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Meriden’s Civic District zoning preserves historic feel

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In an effort to encourage development in the center of Meriden, increase density and create a more pedestrian-friendly, or transit-oriented downtown, new zoning regulations were drafted by the Planning Department and adopted by the City Council last year. The zoning creates five sections of downtown, each with its own regulations, in order to preserve the existing structure in some cases and allow for maximum development in other areas. This is the first part in a five-part series looking at each of the districts.

MERIDEN — East Main Street around City Hall and west toward the center of downtown is one of the city’s most recognizable and historically significant areas. The corridor is enhanced by the architecture of buildings dating back to the late 1800s and early 1900s. The Board of Education building, St. Andrew’s Church and the Augusta Curtis Cultural Center are a few of the structural highlights in the recently coined Civic District.

With new transit-oriented zoning regulations, the city’s aim is to preserve this area over the long term.

“Just in those 1,200 feet or quarter mile, you have 10 structures of civic nature or cultural nature, or civic buildings,” said City Planner Dominick Caruso in a recent interview. “It’s probably the most compact area of such buildings we have in this city so we wanted to focus on that area and develop the regulations to ensure the quality that comes with additions to that area.”

Other buildings include Temple B’Nai Abraham, the Elks Club, the Masonic Temple, First Methodist Church, City Hall, and others. Over the long haul, Caruso’s hope is that those buildings remain.

“The purpose of the district is to showcase those buildings as you’re being led into the downtown area,” Caruso said.

Should any of the buildings ever be removed or if some of the space between buildings is used for future development, Caruso said there are now better regulations in place to ensure they are still a “showcase.” For example, Caruso explained any building has to be at least 15 feet away from the street so that others can be seen clearly.

The same regulations will hold true just north of East Main Street. Many properties on the south side of East Main Street act as a southern boundary for the district, which stretches as far west as St. Casimir Drive and east nearly to Elm Street.

The district also encompasses Liberty and Miller streets, including the Meriden Public Library and the Stoddard Building housing muncipal offices. It stretches to Center Street and also includes the Post Office.

While those buildings will likely remain mostly unchanged for the long term, there are also small residential areas, such as Twiss, Catlin and Benjamin streets. A somewhat dense area, Caruso said the neighborhood will remain zoned for two, three and four-unit houses.

Improving quality of life in the residential area has been a focus in recent years through the Meriden Children First Initiative’s Family Zone, said City Manager Lawrence J. Kendzior. The Family Zone targets lower-income city neighborhoods, looking to work directly with families to improve health and early learning.

“There has been a good relationship between residents, the police department, the city, and a lot of the housing is in pretty good shape,” Kendzior said.

Kendzior noted that the city has used Community Development Block Grant money in the neighborhood to rebuild sidewalks.

The city has also used federal Neighborhood Stabilization program funding to purchase and renovate foreclosed homes that are sold to landlords who live in the property.

“That’s been an area that has received a lot of attention and will continue to receive a lot of attention,” Kendzior said of the neighborhood.

While much of the zone has been developed, Caruso said there are some opportunities to develop small properties that could further enhance the district.

Unlike the other districts, however, there are no major projects targeted in the Civic District. 203-317-2266 Twitter: @DanBrechlinRJ

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