Conservation commissioners buoyed by Bedford Square presentation
Updated 7:16 am, Thursday, January 17, 2013
While the Conservation Commission won't officially vote on the proposal until its Feb. 20 meeting, the panel's members were in general agreement Wednesday night that developers of the proposed Bedford Square project at the site of the Westport Weston Family Y had satisfied concerns expressed at a series of earlier hearings.
"I would suggest that we give them approval and a hand for their professionalism," said Commissioner Jeffress Gouverneur, who said in his many years on the commission he had "not experienced a more professional approach and presentation by an applicant.
"I think the scope of the project is clearly much larger than we normally see, (but) I think that these guys have jumped through more hoops than little dogs in the circus," he added of the mixed-use project envisioned for the landmark downtown property.
"My only concern is that ... they haven't come up with a final design," noted Commissioner Ralph Field. "In any other proposal coming before this commission, we would insist on having a final design. Now, this is a much more complex project. There are certain engineering variables that they have not fully assessed, (but) I wonder about that."
Bedford Square Associates wants to renovate the downtown 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 new construction at 35 Church Lane, adjacent to the Y -- the developers propose moving the Queen Anne Victorian house on that site -- and a 100-space underground parking garage.
Earlier questions about the project focused on the issue of flooding and downtown drainage, particularly in the wake of the Y's inundation during Superstorm Sandy. Flooding damage to the Y caused it to shut down for a month to make repairs.
"We have not gotten into final design and we will not for several months," said Karen Johnson, vice president of development for Charter Realty & Development Corp., part of Bedford Square Associates, LLC.
Conservation Chairman W. Fergus Porter said the scope of the project is now basically final, and that details of the development relating to "hardware" could be sorted out later. He said the commission can also add conditions to the approved application where it deems necessary.
Toward that end, commissioners will convey any concerns to Conservation Commissioner Alicia Mozian, who will draft wording in the coming weeks.
The Flood and Erosion Control Board has given its approval to the project, and Johnson addressed some of the relevant concerns that had been on the table.
"We are not increasing the flow of water off site," she said. "In fact, we are decreasing it ... We are not making the current condition worse."
Project representatives said measures will be taken to prevent additional run-off, including adding a tapered detention pipe along Elm Street that will serve as a sort of holding tank in the event of overflow beyond previous capacity.
Questions were previously raised by the commission relating to the town's current storm drainage capacity system. As it exists, the town-owned system must drain through the state system, which is not functioning at peak efficiency but is beyond the town's control.
In order to bypass the state system, Field said, "We would have to build a pumping station about the size of this room. In no way would the Board of Finance consider this."
"I guess the concerns that we have aren't likely to be satisfied," Porter said. "I'm glad I live at a 120-foot elevation."