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Downtown flooding triggers questions about Bedford Square plans

Updated 8:37 pm, Thursday, November 15, 2012

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  • Karen Johnson, vice president of development for Charter Realty & Development Corp., discusses the Bedford Square project with members of the town's Conservation Commission during a meeting Wednesday night in Town Hall.  Westport CT 11/14/12 Photo: Andrew Brophy / Westport News contributed
    Karen Johnson, vice president of development for Charter Realty & Development Corp., discusses the Bedford Square project with members of the town's Conservation Commission during a meeting Wednesday night in Town Hall. Westport CT 11/14/12 Photo: Andrew Brophy

 

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Conservation Commission members on Wednesday scrutinized the Bedford Square project -- a multi-use complex proposed for the site of the Westport Weston Family Y -- with the flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy in downtown Westport fresh in their minds.

Flooding from the Saugatuck River triggered by the storm reached an elevation of 9.9 feet downtown, while buildings in the Bedford Square project that are closest to the river would have flood proofing to elevation 12, said W. Kyle Bogardus, senior project manager at Langan Engineering & Environmental Services in New Haven, speaking for the developers.

The Family Y building at 59 Post Road East, the anchor property for the Bedford Square project, has been closed because of flooding damage caused by the storm more than two weeks ago.

But less than 25 percent of Bedford Square's 1.5-acre project area lies within the town's Waterway Protection Line, which is set at the 25-year storm flood elevation, plus an extra 15 feet, and less than 15 percent of the project's area is below an elevation of 9 feet, Bogardus said.

Karen Johnson, vice president of development for Charter Realty & Development Corp., said only the historic structures on the Westport Weston Family Y property are within the Waterway Protection Line. Two of the principals in Charter Realty & Development Corp. -- Dan Zelson and Paul Brandes -- are partners in Bedford Square Associates LLC, the developer.

Bedford Square Associates plans to renovate the Y property 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.

Flood proofing for the project's buildings within the Waterway Protection Line would include horizontal panels that could be attached across doors to block water, Bogardus told the Conservation Commission. He said flooding in the Y's basement during Hurricane Sandy was caused by water entering through openings along its doors, which he said are at elevation 7.98 feet and 6.5 feet.

"The issue was doorways on the Y," he said of the flooding.

W. Fergus Porter, the commission's chairman, said flooding "could have been way over 10 or 12 if Sandy did a direct hit" on the Connecticut shoreline, but Bogardus said additional panels could be added across doors to raise the level of flood protection.

Bogardus said areas of the project within the Waterway Protection Line, which is several hundred feet from the Saugatuck River, are already fully developed. "It's not that areas in the Waterway Protection Line are an open field where we're really changing dynamics," he said.

Johnson said extra flood proofing isn't required for the project because town zoning regulations exempt historic structures. "The flood proofing measures are being proposed essentially at our offering. They're not required," she said.

Attaching panels across doors was the only flood-proofing measure for the project mentioned by Bogardus or Johnson Wednesday night.

Bogardus said the finished floor of the underground parking garage would be at elevation "0," about 10 feet underground. But he said he didn't see a direct correlation between groundwater and the tide.

"If the tide went up a foot, it didn't mean groundwater went up a foot. It went up several inches," he said. "That's mainly because we're 275 feet away from the Saugatuck River."

After the meeting, Johnson said the garage would be outside the Waterway Protection Line.

Alicia Mozian, director of the town's Conservation Department, said the Federal Emergency Management Agency is expected to change its flood-zone maps in June.

Ralph Field, a commission member, said it is likely the town would change its regulations pertaining to construction downtown in regard to flooding, which he said seems to occur downtown on an annual basis.

"In the interim, it's highly conceivable there will be changes in the regulations," Field said. "I can't imagine, after what we've experienced, that things will remain the same."

Johnson said Bedford Square Associates would continue to monitor the status of regulations.

The commission also reviewed sediment and erosion control measures, how stormwater runoff would be controlled and cleaned, and the stockpiling of construction materials.

Bogardus said the property currently doesn't have any stormwater control measures and that the Bedford Square project would include "water quality chambers" at connection points with the town's drainage system to hold and cleanse stormwater before it enters pipes and goes into the river.

Along Elm Street, water would travel through a new stormwater pipe to a detention system before it's discharged into the town's pipes, he said.

Bogardus said a geotechnical investigation revealed sandy gravel at the site, which he said is favorable from a sediment and erosion control standpoint, and no bedrock at depths contractors would excavate to.

He didn't envision more than a day's worth of material being stockpiled due to space limitations, though he said that may change after construction moves forward and foundations are built.

Johnson said construction of the Bedford Square development could begin in the fall of 2014 -- when the Family Y expects to leave the downtown site and move to its new Mahackeno home -- if all necessary permits are secured for the project.

The town's Flood and Erosion Control Board is scheduled to review the Bedford project on Dec. 5 and the Conservation Commission will review it again on Dec. 12, Johnson said.

Outstanding issues from Wednesday night's meeting, which Johnson said would be addressed at the Dec. 12 meeting, include how de-watering will be handled during construction, submission of the geo-technical report, information on how the proposed stormwater control system would be maintained, and a construction sequence related to de-watering, excavation and erosion control measures.