March 25, 2019

Update on Halls Rd. Improvement Project

We felt an update on the Halls Road Improvements project would be timely since several related things have occurred since our last post on the subject.

Firstly, we have received quite a number of thoughtful and constructive comments from readers on the topic, some of which we have already published and others that were sent to directly to us and anonymity requested. We are now publishing  them all in their entirety below.

We still welcome further comments and will continue to respect people’s anonymity if requested.

Halls Road today. Photo from Yale Urban design Workshop presentation given on Dec. 6, 2018..

Secondly, the Halls Road Improvements Committee has now published the Dec. 6 Yale Urban Design Workshop presentation on the Town of Old Lyme website at this link.  There is also an opportunity to comment on the proposed plans at this link.

Thirdly, the folk at SECoast.org have published their report of the Dec. 6 meeting at this link.  They are also soliciting comments on the proposal on their Facebook page at this link.

Finally, there is an Old Lyme Board of Selectmen’s meeting this afternoon at 4 p.m. in the town hall meeting room, which includes an update on the project on its agenda.

Comments on the proposal received to date from readers are as follows:

Author; John Stratton:

For more than a century there’s been no comprehensive plan for the use and appearance of lower Boston Post Road (now known as Halls Road). The 1911 auto bridge and the 1948 realignment of the Boston Post Road essentially created the present patchwork. It’s time for a set of guidelines which are proactive from the standpoint of creating a single, attractive, town destination, preferably one that blends economic, residential, and community spaces. Yes, problems may arise, and careful rezoning will have to anticipate them. In 1990-1993 the initial proposals for the new I-95 bridge and interchange were seen to consume a lot of our shopping center. People reacted with concern and the invasive roadway plans were altered— but no new plan emerged to redefine the Halls Road streetscape as a “town center.” This is our chance to build that plan.

Author: Anonymous

I think the Town’s effort is great.  It is for plans such as these that we have Town committees and staff in the first place.  They are doing their job, and thinking long term about what kind of Old Lyme we want to have.  As said by one of the representatives (and I paraphrase), when we let the developers lead, we end up with an ugly mishmash of structures … just like we have on Halls Road now.

What the Town is proposing is reasonable.  Over the next 30 years, there will be development one way or the other.  The town is just saying, hey let’s all have a say in defining what we want to wind up with at the end of the day.  The Town is not saying let’s spend a whole lot of tax money up front, or even in the long term.  They are just saying let’s all agree on what we want, and let private developers fill in the blanks as they see future economic opportunities.  The Town might provide a few dollars, but it sounds like it is more intent on offering zoning benefits, and seeking to access State grant money.

At the end of the day, this is a 30 year plan.  We have 30 years to monitor it, and to make revisions if necessary.  Give it a try.  Otherwise Halls Road will remain a blight.

Author: Thomas D. Gotowka

Christina and I attended both public meetings hosted by Old Lyme’s Halls Road Improvements Committee, and conducted by members of the Yale Urban Design Workshop. Yale presented the Committee’s vision statement and several conceptual renderings of what fully realizing that vision might yield. The article in the New London Day accurately summarized the vision.

The audience was skeptical of the immense breadth and scope of that vision; – requiring twenty- five or more years to complete.  Several concerns were raised about cost and the impact on taxes.

We left with a few thoughts and concerns. It was not apparent to us that current Halls Road business owners and the professionals occupying office space had participated to any extent in developing that vision. It is absolutely important to get their buy-in. Essex Bank did state that any of their future development would take Old Lyme’s plan into consideration.

We found Alan Plattus’ presentation to be a bit glib. This is important stuff, and some of the vision could be lost in presenter style. Also, know the names of our local landmarks, especially if they factor into the plan. (i.e. it’s the “Bow Bridge” that used to cross the Lieutenant River). But, after all; they’re Yale, not Harvard.

Our suggestion: parse the plan into achievable shorter- range projects that will yield some early successes. Start with the hiking/biking paths along the Lieutenant River, rebuild the foot bridge, and create the new Halls Road village green.

Author: J. David Kelsey

I strongly believe a municipality’s best service for economic development is to create a flexible crucible allowing for creative use of people’s property and to support it with reasonable infrastructure. A good starting point is indeed a big picture vision of what could be – the work of the Yale is a helpful guide to figure out what zoning flexibility might be added and to identify infrastructure improvements (sidewalks, rational street signs, crosswalks) that might be undertaken.

What is not clear is the level of involvement of the town in changing the nature of existing buildings – are we talking about the town purchasing certain parcels and eminent domain strategies so that the town (instead of existing private owners) determines what might happen? I would advocate for a clear statement soon of how the town proposes to be involved, and I would hope it would be a light touch of reducing setbacks, requiring rear parking, introducing mixed-use zoning and working with DOT early to see what actual changes could be made for street parking (it is a unique stretch of US-1 with unusually high volume during frequent detours), sidewalks and hardscape improvements. Private owners could then determine what makes sense economically for changes to existing buildings and for new construction.

If the goal is for the town to control actively in some manner the types of use and nature of construction, that is a very large role to undertake, since this part of town is economically vibrant already with buildings that are close to full already with businesses, despite being less aesthetically desirable in the case of some buildings. I hope we get a clear picture that is public of the long-term town plan, rough ideas of costs to the town and a timetable once the community feedback for Yale’s draft plan is complete. A great start at very low cost and quickly achieved would be consolidating or eliminating street and traffic signs and at least having them stand up straight.

For more than a century there’s been no comprehensive plan for the use and appearance of lower Boston Post Road (now known as Halls Road). The 1911 auto bridge and the 1948 realignment of the Boston Post Road essentially created the present patchwork. It’s time for a set of guidelines which are proactive from the standpoint of creating a single, attractive, town destination, preferably one that blends economic, residential, and community spaces. Yes, problems may arise, and careful rezoning will have to anticipate them. In 1990-1993 the initial proposals for the new I-95 bridge and interchange were seen to consume a lot of our shopping center. People reacted with concern and the invasive roadway plans were altered— but no new plan emerged to redefine the Halls Road streetscape as a “town center.” This is our chance to build that plan.

Author: Ron Breault

I attended the Dec 6 meeting. My comments

1) When asked about the planning assumption regarding possible DOT changes to I-95, the Yale Urban Design response was that, despite recognition that traffic delays and congestion already exist, there would be no area changes in I-95 in the next 20 years.

Since this is already a significant thru traffic problem which can only get worse, changes envisioned by the ‘plan’ for Halls Rd that include on Halls Rd parallel and/or diagonal parking, increased commercial density and pedestrian use, increased recreational use and pedestrian crossing and stop signs will aggravate, perhaps dangerously, the Halls Rd environment.

2) There appeared to be no consideration given for a more limited, ‘modest’, less expensive improvement of Halls Rd, ie’, sidewalks, bike paths, a return of the pedestrian crossing bridge over the Lieutenant River, elimination of ‘leaning’ power line poles with unattractive heavy looping wires and electrical equipment. Maybe some street lighting, and buried wires?

3) One of the meeting attendees commented that she had lived in Nantucket for 25 years and, because of development, ‘Nantucket is no longer Nantucket’. Paraphrased, her concern was the extensive multi story commercial/residential development plan presented for Halls Rd would mean Old Lyme would no longer be Old Lyme. I think this was a shared feeling by many at the meeting.

Author: Ted Mundy

Unfortunately I did not attend the meeting. Nonetheless, the previous comments and SE Coast write-ups provide a good base of information.

Rule One for architects is to live in what they intend to design. Of course, this is impossible until built. However, they should visit at least twice during the calendar year. The first is a summer Friday night when I-95 gets jammed. The overflow of traffic makes 156 and Rt-1 very congested. If there is an accident southbound, Rt-1 after Exit 75 is backed up from Laysville south to the Hall’s Road traffic lights. Some traffic goes down Lyme Street, which is the heart of what makes Old Lyme great. Imagine shopping on Hall’s Road during these incidents. We avoid it.

The second time to visit is in early December. The town is relatively quiet especially the shore communities. One wonders how some of the Hall’s Road merchants make it at all. With the exception of the Big Y, foot traffic is slow in my judgment.

This gets to the final point. Do we want to change the character of Old Lyme? If the Mundys shop for goods other than necessities, we go on-line or visit Old Saybrook. Let’s leave Old Lyme the way it is and save government funds for infrastructure repair and reduce our tax burden.

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