Hall Road, Old Lyme (CT Examiner/Hewitt)

Halls Road Committee Selects Engineering Firm to Plan Mixed-use, Wastewater Solutions

OLD LYME — The Halls Road Improvements Committee chose BSC Group by unanimous vote at a meeting on Thursday to create a master plan for Halls Road that will allow the addition of mixed-use zoning to the towns main shopping district. 

The committee previously solicited proposals through an informal bid process from Newman Architects of New Haven, Robert Orr and Associates LLC, of New Haven, and BSC Group of Glastonbury. 

The town has allocated $48,000 for the project, which will require approval from the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Finance to move forward. 

Committee members felt that BSC — the engineering firm already designing sidewalks for Hartford Ave. and a portion Route 156 — offered a better combination of zoning and planning experience than the other two firms, and a reasonable bid of $46,500 for the project. Members also believed that BSC’s working relationship with the state Department of Transportation, would be helpful, given the need for state approvals for projects on Halls Rd., a state-owned road.

Newman, an architecture firm, was the strong runner up, but it’s initial bid of $90,000, later reduced to $47,500, raised concerns among some committee members. 

“You need a firm that can address the sewer question, without this capability you will find you do not have a project,” Mulholland wrote. “If you have to apply to the state for a hybrid sewer system you need to know timelines and costs so you can market the final project to the public, the potential investor, and/or the property owners.” 

“I had that concern when they started off at a high number and had to reduce it significantly, it just leaves a bad taste in your mouth as to what will really occur when they get into the project. Psychologically they always have to be thinking they dropped their price. That doesn’t feel good to me,” explained committee member Howard Margules.

Member Debra Czarnecki said she was concerned that several essential items, including surveying and environmental assessment, were not included in the BSC proposal, potentially adding to the price later. 

Member Matt Merritt, who is president of the Old Lyme Shores Beach Association, said his experience with the upcoming sewer project in the beach communities was that “project creep” can be a problem with costs. He suggested a 5 percent cap as a contingency to protect the town. 

Sewers and septic systems

Committee chair Edie Twining read aloud parts of a letter from Bill Mulholland, a zoning official for East Lyme, who advised the committee to choose a firm that can address the need for additional wastewater disposal systems on Halls Road. 

“You need a firm that can address the sewer question, without this capability you will find you do not have a project,” he wrote. “If you have to apply to the state for a hybrid sewer system you need to know timelines and costs so you can market the final project to the public, the potential investor, and/or the property owners.” 

Mulholland wrote that after East Lyme’s sewer system was completed in 1991, it took another 20 years to turn Niantic around “and we still have a long way to go. Patience is a must.”

Bud Canady warned that if the plan includes mixed-use development, “you’re going to have to have a sewer system.” According to Canady — who said that he had previously served on the board of the Big Y Shopping Center — the septic systems there are “maxed out.” 

Merritt said that his experience with the sewer project in the beach communities has taught him that the area’s potential for infrastructure will determine what can be built. 

“The utilities will dictate and determine what is going to be buildable and what is not — it’s the driving force behind what can be constructed,” he explained. “In my humble opinion, I could never imagine a sewer going through Halls Road.” 

Member Bud Canady warned that if the plan includes mixed-use development, “you’re going to have to have a sewer system.” According to Canady — who said that he had previously served on the board of the Big Y Shopping Center — the septic systems there are “maxed out.” 

“We have the demise of retail even before COVID and we’re going to be seeing Halls Rd. looking for some way to sustain itself and we don’t want to lose our supermarket,” warned Twining. “Without having a plan in place for the future or for the immediate streetscape, we’re just going to sit and do nothing and then change will happen in a way that we don’t want to see it

Twining said there were several new ways of providing community sewer systems.

“They’re smaller, they’re not full sewer systems that are pumping to New London. They’re small community septic systems,” she said. 

In the context of re-zoning Halls Road for mixed-use, the committee began discussions of a self-contained wastewater treatment system at a March 3, 2016 meeting and agreed at a subsequent meeting to include potential wastewater management in the master planning process.

In subsequent meetings, the committee looked into options for creating a community septic system and building an onsite treatment plant as well as expanding existing septic systems. The topic was also mentioned at the December 2018 Yale University Design Workshop presentation of mixed-used buildings on Halls Road. 

Why a master plan

Twining explained the rationale for developing a master plan, which she described as a proactive effort in the face of retail decline.

“We have the demise of retail even before COVID and we’re going to be seeing Halls Rd. looking for some way to sustain itself and we don’t want to lose our supermarket,” warned Twining. “Without having a plan in place for the future or for the immediate streetscape, we’re just going to sit and do nothing and then change will happen in a way that we don’t want to see it — where we see stores closing and we see a commercial district only that can’t absorb any other types of buildings and you’re going to get something that goes dormant. We can’t let that happen.”

According to Margules, the three competing firms suggested that if the town did not draw up a detailed master plan, the Department of Transportation would not answer questions about what can and cannot be done along Halls Rd. 

“With a full plan, we can say we want to make a neighborhood where it is now a fast pass-through — that’s a different thing from asking can I put sidewalk or crosswalk here,” said Twining.

“They were pretty adamant on that issue, that the chance of success is much better with a plan,” said Margules. 

According to Twining, Newman and BSC both said that the Department of Transportation was beginning to embrace the concept of “complete streets” — a major philosophical break for the state agency.

“Up until 10 years ago, they were not interested in making any changes to any places if it slowed down their traffic. Now they’re beginning to realize that neighborhoods are important — sidewalks, bike paths, neighborhood areas,” said Twining. “With a full plan, we can say we want to make a neighborhood where it is now a fast pass-through — that’s a different thing from asking can I put sidewalk or crosswalk here.”

Twining said that she wanted to bring the plan to the Board of Selectmen as soon as possible to get the process of approval started. 

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