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Developers Intend to Buy Westport YMCA, Increase Building Size

Bedford Square Associates (BSA) filed a rezoning application, Amendment 639, in order to have a building next to the YMCA rezoned to a business center district.

Getting the site at 35 Church Street rezoned is a preliminary step before BSA can move forward with the Bedford Square Project. 

If the amendment passes, it doesn’t give BSA permission to build the anything, though, according to Planning and Zoning Director Larry Bradley.

The amendment would only allow BSA to rezone the 35 Church Lane property, which is 19,859 square feet and located to the immediate right of the YMCA.

“They want to increase what is on the property,” Bradley says, noting BSA has a contract to buy the YMCA. “They (BSA) have indicated their desire to build a building, but this application does not give them permission to do anything." 

If P&Z passes Amendment 639, 35 Church Lane will be rezoned from a restricted office retail district (RORD) to a business center district (BCD). The RORD district preserves smaller buildings and is designed to provide a barrier for residential areas around downtown.

Then BSA would have to work out a site plan and file for a special permit application, Bradley says.

“Their next step is to go through the zoning approval process. They would have to demonstrate whether they comply with the zoning, but it is too early to tell at this point, until they submit a site plan,” Bradley says.

Bradley indiacted BSA was vague with their building plans.

“It was a schematic plan; there were no site calculations. It was basically a couple of sketches, building elevations and some cross sections, but no real zoning data was provided,” Bradley says. 

P&Z will discuss BSA’ zoning proposal Thursday at 7 p.m. in the auditorium.

Constance Greenfield October 14, 2011 at 01:47 PM
If the Westport Planning and Zoning Commission approves Amendment #639 which is a developer's request to change the zone at 35 Church lane from RORD-2 to BCD , the way is cleared for a huge 20,000 square foot building on Church Lane. The developer says this will be good for Westport. I think that the large size and the increase in traffic are NOT good for Westport. Westport is a lovely little town. Let's keep it that way! Please come to the P&Z hearing on Thursday, October 20th and tell the P&Z to say NO to this zone change. Thank you Connie Greenfield
Don Bergmann October 14, 2011 at 02:09 PM
Connie, Your points have merit, though there is also a legitimate point to made about changes to downtown that are tasteful, in good scale and add residences and small shops or other desired uses. For example, I would like to see BSA be required to have a movie theater, at least two restaurants and a Town function such as a store selling Westport residents works, maybe even a revival of the "Remarkable Book Shop". Finally, why would the building be 20,000 square feet? I thought individual buildings wre limited to 10,000 sq. ft. I will check. Don Bergmann
Jack Whittle October 14, 2011 at 05:20 PM
I think this Text Amendment is but the most-recent example of how the current P&Z is systematically dismantling the intelligent plan of zoning which was itself put in place in response to some compelling examples of over-development and out-of-character development in the 1970s. In this case, you have Church Lane - a quiet, leafy lane with a good number of historic buildings and garden areas and full of charm - one of THE focus points of the BCD/H zoning district that was created to protect and preserve these sorts of areas. While I don’t mean to say that we should automatically reject any proposed use in the BCD/H zone that is outside of the BCD/H rules, a dramatic re-writing of the zoning regulations relevant to the very area we sought to protect would seem to be very out of step with what the residents of this town want.
Fairfield Resident October 14, 2011 at 06:47 PM
The big question is: Why does this developer want to build another gigantic office building when commercial vacancy rates are running over 20% in CT??? Greed......That's why!
Tom Doyle October 14, 2011 at 09:44 PM
Just another opportunity to change the character of downtown and not for the better. If as described a BIG new building or buildings were built the impact on the area would be very significant.
Carol Buffinton October 15, 2011 at 01:33 PM
As a claification, the Rord zone which emcompasses this lot, as well as well as around the corner left and right on Myrtle Avenue is also intended as a buffer to the surrounding neighborhoods which comprise some of the oldest areas of town. How is it that the Sherwood House across the street from the Y which was supposed to be left intact on the outside and only touched by this same developer from 'studs in' as per the Historic Commission suddenly has a new shorter roof and is sheathed in plywood with new windows and all other old historical details removed.? Do you trust this developer would do anything as promised after this? I certainly think that actions speak louder than words.
David A. Waldman October 15, 2011 at 03:56 PM
The terms of the agreement with the historic district commission and ARB where to save as much of the original structure and the replicate the exterior of the home, which i have done. The roof line identical, and will soon include the two chimneys which have yet to be added. The details around all the windows match the original, as do the shingles, trim and new wood roof. The inside of the house has all the original exposed beams and siding exposed . We sheathed the exterior with plywood and insulation so the interior could remain exposed. The glass from the main window and front door have be restored as well as the old leaded surround over the front door. I have done more to "save" that house than anyone else would have ever done and in the end will have created a gorgeous historical replication true to its original form. I was not asked to do any more. Would you have preferred it left with vinyl siding and a asphalt roof? Should i have left the house structurally unsound and unsafe? As for your comment about he RORD, you are correct, its intent was to create a buffer from residential neighborhoods. In this instance, we are over 1 full block from the closest residential neighborhood and the building to the left (36 Elm Street) is already built well beyond the current BCD regulations. So yes, based on the work i have done on Sherwood , 101-107 Post Road, 87 Post Road East (Patagonia), i think you should trust i care about OUR town to do the right thing!
E Thibault October 15, 2011 at 05:12 PM
I think that creating a building of this size in the downtown area would exacerbate the existing problems felt there already, such as congested parking (try dropping a child off in the morning at the YMCA now, where the construction workers RESERVE all the short-term parking spaces on Church St. with traffic cones, forcing you to cross the Post Road with a small child in your arms!,) dangerous traffic patterns, water/runoff issues when it storms, etc. While I appreciate Mr. Waldman's desire to promote development, I would respectfully disagree that this would be an appropriate change for this location, neither respecting the character of the area, nor the needs of the town over the next several years.
David A. Waldman October 15, 2011 at 11:11 PM
What we are trying to create is not a stand alone project on the Gunn property but an extension of what will be the redeveloped YMCA. That said, the parking and congestion you are referring to would no longer be exist because the Y will not be there, and they are the cause of the majority of the congestion and parking issues on Church Lane (construction is a finite event which unlike the ultimate use in property, goes away once the project is completed). Our development, if the zone change is approved, will give us the ability to have its own on site, underground parking lot which with over 100 spaces. The existing 92,000 s/f YMCA has ZERO on site parking spaces for there over 7000 members and the current Gunn property is substantially under-parked for its current uses. Our proposed development will create jobs, huge tax revenue for the town and provide residences, more restaurants and retail where it belongs.
Don Bergmann October 16, 2011 at 01:54 PM
David L., We too did a renovtion rather than a teardown. In our case, we believe we saved some money overall since we were able to use the foundation and the first floor structural walls and ceiling. I have often advised people to look into renovation/restore rather than a tear down as a way to save money. I suspect each instance is somewhat different, particularly if one is trying to restore details that are now costly to replicate. Don Bergmann

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