Planning and Zoning considers Levitt Pavilion upgrade

The privately funded proposal to replace the temporary stage used over the past three years at the Levitt Pavilion with a new permanent soundstage, and to add a new entry building for the facility, is subject to approval by the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) because the site is a former municipal solid-waste landfill.

Based on a preliminary review of plans for the construction of the new facility for the Levitt at 20 Jesup Road in Westport, the DEP said last week that there is a "reasonable likelihood" that it would approve the project.

Planning and Zoning Department Director Laurence Bradley relayed that DEP assurance to the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) last Thursday during a public hearing on the Levitt proposal, which also includes improved landscaping around the perimeter of the facility and increased access to the Saugatuck River Walk.

The P&Z closed the hearing after three hours of questions from the commissioners and testimony from the project architect, technical consultants and members of the public. A vote on the proposal will likely take place tomorrow during the P&Z work session.

The proposed Levitt upgrade comes to the P&Z with approval from the town's Conservation Department, Flood and Erosion Control Board and Parks and Recreation Commission.

Bradley said he had learned of the DEP's predisposition about the project only hours before the hearing opened. "That's important because our regulations require that anything needing a DEP approval have a reasonable chance of getting it," said Bradley.

Since the Jesup Road landfill is also a Superfund, clean-up site, under the federal law for abandoned hazardous waste sites, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires proper monitoring of emissions during construction, according to Bradley.

The monitoring of the construction process was of special interest to the P&Z commissioners because the new stage will be raised on pilings that will be driven 65 feet through fill and layers of waste until base-soil is reached.

The project is applying for a permit to bring more fill to the site in an amount that Bradley said would not exceed, and might not even reach, allowable limits, but he did have initial concerns that two terraced areas in the plan might create steep slopes that would conflict with regulations

On further review, however, Bradley said that the topographical design of the project "appears to be in compliance."

A sound consultant for the project said that the new stage structure and a new advanced sound system would control the sound and keep it from migrating from the site, as well as can be expected for outdoor concerts.

Bradley advised the commissioners that over the last six to seven years, the number of noise complaints have declined, even with the existing sound system.

The Levitt functions in a residential zone under a special permit that imposes use-limits, including sound restrictions, but one Levitt residential neighbor said at the hearing that there had been excessive noise during the 2009 summer season, which, the neighbor said, had not been a problem the two previous seasons.

Parks and Recreation Director Stuart McCarthy said in response to the neighbor that sound monitoring last summer followed the same regimen as that used in 2008 and 2007. McCarthy also defended a provision in the plan that requires the Levitt to be closed before and after performances as a security measure to guard against vandalism.

P&Z Vice Chairman Eleanor Lowenstein raised questions about the suitability of such a restriction for a public park, but McCarthy said that the Levitt area gets very little recreational use during the day.

Regarding parking in the area of the Levitt, Bradley said that it might be the time to develop standards that could be used for future growth of the Pavilion, as well as future needs of the Westport Public Library.