Blossom and Mandell on the mark

In their letters to the editor, published in the Westport News June 18, Westport residents and John Blosson and smart growth advocate Matthew Mandell offered articulate and well-reasoned concerns at the proposed expansions to the Sunny Lane on/off ramps of northbound Exit 41 on the Merritt Parkway that are designed to accommodate the moving of the Westport Weston Family Y to its Camp Mahackeno site. Both gentlemen questioned again the wisdom of constructing 112,000 square foot commercial-grade facilities in a state-designated rural and AAA-zoned residential neighborhood and made compelling arguments in favor carefully considering the likely unintended consequences of such a move.

Mandell suggests that the town of Westport and the Y come together collaboratively to create downtown alternatives, a number of which are readily available. He suggests that one possible alternative would be for the YMCA be constructed on the Baron's South via land swaps and long-term leases. His innovative and thoughtful approach aims to solve a number of the challenges facing the town in a most elegant and appropriate manner.

If the Baron's property is unworkable, a review of the 2001 Town Plan of Conservation and Development, as drafted by world-class master planners Buckhurst, Fish and Jacquemart, offers another outstanding solution: Placing the Y on the Imperial parking lot, as pictured below, with commanding views down the river. This site can easily accommodate the 25-meter pool the Y is now planning, and virtually every other amenity the Y intends to offer its members. If someone says it can't be done, don't believe them. The library was built on land with the same characteristics. And, engineering firm Weston & Sampson, in their report of September 2007, showed a number of possible uses for the site, demonstrating that the land is developable.

Merits of this site include:

"¢ Smart utilization of an underutilized land resource, currently a parking lot

"¢ Close proximity to: Westport Public Library, Jesup Green, Levitt Pavillion, The Senior Center and EMS

"¢ Central Downtown Location.

"¢ Preserves Winslow Park, Baron's South, Jesup Green & the top of Jesup Green for other municipal uses, including Affordable Housing, Open Space and more

"¢ Provides opportunity for town to realize a gain via via a land sale, a land swap for property owned by the Y at Mahackeno, a long-term lease, or some creative combination of part or all of the aforementioned.

"¢ This selection of this site would be wholly consistent with the principles and philosophies articulated in the Town Plans of Conservation and Development of both 2001 and 2007.

As Blossom aptly noted, "Good intentions can have bad consequences. I appreciate the enthusiasm of people behind the Y relocation effort, but the boosterism behind this proposal will impact our families, our environment and our property values for decades to come. In an era in which we are supposed to be moving towards getting off our duffs and using our legs, it is ironic that the proposed Y traffic solution will keep more people stuck in their car seats longer instead of having a facility in a location that would increase foot traffic to and from local stores and other town facilities. I urge all Westporters to learn more about this proposed expansion and its impact on our lives and our properties."

With lawsuits aiming to overturn the P&Z's approval of the Y's Special Permit Application still pending, the future of the Y remains uncertain. It would be great if the town and the Y could finally come together in an unprecedented way and craft a solution that guarantees the Y's future as the heart beating at the center of our town, making winners of us all.

Ian Warburg

Westport

Response

Last week I explained why the Westport Weston Family Y's move to Mahackeno was the antithesis to smart growth and outlined a plan to have them instead relocate downtown on Baron's South. Iain Bruce, president of the Y board of directors, in a subsequent letter, questioned my assumptions and apparently my mental faculties as to whether an event actually took place.

In the spring of 2007 the RTM Long Range Planning Committee held a public meeting in the auditorium where the town-hired engineer from Weston and Sampson said the Y could fit on Baron's South. That was then with a 50-meter pool, now the Y has decided to only build a 25-meter. RTM members Allen Bomes, Jack Klinge, Diane Cady, Jonathan Steingberg along with others and Mahackeno supporters are just some who were there that could attest to the veracity of this. Bruce might also ask Westport First Selectman Gordon Joseloff as well, for he unceremoniously cut off Mr. Steinberg's questioning of the engineer as it became clearer with each answer this was the case.

The final report does not mention this, but said report was never actually vetted in public and requests to keep its conclusions out of the Town Plan until it had, were ignored.

Bruce then went on to say I was "beating a dead horse" with my suggested use of Barons. No, my actions are not futile, but meant to breathe life into a very ill horse. One sadly left to die due to neglect by members of our community who have turned their back on the concept of smart growth, synergy of use and a vibrant downtown.

Bruce's own conclusion that the Y can't go on Barons because the first selectman said no, is really the heart of the matter. Who should really be making this decision on the use of the land? It's owned by all of us. I don't question the need for senior housing, especially for our own Westporters, but why is it the only plan for the property.

A Y on Barons and senior housing are not mutually exclusive concepts and would actually work well together. A recent meeting at the Senior Center had four consecutive speakers say, seniors need accessibility to facilities, they need inter-generational relationships and participation, they need aid driving, especially at night and the senior center needs expansion, to possibly include a pool. The YMCA in close proximity, even if on the Imperial parking lot, would accomplish this, but not if it were at Mahackeno.

This is not an us or them issue. It is a we issue. We can all work together to achieve what is best for everyone, what is best for our town and that is a Y Downtown. It can still happen.

Matthew Mandell

Westport