Halls Road (Credit: Yale Urban Design Workshop)

As Halls Road Committee Pushes toward an Ambitious Master Plan, Griswold Counsels a Focus first on Sidewalks

OLD LYME — As the Halls Road Improvements Committee moves toward the creation of village overlay district master plan, questions continue about the timing of details like sidewalks as well as the best municipal model to use as a pattern for the project. 

The committee is considering proposals from three firms for the creation of a master plan for a village overlay district for Halls Road, which is currently zoned for commercial use. By state legislation enacted in 1998, a village district would allow the Zoning Commission of the town to add special provisions to the base zone, including mixed-use construction, while regulating the design and placement of buildings and other elements the commission “deems appropriate to maintain and protect the character of the village district.”

The master plan, which awaits approval from the Board of Finance to carry over approximately $48,000 in funding from previous projects, would incorporate sidewalks as one component of the overall design, said Edie Twining, committee chair, at the July 9 virtual meeting. 

“I’m just thinking that this was the one thing that was universally embraced and if we could try to incorporate that, it’s a tangible thing. And if we could do it within a year, that would be outstanding,” Griswold said of constructing sidewalks on Halls Road. “I just think we have to balance the two goals here,” he said. 

“The sidewalk project is really the only and expensive thing that the town would pay for in the whole project and it’s the one thing that most people are in favor of,” she said. “So in order to do a good project and not do something twice or half-baked, we need to have a full understanding of what we’re building in a way that is requiring the full vision for the Halls Road district as opposed to [building] a little sidewalk somewhere.” 

However, First Selectman Timothy Griswold, who attended the meeting, saw the sidewalk project and the masterplan as two separate projects and said he was in favor of installing sidewalks soon because it would show that the town was making tangible progress on the redevelopment of Halls Road. 

“We have two things going on: the potential sidewalk installation, which would be a pretty sizable financial obligation … and then we have the master plan,” he said. “So I gather that it’s going to be a balancing act to figure out how much do we devote to the master plan, how much do we work on the sidewalk.”

Griswold said he feared that if the town “ignores the sidewalk” in favor of working on the master plan that the public perception will be negative. 

“I’m just thinking that this was the one thing that was universally embraced and if we could try to incorporate that, it’s a tangible thing. And if we could do it within a year, that would be outstanding,” Griswold said of constructing sidewalks on Halls Road. “I just think we have to balance the two goals here,” he said. 

Twining emphasized the leverage that she says a master plan will give the town. Twining said that the turnaround time would be just three to four weeks. 

“With the master plan comes the ability to ask for funding, the ability to talk to CTDOT professionally, the ability to research existing conditions and what we can or can’t do in the master plan,” she said. 

Soundview as a model

Previously, in 2019, the town hired the BSC Group of Glastonbury — one of the three firms currently under consideration for the Halls Road master plan — to design sidewalks along the western extent of Hartford Avenue from Bocce Lane to Route 156 and along a portion of Route 156 from the police station to Cross Lane.

The initial plan is to be funded by a $400,000 connectivity grant from the Connecticut Department of Transportation, supplemented by a town appropriation of $30,000 for the engineering and design.

The town later expanded the project, and appropriated an additional $10,000 for engineering and design to add sidewalks along Route 156, in effort to take advantage of the grant funding, when the initial bids came in lower than expected. 

Committee member Cheryl Poirier pointed out that Soundview began with a master plan.

“That illustrates why we need a master plan for sidewalks,” she said.

Three proposals

Newman Architects of New Haven submitted a three-phase proposal. The first two phases, totalling $43,000, included a review of the 2018 CADD drawings produced by Yale University Design Workshop of potential scenarios for Halls Road that included three-story, mixed-use buildings set close to the road. The proposal also included infrastructure and traffic analysis, market studies, engagement of community entities, and the creation of a master plan. 

The proposal includes “vignettes to be created by Edie Twining Design using 3D backgrounds by Newman.” 

Phase three of the proposal, at a separate cost of $22,500, entailed setting design standards, modifying existing zoning to enable implementation of the master plan and guiding the Request for Proposal process with developers. 

The second proposal, from BSC Group, calls for three-phases of planning for $29,000. The first phase would include updated base mapping and utility infrastructure research. Phase two would provide a real estate and development analysis, including data on the housing, retail and commercial markets. This phase would also include “three or four case studies of community redevelopment examples similar to Old Lyme and successful precedents of mixed-use development that retained historic resources and provided opportunities leading to private sector reinvestment.” Phase Three would develop and update a master plan based on community feedback, current and anticipated utility infrastructure, CTDOT feedback and requirements and other factors and data. The proposal also included optional services for the development of a conceptual design for an additional $10,000. 

The third proposal, from Robert Orr + Associates, an architecture, landscape and town planning firm of New Haven, calls for hiring consultants for traffic and civil engineering, retail and demographic data analysis, and a grant writer specializing in village district zoning. The proposal included the development of a roadway layout plan for the village, focused on “non-motorist safety, walkability and bicycle mobility.” The firm described a plan that would provide a sense of a traditional “main street,” with the goal of creating a pedestrian-friendly “complete Street” in the Halls Road area. That plan would cost $40,000.

Searching for a model

The committee has discussed the downtowns of Madison, Niantic and Essex village as models for the redevelopment of Halls Road, said Ray Thompson, who chaired the Halls Road Subcommittee virtual meeting on June 25. 

At that meeting, Daniel Bourret, the Zoning Enforcement Official of Old Lyme, said he had questions about how those towns developed, particularly Madison and Essex.

“I’m not sure if the way [they] developed was more historic — if it was zoning regs or just 100 years of development or even more,” Bourret said. “I would need to look at their zoning regulations and how they govern those particular areas and whether those downtowns were a product of zoning or just a natural development pattern for the time … I feel like we’re kind of starting from scratch here with Halls Road.” 

Twining said the goal of the master plan was to provide guidelines in the redevelopment Halls Road that reflect the character of Lyme Street, but the process will be very different from Madison, Niantic and Essex, in part because Old Lyme does not require historic preservation along Halls Road. 

“We’re trying to undo what’s there and bring in a historic look … that’s one of the challenges,” she said. 

Attending the meeting were Maria Martinez and Michael Barnes, who are both alternates on the Zoning Commission. Barbara Gaudio, a member of the Planning Commission, had been invited but could not attend.

It was previously suggested that all three join the subcommittee, but Thompson said that joining the committee could have resulted in conflicts of interest. Thompson said that Martinez and Barnes were attending solely in an advisory role. 

“[They] were very, very vibrant, and up and coming, and they probably were rebounding from poor starts, so maybe we can find a benchmark in the Boston metro area where they have strip malls,” said Thompson. “We don’t have a T station, but we have a train station a mile and a half away and that’s just about the same. I think we’ll follow Paul’s lead and try to find one like that, it’s out of our geography but we’ve kind of looked around this area, we need to look a little further.”

Martinez suggested the subcommittee find a municipal project more similar to Old Lyme than Madison, Niantic or Essex. 

“There is value in looking into a benchmark — starting from scratch and envisioning next steps and challenges … to use as an example for what to look out for, what steps to take, what pitfalls to avoid,” she said. “That series of next steps seems to be a little challenging right now so there’s got to be a way for us to find out who has done this before.” 

Thompson said that Paul Orzel had found examples of areas that had developed around T stations and other mass transit stops in the Boston metro area. 

“[They] were very, very vibrant, and up and coming, and they probably were rebounding from poor starts, so maybe we can find a benchmark in the Boston metro area where they have strip malls,” said Thompson. “We don’t have a T station, but we have a train station a mile and a half away and that’s just about the same. I think we’ll follow Paul’s lead and try to find one like that, it’s out of our geography but we’ve kind of looked around this area, we need to look a little further.”

Barnes said he was interested in bringing in shoppers and restaurant-goers from Old Lyme’s riverfront areas by developing space at the end of Old Bridge Road underneath the Baldwin Bridge as well as the area  where the bow bridge once traversed the Lieutenant River. He said Old Saybrook had developed a successful public space under the Baldwin Bridge. 

“We are one of the only towns that has deep water access potential for vessels coming in as transients that will enable people to come to our downtown,” said Barnes. 

“We have frontage on the Connecticut River that is not being utilized in any way shape or form that I feel that it is important to incorporate along with Lieutenant River frontage that we have land that we’re not taking advantage of — whether it be kayak docks to allow a more nicer area around Halls Road, which will fall right into this plan with sidewalks and improvements.” 

Twining pointed out the Old Saybrook side of the river was sandy and accessible, but the Old Lyme had a 40-foot drop to the water, making the area difficult to access. 

Moving forward

Twining said the subcommittee had spoken with Matt Prosser, managing partner of Guilford-based Provident Holdings, which owns the major share of the Big Y shopping center. 

“He’s pretty satisfied with what he has today,” she said. “This was pre-COVID, we don’t know what’s going to happen in the future … he’s holding onto the property. If anything happens it will be on the north side of Halls Road,” said Twining. 

Thompson said Prosser had attended several Halls Road Improvements Committee meetings. 

“He is in support of further aspects of improvements on Halls Road — the sidewalks and lighting,” Thompson said. 

Twining asked the committee to take a few more days to read through the master plan proposals. She said the master plan will protect the town from future strip mall style development. 

“It’s not really dictating anything other than we don’t want the architecture to look the way it looks today,” she said. 

Bourret said he needed to understand exactly what the committee’s vision is. 

“I’ve reviewed the docs that Tim provided. We can try to tackle the zoning regs to allow that kind of development to occur,” he said. “We have to make sure whatever we produce that we have buy-in from the Zoning Commission because they are the ones who will ultimately vote and implement that.’

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