A Vision for Old Lyme of Cold Corporate Environments with AutoCAD Hearts

A new mixed-use housing development off I-95 in Branford (Courtesy of the author)


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For months, I’ve driven past a large new development off I-95 in Branford, watching it expand like a sea sponge in water.

Yesterday, I decided to get off and take a closer look. 

The construction is straight out of a planning handbook. Mixed-use storefronts along a faux lane, (insert tree here), 40-foot-high apartments with half-enclosed parking below. You can’t really call it architecture, it’s just a developer’s punch list of features.

My first thought was: Wow, this is big. My second thought: Could this fit onto Halls Road? So, I drove back home and into the Big Y parking lot. I read the new rules for Halls Road. The answer is, definitely—and much more. In Old Lyme’s plan “the parking garage may not exceed 3 stories in height.”

Now, I am a big tent person who welcomes additional housing, but planning a monolithic fictional town from scratch seems to me out of balance.

I guess this is all to say that I like Old Lyme for being just what it is — a simple town in a shoreline archipelago.  I don’t need to have everything here because I enjoy going there.  I love to go to Hen & Heifer in Guilford to eat world class pastry and to Cocotte in Old Saybrook for breakfast and a chat with Jeffrey.

I don’t want to live in a “Halls Corner” bubble, with a CVS gateway and drive-through prescription window. If I never left town, I’d be the lesser for it.

Instead of opening up the town to dozens of pages of regulations that I don’t entirely understand (do you?) and leaving it to the lawyers and the developers to figure out, wouldn’t it be better instead to grow Halls Road around a central idea, like they did in Stony Creek when they built the Legacy Theatre?

Without something like that, I don’t really understand the insanity of requiring new retail space – which is sure to demand rents at least twice what is asked now – when over the years the town has failed at modest rents to adequately support a cheese shop, a bookstore, a great menswear shop, and a number of restaurants.

You might not know it, but even the planners (after coming up with the idea of mixed-use) are now trying to come up with new plans to fill the empty storefronts in towns with far more traffic than Old Lyme.

I’m an avid observer of land and architecture, city structures and shacks alike. The least successful – even at high cost — in my opinion, are the vast bricked mixed-use courtyards that call for population and “togetherness” with benches and lampposts, but in reality are cold corporate environments with AutoCAD hearts.

More likely, in Old Lyme (like in Branford) we’ll get something even lesser, for far less money. Buildings that will look dowdy in 5 years, the siding degrading, the generic landscaping untended, a cookie cutter plastic “village” championed by planners, and builders, who will make a buck, and quickly move on.