On Thursday, Sept. 8 at 7 p.m., P&Z will hold a hearing on a new text amendment that will allow movie theaters and performance venues in areas where they would otherwise be prohibited.
Save Westport Now supports the idea of a movie theater as a welcome addition to the Downtown scene. But we believe that this particular text Amendment is too broad and poses substantial risk to the small-town character of Westport and to residential neighborhoods. Our most significant objections have to do with size of the allowed buildings.
As currently written, Text Amendment #637 will permit 60-foot tall buildings as close as 15 feet to the street and will allow buildings with as much as 50,000 square feet of interior space—even if the building contains only one floor. While a building of that size may be appropriate in a true commercial district, the area of the proposed “theater overlay zone” extends far beyond what we tend to think of as “Downtown” and may encroach on residential neighborhoods, creating unacceptable aesthetic, traffic, and parking problems.
No matter how much we may long for a local movie house, large-scale buildings are inconsistent with our small town character and will detract from the residential nature of abutting neighborhoods. And this will be especially problematic if a movie theater goes out of business, since the use will revert to retail stores or other commercial establishments. Do we really want to be stuck with—or permanently burden our neighbors with—such overly tall buildings? The fact is, once these structures are built, they are not coming down.
Even more worrisome is the fact that this new Amendment appears to be the beginning of what may be the creeping urbanization of Westport. Indeed, one developer, apparently emboldened by this pending text Amendment, has already filed a pre-application to raze a house Downtown and replace it with a 67-foot commercial structure. Can you imagine what Westport will look like if our charming stores and houses are slowly replaced with five- and six-story buildings?
Our aim is retain the small town character of Westport and to minimize the negative impact of large-scale buildings on adjoining neighborhoods. If you agree, then please email P&Z and express your concern. Letters can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or better yet, come to the meeting and speak your mind. Thank you.