Westport’s major downtown parking lots, depicted on a map prepared for the Downtown Plan Implementation Committee’s website.

By Gretchen Webster

WESTPORT — Plans to redesign Parker Harding Plaza’s parking lot — withdrawn  after a rocky review by the Planning and Zoning Commission last October — are expected to be re-filed in coordination with upgrades for other downtown lots, according to Randy Herbertson, chairman of the Downtown Plan Implementation Committee.

A requested $630,000 appropriation for design services to redevelop the Jesup Green and Imperial Avenue parking lots is on the agenda for Wednesday’s Board of Finance meeting, the first step of a multi-phase plan to improve all three lots, he said Monday.

The new approach to making parking-lot upgrades, according to Herbertson, is in reaction to concerns about loss of parking spaces under the Parker Harding plan. 

And, because the Planning and Zoning Commission was occupied by the debate over plans to build a new Long Lots Elementary School, he said, the Parker Harding redesign project was put on hold. 

Parker Harding Plaza parking lot

“We haven’t stopped Parker Harding. We paused while P&Z considered Long Lots [School building project],” Herbertson said Monday. “We didn’t want to distract them during that time.”

Plus, he added, “people were very hung up on the parking inventory” lost after the Parker Harding redesign — estimated at 34 spaces — without being counter-balanced by additional spots envisioned for other downtown lots.

The new approach is to complete preliminary designs for additional parking in the Jesup Green area before moving forward with the Parker Harding project. 

“We need to find out what we can effectively do to recapture some spots [at Jesup Green] that we can’t help but lose at Parker Harding,” Herbertson said.

Matthew Mandell, a member of both DPIC and the Representative Town Meeting, agreed.

“Parker Harding is still going to be going forward. The concept at this point is to have Jesup done prior. That would free up parking spaces,” he said. DPIC will meet soon to review the revised order of the projects, he added.

Herbertson listed three phases of the re-worked plan for the Parker Harding, Jesup Green and Imperial lots:

Jesup Green parking lot

“The ultimate goal is to make sure we’ve maintained and grown our parking capabilities fully up to code, but at the same time capture more green space, particularly near the waterfront,” Herbertson said.

The appropriation for design money that the Board of Finance will consider Wednesday, if approved, will come from American Rescue Plan Act funds, and will not be paid by the town, Herbertson said. The Parker Harding remodeling will also be financed by ARPA funds, previously appropriated by the Board of Finance.

There are important environmental issues to be considered in the parking lot projects on both sides of Post Road East, he added. Parker Harding is vulnerable to flooding from the Saugatuck River, and Jesup Green abuts the Westport Library, which “was built on a dump,” Herbertson said. The Imperial Avenue parking lot will also require flood-mitigation features.

Imperial Avenue parking lot

After the initial plan for Parker Harding Plaza met with resistance from merchants and residents who live near the downtown area last year, DPIC drew up a revised plan that restored 11 spaces and the cut-through road from Post Road East to Main Street, which was eliminated in the first proposal.

Before that revised plan was withdrawn after the P&Z’s skeptical review, it had won approval from other boards, including the Conservation Commission, Architectural Review Board, Historic District Commission and Flood and Erosion Control Board.

Freelance writer Gretchen Webster, a Fairfield County journalist for many years, was editor of the Fairfield Minuteman and has taught journalism at New York and Southern Connecticut State universities.