Will the parking lot at Pear Tree Point Beach be elevated, and if so, by how much?

Those were some of the questions discussed at the Feb. 12 Pear Tree Point Beach Committee meeting.

The architectural team of Neal Hauck & Weston & Sampson gave a detailed presentation and review of site alternatives to the proposed renovations to the beach.

They said their goals with the project include protecting views, maintaining the natural qualities of the beach, providing sidewalks and pedestrian access, repairing/reconstructing the boat launch, improving beach resiliency and reducing wind/water erosion.

They are also looking to prevent the dispersal of sand onto parking area, particularly during high tides and storms.

Presenting at the meeting — and new to the Pear Tree architectural team — was Craig Flaherty, president and senior engineer of Redniss & Mead, a consulting firm based in Stamford.

Flaherty, a Darien resident, is active in town, currently serving on the Sewer Commission and the Advisory Committee on Sustainability.

Flaherty said the parking lot at Pear Tree Point Beach is low lying, and the low lying nature makes it sustainable to inundation.

“During just a normal predicted lunar tide cycle, it makes it susceptible to inundation in any storm surges or weather events, and those conditions will be exacerbated moving forward, based on predicted sea level rise,” he said.

As a frame of reference, Flaherty said the parking lot at Weed Beach is around elevation 8.

Based on the same data, the Pear Tree parking lot is two- to four-feet lower than the parking lot at Weed Beach, “which is why Pear Tree parking lot floods very frequently, whereas Weed Beach only floods in coastal storm moments,” he said.

He said that about four times a month, there will be at least six inches of water at the beach, which will start to expand out into the parking lot. Once a month, there will be at least 12 inches of water.

“This has nothing to do with storms,” he said. “This is just normal predicted tides.”

“We’ve seen about six inches of sea level rise over about 50 years,” he added.

He showed a chart that predicted the increased amount of flooding at the beach in the future.

“The point to take away is that with very little sea level rise, the nuisance that might be tolerable today is going to turn into what may be an intolerable nuisance,” he said.

He said that this is the driving reason behind the work that the architects have done to determine “how to lift the parking lot up in a way that allows folks to use the facilities as they have in the past.”

The architects plan to add 18 feet of beach areas.

They have also been working on coastal area management reports. This is a requirement of the zoning regulations. Their presentation is part of a package that will go to Planning & Zoning for its approval of the review.

Parking area scenarios

Flaherty presented three possible scenarios to the parking area, along with the pros and cons of each.

  No elevations to the parking area

Pro: No permit time frame, least cost

Con: Continual nuisance of flooding becomes more frequent issue, does not preserve use of park long term

  12-inch raised parking area

Pro: Continual nuisance reduced but not eliminated

Con: Moderate cost, rising sea level will negate short-term cost

  24-inch raised parking area

Pro: Flooding nuisance minimized, long-term preservation of use of park for the intent for which it was designed

Con: Greatest cost, permitting potential requires further investigation

Mike Sgroe, co-chairman of the committee, said the committee is “trying to preserve this iconic amenity for the community for the long term.”

The architects are trying to achieve “an optimal balance between protecting the resource which is not only ecological but our enjoyment of the beach and use of it, but planning resiliently,” Flaherty said.

Next steps

The committee will be presenting DEEP (Department of Energy and Environmental Protection) with its research, in an effort to get the parking area elevation up as high as practical.

“Practical is the relationship to the road,” Flaherty said.

For the complete presentation, click here.

Watch the full Pear Tree Point Beach Committee meeting on Darien TV79.

sfox@darientimes.com