February 22, 2020

Updates Shared at Community Connections on Lyme Academy, Old Lyme Economic Development

More than 40 community members attended the Community Connections Networking Luncheon held Wednesday at the Old Lyme Country Club. All photos by Suzanne Thompson.

OLD LYME — Members of Lyme-Old Lyme non-profit, philanthropic and volunteer organizations heard first-hand updates Wednesday on two significant efforts that could shape the character and commerce of Old Lyme in coming years.

The Community Connections networking luncheon at the Old Lyme Country Club, attended by roughly 40 people, featured speakers from Lyme Academy of Fine Arts (LAFA) and the Old Lyme Economic Development Commission.

Lyme Academy Looks to the Future

Lyme Academy Executive Director Frank Burns and LAFA Board Member Sue Grey outlined the strategic planning process currently underway at the Academy. The 13-member volunteer Strategic Planning Committee made up of artists, educators and business leaders, has been meeting monthly to explore multiple short- and long-term collaborations with a broad range of arts, cultural and related organizations, businesses and enterprises.

“We’re trying to get back to where we were,” said Burns, who was appointed last summer to create a new business model for the institution, subsequent to the University of New Haven’s (UNH) decision to no longer include the academy as part of its institution. This includes seeking accreditation status again, something the academy had previously achieved when it became a college in 1996. When UNH took over Lyme Academy College in 2014, the College remained accredited under the UNH banner but with the announced withdrawl of UNH in 2018 (classes ended in 2019), that accreditation has been lost.

Burns said that while none of the 12 organizations, which were initially contacted to explore continuing the accreditation, expressed interest in 2018, there has been some new willingness at this time. Burns told LymeLine in a phone call Friday morning that the Strategic Planning Committee is in discussion with a number of institutions, which are reviewing the Academy’s courses and may enter into some form of joint programming arrangement with the Academy. He said if that were to happen, the Academy, “may be able to offer college credit under their [the partnering institution’s] name,” but stressed that discussions were ongoing and nothing was yet agreed.

Lyme Academy Executive Director Frank Burns stands behind Board Member Sue Grey as she addresses the audience. Community Connections Planning Committee member Jean Wilczynski is to the left.

“We are looking at all sorts of short-term and long-term collaborations with the arts world,” said Grey, who has an extensive background in strategic planning for non-profits and businesses, large and small, citing artists collaborations in other shoreline communities. She explained that the goal is to develop plans that respect and support the history, brand, mission and vision of the art academy so the emphasis is on longer-term sustainability and momentum. She noted the board is not immediately expecting to fill the academy’s 42,000 square feet of usable interior space.

Grey said she hopes to present workable recommendations to the board around May 1, although she welcomed any late-breaking ideas or proposals in the coming weeks.

Lyme Academy Board Member Sue Grey (seated in black) listens to Old Lyme EDC Co-Chair Howard Margules’s presentation.

“We’re trying to find partners that would be compatible with the academy and would fit with the town,” Burns said, noting that the academy does not own residential housing, and the board is not interested in getting into the housing market. While this poses challenges for artists-in-residence programs, he said the board recognizes the opportunities for continuing education programs that fit with the region’s aging demographics.

Burns reported that the Academy has been signed an agreement with The France Foundation, an Old Lyme-based continuing education provider for health care professionals, for the Foundation to lease just under 6,000 square feet of space in the Chandler Academic Center, which served as the former College’s administrative center. Burns mentioned in Friday’s phone conversaion that the Foundation is moving into the space this coming weekend.

“We want to be actively involved in the community,” he emphasized, citing the academy’s pumpkin painting venture with Lyme-Old Lyme Schools’ students in October last year and how the Academy became a destination for families on Halloween. He also noted that the Academy was the site of Old Lyme’s annual tree-lighting ceremony in this past December and said more community arts activities, including ones based around Valentine’s Day and Easter themes, are in the works.

Next Steps for Old Lyme’s Economic Development

Musical Masterworks Administrative Director Rick Wyman checks the agenda while Old Lyme EDC Co-Chair Howard Margules speaks from the podium.

Economic development in Old Lyme is much more than pure economics, Howard Margules, co-chair of the Old Lyme Economic Development Commission (EDC), told the group. It embraces the values of the community and the town’s legacy. This includes arts and culture, maintaining a vibrant community that can continue to support these, and both an increased walkability and connectivity of discrete parts of town.

Margules outlined the effort undertaken by the EDC in past months. This includes a survey of residents and businesses and two SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis workshops conducted by the Connecticut Economic Resource Center (CERC) with community stakeholders, including business owners, non-profit organization leaders, clergy and interested residents.

Public participation in the online survey was record-breaking with 680 residents and 110 businesses responding, said Margules. Significantly, CERC staff said this was by far the highest response rate in town surveys since 150 responses would have been a more typical number, based on the postcard mailing and local outreach. He noted that 70 percent of responses were from people over 50-years-old.

An open Question & Answer session after the presentations drew active participation from the audience.

While data is still being analyzed before the full survey results and recommendations from CERC are made public, Margules said the EDC has given Old Lyme First Selectman Timothy Griswold a preliminary review.

Margules then went on to share highlights of the survey results with the Community Connections audience, noting first that most respondents said they wanted more shopping and dining in town, but that there also was a loud and consistent message to retain the character of Old Lyme.

“People overwhelmingly told us they want more development on Halls Road,” he said, pointing out that a majority responded positively while only 19 percent opposed any additional development there. Almost 75 percent of respondents said they wanted more green space in the Halls Road area. Meanwhile, businesses responded that they wanted more and better promotion, more of a town center, and to attract more younger people.

While there currently is no Halls Road plan, he mentioned that the next steps will be to come up with a master plan, which would require appropriate zoning changes. Development would be done primarily by the private property owners.

“The idea of ‘Let’s do nothing’ will not hold up,” Margules said firmly in respect of Halls Road and the town’s retail areas.

Commenting that,“Housing is a very muddled response,” he noted that respondents appear to support more affordable housing options for downsizing seniors and also college students, who wish to return to town but not be living in their parents’ basement.

Once completed, the CERC reports will be shared publicly. A final piece still to be undertaken is an extensive feasibility study. This will include specific recommendations of the kinds of retail and housing, based on survey responses and available areas in Old Lyme, and what has worked in other similar communities in the region and state.

Since the EDC operates without a budget and Old Lyme does not have a professional town planner, Margules said next steps include addressing how the recent surveys, SWOTs and recommendations will be utilized and incorporated into the town’s planning, zoning and economic development strategies.

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Letter to the Editor: BOE Candidate Thompson Offers a ‘Pragmatic … Creative … Fiscally Conservative” Approach

To the Editor:

Please exercise your right to vote in Old Lyme’s municipal elections on Nov. 5.  I am running for Region 18 Board of Education and ask for your vote.

We are fortunate to have strong community support for our highly-rated schools. But I believe we can do a better job of engaging taxpayers and residents in establishing and supporting our district’s priorities. I am pragmatic, yet creative and fiscally conservative; I seek to work across party lines, with all ages and interests for the betterment of our community and our schools.

Jenn Miller and Steve Wilson also deserve your vote. They are highly qualified, experienced and committed candidates with strong backgrounds in finance, business operations, academic boards and communications – please vote for Miller, Thompson and Wilson, Row B, on the Old Lyme ballot.

I welcome the opportunity to help our town continue to support high quality education and do so with fiscal responsibility.

Sincerely,

Suzanne Thompson
Old Lyme.

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Sound View Septic Cost-Sharing Proposals Challenged at Tuesday Night’s Update

The audience at Tuesday’s Septic Public Update listened intently to the proposals presented by the WPCA.

OLD LYME — Sentiments were strong at the Coastal Wastewater Project public update on Tuesday, July 16, as members of the Old Lyme Water Pollution Control Authority (WPCA) presented plans to replace individual septic tanks with sewer systems in the Sound View Beach neighborhood.  The sewage is to be pumped through East Lyme and Waterford to New London’s treatment facility.

Around 100 residents, many from Sound View and neighboring beach communities, listened to a slide presentation by WPCA chairman Richard Prendergast, followed by a question and answer session that ran until 9 p.m.  The presentation, which includes cost estimates and a timeline, can be viewed at this link on the Town of Old Lyme website.

Members of the WPCA, who are volunteers appointed by Old Lyme Board of Selectmen, stayed behind after the meeting to answer additional questions and encouraged residents to contact them via email links given on the Town of Old Lyme website.

Prendergast and WPCA members explained the history of septic system studies along the shoreline, state statutes governing the use of Clean Water Act funds, administrative orders from the state’s Department of Public Health (DPH) and Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP), and the 2016 finding of a Public Health Nuisance by the Town of Old Lyme Department of Health.  This progression of events requires the town to move forward with either plans to address the waste water pollution or continue with state-approved studies to figure out a solution.

The problem is density-based — if sewage is to be treated through a septic system and leach field, DPH recommends about four times the undisturbed, well-draining yard space that is typical in beach communities.  Multiple inadequate lots create a community pollution problem that regulatory agencies require towns to address.

The neighboring chartered private beach associations of Old Lyme Shores, Old Colony, Miami Beach, which — unlike Sound View Beach — have the authority to negotiate with New London on sewage capacity, have been moving forward with self-financing of sewer systems and design plans. 

Old Lyme Water Pollution Control Authority Richard Prendergast addresses the audience during Tuesday evening’s septic update.

Prendergast explained that although the Hawks Nest Beach community has been approved by state agencies for additional study, the long-term expectation is that inadequate waste water treatment systems will be fixed.  Future actions decided for Hawks Nest will not be added to Sound View Beach costs.

While it is proposed that ratepayers using the system will bear the expense of connection and installation, which they can repay over time based on 2 percent financing, the Town of Old Lyme is the responsible entity to bond $9.5 million to fund the Sound View Beach project.  The total cost of the project will be offset in part, by the combination of a Clean Water Fund state grant of 25 percent, a donation by Connecticut Water Company of a portion of pipes and materials, and careful design of the system, reducing the actual cost to $7.4 million according to the WPCA. 

Costs related to the chartered beach associations are not included in the town bond.

The assessment formula is explained in the  WPCA’s June 10, 2019 Minutes, which can be read at this link.  At a minimum, each dwelling in the project zone will pay a $6,000 connection fee.  Long-term project installation costs are covered by the “betterment fee,” which can be paid over 20 years with 2 percent financing.  This fee would be $15,000 for the typical small house, $25,000 for the typical average-sized house of 1,242 sq. ft. and more for larger homes or multi-unit dwellings.  Users also would pay an annual sewer use fee, which was listed at $430 in WPCA’s presentation.

Residents in the project area will not have the option to opt in or out of sewer lines — existing septic tanks will be removed or collapsed and leach fields converted.  Prendergast pointed out that this would free up yard space for parking and other activities since these would damage the functioning leach field required for a septic system.  Property owners also would no longer have the liability or expense of repairing a failed septic system, which can cost $10,000 or more, or having their septic tank pumped out at a minimum of every three to five years.

Many questions were raised during the Q & A session following the presentation.

The majority of comments and questions Tuesday evening revolved around sharing of costs between the project area and the rest of town.  While Prendergast said the WPCA felt that it had developed the most economically viable proposal for the Town of Old Lyme, Frank Pappalardo summarized the sentiments of several in the audience, saying, “This is a town public works project that will benefit the town, why should the three streets on Sound View Beach be expected to pay for it all?”

“We’re not a private beach association, why should we be singled out to pay?,” said Robin Duffield, whose husband’s grandfather built their Sound View Beach home in the early 1950s. “It’s like taxation without representation. If they did the same 20-year loan at 2 percent and divided it among all households in town, it would be very little money per house. Instead, it’s going to cost three streets worth of people $50,000, on average, per household, and the rest of town pays absolutely nothing.”

Duffield, who lives in Killingworth and serves on that town’s public health committee, explained after Tuesday’s meeting that similar septic systems in Rogers Lake and other areas of town would also need to be addressed.

“Rogers Lake could be next, anyone who lives along the estuaries or marshes, they all have similar septic systems. It’s setting a precedent for dividing parts of town and putting the bill on them completely,” she said.  “They are putting the bill on people who they feel can afford it.”

This was the second of two public presentations by the WPCA before the planned town referendum, which was set July 17 by the board of selectmen. Voting will take place on Tuesday, Aug. 13, from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., at Cross Lane Fire Station. 

Information about absentee ballots will be available from the Old Lyme Town Clerk’s office next week either by visiting the office in person or calling 860-434-1605, ext.220.

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Legislators, Superintendents, Residents Express Universal Opposition to Forced School Regionalization

Special to LymeLine.com

Sitting in the front row of the audience at Monday night’s forum on school regionalization were local school superintendents (from right to left) Ian Neviaser (Lyme-Old Lyme), Pat Ciccone (Westbrook) and Jan Perruccio (Old Saybrook.)

Over 100 people turned out for an Education and Regionalization Forum at Old Saybrook Middle School on Thursday, April 11. The event was hosted by Rep. Devin Carney, (R-23rd), with Senators Paul Formica, (R-20th), and Norm Needleman, (D-33rd).

While the two parties differ on Connecticut road tolls, all three local officials said they are against forced regionalization of school district bills proposed by Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, Senators Bob Duff and Cathy Osten, Deputy President Pro Tempore, and by Governor Ned Lamont.

Rep. Carney said there was an enormous public outcry by small towns and school districts, thousands of pieces of testimony received and hundreds of people, including students from Region 18 schools, who testified in March hearings.  While this probably means that the idea of aligning school districts with recently consolidated probate districts is not advancing, the matter of reducing and reallocating education costs is very much still alive, and pieces of proposed legislation could still become law.

“Nothing is truly ever dead until we gavel out at midnight on June 5,” Rep. Carney said, explaining the state legislative process and timelines of the ongoing session in Hartford. 

State Rep. Devin Carney (R-23rd) addresses the audience Monday night while (left) State Sen. Paul Formica (R-20th) awaits his turn to speak. Almost hidden from view, State Sen. Norm Needleman (D-33rd) stands to Rep. Carney’s right.

Of the six bills introduced that address regionalization of schools or services, three have been passed by the Education Committee and further action could be taken on them:

  • Governors Bill 874 establishes an appointed Commission on Shared School Services that is charged with developing shared school services recommendations, requires boards of education (BOEs) to report on currently shared school services and requires regional BOEs to post online monthly current and projected expenditures and to submit information to their town’s legislative body. The commission would issue a report in December 2020, recommendations could be binding on towns and districts. Because of costs of setting up a commission, the bill has been referred to Appropriations Committee;
  • HB 7350 requires regional education service centers (RESCs) to distribute an inventory of goods and services to member BOEs, and the Department of Education (DOE) shall develop a report of best practices by RESCs for regional cooperation. (LEARN, at 44 Hatchetts Hill Road in Old Lyme, is a RESC);
  • SB 1069, proposed by Sen. Needleman, which allows the DOE to study the effects of towns working together as Local Education Agencies, is intended to encourage voluntary regional cooperation and maximize efficiencies and cost savings without being mandated to become regional school districts.

Superintendents Ian Neviaser (Lyme-Old Lyme), Jan Perruccio (Old Saybrook), and Pat Ciccone (Westbrook) addressed how their districts have been sharing services and resources to reduce costs while maintaining the quality of curriculum along with educational, extracurricular and sports activities and programs.  Standard practices include health and dental insurance, energy, financial software, food service and supplies, plus student transportation for specialized programs.

Old Saybrook, Westbrook and Region 4 (Chester, Deep River and Essex plus the three elementary schools for each of those towns, which are not part of Region 4) school districts already share staff, Perruccio said, in an arrangement that has the flexibility to change yearly based on each districts’ demographic needs.

Perruccio said she was alarmed that the forced regionalization bills showed a lack of regard and understanding of how school districts are already sharing resources with a focus on quality of education.

Ciccone cited how the districts are coordinating to provide professional development for their teachers, and how Westbrook’s school facilities, sports programs and fields are utilized by the Town Parks and Recreation Department and local YMCA. The schools and town share legal and financial services support, as well. 

Lyme-Old Lyme Schools Superintendent Ian Neviaser stands at the podium during Monday evening’s forum.

“There is a money issue here, we need to be frank about it,” said Neviaser, pointing out that significant redistribution of wealth from school districts with higher property values and tax base already occurs. 

Fifty-one percent of New London’s school budget is paid by the state, he said., as is over 60 percent of Norwich’s, 33 percent of Montville’s and 14 percent of East Lyme’s school budgets. Meanwhile, Lyme-Old Lyme Schools receive less than one percent of operating expenses from the state.

“There was no mention of improving educational outcomes in these regionalization proposals,” commented Tina Gilbert of Lyme. “It is because of our school district’s focus on that, we are in the top four in the country in education.  There is no discussion of parent involvement in schools; we are not wealthy or privileged people, we chose to live in this school district for our children.  What it takes to build [highly performing schools] is parent involvement, working with parents.”

When asked if they moved to their town because of the quality of the schools, a high number of people in the audience raised their hands.

While the majority of questions and comments addressed specifics of proposed legislation, the overarching issue of state fiscal problems and how to address government spending arose. Lyme and Old Lyme residents were some of the most vocal about the impact of proposed legislation on property values, taxes and the quality of local school districts.

“The majority of the state doesn’t have a problem, town government works in Connecticut, but Hartford is not responsible,” said Curt Deane of Lyme, pointing out a seven-page summary of education service-sharing produced by LEARN in February.  “The initial [regionalization] proposals would have raised my property taxes by 50 percent overnight. Taxes go up, property values go down. People have to understand, this is going to hit our property taxes and hit hard. This isn’t going to go away.” 

“We can’t be a state with only great little towns and not great cities,” Sen. Needleman said, citing imbalances of health care outcomes and school performance between wealthier communities and the state’s large cities. He continued, “While we don’t want to mess up what we have, we can’t turn our backs on the disparities.”

The legislators encouraged voters to speak up, write letters, follow grassroots organizations such as Hands Off Our Schools or form their own group to express concerns to elected officials.

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