Rilling: There are other options than bisecting Ryan Park

A 2013 artists rendering of the Washington Village design
A 2013 artists rendering of the Washington Village design shows one of two concepts for Ryan Park in the foreground.

NORWALK, Conn. – Drawings presented to the Friends of Ryan Park as approval was sought for the Washington Village redevelopment turn out to be a less than accurate representation of what is to occur.

The need for a “berm” in Ryan Park, which was not factored into the public discussion in early 2013, has resulted in the circulation of a concept that has some South Norwalk activists concerned that Ryan Park might not be the community asset they had hoped it would be. The berm, a raised escape route for Washington Village in the event of a flood, would bisect the park diagonally which would, in effect, make it into two triangles with a raised area between them.

Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan stressed that the concept in question is not a plan. Mayor Harry Rilling expressed confidence that another option is available.

“There’s going to be a Ryan Plan Master Plan Committee headed up by Tim Sheehan of the Redevelopment office,” Rilling said. “Yes, there has to be a berm somewhere in the park to give people dry egress. But it doesn’t have to go right through the center. We’re looking to put it on the edge so it can still be used as a field.”

The Norwalk Housing Authority’s plans to redevelop Washington Village into a mixed income community were recently boosted by the award of a $30 million U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Choice Neighborhoods Initiative grant. HUD visited the site last week in a two-day meeting that included all of the organizations involved in implementing the plans proffered to get a Choice Neighborhoods HUD grant, Sheehan said.

Two concepts for Ryan Park are presented at the April 2013 Common Council Planning Committee meeting.
Two concepts for Ryan Park are presented at the April 2013 Common Council Planning Committee meeting.

On April 15, 2013, representatives of Trinity Financial presented plans for Ryan Park to the Common Council Planning Committee, plans they said were developed in response to public input. The Friends of Ryan Park had reacted positively to the plans, they said.

Councilman Doug Hempstead (R-At Large) asked if those were sustainable designs and how much the maintenance would be.

Moot point, Sheehan said Monday.

“Trinity’s perspectives as to what Ryan Park can and should be are Trinity’s perspectives as to what Ryan Park can and should be,” Sheehan said. “Ryan Park is a city asset and the city will determine what Ryan Park will be and that will be through the Parks and Rec committee.”

There is no plan for a berm to cut diagonally through the park, he said.

“There is a preliminary engineering feasibility design that hasn’t even been engineered, but there is no plan,” Sheehan said. “There’s been a discussion about dry egress. That discussion has been going on for two years.”

“I saw kind of like a blueprint of what they call a berm, where they want kind of like a slope, what they call an escape route through the field, which we don’t want,” said Martha Dumas of A Better South Norwalk. “What we want to do is try to make this a field so we can start Little League down here, something the kids can make use of.”

“I am saying we need the playing fields. It shows dry egress cutting through the park. I am saying there is a restricted covenant in which … prohibits any purpose other than recreation,” said Ganga Duleep of the Friends of Ryan Park.

A plan was developed more than a year ago to raise the intersection of Day and Raymond streets to 12 feet above sea level to provide dry egress. No mention was made of a Ryan Park berm in any of the meetings attended by NancyOnNorwalk.

A third activist said the idea of a berm bisecting the park came from HUD. Sheehan said that wasn’t true.

HUD’s two-day visit was a standard pre-contractural effort to get the plans refined from the “30,000-foot view” in the application to a concrete explanation of what will be done, Sheehan said.

When will those plans be refined?

“We’re talking weeks here as opposed to months,” Sheehan said.

When the grant was announced June 30, NHA Deputy Director Candace Mayer said, “We are prepared to start construction on Phase 1 in October with our developer.”

Asked Monday when construction on Phase I of the new Washington Village would start, Sheehan said to call Trinity. Trinity did not return the phone call.

“I think that’s still up in the air as to when it is actually going to start,” Rilling said. “They are still working on some of the things that need to happen in order to get it moving forward.”


6 responses to “Rilling: There are other options than bisecting Ryan Park”

  1. Oldtimer

    If they raise the buildings a little bit, they shouldn’t need an escape route or the waiver they have already requested. The cost of insurance for the people who live there will also be a lot cheaper. They can then preserve Ryan park as a big level field.

  2. EveT

    Who is now presenting this bisecting berm idea, and why didn’t they present it from the outset?

  3. Don’t Panic

    Remind me again why Washington Village is getting an exemption from federal restrictions against building in a flood zone with Fed funds? we don’t even have to wait for the next flood event to ruin the park–we can wait for the next iteration of the zany requirement to put an egress through a park.

  4. Oldtimer

    My guess is somebody figured out it would be cheaper to get the waiver than to raise the buildings a few feet. The developer will not have to worry about the difference in the cost of insurance for the buildings or for the tenants. Building in a flood zone without meeting FEMA guidelines is, at best, a stupid decision that will cost somebody a fortune over time. Again, the developer will not have to worry about the cost of insurance, once the project is finished.

  5. Haley

    It would be common sense to move Washington Village to higher ground. If the city can find a new home for the mosque, it can find a new home for Washington Village. Didn’t we learn anything from Hurricaness Irene and Sandy?

  6. Don’t Panic

    @Old Timer,
    Monetary damages for immediate property damage might only be the start of the story. There’s always a chance that someone will be injured or killed during a flooding event. And will the Feds send emergency responders to rescue our citizens in that scenario? No.

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