What you do want Old Lyme to look like? What are some of your favorite towns? – Alan Plattus, a very smart guy, a Yale Professor and founder of Yale Urban Design Workshop asked an audience of a few hundred local residents last year.
He then broke us into small groups, which like nearly every small group exercise since elementary school came to nothing before running out of time. One woman from out of town, with a job at a bank, suggested Aspen. I suggested Old Lyme. She rolled her eyes. I admit that I was having a hard time buying in. But I guess I was not the only one, because the very smart guy is now gone.
As I’ve been told in planning meetings across the state — change is inevitable — but if ever there was a neighborhood that mocks that notion it’s Sound View. While we debate the beautification and housing and walkability of Halls Road — a business district which is nearly fully occupied with small local businesses — a mile or so down the coast, Hartford Avenue and three other beach communities languish, waiting for a go-ahead from Old Lyme on sewers.
Here we have a walkable business district with modest setbacks, surrounding residential neighborhoods accessible on foot. We have the inevitability of sewers, and a goodly number of residents of an entrepreneurial bent actually impatient to invest. It’s an area — as much as Halls Road — that might benefit from zoning reforms. So why the delay?
I think it hit home for me, when Dede DeRosa of Old Lyme Shores Beach Association suggested perhaps that it was a matter of not wanting to provide schooling and services if the shoreline population increased — a matter of cheapness and the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ sort of people.
And I thought… wait a minute… how can residents of Old Lyme feel like their children might be unwelcome in our schools — and I am not saying that’s true — when on the other side of town committees are busily debating how to get more children in our schools by building housing? And not just building housing, but building housing that will require sewers.
With the First Selectwoman now floating the idea of a “package” sewer system for Halls Road at a meeting this Saturday at the Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School — a dubious solution given our history with DEEP — and another resident (in a letter read into the record at the last Board of Selectmen’s meeting) suggesting the need for well over 1000 additional units of housing in Old Lyme — a goal also impossible without sewers — my advice is this:
Pass the referendum on sewers for Sound View and work with the beach communities to pass reasonable zoning reforms to reduce uncertainty for investment. Put a little more attention into fixing what we have, including the surrounding dilapidated stretches of Route 156. If the town as a whole won’t compensate residents for the cost of sewers, then perhaps the inevitable rise in property taxes — that’s what happens when you add sewers to a seasonal community — can be redirected to the shoreline communities in a way which does not fall afoul of federal regulation that prohibits using funding to encourage growth. Take advantage of the historic credits available for the National Register district. Give the area a little boost.
No doubt there are good reasons not to encourage growth along the shoreline, but if ever in Old Lyme there was an existing walkable mix of shops and houses, and if ever there was a sense of place on the shoreline, it’s Hartford Avenue and Sound View. And if we pass this referendum, it already has sewers. This is a project — unlike Halls Road — that everyone for more than five years has wanted to see done. It’s time to help the shoreline communities who are asking for our help.