WESTFIELD, NJ — A resident who has lived in the town for 43 years feels the municipality may be losing some of its “good hometown vibe” even though the person still thinks of  Westfield as having the feel of “a Norman Rockwell painting.”

Another resident worries that the town “is becoming outdated” and would like to see more variety in a place that appears to have less energy than surrounding communities. Another writer opines simply: “Declining downtown. Soaring taxes.”

These opinions are among the hundreds of comments elicited in a survey the municipality conducted for a significant update to its guide for development, known as a master plan, the results from which planners intend to finalize by the end of the year for Planning Board approval.

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The public was asked to rate issues and trends impacting Westfield. Of the 592 people to answer that survey question, 77% ranked “parking in the downtown” as important or very important while 64% ranked parking at the train station as important or very important.

“We may want to think about locating a parking structure here or there, or don’t,” said Jeffrey Janota, a land use planner at H2M Architects + Engineers, the firm Westfield hired to draft the state mandated update to its master plan.

Parking was one among a series of aspects discussed for the town’s development during a briefing Janota gave Wednesday at the Municipal Building. Where to put those cars is no small topic in Westfield.

Mayor Shelley Brindle told the audience that some 600 people are on a waiting list for parking spaces at the Westfield Train Station, and that parking is a key issue when looking to court businesses that would occupy vacant space in the downtown.

“It is not something that’s going to go away,” Brindle said.

“We’ve lost retailers in the downtown because they want parking,” Janota said.

In 2004, voters soundly defeated a referendum that would have approved $10 million for a municipal parking deck at the Westfield Train Station between Elm and Prospect streets, the Westfield Leader then reported. Of those people who voted, 77% nixed the proposal, which in addition to funding for 500 parking spaces included provisions for 19 residential units and some 3,000 square feet of retail space, the report said.

While the price wasn’t right for the public in 2004, the public sentiment may have swayed on the issue of parking alone, at least if an unofficial reader survey is any indication.

Open to any Facebook user, the TAPinto Westfield poll drew 506 people, most of them identifying with Westfield in some way. Of the voters in the poll open for 24 hours last week, 63% answered “yes” to the question: “Would you approve of the construction of a parking deck in Westfield’s downtown financed through public dollars?” Of the voters, 37% answered “no” to the question.

Story continues below poll.

“Someone said put a parking deck in,” Janota said Wednesday. “OK we’re looking at that, but the question is in 10 years if we’re not driving as much, what happens to these parking structures?” It is why the municipality has hired a parking consultant to evaluate such a need, he said. 

The survey results and presentation also included discussion of the suspended direct train service to New York City from Westfield, the variety of restaurants in the downtown and competition for businesses that will bring in foot traffic to the town's retail centers.

Some 500 employees who have left the downtown in recent years no longer frequent local businesses during the daytime because they no longer work in Westfield, Brindle said.

As for development, Janota said, the survey found that while most residents want to maintain the character of residential neighborhoods, they appear more amenable to denser development within the downtown. However, there is still a limit to what is desirable in downtown development.

“We don’t want to create a canyon effect,” Janota said. “I understand that we don’t want to create seven-story buildings.”

Do you have comments or questions for the planners? Email WestfieldMP@PublicInput.com

Email Staff Writer Matt Kadosh at mkadosh@tapinto.net; Follow him on Twitter: @MattKadosh

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Click herepdf to read a detailed summary of the survey results.