Seaside conceptual plans include option for lodge on site

By:  Tess Townsend
The Day

Waterford – State agencies planning a new state park at the site of the former Seaside Regional Center held an open house Wednesday at Town Hall to present three concepts for the development of the park, ranging in estimated cost from $3.2 million to up to $60 million.

The most expensive option called for complete restoration of all buildings on site if possible, and conversion of a building into a lodge.

The ideas from the concepts will be incorporated in a draft master plan slated to be presented in late April.
Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Deputy Commissioner Susan Whalen said during the presentation the concepts were "not set in stone" and that an online survey would ask respondents to state their preferences on individual elements of each plan.

"It's kind of like the Chinese buffet," she said.

The most expensive concept, a "destination park," would include a lodge that could be contained in the main hospital building or nurse's building, both designed by famed architect Cass Gilbert, who designed the U.S. Supreme Court Building.

Jason S. Hellendrung, a principal at the planning and architectural firm Sasaki Associates, described the lodge as a place where people could rent an individual room or groups could rent out groups of rooms, similar to lodges available at state parks. The state has charged Sasaki with developing a master plan for the site.

Sample designs included in a PowerPoint presentation stated that the nurses' building might have 21 rooms as a lodge, the hospital 34. The sample plans included kitchen, dining, bar and meeting space areas.

The option, ringing in at an estimated cost range of $46 million to $60 million, would most likely require a private-public partnership for operation of the lodge, according to Hellendrung.

Hellendrung said if the state went with an option similar to the destination park idea, it would be necessary to negotiate a division of responsibility between the state and private firm, if one were involved, for restoration and maintenance of historic buildings on site.

A second concept, called an "ecological park," would involve restoration of a historic building as a visitor center, while other buildings may be demolished or restored to a ruined state to preserve the spirit of the history of the property. The park's purpose would be centered on ecological education and appreciation, and the site might include a nature trail, nature stations and overlooks. An ecological park would require an investment of $10.5 million to $24 million.

The "passive park" concept was the least expensive, with an estimated cost of $3.2 million, consisting of $2 million for demolition of buildings on the site and $1.25 million for site improvements.

Hellendrung said during the presentation that much of the area would remain as open lawn as part of this concept. He said after the presentation that restoring some buildings to intentional ruins could also be included in a park design roughly aligned with this concept.

An "attractive ruin" is a building left intentionally in a ruined state intended to be evocative of the structure's historical uses.

The first option drew skepticism from attendees, some of whom are abutting neighbors of the Seaside property who have in the past vocally opposed commercial development on the site.

Seaside neighbor Pam Award, wife of Planning and Zoning Commissioner Dana Award, said she viewed converting a building into a lodge as basically the same as putting in a hotel – something she noted that the commission had voted down when it was proposed by the state's previous preferred developer for the property, Mark Steiner.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced in September that Seaside would become a state park, following roughly two decades at the town and state level about the fate of the site. In doing so, he ended the state's contract with Steiner.

During a conversation after the presentation, Hellendrung told Pam Award that the lodge could be similar to lodges at New York's Bear Mountain State Park, a location that contains ski trails.

"But it's not Bear Mountain. It's not a golf course," Award responded, describing the property as small at 36 acres and nestled in a small town neighborhood.

Mystic resident Paul Berkel said he feared that were a privately run lodge to appear on the site it would make the park less open to the public. He said he favored the ecological park option because it gave the park an educational purpose.

The passive option, he felt, could leave the park without direction and thus make it susceptible to neglect.
Whalen said during the meeting that staff of Harkness Memorial State Park, which neighbors Seaside, were planning on doing cleanup at Seaside when the weather warms.

Harkness Park Supervisor Mark Darin said following the presentation that plans were to conduct "basic landscaping" such as mowing the lawn, weeding and flattening out tree stumps to smooth out the lawn. He said Harkness may send an arborist to examine trees on site. A timeline for the cleanup has not yet been determined, he said.

Also on Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., released a letter to DEEP Commissioner Robert Klee and Sasaki Associates urging them to preserve the buildings on site.

Seaside "is one of the final pieces of Cass Gilbert's legacy, as well as an important part of Connecticut history," the senator wrote in the letter dated March 25.

Park planners are still awaiting completion of a structural assessment of the four historic buildings on site, two of which were designed by Gilbert, and an assessment of the deteriorating seawall. A survey seeking feedback on the concepts presented Wednesday can be found at http://fluidsurveys.com/s/seasideconcepts/.