By Gretchen Webster
WESTPORT — Details of a plan to improve Longshore Club Park, from its tree-lined access roads to its golf clubhouse, were unveiled to the public Wednesday night by the Parks and Recreation Commission.
Preliminary concept diagrams of how changes would be made to seven sections of the park were presented by Gary Sorge of Stantec, a consulting firm developing the 10-year Longshore Capital Improvement Plan for the town.
The commission has already conducted a public survey and held several meetings gathering opinion from the public and other stakeholders, such as golfers, on possible options for the park, but Wednesday was the first time preliminary plans were shown and discussed.
Options: Pickleball, golf clubhouse and traffic changes
Among the options presented were adding a pickleball center with a pavilion, constructing a new golf clubhouse, moving the playground to the waterfront, and changing the traffic patterns around the first golf tee and the current park entrance, among other proposals.
But the main focus of many of the proposed modifications was to add pedestrian paths, especially along the water, to improve safety for pedestrians, cyclists, golfers and drivers who now all use the same roads, and to connect the various parts of the park with better pedestrian and vehicular paths and roads.
One option in the plan calls for the road exiting the park to be limited to pedestrians and bicycles only, with the tree-lined park entrance converted into a two-way road for cars, becoming both the vehicular entrance and exit to Longshore.
Taking a ‘light touch’ to changes
Although the capital improvement plan addresses every Longshore facility in some way, the idea is to use “a light touch” when making changes to the 169-acre park, to protect its beauty and popularity, both Jennifer Fava, the town’s parks and recreation director, and Sorge said at the online meeting.
“Many people love Longshore the way it is,” Sorge said. “A light-handed approach makes a lot of sense … maintaining the character but revealing some of the park’s best natural attributes while modernizing the facilities.”
Maximizing water features
A feature most frequently cited in a public survey about Longshore and potential changes was “water,” and the most often requested improvement was “better water views,” Sorge said. At many of the park’s facilities, water views are obstructed, he said, and people want both better waterfront views and shoreline walkways.
The preliminary concept plans have been designed “allowing people to see the water, to get to the water” in answer to their requests, he said.
Commission members were mostly enthusiastic about the plan, including, Elaine Whitney, who called the proposal “a very exciting opportunity” for the town. But, she added, the town should be careful to “sequence” the plan in different stages “to level the cost.”
Commission member Matthew Haynes wondered if the length or width of the golf course would be affected. “Not at all,” Sorge said.
More parking needed?
Although more than 40 people logged on for the virtual meeting, only a few commented, including Chris Tait, a Representative Town Meeting member from District 1, who suggested more parking should be added to the plan to accommodate large weddings at the Inn at Longshore and other intensively used areas of the park.
Sorge said that the improvement plan was devised to take the middle road regarding allotment of parking spaces. Huge parking lots to accommodate a major event stand empty much of the time, he said and would add too much impervious pavement to the park. Improving access to the park and better traffic patterns between its many facilities would help alleviate parking problems without adding too many permanent spaces, he said.
“We’re trying not to lose any parking, but to improve circulation and walking,” said David Floyd, chairman of the Parks and Recreation Commission.
Westport resident Michael Elliott, a golfer, wants to see the golf clubhouse renovated with better restrooms and a pub for people using all the park’s facilities, not just golfers.
And he, like many others who took the survey, was concerned about conflict between cars and golfers and other pedestrians in the park. “It is a very dangerous place to walk and a dangerous place to ride your bike,” he said. “The seventh tee is a death trap for people that hook the ball.”
A new town resident asked why “one of the most beautiful spots in town” was used for the golf driving range. Fava said that many Westporters made it clear they want the driving range to stay where it is, noting it is a profit center. There would also be environmental issues involved with moving the driving range, Sorge said.
“Open houses” next week for public feedback
Parks and recreation officials are eager to gather more public comments on the improvement plan, and two open houses are scheduled next week for the public to meet with planners and give feedback on the proposals.
The two sessions, both at the Westport Library, will take place Wednesday, Oct. 26, from 10 to 11:30 a.m.; 3 to 4:30 p.m. and 7 to 8:30 p.m., and on Saturday, Oct. 29, from 9:30 to 11 a.m. and 1 to 2:30 p.m.
The Longshore Club Park Capital Improvement Plan’s preliminary concept diagrams will be available on the Parks and Recreation Commission’s website.
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 currently teaches journalism at Southern Connecticut State University.