OLD LYME — The Halls Road Improvements Committee received the go-ahead from the Board of Selectmen on Monday to take the committee’s proposal for hiring a firm that will create a master plan to the town’s Board of Finance for approval.
The Halls Road committee, which was established in 2015, has approximately $48,000 in leftover funds carried over from earlier efforts to hire Yale Design Urban Workshop and to implement tax increment financing in the town’s shopping district. Repurposing that funding requires approval by the Board of Finance.
The project is to hire the BSC Group, an engineering firm from Glastonbury, to create a master plan for Halls Road. The plan will include new zoning language that would add a village district overlay to the road’s current commercial zone.
On Oct. 8, the committee chose BSC Group, which bid $46,500 for the project, in part because of the firm’s familiarity with the state Department of Transportation — the state agency that will dictate what can and cannot be changed within the right of way of Halls Road, a state road.
BSC engineer Kurt Prochorena said his firm will create a comprehensive study of Halls Road and look at a variety of possibilities, all the while running the ideas past DOT to clarify feasibility.
“At the beginning of the process we’ll work with DOT to try to do a summary of the things they’re thinking about,” he said. “We want to develop that broad picture of what their limitations and opportunities may be. If at any point they say they’re not going to do [something], we can immediately change course.”
Prochorena said the study will include an assessment of market demand as well as infrastructure, including water and wastewater disposal systems.
First Selectman Tim Griswold said there was concern in the community that building housing on Halls Road would require putting in sewers. He suggested a community septic system.
“That’s part of the study, how all things interplay with each other,” answered Prochorena. “If there are septic systems, what are the limitations for residential and for commercial, and if there were sewers what are the limitations?”
Bud Canaday, who is a member of the Halls Road Improvements Committee, said the project was too broad considering that the property and businesses on Halls Road are privately owned.
“We were looking at plantings, lighting, streetscaping, the rest is private property. Do we spend the money for all this zoning business when really all we need to do is sidewalks, plantings, and a bridge over Lieutenant River?”
Edie Twining, chair of the committee, said multiple letters had come in from people saying they want “more than just a sidewalk.”
Tim Griswold said that he was concerned about pushback from business owners who might react negatively to the concepts of mixed use and constructing new buildings closer to the road.
Prochorena said the process was evolutionary and that all data will be collected and considered, with the masterplan as the end result, reflecting long term goals.
“We could be looking at a 10-year horizon and we want to understand what’s out there, the potential. We want to get private investment down there and [produce] additional tax revenue. It’s really about change to that district and giving it some sort of identity,” he said. “The area [will become] aesthetically pleasing, but tax revenue is the tangible benefit.”
Selectman Mary Jo Nosal said the master plan was needed to keep the town’s business section viable and to fail to act now will result in the town doing nothing by default.
“We want to keep our dollars here instead of going across the road and spending money in neighboring towns when we could spend it here,” she said. “We learned in the SWOT analysis that people want to walk, people want to hike. People want to get out of their cars and go to the arts district and take advantage of doing something fun with their family and then have a cup of coffee. Without the master plan and SWOT analysis, the town will just continue to kick the can down the road.”
The selectmen voted unanimously to send the decision to the Board of Finance for final approval.