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P&Z weighs pros and cons of YMCA project

Published 3:15 pm, Friday, April 25, 2014
  • Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Laszlo Papp and member Elizabeth DeLuca at a special meeting at the New Canaan Nature Center, in New Canaan, Conn., Tuesday, April 22, 2014. Photo: Nelson Oliveira / New Canaan News
    Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Laszlo Papp and member Elizabeth DeLuca at a special meeting at the New Canaan Nature Center, in New Canaan, Conn., Tuesday, April 22, 2014. Photo: Nelson Oliveira

 

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New Canaan's Planning and Zoning Commission met for the last time Tuesday before the final vote on the controversial YMCA renovation project.

Final deliberations and the vote are expected to take place at the commission's meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 29, at the New Canaan Nature Center.

Commission members Tuesday weighed the impact of a number of potential conditions they are likely to impose if they approve the project. Most members agree the proposed construction access on Putnam Road is not a safe route.

"Access is really the issue we're dealing with here," member Jean Grzelecki said.

The commission considered a number of conditions, such as closing down the YMCA during part of the construction, prohibiting left turns from the facility to South Avenue and limiting construction hours to avoid coinciding with children traveling to and from school.

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.

YMCA officials want to set up a construction entrance on Putnam Road because they said it would provide direct access to the rear of the facility, where the construction will take place, and avoid crossing the front parking lot where they say there's a lot of traffic. Experts have also said it would not be safe to have trucks crossing the gas pipeline, which runs at an angle underneath the property.

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

Chairman Laszlo Papp said the commission needs "to make a reasonable decision" to make "this magic happen."

"We cannot shy away from our responsibility to deal with this," Papp said.

Town Attorney Ira Bloom joined the meeting to answer questions about potential liability caused by the conditions the commission is likely to impose.

"If you impose a condition, (and) it's not supported by the experts," Bloom said, "we face a challenge."

He noted that all conditions should be backed up by evidence provided during the public hearing.

The three-part public hearing began Nov. 19, about a month after the project application was submitted to the commission. The hearing was closed Feb. 25.

Since the commission has 65 days after a hearing is closed to make a decision, May 1 is the last day to take a vote.

Commission members also revisited the idea of asking the Board of Education to allow the Y to open a 25-foot path at the Saxe Middle School field for construction access. The Board of Education rejected the idea in February and the Y itself said the path could be even more dangerous to pedestrians and children.

"You don't have that option now," Bloom told the commission. "At this point, your hearing is closed."

Papp said any decision should not involve crossing the pipeline that runs underneath the facility.

At the Feb. 25 hearing, the YMCA brought construction and traffic experts and a lawyer to convince the commission that the best construction access would be through Putnam Road. Experts concluded that there's a great level of danger if large trucks cross the pipeline for an extended period of time.

The duration of the project is expected to be 18 months.

Area residents who oppose the project have said there would be nearly 200 children at risk if the facility moves forward with the Putnam Road construction access.

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