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Westport’s Getting Its Green On!

Improving our Downtown Waterfront

Show of hands - who’s familiar with the benches across from downtown Starbucks? Where you can sip your coffee by the river, surrounded by bits of litter, weeds crawling through the cracks, and cars whizzing by less than three feet from your back?

Seriously, Westport can do much, much better. We’re one of the few towns in Connecticut - and the only town in Fairfield County - to be graced with both a beach and a river. That’s potentially a lot of lovely views.

Plans to improve these waterfront views began in 2014 and, as of your reading this article, an important part of these plans are in formal approval. Specifically, the Parker Harding part.

Let’s start at the quasi-beginning:

Westporters have been sprucing up their public environs ever since the first farmer stuck an onion seed in the dirt, long before Westport became a town (1835). Actually, even before the farmers flew in, but that’s another article.

Throughout the ensuing century, Saugatuck River was regarded as a route for shipping and merchants, never an enviable source of beautiful views.

In all fairness, water views didn’t start to become popular until the late 1920’s, and a bunch of infrastructure had already defiled most of them in almost every populated town. We should forgive our forebears the randomness they sprouted along Saugatuck’s banks.

(Side note: the land beautifying our Westport Library was once part of the town dump. Next to the river. Water views meant nothing.)

However, not every “view” is a “good view.” One of these not-pretty-horizons is Parker Harding, the downtown parking lot behind Main Street. We can slug endless Bar Taco margs across the fluid strip and never convince ourselves the lot isn’t an eyesore.

Our more contemporary antecedents also deserve a bit of leniency. When I-95 was being built, the excavated dirt required a new home. So workers filled in the bank behind Main Street with this mud, upon which they built the parking lot. Which, for many of us, has been our SUV’s second home for years. Credit where it’s due.

So Westport continuously evolves.

Which brings us back to the latest project(s).

Former Selectman Jim Marpe commissioned the master plan during the downtown downtick. Residents then may recall the empty storefronts and restaurant closings. Years rolled by, Covid happened, a large number of you charming readers moved to town, and now Main Street is roaring back to life, bringing with it a groundswell desire to implement those plans.

With ARPA funding, First Selectwoman Jen Tooker commissioned a plan to overhaul Parker Harding, Jesup Green, and the land around the Levitt Pavilion all the way to the Imperial Parking lot. Town parking lots have also been tidied up, but that’s not as exciting as downtown. I won’t deep-dive into the library environs part, as it won’t happen until later.

The sidewalk and cross-through road - you know, the road that disgorges drivers and terrifies pedestrians - in Parker Harding will be ripped out and replaced with grass, native plantings, and seating, so we can truly enjoy the waterfront and improve optics from across the river. The lot will be re-striped to accommodate the increasing size of our rides and, perhaps, the pedestrian bridge will be re-vamped.

I write “perhaps” because the re-vamping of said bridge, which many of you have probably never noticed, will be offered to a private investor. Other opportunities may present themselves - a pavilion for our awards-winning Farmer’s Market, a bird watching area near Dead Man's pond, elements of a riverwalk around the library land. (According to Randy Herbertson, head of Downtown Plan Implementation Committee ((DPIC)), the current path swiveling around there is “overgrown and borderline scary.”) So if you want to be part of the Westport legacy, now’s your time. Well, soon.

There’s even talk of dredging the river and installing a dock near the library for boaters who want to boat in, shop and dine, then boat out. Which is delightful for those in the boats. But if they raise Cribari bridge for a passing pleasure vessel during rush hour, I imagine drivers in the Saugatuck clot won’t be as delighted. I’m sure they’ll figure it out.

If you want to be part of the action, attend a public DPIC meeting on the second Thursday of every month at 8:30 a.m. or contact them through DowntownWestportCT.com/Reconnecting-the-Riverfront.

However, not every “view” is a “good view.” One of these not-pretty-horizons is Parker Harding, the downtown parking lot behind Main Street. We can slug endless Bar Taco margs across the fluid strip and never convince ourselves the lot isn’t an eyesore.

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