Connecticut Post (Sunday)

Remington Woods’ future dependent on zoning overhaul

- By Brian Lockhart

BRIDGEPORT — Already known as the “Park City” for its numerous recreation areas, Connecticu­t’s largest municipali­ty also contains 420 acres of potential open space — Remington Woods, a former munitions testing site currently the subject of a massive environmen­tal cleanup.

And while that remediatio­n is still a few years from completion, crucial decisions impacting the woods’ future and if or how much will be redevelope­d are being made this fall.

A 302-page overhaul of

Bridgeport’s zoning regulation­s resulting from the city’s new 10-year master plan proposes changing Remington Woods’ designatio­n from “light industrial” to “residentia­l office center.”

Although the latter term sounds like a compromise to keep the property on the tax rolls while also advancing longtime efforts to save at least part of this urban wilderness, it still goes too far in the wrong direction, according to those who have fought for all of the land to remain untouched.

The local Sierra Club in a statement said Mayor Joe Ganim’s administra­tion should instead designate the woods and the Lake Success located within as parkland.

“There are so many reasons why these woods should be preserved,” the organizati­on said in a statement, citing the need for more natural sites within the city and the positive impact on air quality. “We could really use all the green space we have.”

“We want zero developmen­t,” said Councilwom­an Maria Pereira who represents the area. “Remington Woods has its own ecosystem. They’re always trying to preserve all this open space in the rural areas and suburbs. You know who needs it desperatel­y? Polluted inner cities.”

But the citywide master plan, drafted and adopted in 2019 following a big public outreach effort, does not call for zero developmen­t at the woods. Instead that document states “significan­t areas, such as the Remington Woods/Lake Success property, present the city with a chance to increase its publicly accessible open space and protected natural habitat, while also generating opportunit­ies for economic developmen­t.”

Zoning commission hearings on the new Bridgeport neighborho­od zoning map originally scheduled for Oct. 13 and Oct. 21 were recently reschedule­d to Nov. 16 and 17.

Ganim’s office did not provide comment from a representa­tive of the Office of Planning and Economic Developmen­t, which spearheade­d both the master plan and zoning updates, and staff in that office did not respond directly to requests for comment.

Remington Woods was a one-time munitions test site for Remington Arms Company. The majority of the 420 acres are in Bridgeport, with 75 acres in Stratford currently zoned by that town for an office park and residentia­l uses.

The land is owned by a subsidiary of Dupont Corporatio­n, Corteva Agriscienc­e of Delaware, which is in the midst of a yearslong cleanup of industrial contaminat­ion overseen by the Connecticu­t Department of Energy and Environmen­tal Protection and the U.S. Environmen­tal Protection Agency.

According to the state DEEP, remediatio­n work continues, particular­ly at Lake Success with the “processing of ... sediments in order to separate remaining discarded military munitions.” That is scheduled for completion in March 2023.

“It’s amazing work,” the Sierra Club said of Corteva’s efforts.

A spokespers­on for Corteva did not return requests for comment, but the company has made public a list of potential future redevelopm­ents/uses: Office/research & developmen­t; hotel/conference center; “green”/low impact manufactur­ing; skilled trades; active recreation; and a nature center.

An office park was first proposed for Remington Woods in the late 1990s. In fact the city only recently moved forward with longdorman­t federally funded road work improvemen­ts to the intersecti­on of Seaview and Boston avenues and Bond Street that were originally connected with the office park concept.

Pereira and some others on the council last year voiced suspicion that the road upgrades were a sign of Corteva moving ahead with redevelopm­ent plans in the near future, but William Coleman, Bridgeport’s deputy economic developmen­t director, sought to reassure them that was not the case.

“The Seaview Avenue project is really envisioned as one that will create a better and safer network of roads for local uses,” Coleman said, emphasizin­g, “It’s not Dupont’s driveway. It’s not.”

Callie Heilmann is a leader of the Bridgeport Generation Now civic group, which has been encouragin­g its members and the general public to attend the upcoming zoning commission hearings to “preserve as much of the space (Remington Woods) as possible.”

Heilmann said, “We’re not saying that it’s ‘all or nothing.’ ... I don’t think it can be an all or nothing, just realistica­lly, because the land is privately held.”

But, she said, if the whole site is designated as a residentia­l office center zone, “Then essentiall­y the entire forest is unprotecte­d and we are at the whim of corporate behavior as to what, when, where and how it is developed.”

The Sierra Club suggested another solution — Corteva gives the forest to Bridgeport.

“They’re one of the largest corporatio­ns in the world,” the organizati­on said in its statement. “They can afford to donate land back to the Bridgeport community.”

Christophe­r Caruso, who formerly represente­d the Remington Woods neighborho­od as a member of the state legislatur­e, agreed, calling it “a positive gesture.”

He said the end goal should be to make the land a federally-protected national wildlife refuge akin to the Stewart B. McKinney refuge that encompasse­s portions within 70 miles of Connecticu­t’s shoreline.

“You could have light walking trails on there,” Caruso said. “Urban communitie­s need open space.”

Pereira earlier this month met with U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and the woods was one of the topics discussed. Online on Facebook she wrote, “He lent his support to preserving Remington Woods as a national preserve.”

Blumenthal, however, in a statement to Hearst Connecticu­t Media specified, “Land use decisions are up to the city’s elected leaders.”

“Remington Woods is a unique ecological and environmen­tal area, vital to the long-term health of Bridgeport and its residents. Home to dozens of species of birds and mammals, this truly is a special place in a heavily urbanized area,” Blumenthal said. “If it should become a nature preserve for passive recreation­al use, I would work with the city and residents on federal funding to enhance and protect such status.”

 ?? Brian A. Pounds / Hearst Connecticu­t Media file photo ?? Sporting ear tags, a female deer is among the diverse wildlife living on the Remington Woods property in Bridgeport, in 2015.
Brian A. Pounds / Hearst Connecticu­t Media file photo Sporting ear tags, a female deer is among the diverse wildlife living on the Remington Woods property in Bridgeport, in 2015.
 ?? Brian A. Pounds / Hearst Connecticu­t Media ?? The Remington Woods property in Bridgeport and Stratford in 2015.
Brian A. Pounds / Hearst Connecticu­t Media The Remington Woods property in Bridgeport and Stratford in 2015.

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