Advocates want site donated for open space

Lake Success as seen from inside Remington Woods. Stratford Mayor Harkins and Bridgeport Mayor Finch have proposed development along the lake. — Lina Rainone photo

Lake Success as seen from inside Remington Woods. Stratford Mayor Harkins and Bridgeport Mayor Finch have proposed development along the lake. — Lina Rainone photo

In the weeks following DuPont’s announcement that it will move forward with plans to develop large portions of the former Remington Woods property, environmental advocates working to preserve the 422 acres of land say the site should be retained for open space and used to its full capacity by Stratford and Bridgeport residents.

Boasting dense habitats with diverse wildlife populations, potential hiking trails, and Lake Success as a central feature of the land, how to open the site to the public has been a source of contention between preservationists and developers working with Stratford Mayor John Harkins and Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch.

Privately owned by the Sporting Goods Properties subsidiary of DuPont, the former Remington Woods property, which straddles the border between Stratford and Bridgeport, has become a focus of outside business interests looking to capitalize on its location.

DuPont Corporate Remediation Group’s project director, Thomas Stilley, said the company has been working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to collect and cap contamination that remains from Remington Arms Co.’s weapons manufacturing and munitions testing before any development can begin. Officially designated as a Brownfield property, DuPont says it is in the final stages of remediation, leading to a resurgence of development proposals.

Harkins and Finch touted their plan for the “Lake Success Eco-Business Park” in a press release last month, saying partial development would lead to the creation of new jobs.

But some residents disagree. Friends of Remington Woods Chairman Peter McKnight has sought alternatives to development over the last 12 years, and believes his organization — now part of the Sierra Club — can offer an alternative that would better serve both communities.

“There are plenty of brownfield properties that can be converted for office and commercial spaces without clearing large amounts of land,” McKnight said, referencing the acres of habitats and expanses that can be enjoyed by the public.

“DuPont has a history of donating property for open spaces and public use. They did it most notably in Georgia [in 2003], donating 16,000 acres to the Conservation Fund. We have advocated for a similar outcome for the Remington site,” McKnight said. “There are also development opportunities bordering the site that could draw new people to the property and wouldn’t include office building construction next to the lake.” 

Harkins said the Lake Success proposal will preserve open space while also bringing new economic opportunities to the area. But Friends of Remington Woods say developing by the lake would destroy a key feature of the property that would be a main attraction for visitors. 

When asked about the possibility of donating for open space, Stilley told The Star, “Remediation and redevelopment have been the primary focus.”

“Given approximately 344 acres are in Bridgeport and 78 acres in Stratford, we have welcomed the opportunity to engage in open and ongoing dialogue with Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch and Stratford Mayor John Harkins about the potential future of the site,” Stilley said. “They and the citizens they represent are key stakeholders. As such, their ongoing input is critical to the success of the development process.”

In the April 20 release, Finch called the development proposal a “win-win” for the city.

“In Bridgeport, we’re investing in the future by creating hundreds of green jobs and producing clean energy that ensures our kids breathe cleaner air. With this project, we’re taking currently unused land, cleaning it up, and turning it into a job creator and revenue generator,” Finch said.

Part of Bridgeport’s plans also include the extension and reconstruction of Seaview Avenue that would provide direct road access into Remington using dedicated federal funding, a revelation McKnight says Friends of Remington Woods did not expect.

“We are shocked and dismayed at the announcement. When Mayor Finch took office, he assured us that the construction of a road from the Bridgeport side of the property to aid developers was off the table,” McKnight said. He believes the plans draw a fine line between public and private involvement and signal a change that favors developers, not residents or businesses bordering the property.

“The government and DuPont are giving developers road access with federal funds that then have to be matched by the city. It’s basically corporate welfare,” McKnight said.

Mayor Finch’s office did not respond to requests for comment about the reconstruction of Seaview Avenue.

With rock formations lining narrow roads that circle the property and potential hiking trails that reach elevations high enough to view Long Island Sound, McKnight says talking about developing in Remington Woods is like calling for the development of Central Park.

“It’s that significant. This property is half the size of Central Park and we have it right here and no one even knows it exists,” he said. “DuPont has always said they would follow the leaders of Bridgeport and Stratford, but there has been a strong push from local officials and the federal government to develop the land.”   

“This development plan is a wasted opportunity for this kind of property,” McKnight added. “Think about Central Park and how people spend money. Preserving this space with limited [and strategic] development would bring in more business and increase property value bordering the land.”

The town of Stratford lists as a resource for detailed historical information on its website.

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