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Residents have their say on future use of Seaside

Waterford - About 80 area residents, town officials and state legislators turned out Monday for an informational session at Town Hall on the future of the former Seaside Regional Center for the developmentally disabled, which Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in September announced would become a state park.

The meeting was hosted by representatives of the state Office of Policy and Management, Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the Department of Administrative Services - the three state agencies working on plans to develop the park.

Most of the meeting was unstructured, with town and state officials and contractors mingling alongside attendees. Questionnaires were distributed to collect ideas about what should be included in the park, which Jason S. Hellendrung of the planning and architectural firm Sasaki Associates said would be culled for ideas to be incorporated into a vision statement and used as material for future meetings.

"It's nice to actually come and have an open forum," said Gene Ryan, whose Woodsea Place home abuts Seaside. He said he felt that at past meetings pertaining to Seaside, members of the general public were unable to make their voices heard.

Sasaki, headquartered in Watertown, Mass., and West Hartford-based Oakpark Architects are charged with developing a master plan for the park. Sasaki has in recent years developed citywide park plans for Bridgeport and Hartford, according to Hellendrung.

Some at the meeting proposed uses for the buildings such as a rehabilitation center for veterans and their families, or group homes for the disabled. Others said that the buildings for them were not a great priority - they were more concerned about whether the park would accommodate swimming and other outdoor recreational activities.

"History is great, but I'll take natural beauty anytime," said Waterford resident Bonnie Sullivan, who said she worked as a recreational therapist at Seaside when the site was used as a treatment center for the developmentally disabled.

Sullivan said she continues to visit the property for walks and to go swimming.

Denise Bouchard, who works for DEEP as the seasonal manager at Harkness Memorial State Park, said she attended the meeting to get an idea about how increased traffic between Harkness and Seaside would impact the endangered piping plover bird population that nests in a preserve adjacent to Harkness.

First Selectman Daniel Steward gave DEEP Deputy Commissioner of Environmental Conservation Susan Whalen a letter at the meeting in which he proposed a public/private partnership in which a private entity could use buildings on site and maintain other aspects of the park, while keeping public access to the shorefront open.

"This alternative would allow the State to have the park fully maintained and provided by private funds rather than expending taxpayer dollars to establish this park," reads Steward's Dec. 15 letter.

He said during the gathering that he would like to see tax revenue generated by the site.

Hellendrung said during an introduction to the meeting that three more meetings were planned for the spring: one in late January, another in late February or early March, and a culminating meeting to address the full master plan in mid-April.

Hellendrung said he anticipates some results from a planned structural analysis of buildings to be available in time for the next meeting. He said he expects full results in time for the meeting slated for late February or early March.

In addition to public meetings, DEEP is collecting comments via email at deep.seasidestatepark@ct.gov. The agency has also created a webpage where presentations from public meetings and other information will be posted: www.ct.gov/deep/seaside.

t.townsend@theday.com

Twitter: @ConnecticuTess

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