OLD LYME — At its meeting Thursday, the Halls Road Improvement Commission discussed obstacles to planning a new bridge and nature trails, including a surprise state request for a fishing pier, and shared plans with the public ahead of two open houses.
Committee Chairwoman Edie Twining said she met with “about 15 people” from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection about two weeks ago at the bridge abutment on the Lieutenant River to discuss the project.
DEEP owns a 0.67-acre parcel of land between Route 1 and the Hangry Goose that could be donated to the city, but with the expectation that the city would build a fishing pier along that portion of the Lieutenant River, she said.
Twining also said the committee will hold town hall meetings on Sept. 30 and Oct. 5 to present options for the bridge and walkways and gather public input on the project.
In addition to Twining, committee members attending the meeting were: David Kelsey, Deb Czarnecki, Gene Ongmak and, by phone, Mike Reiter.
Below are excerpts from Thursday’s meeting, lightly edited for clarity.
Twinning: Guys from the fish and game world, especially fisheries guys, were saying… “You really need to give us a fishing pier”… Their main issues were fishing and parking… It’s kind of an ‘add-on’ to what the AI agreed Design for us. That was never part of their program.
Kelsey: I think the community might have something to say about that…it’s weird that they want a fishing pier because they usually don’t want any fishing.
Twinning: Well, the fisheries want as much as possible now that this is considered an amusement park…what they wanted us to do – as much as possible – was to ask us to include this fishing pier because they thought it was a good addition to the project. So, it’s like we’re going to give you that land…
Kelsey: Little, but the fishing pier prompts the need for parking. It’s not something we’ve talked about for 10 years at this point. These guys suddenly appear. So it’s a little dance. I understand that, but the city still has to do what the city wants to do… not just give in to what someone wants;
Twinning: We said that if it was practical, we would do it. If we cannot fulfill all your requests, we will do our best. This is so we can get that property…
Kelsey: But is there state approval required? … I would, at this point, given the amount of time we’ve put into this, and the very important question, I would say we’ve taken it into consideration. We need to consult with the community, because we should, right? This is a very big thing.
Twinning: I think there’s a lot of local interest in people being able to fish and crab there, which I don’t feel is a bad thing but we need to explore that.
Parking for the bridge
Twinning: This is the road to the Hangry Goose (pointing to a document), and this is DEEP property that will be ours soon and we can put four parking spaces there, and I think no matter what, there will be people who want to park and go to the bridge. So we have to pay attention to that.
Twinning So that was one idea. Another idea is to talk to Londregan who owns this property near Andy’s (17 Halls Rd.)…that would be for a few parking spaces. We’re not allocating 20 parking spaces, maybe four on one side, and three or four on the other.
Twinning: With or without a fishing pier, I think we should try to provide more parking, because it’s not fair to ask private property owners to house all the people who might want to drive to the bridge (the arch)… I always expected this not to drive. And park your car and walk over the bridge – even get down and go for a walk and we’ll go over the bridge… We can at least get a few parking spaces that are on the property just for the bridge. I think this is very important to do.
Kelsey: This is easy for us if we get this property or even Londrigan’s property… He can make a contribution to the city where he gets a tax deduction… I can call Tim Londrigan… That could be good for the city and Londrigan.
Twinning: I think the parking problem is going to hurt us if we don’t get some kind of idea going that way.
Kelsey: So, if there’s no fishing on the bridge, I don’t know how people will feel about it.
Twinning: I think fishing on the bridge is a bad idea.
Kelsey: So, if that’s the case, providing an alternative is important, but we haven’t made it very clear… And now the state comes along and says, “Well, you’ve got to have a fishing pier.” swap. Okay, wait a minute. This is a very big thing that no one has discussed with the community. …We have to take the pulse of the community.
Kelsey: What’s interesting is that they made us bend over backwards because they didn’t want us to put in piers for the bridge – bridge piers – which would be great because we could have the old bridge.
Kelsey: The engineers told us that you can’t have any kind of bow without a pier. You can’t have any kind of indistinguishable bow – because we looked at the three designs, and we had a flat one, a flat one, and then we have a bow that’s absurdly indistinguishable. So it’s just a contradiction…
Kelsey: I would ask them this question: If you guys tell us we’re allowed to make a fishing pier, can we not do something that allows us to have a bigger bow?
Twinning: With your larger bow, according to the ADA, you can’t do that…because ADA, they are “one and 12”. You can’t go up like this.
Kelsey: But we’ve always been told it’s too broad an area… My point is that it seems bureaucratically disproportionate.
Subjects and lighting
Czarnecki: What about these topics? (points to documents)
Twinning: This could be something where people say, I like the art theme but I want the nature theme too, or something else, so people can ask what they like or don’t like.
Czarnecki: Do you think the artistic community will like this? Because it’s very similar to Disneyland. I think this should be as natural as possible. I’m really worried…
Twinning: Yeah, I think these things I think are exaggerated… (confused)… and I don’t think they have enough detail.
Czarnecki: Regarding lighting, isn’t it forbidden to have lights…
Twinning: It will all be dimly lit, solar powered.
Czarnecki: But still, isn’t there the whole portal, the dark sky, and that whole movement?
Twinning: Dark skies mean you don’t have normal street lights… the downlight just goes out, it’s at pedestrian level…
Czarnecki: But I still have a problem with that too because this is going to turn into a garden.
Twinning: It’s supposed to be a garden, yes, and the lights can be set to go off at 10am or whatever you want.
Czarnecki: In terms of cost, will people coming to participate in the open house be informed that there will probably be a cost to taxpayers?
Twinning: I think especially with the CT Trails members — they have close to $10 million or something like that — I think we’ll get most of that through grants.
Kelsey: But we had to tell people the cost, which was like $1.5 or $1.6 million.
hatred: We have to tell them that the intention all along was to get external funding to support this.
Kelsey: And that’s how projects have been done historically… Hopefully we’ll get some money, but if we don’t, the city will pay $1.6 million. That’s the way it’s worded, which I think is appropriate, though.
hatred: I think if we couldn’t get the money to build, we wouldn’t be able to get out of first base with it. Yes, I can see that the city might take up a small amount of it, just like they did in the design phase, but the contribution should be minimal.
Twinning: I think I asked them to add to that list of costs – what kind of maintenance is expected for this type of bridge and this type of bridge? …Because that is also the key to this whole (project). The longevity of this type of bridge should be in this. Because I think you can show a lot of beautiful images and get people excited, but there will definitely be people who want to know what it costs, what does interest in it look like?
Informing the public?
hatred: In terms of going out into the community and posting around those two (open house) dates when we’re going to discuss this, will there be a release of at least some basic information?
Twinning: I think what we’ll do is have a little brochure that we can put on the website that will include everything we’re showing at the open day and then we can also have something (where) that we ask people to have their say on. We’ve done this at other open houses. We just had some boards that had a list of things that had pictures on them and you could just say, “I want 6-A or 7-B. It’s either or because there’s only two options.”
Czarnecki: When will the final plan be available online?
Twinning: I think it’s the same day we do the open house.
Kelsey: At an open house, you want to have a little time for people to think about it…say, a few days.
Twinning: It would be good if you brought it up and said, the open house produced these results for people’s votes and comments and I let people add to that…
Kelsey: But I think you have to give something to people for them to come…
Twinning: I was going to make a call for it.
Kelsey: No, I mean plan – “This is roughly what we’re thinking and we’ll ask you for your opinion on XYZ and PDQ.” “So, here’s the overall plan for the bridge… The committee looked at three options, and we’ve narrowed it down to two. We’d like your input… And if we want to do that, I think we need to consider using artificial intelligence… creating a pier Hunt 50 feet by eight feet, or something like that… so everyone can be kind and aware of what we’re asking the community to (look at).
hatred: I don’t think you need to give them all the information, I think maybe just the basic things. Partly you want to whet their appetite and engage them as well. The first few people will probably raise their concerns… but you don’t want to give them all the information because at the end of the day, it’s an information gathering session that we’re having, not just for the audience, but for us.
Kelsey: I think these are three powerful things (open house invitation, bridge option offerings, and site plan) that will interest the community to learn more.
Editor’s note: The CT Examiner filed a Freedom of Information request on September 15 to First Selectman Tim Griswold and the Halls Road Improvements Committee to obtain the documents discussed at the public meeting above.