box retailers. This is an old argument whose time has passed. The heyday of the big box movement was the last twenty five years. If an invasion were to have occurred in Westport it would have happened by now under our present regulations. If anything, the trend is away from bricks and mortar.
As one person described the Amendment, it is a hammer looking for a nail, a solution looking for a problem. It is a poor amendment and will surely have consequences for the Town Attorney's office for years to come. The members of the P&Z have not been given a mandate to implement its private agenda. This current action clearly exposes a heavy-handed plan to disregard the public and install a private vision of what Westport should be. This is surely a failure of public servants to serve the best interests of the public.
There are creative solutions other than an amendment that penalizes property owners and is confiscatory. Creating incentives to reserve smaller Downtown retail spaces is one answer. The P&Z could explore, in collaboration with the Administration and the Board of Finance, ways to create tax abatements for cooperating property owners or other incentives. Text amendments take careful planning and consideration. This one got away without that luxury.