Neighbors speak out against Y plans
Published 11:07 am, Thursday, November 21, 2013
The New Canaan YMCA is looking to make some changes, but nearby neighbors are mighty unhappy about it.
Around 40 people attended the public hearing at Tuesday night's Planning and Zoning meeting to indicate their objection to a proposed expansion plan at the South Avenue facility. Neighbors are not only worried about increased use and the relocation of the main entrance further to the south of the site, but about proposed plans to use adjacent Putnam Road as the access route for construction vehicles.
The Y is requesting a site plan approval and special permit to add close to 15,000 square feet to its existing 305,000. Among other things, the intention is to renovate the two pools and gymnasiums, as well as redesign the exterior of the building.
"This is the culmination of a process that began in 2011, when the Y recognized that its existing two pools ... needed to be reconstructed," said Edward O'Hanlin, an attorney with Robinson & Cole who is representing the Y.
The original application requesting a variance for the project was withdrawn, he said, at the commission's request. "You asked us to withdraw it and we did, so that we could present a conceptual plan of what the Y was intending to do ... This plan that the Y is now pursuing is consistent with the text grant that you approved."
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"It's not an open-ended expansion coverage," he said, and would be less than the 6 percent increase allowed under the existing regulations.
"The Y is not changing its programs," he said. "These pools are designed to serve the existing community needs ... The idea is that while you're opening two, three sides of the building, to take advantage of interior changes that make sense."
Among these changes, he said, are creating a dedicated entrance area for the pre-school program that is separate from those using the gymnasium and pool.
"It is a security disaster waiting to happen," he said of the current arrangement.
"This entire childcare area is going to be devoted entirely to childcare," he said of the new design.
Several neighbors, however, expressed their disappointment in what they said was the Y's change in plans after it sought the approval of neighbors for just interior changes.
"I do support the YMCA renovations," said Roger Williams, whose Putnam Road home is close to the facility. "It's only fair ... It's not the renovation, it's the expansion that gets tacked on."
"If the entrance is moved 60 feet from the center," he said, he and his family will hear car doors and alarms early in the morning, as people will park closer, as well as have increased light showing through his windows.
"This will start at 5:30 in the morning," he said, explaining that talking about it was making him upset.
He said the "pitch point," where drop-offs and pick-ups will be occurring will also be closer to his house. "I will hear that in my bedroom."
Michael Dorfsman of Putnam Road said he was speaking on behalf of 62 households in the area. "We just want to underscore the seriousness of our concerns," he said.
Dorfsman said in November of 2011 the Y's proposal "was all about the pools."
"Since then what we have is it's morphed into a whole-scale renovation, which will include a cafe with an outdoor terrace near the main entrance.
"When neighbors signed off on the (proposed) site permit, it was on the bedrock condition that the YMCA would not permit vehicular access to Putnam Road," he said. "Now the YMCA is backing off that promise ... and intending to use Putnam for its access for one and a half years, if all goes according to plan."
"Help us preserve our ability to enjoy our homes," he said, noting that "If history could be turned back, (the Y) probably wouldn't be allowed to be built in a 1-acre residential zone."
Craig Panzano, executive director of New Canaan's Y, noted that, despite parking being legally allowed on the road, the Y had done more than its part to discourage people from parking on the road during swim meets and other large events.
"We spend a lot of money to make sure we don't have people parking on Putnam," he said. "I think we do more than any other organization in town in that regard."
Asked questions about its membership, Panzano explained that 35 percent of New Canaan's 10,000 members were from out of town, many commuters that come down from adjacent New York state, and many who were involved with swim teams there.
He and others emphasized that there was no intention to expand membership following the renovations. Board director Catherine Wagner noted, however, that many members have left the Y due to the condition of the pools.
"We have been losing members for several years and one of the stated reasons is the condition of the pool," she said during a lengthy presentation on the scope of the Y's work.
Panzano said there were many Y's available throughout Fairfield County, but Williams pointed out that other nearby municipalities have much fewer members.
"Stamford has one-tenth of its members," he said. "Darien capped its membership at 10,000. I don't know why New Canaan can't do the same thing."
Norwalk's Y recently closed and some people expressed concerns that the updates would invite more people from that city.
Several area residents made note of the Y's mission statement in reference to social responsibility.
"We hope the YMCA applies its core mission to its relationship with its neighbors," Dorfsman said.
The commission allowed only 30 minutes for public comment following close to a two-hour presentation by the Y and members of the building project. Chairman Laszlo Papp said the public hearing would continue next month.
Jarret Liotta is a freelance writer.