More than 200 people crammed into the Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School auditorium Monday evening for the Old Lyme Special Town Meeting called by the board of selectmen to consider three agenda items. Under presiding moderator Attorney Marylin C. Clarke, all three were subsequently passed on voice votes, but not without leaving some residents questioning the result of the first motion.
That motion was to authorize approval for the construction cost of Rte. 156 Bikeway/Sound View Improvements Project in the amount of $877,000. This total comprised $595,000 for construction; $151,000 for a combination of inspection and municipal services, plus a contingency amount; $65,500 for Department of Transport materials testing, administrative costs and audits; and an additional amount of $65,000 as a buffer to allow for higher than expected bids.
First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder explained that a federal grant being administered by the State Department of Transportation will cover 80 percent of the project construction costs of approximately $701,600, leaving a total cost to the town of $175,400.
In a presentation preceding the vote, Rob Pinckney of the BSC Group that served as project designers, noted the project would “employ the ‘complete street’ concept to accommodate all users and enhance safety.” He said it would provide 6 ft. wide sidewalks to the south of the bocce court on Hartford Ave., which are both safe and ADA compliant, adding that it would also allow for improved stormwater drainage and inclusion of “Sharrow BikeWays” for the whole length of Hartford Ave. These latter are lanes on which road markings are used to indicate a shared lane environment for bicycles and automobiles, which indicate, in Pinckney’s words, that “a bicycle has the right to be on the road.”
Pinckney said the proposal also provides for bumpouts, landscaping, banner poles, benches and bike racks.
Reemsnyder stressed that if the project were not approved, the Town would then be responsible for reimbursing $108,000 for charges the Town had already incurred for planning and design work on the project. The Town had received a grant from the state that reimbursed 80 percent of these costs, but it was contingent on the project being passed. She noted that if the project were approved, construction would begin in the fall of 2016.
When the moderator opened the floor to questions, the first was whether the project still included a bike route on Rte. 156. Reemsnyder said that was not the case. The second question was how the implementation of sewers would affect the project. Reemsnyder replied that “new technology” would allow sewers to be installed without damaging the upper surface and that the engineer responsible for their implementation would “have to get the road back to how it was.”
Another questioner asked whether bathrooms were included. Reemsnyder responded, “We thought they were when we started,” but she went on to clarify that it had transpired that the grant did not cover them to the extent originally envisaged. Reemsnyder confirmed the committee was still “trying to find ways to address the issue,” which included discussions with the private beach associations.
A question was raised as to whether the vote would be by paper ballot or hand-count, to which no response was given. There were further questions regarding speed limits on Rte. 156 and Hartford Ave. and then Barbara Crowley asked, “What is the town going to do to encourage growth [in Sound View]? Are there going to be any incentives to promote businesses?” Using the example of a recent report in Mystic where changes to sidewalks have promoted business growth, Reemsnyder stated, “I think this is supporting a better environment down there — both business and environmental.”
Some confusion reigned when the moderator took a voice vote on whether to call the question while a resident was indicating she still wished to ask a question. With the voice vote approved to call the question, Clarke then rapidly moved to a voice vote on the proposal, which she immediately deemed a victory for the “Ayes.”
A significant number of those present left after the first vote, many pleased with the result but some unhappy about how the voting process had been handled.
The other two motions on the agenda — to authorize the acceptance of Queen Anne Court as a Town road and to appropriate an amount not to exceed $60,000 to cover excess costs of the Resident Trooper Department from the already approved municipal police budget — were both passed by voice votes.