Halls Road Committee Meets to Discuss Next Steps Toward Advancing its Development Plan

Edie Twining, chair of the Halls Road Improvements Committee, presented an updated progress report on the Halls Road proposal to allow mixed use along Old Lyme's main commercial corridor. (CT Examiner)

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OLD LYME —In a step toward resubmitting their plan to the town’s Zoning Commission, members of the Halls Road Improvements Committee presented a “progress update” Monday morning at Town Hall on a proposed overlay district that would allow mixed use development along the town’s main commercial corridor.  

The proposal was rejected last March, in a decision that turned on questions about affordable housing and infrastructure requirements for higher density development. The rejection meant that the proposal could not be resubmitted for a year unless granted a waiver by the Zoning Commission. 

Now, almost a year later, the committee’s updated presentation, available on the town website, includes a 10 percent affordability requirement.

Committee chair Edie Twining, who led the presentation before an audience of about 20 people, emphasized that it was important for Old Lyme to create a walkable mixed-use town center for residents at all phases of life, but especially providing a place for older residents to downsize.

“Ninety percent of the homes in Old Lyme are single family, there is no place for people to downsize. There is a pent up demand in Old Lyme itself. There are a lot of old people in Old Lyme who want a place to go, but also folks who want to come back to Old Lyme but they can’t afford to come back – there are almost no rentals. With that need, which is so acute here, it provides incentive for a developer to be involved in town,” she said. 

Michael Fogliano, chair of the Affordable Housing Commission, who sat in the audience, echoed Twining. “The vast majority of the housing in Old Lyme are three bedrooms plus and the vast majority of households are two people.” 

Resident Diana Prince, who had asked Twining how the committee was referencing similar projects done by other municipalities and using best practices, said that she hoped “we’re not just looking at developers, we’re looking at the community.” 

Michael Barnes, an alternate on the Zoning Commission, asked whether any of the members of the Halls Road Improvements Committee had construction management experience, pointing out that they were simultaneously applying for a zoning change and grants, overseeing the design of a potential bow bridge, among other responsibilities.

Denise Savageau, a new alternate on the Zoning Commission, said it was important that boards and commissions coordinate with one another in a small town like Old Lyme.

“Instead of asking the Halls Road committee, ‘how are you handling this?’ If you’re on another commission – and everyone in this room is on a commission – what’s your role in moving this forward? I’m on Zoning, what’s my piece?” she said.

Barnes said that he voted against the first version of the Halls Road Overlay District because he didn’t think it was the best version of the project. 

Savageau said that Barnes was asking a lot of questions but not offering suggestions about how to accomplish the tasks. 

Barnes later reiterated that he was not opposed to the proposal and that his questions were intended to improve it.

“I don’t want you guys leaving here thinking that I’m against your project because I actually support this project and I support all your hard work. I know how much hard work goes into this project, more than you understand. And me asking questions isn’t casting doubt, it’s just trying to make this project the best version of itself,” he said.

Savageau said that in other towns a proposal like this would come from the  Zoning Commission itself and suggested that the Halls Road committee hold a joint workshop with the Zoning Commission.

Barnes explained that the Zoning Commission had previously wanted to form a subcommittee to examine the Halls Road proposal, but had been advised that any member of the subcommittee would not be able to vote on the proposal.

Howard Margules, a member of the Halls Road Improvements Committee, said that change was inevitable no matter how much people wanted the town to remain as it is, and that having a master plan was essential to shape the future of the town. 

“We’ve had interest on Halls Road from various businesses looking at, as Edie said, service to the highway with gas stations. And you’re seeing that it’s being repeated in the shoreline gateway area – we have this whole issue now of additional storage. And so all of those things are happening, because there’s no master plans in place,” he said. 

Margules said he was concerned about the viability of the area’s commercial business, having recently counted five empty retail spaces along Halls Road. He said that the Halls Road plan – with its connection to the arts district and the bow bridge – will attract people and businesses.

“It will attract the kind businesses that people want,” he said. “So you really have two choices: You do nothing and will wind up looking like the four corners of East Lyme or you have a master plan and look more like Niantic, which is viable.” 

Barnes said that there were properties along Davis Road that were excluded from the overlay because they didn’t have frontage on Halls Road and therefore could not take advantage of building residential units that the overlay would allow other properties to do. 

Mark Terwilliger, the domestic partner of Twining, answered that the properties on Davis Road would need to join with the adjacent parcels that fronted Halls Road to take advantage of the overlay district – and then could build mixed use and parking behind. 

“Nothing is beyond the reach of using the overlay district, “Terwilliger said. 

After the meeting Twining told CT Examiner that the committee planned to meet with a number of local groups to reintroduce the project. 

“We’re really only just trying to get people to know that this is not dead and that we’re continuing to work on it,” she said. “It’s a community update, and we’re going around to more than just this group… there are a bunch of different groups. We’ve done this multiple times – we’re still there, we’re still working on it.”