By Gretchen Webster
WESTPORT — For the first time in many months, a public meeting on plans to redesign Parker Harding Plaza’s parking lot heard no critical comments and no protests about the loss of parking spaces.
In fact, no members of the public showed up to ask questions or object.
It was a joint meeting of the Historic District Commission and Architectural Review Board conducted online Tuesday night, and members of both boards liked the revised plans to make the parking lot safer for pedestrians and motorists, as well as add some green features.
“You and your team did a fantastic job addressing all the issues that you could … addressing something that’s been left by the wayside,” said Ward French, chairman of the ARB.
The downtown parking lot has been in disrepair and was out of compliance with parking standards, fire safety requirements and handicapped access regulations, Public Works Director Peter Ratkiewich told the meeting.
The town, he added, has failed to maintain the parking lot as it should.
As part of the plan to renovate all the downtown municipal parking lots, First Selectwoman Jennifer Tooker has agreed to include a parking lot maintenance allocation in the town’s budget, Ratkeiwich said.
“That’s a big breakthrough, we haven’t really had that before — that’s a big improvement,” he said. “As we build things we need to maintain them. They have to be in our operating budget.”
As the public works director detailed for commission members a compromise plan for the project unveiled in August, he acknowledged that one major change — to restore a cut-through road from Main Street to Post Road East, which had been eliminated in earlier plans — made a difference to residents and merchants who had strongly opposed the idea.
A second modification — restoring some of the 44 parking spaces cut in an earlier plan, for a total of 216 spaces — also seemed to satisfy most critics, he said.
Just repaving and painting new stripes for the lot, without additional green spaces, pedestrian crossings and river boardwalk in the latest plan, would have reduced the number of parking spaces, Ratkiewich said. The latest version of the proposal has been engineered to accommodate as many spaces as possible, he added.
The Department of Public Works and the Downtown Plan Implementation Committee are committed to adding more spaces for downtown parking at the Jesup Green parking lot on the other side of Post Road East to make up for at least some spaces lost at Parker Harding, he said.
The modified plan, as presented Tuesday night, calls for a 13-foot-wide wooden boardwalk along the Saugatuck River, and new green spaces separating the cut-through road from the river and from parking spaces adjacent to the road.
Additional areas with trees and other plantings will also separate rows of parking from one another, shield trash compactors from view and beautify the river walk.
Review of the proposed Parker Harding plan passes next to the Flood and Erosion Control Board, which will hold an online public hearing at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Freelance writer Gretchen Webster, a Fairfield County journalist and journalism teacher for many years, was editor of the Fairfield Minuteman newspaper for 10 years and teaches journalism at Southern Connecticut State University.