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    Saturday, April 01, 2023

    State plan for Seaside: Demolish buildings, spend $7.1 million on “passive park”

    The proposed Seaside State Park property in Waterford is seen from the air April 25, 2014. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Waterford ― A plan for Seaside State Park will include “the removal of the deteriorated buildings,” the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection said Wednesday in its announcement that the state has committed $7.1 million to implement a “passive park” design using federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars.

    The plan will also include new restrooms and walking trails, picnic areas, improvements to the shoreline, parking upgrades and historic interpretation of the property, according to a news release from DEEP. Deputy Commissioner Mason Trumble said the passive park option does not include any options for private development.

    The former sanatorium has sat in disrepair for years.

    Trumble said there’s “not a specific timeline” for the demolition of the buildings. Seaside, designed by the famous architect Cass Gilbert, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. Being listed on the register does not prevent a property owner from altering a property.

    A Friends of Seaside Park newsletter last year said the state unfortunately decided the the Infirmary Building and Nurses’ Residence must come down, Day columnist David Collins reported in November.

    DEEP said at the time, “Demolition of the buildings is one of the options being considered for the park, but the final plan will be dependent on funding levels.”

    Asked Wednesday why the buildings couldn’t be preserved, Trumble said DEEP explored a few options ― passive park, ecological park or destination park ― in its planning several years ago, but “really at the end of the day it came down to feasibility related to funding.” Now, Trumble said he is excited at the opportunity to protect a gorgeous site and increase access to Long Island Sound.

    DEEP will convene a working group in the coming months to start planning for the park design, with input from the public.

    Seaside first served as a facility for children with tuberculosis and lastly a center for the developmentally disabled before closing in 1996. Developer Mark Steiner spent years trying to build on the property, but former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy terminated his contract in 2014 and designated Seaside a state park.

    The decision to demolish the buildings “literally comes as a 180-degree turn, and there’s really nothing factually to support it,” Steiner said Wednesday. He added, “The buildings are deteriorating because they let them deteriorate.”

    After the state park designation, DEEP began a planning process over several years, and the agency put out a request for proposals for its vision of a hotel, waterfront enhancements, and the restoration of existing buildings.

    But the state concluded the RFP process with no award, and Seaside has remained a state park open for passive activities such as walking, fishing and birdwatching.

    “This is Connecticut’s first new shoreline state park in over 50 years, and we are thrilled to be able to engage in the work, laid out in the Comprehensive Plan, of a passive state park design at this beautiful location,” DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes said in the news release.

    She added that DEEP looks forward to working with local officials, the Friends of Seaside State Park and historic preservation advocates to best “honor the memory of these historic buildings” in the park design.

    “We are looking forward to collaborating with DEEP on the redesign of the park and enhancing its natural habitat so that this unique coastal property can be appreciated and enjoyed by all,” Friends of Seaside State Park President Helen Post Curry, the great-granddaughter of Gilbert, said in the news release.

    “The Town of Waterford appreciates the significant first step by the state to transform Seaside into a resource which will allow the citizens of Connecticut to once again safely enjoy this great coastal asset,” Waterford First Selectman Rob Brule said.

    Rep. Kathleen McCarty, R-Waterford, said she is gratified Seaside is receiving funding from DEEP to move forward on plans for a passive state park, saying Seaside “must be maintained and preserved for future generations to enjoy.”

    In 2021, former Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, introduced a bill to require the state “to develop and issue a request for proposals to develop or dispose of the former Seaside Sanatorium facility in the town of Waterford and to preserve the adjacent area for a park with public access.” The bill didn’t come up for a vote in the House or Senate.

    The $7.1 million is part of $21.5 million in ARPA funds that Gov. Ned Lamont and the legislature authorized for infrastructure improvements at state parks, as part of the $51.5 million Restore CT State Parks initiative. The other $30 million is bonded.


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