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Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Westport YMCA Announces Architect, Details of Mahackeno Move

New YMCA Site Map200.jpg
New YMCA: nestled on northern part of property near Merritt Parkway. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed graphic
The Westport/Weston YMCA took another step today in its announced move from its crowded and costly 82-year-old downtown headquarters to its sprawling Mahackeno complex in northwest Westport long used as a summer camp.

At a morning news conference in the downtown building’s board room, officials announced selection of well-known New York-based architect Robert A. M. Stern Architects to design the Y’s new home on the 32-acre site.

Mindful of objections already voiced by neighbors, they said the new 95,000-square-foot facility would cost an estimated $35 million and sit on the northern part of the property near the Merritt Parkway, far away from residences on River and Rice’s Lane. It would be accessed by the Y-owned Sunny Lane.

The building would be of “New England character” and take advantage of the naturally hilly terrain to blend in with the surroundings, they said.

“It will have minimal impact on the land,” said Ted Davis, chairman of the project steering committee.

Dick Foot, the Y’s executive director and CEO, declined to release any preliminary designs.

But a person familiar with sketches submitted by the winning architect said they showed a multi-level, mostly stone building built into the hillside above the Saugatuck River so as to maintain a low profile.

The preliminary plan envisions a separated roadway from the Merritt Parkway access road to get to Sunny Lane with a traffic light at the intersection of Sunny Lane and entry to the parkway, the source said. There is already a traffic light on Route 33 and the parkway roadway.

YMCA officials have had preliminary talks with Connecticut Department of Transportation personnel who have voiced no objection to the plan, according to the source.ymcaaerial01260501260.jpg
Aerial view of the YMCA’s property at the Mahackeno Outdoor Center. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed graphic

A “site analysis” released at the news conference showed only an “improved intersection and access road” without much detail. It did depict a buffer of trees between the parkway and the building, shown as sitting at about a 45-degree angle to the nearby Saugatuck River.

Kevin Smith, a Westporter associated with the winning architectural firm, said he was “absolutely delighted” to be involved in the project. “For once I have a job working at home in Westport instead of flying on planes as I did this morning,” he said.

He added, “This is a fantastic site,” and said his firm, headed by architect Robert A. M. Stern, dean of the Yale University School of Architecture, was delighted to be able to situate the building in a manner that will enhance the property.

Foot told the gathering that today’s announcements were “a truly historic occasion.” “For this generation, we are the stewards of this venerable institution,” he said.

He briefly recounted the long history of trying to find a new home for the Y. He reiterated why the YMCA had decided even upon a new, recent review ֖ it could not use part of the 22-acre, town-owned downtown property known as Baron’s South even if the town changed its stance and allowed it.

“It simply is not feasible even if physically possible,” Foot said. “It would turn the entire property into a development something the town would not stand for and the Y would not endorse.”

“Remaining in this (downtown) location would result in the Y’s eventual demise,” he said. He noted that upkeep of the aging structure with its 16 different elevations and ceilings too low to accommodate children taller than 5 feet in some activities was costing $1 million a year, money that could be better spent on its programming.

Trying to split the Y’s operations between two or more locations would be financially burdensome and result in inefficient operations, he said.

He said Y officials finally realized that the answer to the Y’s relocation problem was one that was always in front of them ֖ the sprawling Mahackeno Outdoor Center complex in northwest Westport. “It is a perfect choice,” Foot said.

Y officials said they anticipate a two- or three-year building effort and hoped to have the facility open for business in 2008. Foot said $2 million has been spent so far on planning. He declined to estimate how much might be received through sale of the downtown building.

The official did estimate that the town would reap about $500,000 a year in tax revenues by having the building back on the tax rolls. Asked if the Y would press its case in the courts, if it came to that, Foot replied, “We understand that (possible litigation) to be a fact of life and we are prepared.”

In answer to another question, the officials said no decision had been made whether the site would be on the town sewer, which presently does not extend there, or septic. A source familiar with the Y’s planning said the site easily could have its own septic system.

Using the theme “Imagine the Possibilities,” the Y established a special section on its Web site to present plans for the new building.


Posted 01/26/05 at 06:03 PM  Permalink


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The assumptive close the YMCA is using is insulting. Our representatives at P and Z had best do their jobs. Puting a Walmart sized building in a quiet neighborhood is illegal and absurd. I urge all Westporters to stand up to this bullying.

Posted by Kevin Burns on January 27, 2005 at 01:15 AM | #

A comparison between the YMCA and Walmart is laughable. The YMCA is a symbol of community throughout the world. It has positively affected children and people of all ages for over a hundred years. The reason why the YMCA is moving is so that it can serve more, as it has to turn away many people from its valuable programs. I urge Westporters to be more intelligent than just saying “I don’t want that in my backyard.”

Posted by Brian Carey on January 27, 2005 at 02:50 AM | #

Let’s not confuse design and planning issues with social mission statements. The planned Y-Mac is indeed the size of a big box store, is located outside of the traditional core of Westport, and will present all of the same planning issues as any large development. These must be considered separately from whatever the Y’s social goals might be.

Posted by middle ground on January 27, 2005 at 02:09 PM | #

This is a terrific opportuntiy for the community.
A new Y would solve innumerable problems that exist in the current location, and open the Y facilities to hundreds of children who are unable to fit into the current Y programs.
The location, tucked up next to the Merritt Parkway, and only accessed by the Sunny Lane entrance, would preserve the maximum amount of open space and campground and have the lowest imapct on the neighbors.

Posted by Mike Laux on January 27, 2005 at 08:57 PM | #

Mike Laux can’t be serious. “Tucked up next to the Merritt Parkway?” “Only accessed by the Sunny Lane entrance?” Those are exactly the reasons why the Mahackeno site is a poor choice. What do you think adding 40-60 cars an hour to Sunny Lane will accomplish? How far do you think traffic will back up on Sunny Lane, the entrance to the Parkway and Exit 41? It’s easy to say “put it there” if you live in Saugatuck Shores, Mike, but even you can’t possibly believe the “it will have the lowest impact on the neighbors” comment. What a crock!

Posted by get serious on January 28, 2005 at 03:45 AM | #

this makes me sick. absolutely sick.

what makes the YMCA so nice and appealing in the first place is that it’s in the center of town, and has a nice older feeling to it, something real.
and for god’s sake!!!! does anybody in this town have any concern for the environment at all?? I know you all love to drive your monsterous SUVs all over the place, but think of all the extra gas and emissions problems this would create, driving all the way out there.. not to mention destroying one of the last few acres of natural land and woods left in this disgustlingly over-developed town. Screw the kids who can’t handle not getting what they want, not being able to take their little tumbling classes because there’s not enough room for them - leave the goddamn land alone!

can you ever just—STOP??
stop building? stop destroying? stop killing?
have some consideration.

Posted by on January 29, 2005 at 02:39 AM | #

If anyone has time, please read my column Wednesday, February 2, in the Westport News. Forgive me for plugging “Out of the Woods” on Gordon Joseloff’s website, but it’s one way of slowing down this ill-conceived project.

Posted by Woody Klein on January 29, 2005 at 05:43 PM | #