South Norwalk, Connecticut is a small, socio-economically distressed neighborhood at the southern end of Norwalk with a long history of landfilling and industrial use. Located along the banks of the Norwalk River, the neighborhood has long been plagued by flooding. This issue was only magnified in October 2012 when the area sustained severe damage from Super Storm Sandy. Following Sandy, the entire City rallied to revitalize South Norwalk, more affectionately known by locals as “SoNo”, with its desirable riverfront location, walkability and close proximity to the urban heart of Norwalk. Ryan Park, located near the southeastern corner of SoNo, became one of the local targets for redevelopment.
Cultivated from a 2014 HUD Choice Neighborhoods Implementation (CNI) grant, the vision for SoNo was developed over an 18-month period through a broad-based, community planning process involving residents, businesses & elected officials. The vision for SoNo’s future included strategies identified as critical to improving the neighborhood, its people and their opportunities. These strategies provided a roadmap to move SoNo’s vision of revitalization forward. It took many years and required the resources and partnerships of many individuals and organizations to unleash the community’s full potential.
Ryan Park, the sole recreational space in SoNo, was planned to be redesigned to be climate resilient and meet the community needs, including raising the elevation of the park to provide dry egress for the neighborhood during potential future storm events. To address flooding, the elevation of streets and infrastructure would also be raised two to six feet above the 500-year floodplain, and a design that fully embraced complete streets, was created. Redevelopment plans for the City’s oldest and most obsolete public housing complex known as Washington Village, located adjacent to Ryan Park, included constructing a new, 273-unit mixed-income development with on-grade parking under the residential structure to raise the new affordable housing units above the floodplain.
A PARK FOR THE PEOPLE
As SoNo became the focus of local redevelopment efforts, Ryan Park, a beloved community facility, became a clear target for improvements. Having knowledge of the area’s industrial past, the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency (NRA) sought out U.S. EPA Community Wide Assessment Grant funding to assess the 2.19-acre park and devise a plan for redevelopment. The NRA received the grant funding from the EPA in October 2014, which they then used to select Weston & Sampson to provide Qualified Environmental Professional (QEP) / CT Licensed Environmental Professional (LEP) services. While performing a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA), Weston & Sampson identified several Recognized Environmental Conditions (RECs) requiring additional investigation. The NRA and Weston & Sampson then worked with EPA and local partners to provide community outreach and moved forward with additional assessment and redevelopment efforts.
Using EPA’s Community Wide Brownfields Hazardous Substances Assessment Grant funding, Weston & Sampson performed a Phase II ESA in 2016. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), semivolatile organic compounds (SVOCs), petroleum compounds, and metals were detected in soil above Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CTDEEP) standards. Due to the levels of PCB contamination, the sole recreational park in SoNo had to be closed to the public in December 2016 until the contamination could be fully addressed. In early 2017, Weston & Sampson continued their environmental assessments at Ryan Park, completing a Phase III ESA to delineate the extent of contamination at the park in site soils and groundwater.
Having exhausted much of their available EPA Hazardous Substance Assessment Grant funding, the NRA worked with Weston & Sampson and the broader community to secure various sources of leveraged funding to perform public outreach, additional assessment and remedial planning and cleanup activities. This included a $2 million-dollar grant from the Connecticut Department of Economic Community Development (DECD) in March 2017. In March 2018, the remediation of Ryan Park commenced.
In May 2018, with several weeks of cleanup activities behind them, three (3) previously unidentified abandoned underground storage tanks (USTs) were discovered at the park. The NRA and Weston & Sampson responded quickly, pursuing all necessary state and federal approvals to use NRA’s Brownfields Petroleum Grant funds to conduct UST closure and assessment activities. Due to this quick and seamless response, the NRA and Weston & Sampson were able to remove and close out the USTs in conformance with CTDEEP regulations without delaying remediation and redevelopment efforts.
Ryan Park Today
In July 2018, following the removal and off-site disposal of over 10,000 tons of impacted material and the construction of a clean soil cap above impacted soils, the remediation activities at Ryan Park were completed. Follow-up redevelopment efforts have been in progress since that time. As of September 2019, Ryan Park has been improved with new playground structures, basketball courts, a splash pad, walking paths, and landscaping. Ryan Park is expected to reopen to the public in October 2019. This newly restored public space will serve to attract both visitors and residents alike to the growing SoNo neighborhood, proving that strong partnerships and commitments to environment and recreation help communities thrive.
The City intends to put a notation on the deed restricting disturbances of the soil cap and will also perform long-term monitoring and maintenance of the soil cap.