P&Z to decide on YMCA project
The future of the New Canaan YMCA's controversial renovation project is finally in the hands of the Planning and Zoning Commission.
The third and final installment of a public hearing on the project took place Tuesday at Lapham Center. Unlike the first two parts of the hearing, on Nov. 19 and Dec. 17, very few neighbors spoke against the project, but the commission heard new reports and testimonies from several people involved with the plan.
The YMCA brought construction and traffic experts and a lawyer to convince the commission that the best construction access for its project would be through Putnam Road. Area residents, however, have opposed the idea, claiming construction trucks would make the neighborhood unsafe for children.
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. The commission is expected to make a decision next month.
Michael Galante, a traffic engineer with Frederick P. Clark Associates, said Putnam Road is the best route.
"From a traffic perspective and from a safety perspective, that's the one that makes more sense," he said.
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Putnam Road resident Michael Dorfman did not seem convinced. He said the 174 children who live in the neighborhood would be unprotected.
"The number of safety proposals is not enough," he said. "You can't put a fence across the street or stop a kid from running."
YMCA officials said a Putnam Road construction entrance 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. Officials also said it would not be safe to have trucks crossing the Tennessee gas pipeline, which runs underneath the property, at an angle.
The organization also considered opening a 25-foot path at the Saxe Middle School field, but the Board of Education opposed the idea and the Y itself learned the path could be even more dangerous to pedestrians and children.
Planning and Zoning alternate member John Flinn told YMCA officials there is no alternative that's 100 percent safe.
"There's danger at every alternative you're presenting," he said.
Galante said the route keeps all construction traffic south of the YMCA property, which "optimizes safety for the entire area." He noted that the front parking lot and the South Avenue area near the facility has "much greater volume of pedestrian and vehicle traffic, with three schools located at or within a short distance, in addition to the YMCA's own activities. He also said Putnam Road and Surrey Road -- the latter connects South Avenue and Putnam -- have "minimal traffic volumes, no observed traffic delays or congestion, and a minimal level of pedestrian activity throughout the day."
Large truck deliveries would only occur on 49 of the 396 expected working days, Galante said.
Board of Finance alternate member Tom Schulte, who lives in the Putnam Road neighborhood, also spoke against the project. He asked the commission to condition the approval of the project.
"(YMCA officials) have a vision of what they would like this to be," he said. "And that vision does not include altering their plans. They're ignoring the possibility of just coming in directly through their parking lot."
Schulte asked the commission to limit access through Putnam Road to heavy vehicles and only on those 49 days, if the project is indeed approved.
YMCA officials said they are considering having road guards in the area for the busiest hours of the day. Dorfman said there should be more than one traffic guard. The area children are "there full time in the summer," he said.
The project application was submitted to the commission in October. The plan is to expand the building's footprint by about 14,000 square feet, bringing the total from 44,851 to 59,035 square feet. The total lot coverage would increase by 4.7 percent -- the limit allowed by the town is 6 percent.
The Y hopes to start the project this summer, but a proposed breaking ground date is still to be determined.