The Westport development consortium Bedford Square Associates unveiled Tuesday its highly anticipated plans for a new 60,000-square-foot, mixed-use complex at the downtown site of the Westport Weston Family Y.
Bedford Square's site plan calls for retail, residential, restaurant and office use in a development framed around a large public plaza. The Bedford Square complex would retain the Bedford building and a former firehouse. Those two Tudor-style buildings date to the early 1920s and comprise part of the current Y complex. The Weeks Pavilion, the other main building at the downtown Y, would be torn down to make way for a new building.
Bedford Square's new complex would also include new buildings at 35 Church Lane, which stands adjacent to the Y complex. The two existing buildings at 35 Church Lane, including an 1890 Queen Anne-style house, would be removed.
"This project that we're proposing really complements what's already happening in downtown Westport," Karen Johnson, vice president of development at Charter Realty & Development Corp., said in a press conference Tuesday at the Spotted Horse restaurant on Church Lane. "We're adding on to that energy in the downtown area."
Two of Charter Realty's principals, Dan Zelson and Paul Brandes, are Bedford Square partners. Another Bedford Square partner David Waldman is president of the Westport-based commercial real estate firm, David Adam Realty.
Bedford Square has contracted to buy 59 Post Road East, the current site of the Y, while it already owns 35 Church Lane.
The Bedford Square development would also include a 100-space underground parking garage for residents and patrons, as well as a vehicle drop-off area facing Elm Street. While the Bedford Square complex would stand across Elm Street from a municipal parking lot, all of its parking needs would be met on-site, Johnson said.
Bedford Square's 30 residential units would range from 550-square-foot studios to 1,800-square-foot two bedroom homes.
The Bedford Square site plan calls for a network of public walkways in and around the new mixed-use complex, as well as several outdoor seating areas. The new paths would connect to the plaza and offer improved pedestrian access between Church Lane and the municipal parking lot on Elm Street. Bedford Square also intends to bump out the sidewalk in front of the Bedford building and widen the sidewalk up to 20 feet on Church Lane.
Redevelopment of the Y complex at 59 Post Road East is arguably the most far-reaching commercial real estate project planned during the last generation in downtown Westport.
Bedford Square principals envision the venture as a means of creating a mixed-use "gateway," which would link the town center and surrounding residential neighborhoods. Related to that goal, Waldman has overseen during the last two years the renovation of 26-28 Church Lane, which now houses the Spotted Horse restaurant, and 101-107 Post Road East, the site of an Urban Outfitters clothing store. The latter property also has a glass-facade entrance on Church Lane, adjacent to the Spotted Horse. Both 26-28 Church Lane and 101-107 Post Road East are owned by a partnership that includes Waldman.
Waldman has won praise from a number of downtown merchants and town residents for the opening of Spotted Horse and Urban Outfitters, but not all of his Church Lane plans have garnered acclaim. In October 2011, Bedford Square submitted a plan to the P&Z to re-zone 35 Church Lane from the Restricted Office-Retail District 2 zone to the Business Center District, which would have allowed more development on that property. But the proposal unleashed a torrent of criticism from many town residents, who argued that a re-zoning of 35 Church Lane would allow excessive development in the town center. The P&Z later turned down that application.
Bedford Square principals and consultants expressed confidence Tuesday that their new plans would be well received.
"We've scaled it down both in plan and in height to be in scale with its residential," said Mark Herter, an architect at Centerbrook Architects and Planners, the firm hired by Bedford Square to design the new complex.
Lou Gagliano, chairman of Westport's Downtown 2020 Committee, expressed support for the project.
"It's really a wonderful project," he told the Westport News. "It's got mixed-use features that will add to the some of the capabilities that we're trying to deliver in the downtown area ... I think the scale's great.
The redevelopment of the Y building would also convert a tax-exempt property into a site that would contribute to the town's property tax coffers.
Bedford Square's plans will now go through a lengthy review process by town boards, which will include the Architectural Review Board, the Historic District Commission and the Planning and Zoning Commission. If the project secures all of its required approvals, construction of the Bedford Square complex would likely start in the fall of 2014. That expected start coincides with the Y's scheduled departure from 59 Post Road East. Construction of the mixed-use would take between 18 to 24 months, according to Johnson.
"The additional retail, the additional restaurants, wider sidewalks -- all the amenities it brings will make Church Lane a true extension of Main Street," Waldman told the Westport News.
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