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Improvements to Old Lyme’s Halls Road discussed in public forum

December 7, 2018

Old Lyme — Members of the Halls Road Improvements Committee and the Yale Urban Design Workshop met with the public Thursday evening to discuss the creation of a master development plan envisioning future improvements to Halls Road, the town’s main commercial district.

The committee, after holding a similar public discussion earlier this year, has been working over the last few months with the Yale Urban Design Workshop, a community design center affiliated with the Yale School of Architecture, to create those plans.

Plans for the project, as outlined in a packed Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School cafeteria, showcased visual concepts of what the road could look like: mixed-use buildings alongside a pedestrian-friendly street, ample sidewalk and bike paths, added crosswalks and public outdoor spaces, among other features.

“The idea is that these changes would slowly take shape over a period of 15 or 20 years,” said Alan Plattus, director of the Yale Urban Design Workshop, who gave the presentation. “Our part here is to help the future development of the Halls Road area so that it, too, becomes not just a practical asset where you pick up groceries, but an integral part of your community going forward — a place that you will value in the same way you value your historical areas in town.”

First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder said the focus on improvements comes as many people feel Halls Road needs a “facelift.” She said it’s important to look for ways to enhance the area, not only to provide access to pedestrians but to ensure businesses remain in the area.

Residents attending the meeting, however, immediately expressed apprehensions regarding the improvement ideas following the presentation. Some questioned whether the improvements are necessary, while others focused on more nuanced zoning and planning regulations.

In particular, residents expressed fears about how the town would finance such improvements and how it may cause a burden to taxpayers.

First Selectman Bonnie Reemsnyder responded, saying the topic had been thoroughly discussed with the improvements committee. She said that there are ways to finance the project without raising taxes.

Of the ideas she and the committee have discussed, Reemsnyder said a tax increment financing district, or a TIF, could help alleviate costs. A TIF would allow tax revenues generated by businesses on that road to be used to help finance future improvements in the area.

She also said attracting developers to the road by making changes in zoning laws would help place costs on them, rather than taxpayers, while incentives offered to pre-existing businesses could encourage desired improvements.

Additionally, Reemsnyder explained that the town could apply for several streetscape and open-space grants through the state. But first, she said, the town would need to agree on a plan for the Halls Road improvements.

“We had a conceptual plan for Hartford Avenue, so when we applied for a grant to pay for 80 percent of the improvements there, we got it because we had that plan in hand,” Reemsnyder said, while also explaining the town recently received another 2 million grant that was not successful. One of the main reasons is because we did not have this plan,” she said.

“When we can say we’ve gone through this planning process as a town, our chances of getting potential grants are much better,” she said.

“We don’t want to be East Lyme. We don’t want to be Old Saybrook. We don’t want a mega metropolis right off the highway,” Reemsnyder said. “But we do want vibrancy, aesthetics, and a village atmosphere. This is about trying to get a vision of what we want, through some planning.”

m.biekert@theday.com

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