New and developing plans for Fairfield Hills were aired on Monday, including a 12/14 memorial, a proposal for the campus redevelopment, a children’s museum, and a mental health resource center.
John Norwell, representing the Newtown Alumni Association, which came into being after 12/14, told the authority, “We’ve dedicated our efforts toward a memorial.” His group feels that Fairfield Hills “is the ideal property for that.” He sought the members’ thoughts and feedback this week to a proposal that would include central work done by Newtown native Travis Fulton, now living in Colorado. (See waterandstoneart.com for examples of his firm’s work). The preferred memorial site is where Shelton House now stands.
“The pressing problem is the buildings,” Mr Norwell said. “If a memorial goes there, the buildings must be addressed.” Members of his organization have already made contacts high in the Environmental Protection Agency administration, and he believes brownfields grants can be used in Newtown to raze the 1930s hospital structures. Authority Chairman James Bernardi stressed the importance of “keeping in mind those people directly affected [on 12/14],” and to also be mindful of town officials “global” approach to coordinating the many memorial efforts pitched in town.
The proposal sparked a brief volley of concern. Member Renata Adler asked, “How determined are you to build something?”
She said she would rather see a park, for example. Mr Bernardi said, “I think there are a lot of ideas…” He then explained that the authority just carries out the master plan for campus redevelopment.
“But how necessary is it to build?,” Ms Adler pressed.
“I think we’ll be getting guidance from officials,” Mr Bernardi responded. Later in the meeting he said that while the authority is an open forum to hear ideas, “town officials need to determine how to use resources and proposals.”
After brief comments about demolition for the old buildings and what could go in their place, member Andrew Willie said to Mr Bernardi, “I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves here.”
Mr Bernardi stressed that the authority’s role is to hear proposals.
Mr Norwell then mentioned that he is also working with Laurel Rock Company (LaurelRock.com), which would design the green space around the memorial site.
Stepping up next to speak was businessman, resident, and entrepreneur, Peter D’Amico, who introduced his proposal, in the planning since September 2012, to redevelop nearly two-thirds of the campus. Often repeating that his proposal needed to make “economic sense,” and would therefore have to be big, he envisions tearing down buildings slated for demolition, and creating new office buildings and shops. He next mentioned apartments, possibly as many as 30.
“You need people to live there and create an environment for shops,” he said. He sees pedestrian traffic walking past coffee shops or pizzerias. He then unveiled the largest piece to his proposal: bringing in a semipro soccer team, the Connecticut Football Club (ConnecticutFootballClub.com), and creating a stadium/club house at Fairfield Hills. An indoor swimming pool was also in his renderings that he set before the authority Wednesday.
He mentioned that his plan incorporated the memorial that Mr Norwell discussed, existing buildings on campus, trails, slowly developing plans for a children’s museum, recreational, and other town needs. “I’ve been listening to what I have heard from the community,” Mr D’Amico said. “We have tried to accommodate everything.”
Saying that “this is just our idea of what could be possible,” Mr D’Amico estimates the project’s scope to be between $80 and $100 million, some of which would be footed by developers, but none of which would be a cost to the town.
Land Use Director George Benson said that the Planning and Zoning Department would ultimately make decisions regarding any changes to the Fairfield Master Plan for reuse. He feels the “concept is good,” and was available to answer the authority’s questions as Mr D’Amico, along with Claris Construction President Phil Clark, made his presentation.
Mr Bernardi and Mr Willie both stressed prior opposition to a residential element to planning, but Mr Benson also noted that the Master Plan Review Committee’s townwide survey roughly two years ago discovered a faction of townspeople who favored housing.
Mr Bernardi addressed resident Kristin Chiriatti, representing the EverWonder Children’s Museum — yet another proposal — to bring an interactive, science-oriented children’s museum to the site where Plymouth Hall now stands. He asked, “How would a museum fit in [to Mr D’Amico’s vision]?”
“It’s more attractive to put a museum there if you know there are also soccer games, something to eat,” she said.
“The more you have [on campus] the better it works,” Mr D’Amico added.
Ms Chiriatti then offered her museum concept’s progress report since she had brought it before the authority a year ago. “We’ve solidified our vision and are preparing for a capital campaign.” She anticipates a $5 million budget, and is prepared to submit a letter of intent to the authority. “We have donors willing and ready, but their first question is to ask where the town stands, and what site?”
Ms Chiriatti sought commitment from the board, which soon prompted another ripple in the conversation.
Mr Bernardi began, “The next step would be a letter of intent so we can see what we’re talking about … I don’t think anyone is opposed to a museum…”
“Well, I am,” said Ms Adler. “There are a lot of things I would rather see.”
“Does anyone else wish to express strong misgivings?” Mr Bernardi asked.
Instructing Ms Chiriatti to “vet” ideas with land use officials, for one, he delayed a vote until a later meeting.
Parks and Recreation Commission Chairman Ed Marks liked the idea of a working master plan for Fairfield Hills, but took exception to mention that needs were accommodated. Although a “great concept,” the plan Mr D’Amico presented showed five fewer playing fields than his commission has been working to secure to address Newtown’s recreational needs.
He is anxious to be part of the project, but when he learned that plans have been developing since September, he said, “I am concerned I have not been involved until now, and concerned to hear it accommodates our needs when I am not sure we are part of the process.” Pausing, he said, “I think we need to be asked to be part of the process.” Standing, Mr Benson apologized.
Mr Marks said, “Peter has something with meat to it, a concept we can message and I would be thrilled to be part of the process.”
Mr Marks later raised the topic of a new master plan proposal, with which he has “no problem” unless it interferes with needs currently addressed by the existing master plan. What if certain buildings slated for teardown to make room for recreation fields, but someone now wants to reuse that building, he asked, noting the scenario is “a big concern.”
Economic and Community Development Director Elizabeth Stocker mentioned another interest that recently arose for the campus. Members of a mental health resource center propose a facility that would not house patient care, but accommodate professionals who deal with mental health, serving as a conference and educational center. The group has its eye on Cochran House, with the intent to renovate rather than build new.
The authority will meet again on March 6 for a special meeting to begin addressing topics raised this week.