493 Old County Road, Westport, MA
Our purchase and restoration of the old Head Garage at the Head of Westport will bring the Watershed Alliance to a new riverfront home in the very center of our watershed. This will be a community resource, illustrating the significance of the Westport River to the Town of Westport and surrounding area, its culture and economy – focusing on water quality, all the life within the watershed, and what each one of us can do to help keep the River clean.
The Head Garage has a long history at the Head of Westport, starting out as a blacksmith shop in the 1700’s – the granite foundation is all that remains of the original building. Its more recent uses include a Model-T Ford dealership in the early 20th Century, as well as an auto and small engine repair business and gas station in the 1970’s, and most recently a woodworking shop.
This project has been challenging, due to several factors. While WRWA owns the building, the entire site is a Town Landing that is owned by the Town of Westport, under the authority of the Landing Commission. The progress made to date has been a very cooperative effort, the project having been assessed from many different perspectives.
Some of the concerns that were raised were increased traffic in the Head area, parking problems and disruption to local businesses. However, the Planning Board, the Police and Fire departments and Highway Department all concluded that the proposed plan would improve traffic and safety. (see site plan)
In October 2016, the Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously voted that the River Center project would not be significantly more detrimental to the neighborhood than the previous non-conforming use, and that it is a commercial building in a residential zone. WRWA will now seek the final permitting to proceed with renovations on the site.
We are putting the finishing touches on our septic plan, which has been interesting. Our plan is to have completely enclosed systems, including composting toilets, and a grey water (for example: hand and dish washing water) system that filters and re-circulates the water for irrigating plants within the building in a “living wall.” The objective is to have no discharge of wastewater from the building and to showcase innovative alternative technologies for a greener future.
We will be presenting the septic plan to the Board of Health very soon. After that, we will present our plan to the Conservation Commission to have any alterations to the waterfront approved and properly permitted. WRWA is also helping the Town apply for a grant from the Seaport Economic Council, to fund the grading, storm water mitigation, and general improvements to the waterfront area.
Our fundraising efforts have been very successful. Early on, the Westport Town Meeting voted unanimously to support the historic restoration of the exterior with $161,500 from Community Preservation Funds. Soon after, the Massachusetts Cultural Council Facilities Fund awarded WRWA $450,000 that was successfully matched last year. This prestigious grant for construction expenses only totals $900,000. Including private gifts and pledges, we have raised a total of $1,578,145.
With architectural plans nearing completion, we are meeting with prospective contractors. The internal building design is innovative and attractive, with high ceilings, a mezzanine, and ample light from windows and doors on the south exposure. The second floor will have a living wall, work stations, a small meeting room, kitchen, and bathroom facilities. The ground floor will welcome the public and provide displays and information regarding the health of the Westport River and its watershed. Most importantly, it will demonstrate the ways that we can all work together to improve and maintain water quality in our watershed communities. We plan to begin construction in Spring 2017.
We invite anyone interested to visit our office and see the plans and models for the new River Center!