Living shoreline considered among Seaside State Park proposals [New London Day]

February 11, 2015

Article as it appeared in the New London Day

Waterford – Those spearheading the development of Seaside State Park are exploring the possibility of incorporating a “living shoreline” into their plans, Jason S. Hellendrung, a principal at the planning and architectural firm Sasaki Associates, said Wednesday during a town meeting about the proposed park.

The state has charged Sasaki with developing a master plan for the site.

Connecticut Fund for the Environment-Save the Sound Director of Habitat Restoration Gwen Mcdonald defined a living shoreline as one in which natural habitats are relied upon for protection from wind and waves.

At Seaside, this would involve the property’s naturally occurring sand dunes acting as a buffer against the elements in lieu of the property’s deteriorating seawall, she said. Mcdonald said a living shoreline differs from a seawall in part because it better protects the ecological systems on both sides of it, whereas a seawall can lead to destruction of habitat on its front side.

“Living shorelines are a holistic solution,” she said, referring to the approach as “a new and preferred tool to protect shorelines.”

Mcdonald said a study would be needed to determine exactly how a living shoreline could be incorporated into park plans.

Save the Sound Director of Legislative and Legal Affairs Leah Schmalz said earlier this week that a living shoreline at Seaside could function as a case study for future projects directed at coastal resiliency.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in September announced that the former Seaside Regional Center for the developmentally disabled, located off Shore Road, would become a state park.

The meeting Wednesday was the second in a series of four that state officials plan to hold. The last meeting is slated for April, and is scheduled to include a presentation of the master plan, according to Hellendrung.

Wednesday’s presentation was followed by a period devoted to mingling and discussion among area residents, state officials and representatives of private firms involved in the park design process, as was a previous a meeting in December.

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 the plans to develop the park.

Seaside is home to four historical buildings, two of which were designed by famed architect Cass Gilbert, who designed the U.S. Supreme Court building. The meeting Wednesday included presentation of preliminary findings of Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates Inc., an engineering and architectural firm now completing a structural analysis of the site’s historical buildings.

“All of the buildings can be restored to a functional condition in a manner that is sensitive to their historic significance. However, this restoration will be costly,” read a statement from the firm. Hellendrung shared the statement in a PowerPoint slide during the presentation.

WJE is expected to complete the study by the middle of the month, according to Hellendrung.

A portion of the presentation was devoted to an overview of comments submitted in person and online to DEEP about Seaside. Hellendrung said interest in recreation and programming was a prevalent topic among comments pertaining to uses of the park, while concerns largely focused on the financial stability of the proposed park and issues of parking and traffic.

The next Seaside meeting is expected to include sharing of potential plans for the park, according to Oak Park Architects principal Mark A. Welch. Oak Park is working with Sasaki on the master plan.

Welch said proposals for the approach to the buildings will range from full restoration to demolition, the idea being to see how attendees respond to the different options.

Hellendrung also spoke about parks that set a precedent for the types of designs his team will be considering. He mentioned specifically the Presidio, a national park in San Francisco where the buildings of a former military base are now used for housing and events facilities, and Acadia National Park on the coast of Maine.

Welch and Hellendrung said that public-private partnerships could be possible at the park.

The idea of partnering with private entities that could buy or lease the buildings and maintain them has been floated by First Selectman Daniel Steward; members of the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation; Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, and Rep. Kathleen McCarty, R-Waterford.

An online survey for those interested in sharing their thoughts and ideas about how the site should be developed into a park can be found at