Many of the proposed upgrades to Pear Tree Point Beach were approved July 17 at the packed three-hour-long Pear Tree Point Beach Building Committee special joint meeting with the Parks & Recreation Commission.

With six in favor and one opposed, the commission voted to proceed with the new elevated structure at the beach.

In addition, by a unanimous vote, members approved the construction of an upper level deck for viewing and dining, as well as the addition of elevated flexible community space.

Prior to the vote, Chairman Lorene Bora said the commission should “proceed to develop the building that we really want for this community.”

“I do think it’s not an opportunity that we get to repeat,” Bora added. “We have to make the decisions now.”

All of the suggestions for the beach upgrades were discussed at length the prior week at the Pear Tree Point Beach Building Committee meeting, where there was a presentation by Neil Hauck, the principal of Neil Hauck Architects and primary designer on the project.

At that meeting, Dan Biggs, a regional manager of Weston & Sampson, said that priorities include protecting views, providing sidewalks and pedestrian access, reducing sand washing onto the parking lot and roadway, and repairing or reconstructing the boat launch.

Sand dunes

Biggs recommended the installation of sand dunes at the beach.

According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, sand dunes provide natural coastal protection against storm surge and high waves, preventing or reducing coastal flooding and structural damage. They also act as sand storage areas, supplying sand to eroded beaches.

With sand dunes, when a wave comes in during a storm or high tide, “the energy is absorbed and then slowly is released out,” Biggs said. “The sand is a natural resistance and absorber of those energies.”

Three feet would be the minimal height Biggs proposes for a sand dune.

According to Biggs, with the “trend that’s happening with coastal communities” and the rising sea level, in time, the beach will be reduced and water will increase and crash into the parking lot.

He said, therefore, that it will be “a benefit to have the dunes there.”

Boardwalk

A committee member said a boardwalk would provide an opportunity for people who can’t access the sand to get on the beach.

Members discussed options for the look of the boardwalk, including wood and concrete choices, as well as coloring and styling to enhance the parking area.

Boat launch

The architects proposed removing and reconstructing the boat launch at the proper slope.

According to Biggs, the current boat launch is not steep enough.

“Most jurisdictions require a slope of 12 to 15 percent to be a functional boat launch,” he said. “The boat launch is about a 6 to 7 percent slope currently.”

Parking lot

Committee members discussed the accessibility of the parking lot to the beach.

Cheryl Russell said that for “People who park their cars and have to walk 20 feet to get to the sand, that is a huge walk,” especially for those with a disability.

“This is a huge problem at Weed Beach,” she said. “People left that beach and come to Pear Tree because they can get out of their car, take two steps and put their chair down.”

Indoor facility

A resident questioned having an indoor facility. He said that, as a member of a private club that has dining facilities at a beach club, the indoor facility is not being utilized.

“As beautiful and well-decorated as it is, there’s no demand for it. Everybody wants to eat outside in the open air,” he said, adding it would “be a pity” if an indoor structure is built with little demand for it.

Sidewalks

Biggs, the Weston & Sampson regional manager, spoke about maintaining or adding better access throughout the beach area, such as with a series of sidewalks.

Pear Tree would lose 15 feet of beach in order to put in the dune, plus the sidewalk, he added.

Pear Tree Point Beach Building Committee Chairman Mike Sgroe said he doesn’t agree with the addition of a sidewalk.

He said the overall intention is “preserving more beach. I don’t see the value of a sidewalk here.”

Trees

A committee member said that trees are “extremely important” to the community that uses Pear Tree Point Beach.

She said people who use the beach would prefer adding more trees than the three trees that are there now.

Flooding concern

Marc Thorne said he is “very concerned” about the frequency of the flooding in the area and questioned the need for the entire project.

“No amount of dunes is going to help us with tidal flooding. Why are we considering building in a place that is not going to be used by the public because of salt water flooding?” he asked.

Joint meeting

During the public comment portion of the joint meeting, a handful of residents — both beach neighbors and non-neighbors — spoke out against the proposed renovations.

Pear Tree Point Beach Building Committee member Martha Banks said she has yet to receive one letter from anyone who is in favor of building a new facility or an elevated space.

“Everybody points to the tranquil, natural nature of the beach,” she said.

Susan Daly said that in situations like this, it’s typical to hear only negative comments in public.

“We never hear the other side,” she said, adding that some people who have opposing opinions may feel intimidated to speak up.

Also, she said that some may not be advocating for the project because they aren’t fully aware of the “potential” yet.

Chairman Bora said work and research needs to be done to see which parts of the proposed renovations “make the most sense.”

Commission members decided to do more homework in regard to the need for a concession stand.

sfox@darientimes.com