P&Z approves

Levitt proposal

with conditions

The Westport Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) during a work session last Thursday approved an application for the construction of a new Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts.

The approval requires a more open public access policy than originally proposed; a regimen for dealing with potential sound migration from the facility; and added site monitoring throughout construction.

With P&Z approval in hand, the task of the volunteer effort on behalf of the new Levitt is to raise the balance of the $5 million needed for excavating the lawn area, building a new stage, creating a new entry structure and improving the river-walk along the periphery of the facility -- all in time for the 2011 summer season.

The excavation of the lawn area and the addition of soil fill will create a 6 percent rising slope in the lawn area for audiences at about the same capacity as is now true, according to Peter Cadoux, the project architect, who testified at the P&Z hearing two weeks ago and was reached Monday for comment.

Cadoux, who is a Westport resident with a 26-year practice in town, said that there would no terracing or stepping up of the lawn. "It will be a gentle slope," he said, with about the same audience capacity as now.

That slope will run up to the height of the new entry building that, according to Cadoux, will act as a retaining wall for the fill, while providing access to the lawn and a hospitality area for audiences, as well as storage for the facility.

The entry area is at the north end of the Levitt site, which is a 1.6-acre peninsula at the confluence of the Saugatuck River and Dead Man's Creek -- that forms part of the 10.6-acre town-owed Jesup Green, which is also the location of the Westport Public Library and Westport Police Headquarters.

There will be a pedestrian plaza at the entry area with a scenic overlook of the Saugatuck River. The entry area is elevated from the parking lot and will have handicap and stroller access, as well as conventional stairways.

The public will also be able to reach the lawn area by way of the river-walk that runs along the Levitt site and up to the bridge that leads to the Imperial Avenue public parking lot.

Cadoux said the current dirt road will be widened, resurfaced with pervious material and cleared of brush and invasive plants in the overall landscaping enhancement for the periphery of the Levitt site.

To the south of the entry area will be the new stage structure at the same location as the present temporary one, near the point of the peninsula.

The new performance facility will have the latest in advanced acoustics, according to Cadoux, and the low-maintenance cement shingles -- made from recycled materials -- have the look of wood to be consistent with the residential zone.

For the roof covering of the stage, Cadoux used a geometric design, the hyperbolic paraboloid, to create a theatrical, nautical look in keeping with the river location.

The white Teflon coating is self-cleaning and can withstand hurricane force winds and snow loads for this area, according to Cadoux, and, since it does not absorb heat, he said it will help the project earn a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council for sound environmental construction.

The new stage structure will have a green room, luncheonette and restrooms for the performers, as well as storage for equipment.

For reasons of security and public safety, the original proposal called for both the grounds and the buildings at the Levitt to be open only for performances during the summer season. Instead, the P&Z approval sets a dawn-to-dusk, grounds-only policy for the site to be open from April 1 to Nov. 31, but otherwise closed during the year.

Buildings would be closed to the public throughout the year, except for the two hours before performances in the summer, which usually end by 9:30 p.m., but have run later for some ticketed fund-raising events.

P&Z Chairman Ron Corwin cited a "responsibility to the community at large" for the open-grounds policy, in order to have the town-owned site serve as something more than a place for concerts.

"It should be open to the public during the day in the summer," P&Z Vice Chairman Eleanor Lowenstein said at the meeting, noting that the new Levitt would be more open to the river, less isolated and more inviting to the public.

Cadoux said that there are different ways of looking at the security and public access issue, but that, in any event, police department surveillance cameras would provide a constant check on activity at the site, whether the grounds are open or closed.

The P&Z is also requiring the restoring of a sound committee to the Levitt operation to augment the technical sound monitoring that has generally been recognized as successful over the past few years in containing sound within the site.

"There should be a mechanism in place for neighbors to voice complaints about sound without having to go to the Board of Selectman or other town officials," Corwin said.

The project's sound consultants, according to Cadoux, have said that the configuration of the new Levitt with the new entry building opposite the stage should help prevent sound migration.

The new stage structure is to be elevated on pilings that will pass through 25 feet of waste at the former municipal solid waste landfill, according to Cadoux.

The engineering of the project has anticipated the possibility of some settling in the future and, according to Cadoux, has used construction materials with tolerances for such settlement.

"We're not using masonry construction. Brick does not have the tolerances needed for this site," said Cadoux.

The Conservation Department has required an environmental monitor for the pile-driving phase of the project to check for the leakage of gases from the waste material and protect the environmental cap over the waste material.

In its approval, the P&Z added the requirement that a site monitor be hired for the full construction project. The monitor would report regularly to the town's Planning and Zoning Department about the effectiveness of erosion and sediment control safeguards.