OLD LYME — After an eight-year hiatus, First Selectman Tim Griswold looked comfortable sitting at his desk in Town Hall on Friday afternoon.
“I would say there’s a lot on the plate and I would say we want to maintain the good quality of the schools. I think part of the message I got from the election is people like the rural character of the town. We want to move ahead, but not go ahead aggressively… keep it kind of the way it is,” said Griswold.
Griswold, a Republican, served as First Selectman from 1997 to 2011 when he lost to Democrat Bonnie Reemsnyder. As a petitioning candidate in 2019, Griswold ousted Reemsnyder with 55.8 percent of the vote. In that election, the Town of Old Lyme also had the highest voter turnout in the state at 56 percent, with Republicans winning every available seat.
“I try to keep a list of projects and this is a busy time because you have budget preparations, nominations for various boards and commissions and various projects that are underway,” he said, surveying stacks of paper, folders and binders.
Sequencing sidewalks, sewers and water
Griswold said he is also preparing for the January 27 annual town meeting, which will include a vote on easements for sewer pipes traveling from Old Lyme’s three private beach associations.
According to Griswold, the next three years, and possibly more, will be disruptive for the shoreline with the sewer installation in Old Lyme’s Sound View Beach and the chartered communities of Old Lyme Shores, Old Colony Beach and Miami Beach.
The private beach communities will require easements across Sound View to reach a future pump house located at 73 Portland Avenue in Miami Beach, and so that a force main can be installed on Portland Avenue traveling north to Route 156 and east to East Lyme.
Before sewers are installed, Connecticut Water Company — which was recently purchased by San Jose Water Company — will upgrade its two-inch pipes to eight-inch pipes in Sound View along the upper sections of Swan and Portland Avenue.
Griswold said he wants water pipes to be installed before Memorial Day 2020 to avoid disrupting the busy summer season.
Assuming the town approves the easements for the three beach associations, they could start designing sewer systems this winter. “They would like to start construction in the fall,” said Griswold.
In addition, the town also received a $400,000 Connectivity Grant to install sidewalks along the northern portion of Hartford Avenue and along Route 156. That project is also slated for 2020.
The sewer installation in Sound View along Swan, Hartford, and Portland Avenues should take place either in spring or fall 2021 — but not during the summer — Griswold said.
Griswold said that the town’s Water Pollution Control Authority hasn’t yet finalized a cost structure for funding Sound View sewers, but he acknowledged that the issues for Sound View are more complicated than for the residential assocations.
“I don’t know how the three beach associations are doing it, whether they’re doing flat fees, but Point O’ Woods and these other private beach associations are pretty much residential. There’s hardly any commercial [property],” he said. “But if you look at Sound View, you have some commercial properties on 156 and the community center, a couple of bars — so it’s not as uniform.”
“A sewer connection is a sewer connection,” Griswold said, but a business like a bar will have far more discharge than a residence and potentially should have a fee based on water usage.
“So that’s a three-ring circus, but at the town meeting we need to get the okay to grant the easements over these various properties. So, we’ll have some kind of schematic that will show that,” he said. “It’s a shame that Hartford Ave. has had a lot of paving and stuff, so that’s going to get beat up. They think they can go under the sidewalk without having to tear up the sidewalk each time you have to service a building.”
Ideally, he said, the grant for the installing sidewalks on the upper half of Hartford Ave. could be deferred until the sewers are finished.
“If we could have it so that the grant would not be in jeopardy by letting the project happen in almost 2022, let’s say. If they say, ‘no, we can’t give you any slack,’ then we’d have to consider, could we put it in and [the sewers] could go under the sidewalk,” he said.
Finishing what was started
The Mile Creek Bridge and the Grassy Hill Bridge will be replaced in July and August 2020.
The town has also purchased two new fire tanker trucks and is planning to sell their two old ones.
Griswold said that the Haines Park bathrooms — a project which has been delayed for a number of years — will also be completed in Spring 2020. The building’s water system will be designed with storage tanks placed in a crawl space under the building to compensate for limited water flow from a supplying well.
The renovation of Old Lyme’s Phoebe Noyes Griffin Library, with $1.75 million in funding approved by town residents in 2018, which used $500,000 from surplus in the 2019-2020 budget, will also wrap up in 2020.
“I’ve always thought it’s okay to use surplus, if it’s a good healthy number, for certain non-recurrent things and of course the library funding would fit that,” said Griswold.
Plans are also being considered for a potential expansion of the senior center, which could include use as a community center. The building’s 30-kilowatt generator would allow the building to be used as a place for cooling off, or heat, in emergencies. The town is considering installing a 1,000-gallon propane tank to fuel the generator and the building’s boiler.
“I think one question that hasn’t been answered yet, is it’s always been a senior center and I think a lot of the seniors like it that way, so if it became more of a community center, which would attract more people and different use of the space, that could trigger a bigger deal,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s an active discussion at this point. This is very early in the planning. I think it would be very challenging to undertake a several-hundred-thousand-dollar expansion versus something that would be one-fifty-or-two. The committee is still thinking about it and we’ll see where they come out.”
Plans for Halls Road
“I would recommend [doing] what we know is more universally acceptable, which is the sidewalk proposal from [over near] the Art Association, perhaps innovating with a bow bridge, perhaps putting a crosswalk on Halls Road where the stoplight is and another one near the post office, but without a stoplight,” said Griswold, who added he was in favor of visual improvements to the shopping district, with shade trees and planters.
As for constructing housing and mixed-use buildings along Halls Road — a suggestion in draft proposals by the Halls Road Improvements Committee — Griswold was less enthusiastic.
“If everything were moved up to along Route 1, it’s still going to be a long strip,” he said. “If you’re going to relocate from a 2,500-square-foot house to an apartment there — one view is Route 1, and the other view is I-95 — I’m not sure that would be of great appeal to people who have choices.”
Griswold also said he had concerns about whether the soils on Halls Road could accommodate the necessary septic systems for such larger projects.
“If you had a bunch of housing and it was too much for the septic, you might be looking at sewers, so I think that could be troublesome,” Griswold said.
“I should think there could be some forward progress. I think truly people were not against affordable housing. They were against affordable housing there, at the end of the ramp,” he said of prior plans for a 37-unit housing development slated for Neck Road near Exit 70. “So, if a sensible place could be figured out, I think the town would not oppose it.”
Griswold said Old Lyme already has a fair number of apartments that could qualify as affordable housing, including off-the-books mother-in-law apartments, but the units would need to be deed-restricted to count toward the state’s 10 percent target under the 8-30g statute, something that is unlikely to happen.
“The reality is communities are different, and you can aspire to do better, but I think this idea of a mandate has to go away,” he said.
A focus on Route 156
Griswold said he’d like to begin to clean up the area along Route 156 near Cherrystones, beginning with the abandoned gas station and continuing to Sound View.
“It seems like it would be a pretty nice corridor to try to get a theme going, attract some business let’s say,” he said. “One thing we don’t have is an Essex-Meadows-type facility for the seniors who want to get into a facility. But that would require a lot of land. We’re losing them to Chester Village to Essex Meadows and to Haddam. They leave and there goes all that wonderful knowledge and everything.”
He said the corridor along Route 156 is seemingly ripe for some kind of an upgrade.
“It could be some smaller commercial building type between the road and the railroad track, additional office space, the right kind of stuff that would be in keeping with Old Lyme,” he said. “There might be a stretch where we could try to do something because you have some pretty unfortunate properties right now. It’s hard because it’s privately-owned. It’s just like Halls Road. You can huff and puff all you want, but if the owners aren’t inclined to do anything, forget about it.”
Cleaning up Route 156 would set the tone for developing Sound View, Griswold said.
“If we could do that and get ready for Sound View when that’s straightened away with the sewers and water and everything, then when we get Hartford Avenue all dolled up, I’m sure Frank Noe will do something with the arcade property that was torn down,” he said.