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BOE denies Saxe access in Y construction

Published 10:07 am, Thursday, July 10, 2014

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  • Putnam Road resident Michael Dorfsman addresses the Board of Education at a meeting Monday, July 7, 2014, at New Canaan High School, New Canaan, Conn. Photo: Nelson Oliveira / New Canaan News
    Putnam Road resident Michael Dorfsman addresses the Board of Education at a meeting Monday, July 7, 2014, at New Canaan High School, New Canaan, Conn. Photo: Nelson Oliveira

 

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The Board of Education again refused to allow the New Canaan YMCA to use part of the Saxe Middle School field for construction access despite a final attempt by residents to convince the board to do so at a meeting Monday night.

The Planning and Zoning Commission approved the YMCA renovation project, with 33 conditions, in April, following a three-part public hearing largely focused on the project's construction entrance, which will be on Putnam Road, the Y's preferred option.

One of those conditions required YMCA officials to ask the Board of Education for approval to make a temporary construction road along the south end of the Saxe Middle School field, which is adjacent to the Y's property at 564 South Ave. If approved, the road would be used for construction access, replacing the Putnam Road access, where many neighbors strongly feel is an unsafe route.

The Board of Education had informally rejected the idea in February and it did so again on Monday, even after receiving a new traffic report from a consultant hired by a group of families from Putnam and Surrey roads.

Unlike all studies presented by the YMCA, the KWH Enterprise report concluded that a Saxe entrance point would be safer than one on Putnam Road.

"South Avenue is the logical choice as the construction route for the YMCA construction project, involving a large number of heavy vehicles over a sustained period. `Local streets' such as Surrey Road and Putnam Road are not designed from a functional standpoint for this role," Kermit Hua, of KWH Enterprise wrote in the report.

On behalf of the P&Z, Town Attorney Ira Bloom said the commission did not expect the board to take the new report into consideration.

Board members received the report last week, three months after the public hearing was closed.

"We have a classic case of dueling consultancy here," board member Gene Goodman said. "But it's not the Board of Education's job to choose between the two alternatives."

Several board members said their views had not changed and they were not willing to lend a piece of the school to the YMCA.

"I have not changed my opinion," Penny Rashin said. "I would go with Surrey/Putnam Road."

Attorney Ted O'Hanlan, who represents the YMCA, told the board the report "is improper, is inaccurate and is unfair to you and the YMCA and Planning and Zoning Commission.

"The laws about zoning are very clear," he said. "There was a five-month hearing process to which the info you received last week was supposed to be vetted ... and yet these people are coming forward to you and asking you ... to change that decision."

The project aims to renovate the rear half of the building, replace both swimming pools and locker rooms, and upgrade the gyms and wellness areas.

Putnam Road provides direct access to the rear of the YMCA, where the construction will take place, and avoids crossing the front parking lot where YMCA officials say there is a lot of traffic.

Experts also have said it would not be safe to have trucks crossing the gas pipeline, which runs at an angle underneath the property.

Area residents have opposed the Putnam Road access, claiming construction trucks would make the neighborhood unsafe for children.

With the P&Z approval, however, access to the facility from Putnam Road only will be allowed for heavy construction vehicles. Y officials estimate such trucks would be used in about 49 days out of the expected 18 months of construction.

The traffic through Putnam and Surrey roads would be restricted to 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and after 3:30 p.m. to avoid coinciding with children walking to and from the schools.

In addition, the Y will be required to employ traffic monitors at the Putnam Road construction entrance and at the intersection of South Avenue and Surrey Road -- the later connects Putnam with South Avenue.

Michael Dorfsman, a Putnam Road resident, said the limitations would provide "very minimal protection" to the children in the area.

He said there would be many children playing, running and riding bikes in the area during summertime.

The KWH report claims that the large trucks would be a risk for pedestrians in the neighborhood.

"When these large vehicles make turns, their sweeping paths extend far wider than the 8-foot or 8.5-foot vehicle widths. This makes their movement on local streets difficult, because they are not designed to accommodate large vehicles," Hua wrote. "When this is combined with the limited sight distances on Putnam Road, the potential for traffic accidents increases."

The report also shows concern with the pipeline located underneath the facility.

Even with the proposed "bridges" for vehicles crossing the gas line, the Putnam Road access would "expose the gas line to a risk of potential damage that does not come into play with" a Saxe access route, according to the KWH report.

In a May 19 letter, Peter Skaperdas, president of the Y's board of directors, reluctantly requested the Board of Education to reconsider a Saxe construction access.

"It is still the view of the professional traffic and parking consultants, professional engineers, landscape architect, construction professionals and the YMCA that the greatest degree of pedestrian safety that can be achieved, and the best way to avoid pedestrian and vehicular traffic impacts on South Avenue, is by having construction access to the site go through the Surrey Road/Putnam Road route," he wrote. "This is because the fewest number of children will be encountered in this area, for the least amount of times during the day, and with the least impact from construction vehicles on traffic flow on South Avenue."

Board Chairman Hazel Hobbs said board members did extensive research on the issue when it was first presented to them early this year.

noliveira@bcnnew.com, 203-330-6582, @olivnelson