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Bedford Square plans in strategic withdrawal as conservation questions mount

Published 8:17 am, Thursday, December 13, 2012

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  • W. Fergus Porter, left, chairman of Westport's Conservation Commission, and Jeffress Gouverneur, a commission member, listen Wednesday night to discussion of plans for the Bedford Square project on the site of the Westport Weston Family Y.   Westport CT 12/12/12 Photo: Andrew Brophy / Westport News contributed
    W. Fergus Porter, left, chairman of Westport's Conservation Commission, and Jeffress Gouverneur, a commission member, listen Wednesday night to discussion of plans for the Bedford Square project on the site of the Westport Weston Family Y. Westport CT 12/12/12 Photo: Andrew Brophy

 

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Bedford Square Associates, LLC, on Thursday was expected to withdraw its application to redevelop the Westport Weston Family Y property and a neighboring Church Lane property from Conservation Commission consideration.

But the developer is not abandoning plans for the mixed-use development at 59 Post Road East and 35 Church Lane. The withdrawal is necessary because the commission is required to make a decision on the project within two weeks and panel members as of Wednesday night still had a lot of questions about the downtown project.

Also, the town's Flood and Erosion Control Board has not voted on the project, and the Conservation Commission won't make a decision until after that board rules on the application, said Karen Johnson, one of the developer's representatives at Wednesday night's conservation panel meeting in Town Hall.

"That's fine. We'll resubmit tomorrow," Johnson said.

Alicia Mozian, director of the town's Conservation Department, said the resubmitted application would have a new file number "just so we can start the clock over again."

Johnson said she hopes the commission felt comfortable enough with the application to make a decision at its next meeting, set for Jan. 16. The Flood and Erosion Control Board will continue its review Jan. 9.

But Ralph Field, a commission member, said midway through Wednesday night's meeting that he thinks the commission is "some distance away" from making a decision. "At the end of the meeting today [Wednesday], we're certainly not at a point to do anything but ask additional questions," he said.

Mozian asked the commission if the person who wrote Bedford Square Associates' geo-technical report should attend the next meeting, and Field replied, "Oh absolutely."

Near the end of the meeting, W. Fergus Porter, chairman of the Conservation Commission, said he thought commission members by early January could identify areas where they had additional questions and that the town's Conservation Department could forward that information in a document to Bedford Square Associates.

Bedford Square Associates wants to renovate the downtown Family Y property at 59 Post Road East into a 60,000-square-foot development that includes retail, residential, restaurant and office space. The Bedford building and a former firehouse, which are part of the Y complex, would remain, while a third building, the Weeks Pavilion, would be demolished and replaced by another building. The project also calls for demolition and new construction at 35 Church Lane, adjacent to the Y, and a 100-space underground parking garage.

On Wednesday night, the commission mostly reviewed "de-watering," or how groundwater would be removed, treated and disposed of during excavation at 35 Church Lane for the underground parking garage.

W. Kyle Bogardus, senior project manager at Langan Engineering & Environmental Services in New Haven, said groundwater would be pumped out of the half-acre excavated area and would be treated before being discharged into the town's drainage system on Church Lane. Initially, the groundwater would be treated through on-site "geo-textile de-watering bags," which he also referred to as "dirt bags," and it would be treated again as it traveled to a catch basin.

Bogardus said sandy and gravely soil on the site, which had been revealed through borings, was more favorable than fine soil for de-watering because less sediment would be in the removed water.

Bogardus said the town's drainage system wouldn't be overtaxed by the groundwater discharge because the pipe on the north side of Church Lane has a diameter of 2½ feet and the developer also would have an "overflow pipe" that would send groundwater back onto the property during a flash flood or significant storm. In that case, the groundwater would return to the property to be stored in tanker trucks, Bogardus said. "We will have to collect that water coming back into our system and do contingency, which is tanker trucks," he said.

Johnson said it was unlikely a contractor would work in a storm and that the excavated area also could serve "almost as a retention area."

"It's essentially filling back up," she said.

But Johnson said contingency plans for a significant storm during excavation and de-watering had to have some fluidity. "We can't say we'll have five trucks parked in specific locations. We can say we've identified certain controls that will be in the construction contract," she said.

Bogardus said the construction phase associated with de-watering would last about six weeks -- far less time than construction for the overall project. "We're only talking about dealing with the groundwater for a truncated period of time," he said. The excavation also is scheduled to take place in the fall when groundwater is normally at its lowest point.

Bogardus also spoke about several methods of stabilizing the excavated area so its walls didn't cave in during de-watering and construction but didn't say which specific one would be used. "We would envision various types of supported excavations with this project," he said. "We do envision applications of all of these could potentially be used."

The contractor selected for the job would determine how best to stabilize and shore up the excavated area, he said.

Earlier, Field asked how far along Bedford Square Associates was in designing the project, saying written reports and what Bogardus and Johnson presented "to a certain extent are hypotheticals because the final design of the project is still evolving."

Johnson said the developer was in the preliminary design stage and would move to an advanced level once local approvals had been obtained. "We're early in the permitting stage for the town of Westport," she said, adding that the project also required approval from the town's Planning and Zoning Commission. "Until we know what we're permitted to construct, we're not going to proceed further with construction documents."

Mozian, though, said an approval by a land-use commission in Orange was recently overturned in court because the commission required as a condition of approval the submission of a sediment and erosion control plan. "The court ruled commissions had to have some evidence in the record to support the protection of the resource," she said. "How much can we put on the town engineer to say, `Now the plan protects the resource?' "

Commission member Jeffress Gouverneur asked how groundwater in other areas would be impacted by the excavation and construction, and Johnson indicated that the footprint of the excavation wouldn't be large but added that a more detailed answer would be provided later.

Anna Rycenga said a Bedford Square Associates' representative had noted that a comprehensive monitoring program would be required. "I agree with Ralph that this is preliminary, but in order to make a decision, I think we need more information," she said.

Johnson said Bedford Square Associates' objective was for the commission to have information so it's comfortable in making a decision. "We will try to get you there within reason," she said.