An article in Friday’s Westport News reported that Westport Weston Family Y CEO Rob Reeves has said, “The Westport Weston Family Y is exploring the possibility of partnering with an area hospital to provide outpatient medical services at its new [Mahackeno] center . . . offer[ing] services such as physical and occupational therapy and bariatric care by leasing space within the Mahackeno center.”
The Y’s CEO was also reported to have said that the “Y would not need additional P&Z approval for the outpatient facility because such a use is covered by the special permit that the commission granted for the Mahackeno center.”
Having opposed the Y’s Special Permit application regarding the relocation of its downtown facility to a 102,000-square-foot facility to be built (at a cost of $40 million) on the Y’s Camp Mahackeno property, this item certainly caught my eye. I sat through nearly every P&Z meeting where the Y made its case for the new facility at Mahackeno, how their programming needs had outgrown the existing 80,000 sf downtown site, how they absolutely had to have an “Olympic” (50 meter-length lanes) pool for their swim team, how their membership’s use of this new facility at Mahackeno (as described in great detail) would impact automobile traffic, the unusual on-site septic system, the rural area of town, and the nearby residents.
The Y also submitted, as they were required to do by our Zoning Regulations regarding such special permit applications, that their use of the facility at Mahackeno would be a “non-commercial recreational use.” Those in attendance or who read the Y’s submission materials will certainly recall the details of Mahackeno facility, the Olympic pool and the nature of the activities that were planned, right down to such details as how the Y planned to include a little coffee shop for their members.
Among other things, the nearby residents pointed out how the Y hadn’t even operated its Mahackeno site within the various permissions granted by the P&Z over the years, how the Y had been a “bad neighbor” with such consistent frequency in the past that they could not be trusted to operate this new monster facility in their neighborhood in the manner the Y said they would. Opponents also raised the point that the Y operated in a commercial manner, which would not satisfy the Special Permit requirements. Serious concerns were also raised about traffic, environmental impacts and decreased property values.
The P&Z listened to (and read through) all of the submissions, and in 2008 granted a Special Permit to the Y to build and operate the facility the Y described in its filing. The P&Z also included a number of conditions addressing the various issues that had been raised. Even the operation of the little coffee shop was specifically addressed by these conditions.
Since then, it turns out the Westport Y doesn’t really need an Olympic pool after all – it was quietly announced in 2009 that, “for reasons related to operational and programming costs” the pool at Mahackeno would only have lanes of 35.5 meters in length (not much longer than the lanes at its current downtown pool). That was rather insulting to those who have followed this story, since this “dire” need for an Olympic pool was a primary driver of the size of the [required] facility at Mahackeno, and also served as the Y’s basis for rejecting almost every other site.
Now, the Y is saying that they are considering further abandoning their proposed use of Mahackeno as described in their Special Permit application, and they intend to rent out some portion of the new Mahackeno facility to a hospital for outpatient medical services. And this is claimed to be within the Special Permit granted by the P&Z in 2008?
The Y is required to build the facility described in its special permit application, and operate it in accordance with the uses they detailed therein and subject to the conditions imposed by the P&Z. What good are the traffic studies, the septic system usage analysis, the impact on neighboring properties analysis, the “commercial recreational activities” analysis, etc. if the Y changes their plans for their own use of the facility, or if the Y decides to lease out some portion of the new Mahackeno space to someone else – what if that enterprise provides something other than the “non-commercial recreational programming” described in the Y’s Special Permit application? I doubt even our own misguided P&Z could find that “outpatient medical services” constitutes “non-commercial recreational activities.”
The Y received their special permit for Mahackeno, which was recently upheld in court. Everyone accepts that. The Y should go ahead and build what they described, and make use of it in the manner, and only in the manner, they said they would in their application.