With the conversation surrounding the possible move of the Saugatuck Fire Station turning in their favor, the residents behind the group "Preserve Saugatuck" are looking toward the future of Riverside Park.
The RTM Long Range Planning Committee meeting late last week to discuss the site of a new fire station went well for Preserve Saugatuck, group member Steve Niss told Patch.
Niss, who lives close to Riverside Park and the Saugatuck River, and the 30 or so other residents who comprise Preserve Saugatuck spent the summer digging up information and petitioning to prevent the town-owned parcel adjacent to the park from becoming the site of the Saugatuck Fire Station.
"It's amazing how well everyone worked together," Niss said.
Preserve Saugatuck formed after the idea to possibly move the Saugatuck Fire Station to the town-owned parcel next to Riverside Park was brought up in June. Westport purchased the parcel in 1995 with the intention to make it part of Riverside Park, but that last step hadn't happened yet.
Niss and Preserve Saugatuck will push ahead to get that process going with the town's Planning and Zoning Commission "so that this will never happen again," Niss said of the prospect of losing that land to a fire station or other building development.
The current Saugatuck firehouse -- damaged by Superstorm Sandy -- currently sits between Bridge Square and The Whelk restaurant. The department lost $15,000 in equipment during the storm.
Besides preserving Riverside Park -- and with it, public access to the Saugatuck River -- residents are concerned with how a structure like a firehouse would effect flooding, which already poses a problem in that neighborhood (see the photo gallery for examples).
The plan for a new fire station includes a 10,000 sq. ft. building, which could displace floodwaters from the Saugatuck River during a major storm. Flooding could be worse in downtown Westport than during Superstorm Sandy, Niss said.
But he added that Preserve Saugatuck is in no way against the fire department -- residents just want Westport's bravest to justify constructing a new fire station. They want to see a long-range plan for the department.
So do Westport officials.
Outgoing First Selectman Gordon Joseloff and Republican candidate for First Selectman Jim Marpe agreed that a study to examine the needs of the department and a survey of the best place for a new Saugatuck firehouse were necessary before making a decision.
"We need to understand the town-wide fire protection needs for the rest of the 21st century," Marpe said at the meeting. "The siting study needs to address the changing demographic and construction of buildings and housing throughout the Town, response times, staffing requirements, and 21st century firefighting equipment needs and capabilities".
Democratic candidate for First Selectman Helen Garten echoed the sentiments of Preserve Saugatuck, calling for the parcel to remain open space.
The group intends to keep the space open as members head into talks with Planning and Zoning. In the meantime, Niss and fellow Preserve Saugatuck member Bill Greene spoke of planning a community event at the park in the coming months, so all of Westport can enjoy Riverside Park.
If there's one positive from this controversy, Greene said, it's that it made people aware of the park as something Westport can really utilize.
"We're excited the meeting went so well and progress is steadily moving in the right direction," he said, adding that the process has given the community opportunities to think about resources to develop the park -- like canoe and kayak racks for public use in the river.
You can keep up with the efforts of Preserve Saugatuck by checking out the group's website.