Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Feedback from Public on Preliminary Recommendations

The Town held two meetings to solicit feedback on the Main Street Master Planning Study. The first meeting included members of Town Boards and Commissions, as well as key stakeholders on Main Street. The second was open to the general public. At each, Chris Ferrero of Ferrero Hixon Associates presented a Power Point Presentation outlining the scope of the study, overall goals and an analysis of opportunities and constraints, as well as recommendations in the following areas: Regional, Land Use/Zoning, Recreation/Environmental, Market Assessment, Transportation, Sense of Place, Streetscape, Key Reinvestment Parcels and Sustainability.

We received the following feedback at the stakeholder meeting:

A member of the Windsor Locks Preservation Association asked about the establishment of Design Guidelines. He wanted to make sure there were some controls in place before any new buildings ever g0t constructed next to Memorial Hall (Ahlstrom Parking lot).

When is the commuter rail line expected to be in place? DOT is conducting environmental reviews now and expectation is that the rail line will be operation sometime around 2011.

One resident was concerned with the recommendation about narrowing roadway pavement. Mr. Ferrero weighed in that ultimately DOT has the say over roadway narrowing, that it would not impact the Level Of Service and that the Average Daily Traffic is really not significant.

A resident pointed out that there was an issue with the gates and that is why the train station was relocated. Mr. Ferrero mentioned the precedence of other stations in the state that are closer to the gates and that ultimately moving the station back closer to the historical stop would have to be vetted by Amtrak and DOT.

An attorney for Dexter Plaza had questions related to the impact on parking of a proposed shared parking scenario with Bickford, the Post Office and the Congregational Church as tenants like Ocean State need to be satisfied.

We received the following feedback at the public forum:

A question was raised as to what benefits do Windsor Locks residents get from improvements to the Suffield 190 bridge work and the 135 condos in the Montgomery complex? Mr. Ferrero spoke of the Canal trail being a draw to the downtown and that condos in the Montgomery complex would add up to 200 people to downtown who would utilize local businesses.

Are business/property owners on board? Mr. Ferrero outlined the meetings with Ahlstrom, Dexter Plaza and Montgomery developer. He shared the sentiments of Ahlstrom management that they would like to reconnect to the community.

How will improvements like the Dexter Plaza parking lot and other improvements be paid for? Mr. Ferrero commented that often public investment such as streetscaping can be a catalyst that spurs on private investment. He stated that the scope of the study was to make recommendations and that the implementation will require additional consideration.

A resident questioned how loud the “whistle and bells” would be from new trains.

A representative from the Friends of the Canal had a series of questions/concerns including why the need for a second track for the commuter rail. He cited Baltimore which operates on one track. He suggested to open the canal to boats once again. He pointed out that a cemetery exists (21 graves) in the vicinity of the rail that could be used to argue against a second track. He suggested a walking trail on the west side of the canal to the railroad bridge. He also suggested that a goal should be to have a continuous trail from Agawam, through Suffield and Windsor Locks and meeting up with trails in Windsor and ultimately Hartford.

A resident questioned the islands proposed on Main Street at the Bridge Street intersection. He said the intersection was improved to move traffic effectively and he did not want to see the flow of traffic impeded. Mr. Ferrero commented that any proposals would have to be approved by the State DOT and would have to meet their various roadway standards. Traffic calming is a goal of the study.

A member of the group trying to preserve the historic train station commented that the plan is supposed to be “visionary” and that though people may not agree with every recommendation it is important to take some baby steps in order to build momentum. She believes more greenery, beyond the flower pots, is needed in order to create a different perception.

Is there any remediation needed at the Montgomery Complex? Mr. Ferrero stated that the site is a brownfield and that the developer is dealing with remediation issues. It is common in these historic mill sites.

It was pointed out by one resident that congestion on Main Street is only part of the day and most of the time traffic is not a problem. Truck traffic can be an issue.

A member of Step Up Main Street suggested something like the Hudson River Institute (research institute) for the Montgomery building or an entertainment venue. Mr. Ferrero offered a recommendation to add a roof top restaurant to the Montgomery redevelopment.

One resident felt that residential for the Montgomery building would be a safety issue. He also would like to see public access to the CT River and commented that there is no boat ramp in town.

Another resident thought residential for Montgomery would be great and that sprinklers should be sufficient for any fire safety concerns.

Another suggestion was to establish a canal museum. Still another was to open up the south side of the Ahlstrom property in the vicinity of the locks and the historic looking Windsor Canal Company red building to the public. Keeping the vegetation maintained so the canal could be seen better is a great idea. Someone questioned who would maintain the vegetation since it is not under town control. Mr. Ferrero stated that we need to see exactly where the jurisdiction lines are for Ahlstrom, Amtrak and DOT and that maintenance by the Town may be the most effective.

Copies of the Consultants' Draft Report are available for viewing at the Windsor Locks Library and Town Hall.


Anonymous said...

Nowhere did I read about demographic trends for the population living near or in the downtown area together with assumptions of all sections of the town.

It would appear that the overall goal is to improve the appeal of the area to encourage more use and create beauty. It must be pedestrian friendly and encourage daily use by all folks. There are many seniors and an added group of lower socioecomic residents in the area described. A generic question might be:"what would you need to cause you to spend time in this revised area." We have prime examples of what not to do by reviewing the last redevelopment in Windsor and the ill-fated Suffield flop.

I have not read the plans, but I would think an analyis detailing the ultimate goal and how the action stips are going to lead to this. One might also anticipate the unintended consequences of such a project. This might be helpful as well as timelines and both process and progess evaluative guide posts.

Good luck! It is encouraging to see leadership in making WL more of a community of which al can be justly proud

Anonymous said...

As somebody who has a long and deep love for downtown WL, and who works closely with the DOT on public/private development projects, I am viewing this program with two minds. First, the vision of a transit oriented redevelopment of Main Street, from the Valero Station southward, is as exciting as it is ambitious. However, from a practical perspective, the town citizens have to be aware of the very real limitations and make decisions based on fact early in the process. Otherwise, more and more resources (time, money, emotional investment) may be wasted, and the inevitable disapointment will be that much greater.

Some of these limitations and constraints were mentioned at the public informational meeting by the consultant himself and by members of the audience who asked questions. It is very easy to gloss over the answers because we all want so much to believe in the vision.

First, when asked about the possibility of establishing a grade level second crossing of the AMTRAK line, the consultant estimated it would take "five years and at least a million dollars" to make this a reality. Be assured that the DOT does not want to wait five years to finalize plans for the commuter train program - the published goal is to actually have them operational in three. AMTRAK has little genuine interest in revitalizing downtown WL - they might not be opposed and of course it would be in their long term interest, but in reality it is an organization with much bigger problems and almost without the ability to focus on micromarkets. Why is this first impediment so imporant? Because without that crossing development of the Montgmery Building is impossible - and density (the right kind of density, to be honest) is the key to revitilzation. There are already a fairly high number of apartments - subsidized - at the foot of Chestnut Street. Those residents will not support the Starbucks that everybody seems to want at the new train station. Both the DOT (specifically the State Traffic Commission, which would have to grant a major traffic generator certificate) and the local PZC would be derilect if they approved a high density development with the exisiting access/egress conditions. Again, a great vision but the practicalities may make it unrealistic.

Second, the DOT itself is in the business of moving people - safely and quickly. In my business we speak of "pedestrian friendly TOD" with "on-street parking" and other buzz words. In reality, although the culture of the DOT is changing at a glacial pace, they are not particularly interested in situating a train station two miles and two busy signalized intersections away from the highway. In fact, there are current regualtions about the distance a train can stop from a grade-level signalized intersection that would have to be waived. They think in terms of connectivity, and have already given the town preliminary sketches of a commuter parking facility and flyover (a pedestrian bridge over main street connecting the parking facility/station and the train platform(s.)) Their opinion is that more people from East Windsor, Broad Brook, East Granby, Granby, Poquonock (not to mention Bradley) and other outlying areas are likely to utilize the trains if their access in and out of the station is quick and easy - i.e immediately proximate to the on/off ramp of I-91 and the Bradley Connector. Unfortunately for those of us who envision many of the proposals presented, this runs counter to the concept of using TOD as the catalyst for the re-establishment of the Northern part of Main Street as a vibrant, economically viable commercial/residential area.

The third practical limitation is the limited room for parking facilities in the area of the historic train station. Given the topography of the west side of Main Street, any large scale parking facility would have to be located on the east side. This only seems realistic if Windsor Locks Commons is razed entirely. Believe me, well-intentioned and highly professional planners can draw lots of pretty pictures that give form to the vision, but in the end you need the room for a parking garage, or the whole idea sinks. The DOT doesn't want 30 riders' cars at a train station - they want 300. Now 300 daily commuters would certainly help the economy of Main Street, and the hideous storefronts on the west side of the street would likely be torn down and re-done as a result, but without the parking it is not going to happen. Again - maybe eminent domain/purchase of WL Commons is in the long range plan, but then we're back to the ntion of commuter hour traffic navigating in ano out of a garage on a curve in a densely settled area. They did it in Northanpton Mass quite successfully, so it can be done. But they didn't have the DOT as the great and powerful Oz having the final say over the whole deal.

Many of the consultan't suggestions regarding the "middle" area of Main Street, specifically from the area of the new Walgreens on the corner of Elm Street through the bottom of SPring Street, could and should be pursued vigorously, as they don't involve butting heads with the DOT and quite frankly are for the most part much simpler. Still, the centerpiece is Dexter Plaza, and town officlas will say privately that the owners are resisitant to anything that costs them a dime, regardless of the public interest. This is one of those unfortunate practical relalities that doesn't get talked about at public meetings, but becomes a very real impediment to change. However, the consultants aesthetic, parking and pedestrian suggestions for this area - the Post office, Bickfords and the Plaza, connecting in a coordinated and linear system past the library all the way to CVS are great and realistic. Is it incremental? Yes it is, but wouldn't it be better to accept a smaller - but still significant improvement that fighting for five years about a grand plan that may never get done? At least this would go a long way toward improving the mess that Main Street has become.
Before too much is invested, these practical realities should be hammered out - because otherwise it is just talk and ideas getting tossed around. It may be that revitilization is more realistic from south to north. It isn't what everyone wants to hear, but those of us who love Windsor Locks and don't want to see money wasted without real accomplishments might support the concept and work together to make it happen.