Tag Archives: YMCA

“Mature” Trees And A Younger Downtown

Judy James is worried about trees.

Last week, she emailed the Planning and Zoning Commission (with a cc to the Historic District Commission).

Judy — a longtime Westporter — expressed her “dismay at the lack of concern for the preservation of trees when presented with development plans within our commercial districts.” She referred to plans for Bedford Square — the YMCA-area complex — that eliminates mature trees on Church Lane.

A tree in front of the "Gunn House" (35 Church Lane) that will probably not survive the Bedford Square project.

A tree in front of the “Gunn House” (35 Church Lane) that will probably not survive the Bedford Square project.

“Replacement landscaping with grasses and small trees that won’t reach maturity until most adult residents have passed is simply not acceptable. Commercial owners who have the privilege of living and developing one of the most desirable downtown locations in the northeast should accommodate the retention of their town’s living history,” she said.

Referencing the removal of sycamores earlier this year at the site of the former Brook Cafe, she urged the P&Z to “not approve this project and just let ‘staff’ decide at a later date what would be acceptable landscaping…. As many of these mature trees as possible must be retained.”

Another possibly endangered tree -- this one in front of the YMCA.

Another possibly endangered tree — this one in front of the YMCA.

David Waldman is developing Bedford Square into stores, apartments and offices. I asked him to respond.

David said:

I am familiar with the letter and understand her position. Unfortunately, in order to accommodate the need for underground parking, wider pedestrian- friendly tree-lined sidewalks, street lamps and more importantly the already fully approved design and site plan by the HDC and Architectural Review Board,  the trees will have to be removed.

We will add 16 new trees (clearly not as old and mature as the 6 that exist on the sites today), but in a quantity much greater than exists today. In addition, there will be numerous planting beds, landscape planters, benches, public art, public parks and gathering spaces, pedestrian passages from Elm, Church, Post  and Main and much more.

The proposed intersection of Church Lane and Elm Street. David Waldman says, "I understand these renderings show the trees after year of growth. It is our intention to plant appropriately sized trees in the beginning, not saplings or tiny ones."

The proposed intersection of Church Lane and Elm Street. David Waldman says, “I understand these renderings show the trees after year of growth. It is our intention to plant appropriately sized trees in the beginning, not saplings or tiny ones.”

As developers we always try and retain as much history as possible. We have shown this in our current plan to retain the historic Bedford mansion and firehouse, as well as the work I have done with Patagonia, Urban Outfitters and Spotted Horse.

When we built the Spotted Horse, we removed 5 -6 very large tress and no one said a peep. Hopefully, the end result will be something all of Westport can be proud of.

A rendering of Church Lane. The Spotted Horse is at the left; the former YMCA is on the right.

A rendering of Church Lane. The Spotted Horse is at the left; the former YMCA is on the right.

Our team and all the commissions we have obtained approvals from to date are very pleased and proud with the new design that we (developers, residents, commission, HDC, ARB and many other groups) have collectively created. We feel by listening to all those interested groups, we have come up with a much better project.

Certainly, the Spotted Horse has added both energy and architectural spirit to Church Lane.

Plans for the rest of the area — including widening Church Lane and its sidewalks, and “fixing” its tough intersection with the Post Road — show plenty of greenery. True, it’s not all “mature” — but isn’t part of the problem with downtown that it’s a bit long in the tooth?

Re-Imagining Westport, 8th-Grade Style

Plenty of time and energy has been invested in re-imagining downtown Westport — deciding what’s needed to inject a little life in the ol’ place.

There’s been much talk too about the importance of developing Westport students’ critical thinking, 21st-century skills.

Downtown Westport has gotten a bit grungy lately.

The twain met today at Coleytown Middle School.  Five teams of 8th-grade students — winnowed down from a few dozen who began the project — presented their plans for making downtown both prettier and zippier.

Analytical thinking — not to mention a great grasp of history, government, finance, town planning, the environment, Google Earth, Photoshop, Excel, writing, video-making and presentation skills — was on full display in the auditorium.

The 5 groups (4-5 students each) unveiled their ideas before a group of judges that included the 2nd selectman and superintendent of schools.  (Also, me.)

Using maps, 3-models, full-color handouts, detailed financial projections — and, most importantly, foresight and creativity — the middle schoolers introduced a variety of ideas.  For example:

  • Improved landscaping, including flowers and more trees (planted and maintained by volunteers, lowering costs and increasing a sense of community)
  • Adding birdhouses (built by volunteers) and old-fashioned lampposts
  • A movie theater in the current YMCA building, showing now-available-0n-DVD films (lowering costs)
  • More street festivals
  • A greenbelt replacing the current one-lane exit from Parker Harding Plaza
  • More restaurants (family-style, multicultural, a diner…)
  • Minibus transportation from outlying parking areas
  • Improving and lighting the tunnel from Main Street to Parker Harding (also done by volunteers)
  • Renovating the boardwalk across from Oscar’s, extending it further into the  Saugatuck River and making it more inviting (the money would come from sales of planks, with donors’ names on them)
  • Developing the river’s west side into a “community complex,” with restaurants, an arcade, community theater, snack shop/bakery, teen center, and kids’ center (a “West Bank Development” could provide financial incentives)
  • 2-level parking
  • Bike paths
  • Mini-golf and a full-sized basketball court (near the Imperial Avenue lot).

Those are great ideas.  Some are easily doable; some would take work; a few are probably impractical.  All, however, show a depth of understanding and sense of community not often associated with 8th graders.

Now let’s  start working on the best ones.

How to begin?

Hire the Coleytown kids as consultants.

The boardwalk by the Saugatuck River is nice. But when was the last time you used it?

BREAKING NEWS — Y TO MERGE OPERATIONS

The Westport Weston Family Y has thrown in the towel, “06880” has learned.

According to inside sources, the organization is abandoning its decade-long pursuit of a new building at Mahackeno.  Instead, after leaving its Church Lane location within a year, the Y will consolidate operations at a variety of sites around town.

Swim and cardio programs, for example, will move to Staples High School. “Granted, the fitness center there is much smaller than what we’ve got now,” Y CEO Robert Reeves said.  “But the pool is adequate, I think.”

The Y would have access to Staples facilities only when the high school is not using them — including after-school events. “It’s not the best solution,” Reeves admitted.  “But tough times call for desperate measures.”

Basketball and gymnastics programs will be held in the Assumption Church gym on Riverside Avenue.  Years ago, it was used by a parochial school.

Yoga and other classes will be sub-contracted to private fitness centers around town.  Child care may be handled by the Staples child development classes, if scheduling problems can be worked out.

Several Y offerings, such as squash and racquetball, may end if no suitable sites can be found, Reeves acknowledged.

“Obviously, some details remain to be worked out,” the CEO said.  “But we are committed to making this work soon — by next April 1, at the latest.”

For further details of the plan, click here.