Odd couple: Main Street, state project

Blending beautiful, beloved Main Street with a state Department of Transportation project aimed to improve traffic flow by adding turning lanes and realigning an intersection won’t be easy.

And while a committee works with the state planners to find a solution, others who care about Main Street are worried, and complaining they’re not being given enough opportunity to participate in the process.

“People are jumping to conclusions,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said Monday.

The committee working with state officials was due to go to the DOT offices in Newington late Wednesday afternoon to review another revision of the fourth approach to the project.

There’s already opposition.  

“New is not always better,” said Helen Dimos, who is monitoring the project for the Ridgefield Garden Club, in a letter to Marconi this week. “Elements in this plan will alter the charm of the street and harm the business owners. A beloved streetscape should not be redesigned by traffic engineers.”

Main Street landlord Wayne Addessi told Marconi that the most recent design options create a loss of parking.

“In my opinion, there can be a better way and all I ask is you consider more options and discussions,” he wrote. “There has been not enough effort to include important taxpayers and landlords and business owners to review and add input to the plan.”

Dimos, a former member of the town’s architectural advisory committee, is active on land development issues. She also addressed the parking issue, and complained of exclusion.

“You have not informed me and numerous others who have participated in previous meetings regarding this project. And it seems all but one Main Street business owner have been excluded as well,” Dimos wrote.

“Furthermore, changes to the plan apparently call for eliminating numerous parking spots on Main Street, which most, if not all, the retail owners are opposed to.”

Marconi said critics are premature in judging a plan that’s still being developed.

“This is all preliminary. There are still public hearings. There’s still a lot for review,” Marconi said.

“This is just for the state to begin putting something down on paper to bring something to public hearings for people.”

Support areas

There are some aspects of the plan that even critics support, such as moving the CVS shopping center driveway so it’s directly across from Prospect Street, and synchronizing the three village traffic lights.

The seven-member committee working with the state is a mix of business people, town officials, and interested volunteers: Bill Craig of Craig’s Fine Jewelry, Ursula Hanavan of Designs by Ursula, local architect Sean O’Kane, Tree Warden John Pinchbeck, Dan O’Brien of the Historic District Commission, and Rebecca Mucchetti of the Planning and Zoning Commission. The committee’s chairman is Charles Robbins.

The committee is drawn from a larger group of 30 or 40 people who turned out for the first meeting or two on the state project. Robbins said no one is being deliberately excluded from the process.

“Certainly our intention was never to prohibit involvement, and we welcome the input from others,” he said in an email to The Press. “As a committee, however, we seek continuity and continuous involvement of the members to ensure progress, which is why it remains a small working team.”

Cooperation

Committee member Rebecca Mucchetti, chairwoman of the Planning and Zoning Commission, believes the process is working well.

“It’s been good. The state has really been cooperating with the town,” she said.

The committee members have considered a succession of options presented by the state engineering team, and are beginning to find some agreement.

“I believe we’ve coalesced around option 4,” Mucchetti said.

“We thought it was most considerate of the streetscape and treescape and character of Main Street that everybody fiercely wants to protect.

“And they’re listening,” she said of the state engineers.

“The difference between 1, 2, 3 and 4  was the width of the sidewalks, the turning lanes, and the allocation of streetside parking,” Mucchetti said. “And, most importantly, trees.”

How many trees are being saved in the most recent plan?

“Most of them,” Mucchetti said. “John Pinchbeck is part of the group and he’s been very engaged. The DOT has a landscape architect that is part of the planning, and she and John Pinchbeck have met on regular intervals.

“They have a staggered set of recommendations,” Mucchetti said. “Some trees are going to have to come down because they’re not healthy and they believe they’re a risk. And some are going to have to come down because of the modification — but those are minimal. And some trees don’t have to come down.”

The total number of trees should remain the same.

“Everything they’re talking about is ‘remove and replace.’ If they’re removing a tree they’re going to replace it with another tree, once the improvements have been made,” Mucchetti said.

As far as the changes to the roadway, Mucchetti said the plans included “turning lanes added at Bailey and Catoonah — one in each direction.

“And the same thing at Prospect, where they’re realigning the entrance into CVS. There’ll be both north and south ‘left turn’ lanes. They’re going to change the configuration of the intersection so that it lines up, instead of being offset the way it is now.”

There would be “no new lanes at Governor,” she said.

“All of the plans remove that ‘loading zone’ in the middle of the road in front of the Addessi building,” she said. “The state was concerned about how risky it was to have a loading zone at that location ... The trucks park there, and you have parking on side, and through traffic flowing on the other side.”

Mucchetti said the suggestion to eliminate the loading zone came out of Route 35 traffic study done in 2003.

“They said that was the single most dangerous aspect of Route 35,” she said.