DANBURY — Rezoning the Danbury Fair mall to allow housing, and targeting downtown parking lots to encourage shops and restaurants are “big ideas” leaders should consider in the city’s new master plan, a consultant urged this week.

“Maybe the mall is able to continue as it is, but the trends we are seeing nationally would suggest that they need to adapt in some way … and we need to be sure zoning is supportive of whatever may occur at that property in the future to keep it active and viable,” said Francisco Gomes, a consultant working with Danbury leaders to develop a zoning plan for the next 10 years. “If you look at an aerial (photo), there is a decent amount of surface parking downtown — (t)hat is always a very obvious place to look for new housing and new retail and new restaurant space.”

The consultant’s recommendations came during a 90-minute Zoom discussion about updating Danbury’s zoning to encourage economic growth, and to preserve the city’s open space and suburban character. An overdue public engagement campaign for the master plan is set for September — one month after leaders are scheduled to compete the research phase and begin to draft new land use rules.

“We are the seventh largest city in Connecticut, but you go into Tarrywile Park or (Candlewood) Lake and you can’t believe you’re in an urban environment,” said Sharon Calitro, Danbury’s planning director and a key member of the group overseeing the master plan update.

Calitro stressed the balance between progress and conservation had to be struck in the city’s historic Main Street district, in the heart of the downtown corridor.

“We have been careful to craft our regulations about a height restrictions, so we don’t overpower our historic district, which is on the National Register of Historic Places,” Calitro said. “We have to protect the historical integrity in the district and also incentivize people to have that density downtown.”

One way to encourage more economic development downtown is to make it easy for developers to convert parking lots into shops, restaurants, and apartments.