A new traffic study submitted by the developers of the Bedford Square project just before Wednesday's special meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission prompted the board to vote unanimously to continue its hearing on the application to its regular meeting Thursday night.
Commissioners wanted time to review the new traffic information and said keeping the application open to further public comment was prudent in regard to the biggest downtown development proposal in decades.
"This is a very, very important, large project," said P&Z commissioner Chip Stephens. "I'd hate to see us blow it for one day. We have that opportunity, so I'd like to see us (continue the hearing)."
Bedford Square is the current site of the Westport Weston Family Y. The proposed development, which has already been approved by several other town boards, calls for retail, residential, restaurant and office uses in the new development, anchored by a large public plaza. The complex would incorporate and renovate the Y's Bedford building and a former firehouse as part of the project, while the Weeks Pavilion, the newer Y building, will be torn down. The Family Y is building a new headquarters on its Mahackeno property in northern Westport, which it plans to complete next year.
The new traffic study submitted by developers went above and beyond what is needed for the group's proposal, said Karen Johnson, vice president of development for Charter Realty & Development Corp., who led the presentation for the Bedford Square development team.
But Johnson said the Bedford Square developers recognize the vast scope of the project and are taking extra steps to put the commission and public at ease.
"This is for the purpose of giving you a comfort level about our analysis and that the conclusions of our analysis are valid," Johnson said.
During Wednesday's meeting, commissioners also heard from Town Attorney Ira Bloom about the question of why and how retail use could be allowed on the second and third floors of the revamped building -- as is proposed.
The Bedford Square developers had drawn up their plans based on an understanding of a 2005 ruling by then-Planning and Zoning Director Cathy Barnard, who wrote, in essence, that sections of the Family Y's second and third stories qualify for use as retail space.
In 2008, however, the P&Z ruled otherwise.
The issue came to light during the commission's June 20 meeting, and the divergent interpretations prompted commissioners to ask Bloom for a remedy. He cited a ruled earlier this year from the Zoning Board of Appeals that allows retail use of upper-level space.
This seemed to appease the commission.
"I'm satisfied that the ZBA has spoken on the issue in 2013," said P&Z commissioner Jack Whittle, who had raised the question at the earlier hearing.
On Thursday the commission hopes to rule on several variation requests for the project, including relocation of some floor area; extension of the floor in the mezzanine area, and a variance on the allowed rooftop height owing to skylights, elevators and rooftop condensers.
In addition to the Bedford Square project, the zoning commission Thursday also was scheduled to review two other contentious projects: Terrain garden center's proposal to let a historic structure stand idle on its Post Road East property in order to expand customer parking on its property, and Beit Chaverim synagogue's application to build a new synagogue on Ludlow Road, which has attracted the ire of neighborhood residents worried about the project's impact on traffic, parking and sewers.
Thursday's meeting is at 7 p.m. in the Town Hall auditorium.