The Levitt Pavilion is a place that should be accessible to the public from dawn to dusk from April 1 to Nov. 30, the Planning and Zoning Commission decided Thursday.
In a 6-0 vote, the commission approved plans for the proposed upgrades to Levitt Pavilion, granting the town permit approvals, with conditions, to excavate and fill the site and to construct the new entry pavilion and stage.
The conditions required a site monitor to watch for any environmental impacts to the surrounding area, establishing a sound committee to review and monitor the acoustics of the site and having a sound monitor at all events and performances. Other conditions required the grounds to be open to the public from dawn to dusk from April 1 to Nov. 30 and that the Parks and Recreation Department shall control use of the pavilion.
The commission did not grant a request from the Parks and Recreation Department to close public access to the site at all times except during performances.
Last week during a public hearing on the Levitt, department director Stuart McCarthy said the area serves as a home to the homeless, which he described as a "serious problem" and a reason the department wanted to restrict access.
During that hearing, commissioner Eleanor Lowenstein said she did not think that was the best way to handle the issue — a position she maintained Thursday.
"I think it should be open to the public," Lowenstein said. "I think once they have views of the river and this place looks nice, people will want to use it. I think they will object to the fact that you can't come in here during the day. Everything else is dawn to dusk. ... I think the issue of homelessness is not just the issue for the Levitt Pavilion, it's an issue in the whole town."
Commission chairman Ron Corwin agreed restricting access would be inconsistent with the way most town-owned facilities operate.
Commissioner David Press said he thought the department's request was reasonable. Commissioner Bruce Kasanoff agreed.
"I think the path we are going down, you are going to regret," Kasanoff said. "... You are taking a big risk because there is going to be a lot of money and care and effort into upgrading this facility. You heard testimony from the town, the Parks and Recreation Department and the Levitt and they thought there was going to be problems because there is no mechanism to control."
"... You can't kick them out unless you give us the ability to say this is closed," Kasanoff continued. "The commission is about to say, 'Too bad, leave it open,' and you will have to reverse that after it costs the town both money and the challenge to repair it and deal with safety issues."
Ultimately, all commissioners voted in favor of the Levitt Pavilion.
The $5 million project calls for two structures: an entry pavilion and performance stage. The entry pavilion would include toilet facilities, a concession area, storage space, an information and ticket booth and enhanced handicapped access. The second structure would include a covered stage as well as restrooms for the performers, a loading dock and storage. The project also includes a design for more efficient seating and improvements to the existing river walk to both widen and enhance it with greater views of the Saugatuck River.