Petitions fight parking plan approved for downtown Westport

Last week, the Planning and Zoning Commission voted 4-3 to repave and redesign Parker Harding Plaza, bringing it into compliance with federal, state and local standards.

Marissa Alter

Apr 16, 2024, 10:56 PM

Updated 31 days ago


Two petitions have been launched against a recently approved plan to redesign two parking lots in downtown Westport. Last week, the Planning and Zoning Commission voted 4-3 to repave and redesign Parker Harding Plaza, bringing it into compliance with federal, state and local standards.
It’s something First Selectwoman Jen Tooker has been pushing for since taking office, and according to Tooker, she’s not the only one.
“If you go back and look at the last 30 years of somebody sitting in the first selectman's seat, there have been multiple, multiple plans to upgrade Parker Harding. It has been the piece of infrastructure that Westport has needed to upgrade for the greater part of 30 years,” Tooker told News 12.
The plan turns the lot from one-way to two-way traffic and makes all parking spots standard size, whereas now a majority are too small. But the changes reduce the number of spots from 214 to 174. To make up for that, extra parking would be added across the Post Road at Jessup Green. “We would be taking a 17% strip of land at the top of Jesup Green, which is where it's most sloped, and we would create 42 parking spaces there,” explained First Selectwoman Jen Tooker.
Tooker said the plan is in alignment with the 2015 master plan from the Downtown Planning Implementation Committee and complies with the town-wide plan for conservation and development.
But not everyone is sold.
One online petition started by Tracy Porosoff calls for the green to be protected from any parking plan and asks Representative Town Meeting members not to fund the project.
“This is a stop to me when you look at these beautiful trees down here. We want to keep Jesup Green as is. Please save the trees,” said Sal Liccione, who represents district 9 on the RTM and opposes the plan for several reasons. Liccione pointed out the green is a meeting space for protests, library events and just people getting together.
Another petition is from longtime resident Larry Weisman, who’s appealing to the RTM to hold off on moving forward and instead form a committee to review the plan from the DPIC and all parking downtown, including any other proposals to add parking without eliminating green space.
“The way it was done was rather opaque. The downtown merchants weren't really a part of the process. The public really never got to weigh in on it, and now it's moving very quickly through the approvals process,” Weisman stated.
His petition floats another idea for parking—a parking deck on the Baldwin lot off Elm Street.
“We think that we could add 100 spaces there and not touch Jesup Green,” Weisman said. “They ought to take a look at this, not only Jessup green and the plan that's been proposed, but what the alternatives might be, what the costs are associated with them all.” But Tooker disputed that the process hasn’t thorough or collaborative. She said over the past two years, her administration worked with a consultant, received inputs from thousands of online comments and held three public meetings.
“This was fourth rendition that was put in front of the Planning and Zoning Commission. And every time we'd receive public feedback, we would go back and tweak it just a little bit more,” she stated.
“My goal is not to stop it. If it's the best alternative, then fine. But I don't think we know that. I don't think anybody knows that. And I don't think the people who are concerned have participated in the plans,” Weisman told News 12.
Liccione also said there’s no buy-in from downtown business owners, who oppose the plan and weren’t included in the development of it.
“We had over 100 merchants and employees on that call last Monday night. And I don't think the town heard them,” Liccione stated.
Many of them spoke that night and said any reduction of parking spots in Parker Harding Plaza would negatively affect their businesses. One business owner said adding spots at Jesup Green isn’t a compromise but “trading apples for oranges.”
The RTM is set to meet next in early May.

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