Old Lyme – In this historic coastal town, job growth, tourism and affordable housing are inextricably linked facets of life that must be addressed by working together rather than in silos, officials say.
A forum organized by the Economic Development Commission was held for five hours on Saturday morning, bringing together members of councils and commissions involved in shaping the city’s future. Ranging from selectors to zoning board members to open space commissioners, attendees came together to talk about growth.
Commission member Howard Margules said officials needed to determine what kind of development would be tolerated.
“We know a lot of people don’t like to see a lot of change in Old Lyme,” he said. “That’s why they live here.”
Courtney Hendricson, vice president of partnerships for public-private economic development agency AdvanceCT, said a survey of 730 residents the group conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic showed city residents want a development focused on leisure, entertainment, cycling and pedestrian infrastructure. , and the natural assets of the city.
“Any such development, of course, should be of a type and scale consistent with the uniqueness and cultural heritage of Old Lyme,” she said, highlighting key lessons from the results of investigation.
Key to the city’s heritage is its vaunted artistic tradition found in institutions such as the Florence Griswold Museum, the Lyme Art Association and the Lyme Academy of Fine Arts. The history dates back to the impressionist painters who flocked here over a century ago, who are said to have been drawn to a unique light emanating from the confluence of the Connecticut River and the Long Island Sound.
Hendricson told city leaders they need to capitalize on that history to attract the kind of businesses residents say they want.
Margules, pointing to an effort to revitalize the series of malls known as Halls Road, said that could mean linking it to the Lyme Street arts district via a pedestrian bridge.
“If they can have a nice walking path from the museum to Halls Road, it will be good for both of them,” he said.
The Halls Road initiative is led by a committee formed in 2015 to transform the area between two Interstate 95 exits into a livable, walkable downtown.
EDC President Cheryl Poirier said people visiting the Wee Faerie Village at the Florence Griswold Museum or visiting the art galleries often want something to eat afterwards, and they want to walk around.
The town shouldn’t want them in their car either, according to Poirier, who said: “They can walk across the bridge and get a pizza or something, but we want them to stay in Old Lyme. “
Another area of interest mentioned by residents and supported by EDC over the years is the “Gateway to the Coastline” along Route 156 and up to Sound View Beach. A committee similar to the Halls Road group was formed last month by elected officials to create a master plan for transforming the area.
A divided public has made slow progress over the past half-century at least, and Margules said everyone has strong opinions on the matter.
“There are people who would rather do nothing and there are people who would rather it look like Watch Hill,” he said. “We have to accept that as a community and decide what we really want – or something totally in between.”
The sewer problem
The sources of job growth touted by officials revolved around sectors that do not rely on water and sewer infrastructure or large plots of land. Hendricson said that could mean office jobs for one- or two-person businesses like those operated by lawyers, accountants or marketing professionals. The light industrial sector could also be an option if it focuses on assembly rather than production, she said.
Poirier highlighted existing successes in the areas of experience-centric dining, entertainment and retail.
“Think Black Hall Outfitters,” she said of the outdoor business with a location on Shore Road. “You go there to kayak and maybe even buy a kayak. It’s so successful.”
Affordable Housing Committee member Jenn Miller said the success of the economy is closely tied to the availability of housing.
She said attracting business and creating jobs depended on making housing affordable “for people to move here if they’re single, if they’re young entrepreneurs, if they need an office, s ‘they work from home, if they’re senior citizens who just want to stay in the area.
The committee is developing a plan to increase the number of affordable housing units in the city. State law specifies that the plan must be submitted by June 1. Presentations made so far show that members favor small to medium-sized developments consisting of multi-family units, duplex-type units and groups of starter houses, as well as accessory dwelling units and the “adaptive reuse” of existing properties.
“Increasing that availability will allow people to come here and not jump into a five-bedroom colonial on three acres of land that they probably couldn’t afford,” Miller said.
These options differ from the large-scale affordable housing model that has proliferated since the state added Section 8-30g to its statutes in 1989 to promote equitable and diverse housing options. The law requires a city’s land use commissions, if they want to reject a development, to prove in court that public safety and health concerns outweigh the need for affordable housing.
Critics of the law say developers who use it to build more apartments than they could otherwise get approval reap the real benefits, as long as at least 30% of units are reserved as affordable, c ie rented or sold below the market rate. .
Citing the same limitations that make it difficult to bring businesses to town, Miller said overcoming the lack of available land and public services is the committee’s biggest challenge.
First manager Tim Griswold invoked the regional implications of building a sewage system when he discussed a proposed 240-unit affordable housing project for Hatchetts Hill Road, near the East Lyme border. Businessman Mark Diebolt attempted to secure the proposed location for the new sewer line which was to run into East Lyme from the beach, but was unsuccessful.
“I don’t know how we can convince places like New London and Waterford and East Lyme to extend the sewer for this kind of project,” Griswold said.