The recently revised plan for Parker Harding Plaza’s parking lot restores the cut-through road from Main Street to Post Road East and allots more spaces than the June plan, while meeting all federal, state and local regulations and standards, according to DPIC.
Randy Herbertson, left, the Downtown Plan Implementation Committee chairman, explained Thursday the next steps in the approval process for the Parker Harding redesign plan. Maxxwell Crowley, president of the Westport Downtown Association, right, is also a member of the DPIC. / Photos by Gretchen Webster

By Gretchen Webster

WESTPORT — A plan to redesign Parker Harding Plaza’s parking lot, under review for years, is finally ready to move forward for consideration by town board and commissions.

The latest version of the plan — unveiled last month — keeps the cut-through road between Main Street and Post Road East, and restores several parking spaces removed in a previous iteration. 

The proposal is a compromise between a plan proposed in June by the Downtown Plan Implementation Committee, and its critics, who fiercely objected to eliminating the cut-through road and what they argued would be the loss of too many parking spaces.

“Our work on this area is pretty much concluded,” DPIC Chairman Randy Herbertson said of the Parker Harding plan at the group’s Thursday meeting.

The committee will probably next work on plans to redesign the Jesup Green area, he said, followed by the Imperial Avenue parking lot. Upgrading the Baldwin lot on Elm Street was completed in July 2022.

The Jesup plans should make up for a loss of parking spots in Parker Harding, Herberston said. “We have a firm commitment to gain more spaces in Jesup.”

He explained that no matter what critics or town officials think about various parking options, the facilities have to comply with fire codes, federal ADA accessibility regulations and other state and local standards.

By changing the position of trash bins in the Parker Harding lot, “we are actually squeezing out a few more spots,” he said. 

The June proposal would have allotted about 160 parking spaces, and the revised plan now calls for about 188 spots in the Parker Harding revamped lot. “They will be compliant” with all codes, he said. “It will be much safer, with better traffic control.”

The Parker Harding plan will now pass through “about 11 town review committees,” including the Planning and Zoning Commission, the Board of Finance, the Representative Town Meeting and the Board of Selectwomen, he said. That process is expected to extend at least until spring of 2024. All of those sessions will be conducted in public, where time for comments from residents will be incorporated into the record, he said.

Attending Thursday’s DPIC meeting were, from left: John McCarthy, a resident of downtown’s RTM District 9; Laureen Haynes, owner of the Chocolatieree, and Nancy Kail, a Representative Town Meeting member from District 9.

A lack of clear communication between DPIC and downtown merchants and residents has been a frequent criticism of the committee, and arose again during Thursday’s meeting.

Nancy Kail, an RTM member from District 9, which includes the downtown area, referenced the controversy over the earlier plan and said, “Now will you take this education and have a good flow of information back and forth? How will you make that process work for all of us?”

Herbertson said DPIC had done its work in public from the beginning of the planning process, which in addition to the committee’s regular meetings included several brainstorming “charrettes” and information posted on the DPIC website. The panel’s Aug. 22 charrette, where the compromise Parker Harding plan was presented for public review, was successful and drew a crowd of more than 100 people, he said.

At that event, 93 comments on the project were collected on index cards and online, Town Engineer Keith Wilberg, said at Thursday’s meeting. He posted all of the comments on the DPIC website.

One-third of the comments about the compromise plan were positive, one-third were negative and the remaining third were what Wilberg called “no action.” Those suggestions included features such as a pedestrian walkway across the river, a tiered parking garage or a cantilevered walkway, none of which is included in the plan.

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.