November 19, 2014 01:15AM
By Eric Vo
WALLINGFORD — In an effort to attract businesses to the area around the future train station downtown, the town has submitted an application to the state Office of Policy and Management to receive funding for a transit-oriented development study.
As part of the state Department of Transportation’s plan for high-speed commuter rail service between New Haven and Springfield, Mass., a new train station will be built on North Cherry Street. In preparing the downtown area for the train station, town officials, such as Town Planner Kacie Costello and Economic Development Coordinator Don Roe, hope to receive a state grant to conduct a TOD study.
The study would allow officials to “see what would fit and what wouldn’t work in terms of trying to figure out a way to attract capital investment in downtown,” Roe told the Town Council at a Nov. 11 meeting.
“We’re trying to figure out ways to link the station, which is now in the extreme edge of downtown ... and bridge that to downtown to create a better relationship between increased rail services and downtown businesses,” Roe said.
Under the program, grant awards are between $50,000 and $250,000. Originally, the town planned to request a $50,000 grant, but the amount was later left open after Roe told councilors the study could cost up to $75,000.
In 2011, Meriden received $850,000 in state funding for TOD-related projects. The city is working to receive another $250,000 this year.
Members of the Economic Development Commission and Wallingford Center Inc. formed a committee to discuss ideas for the downtown area, according to Joe Mirra, chairman of the Economic Development Commission.
Anticipating an influx of people in the area of the train station, early discussions focused on what could be built near the train station to benefit the community, Mirra said.
Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said he felt the study would be a “great benefit” for the town. He added that he has a broader vision to “encourage investment and ways to increase the health and vitality” of the downtown area.
“My focus is not just at the train station, but it also includes the incentive housing zone,” Dickinson said. “It includes all of downtown — downtown meaning the center of town...”
The town will also develop a new 10-year conservation and development plan in 2015, Dickinson said. Officials hope to include results from the TOD study in the plan, he added.
Town Councilor John Sullivan supports the grant and TOD study. When the new train station is built, Sullivan thinks restaurants and small retail stores would work in the area. He added that he also wanted to see more downtown housing.
“If you take Hall Avenue and Quinnipiac Street, there’s a lot of things down there, but how do we want to do it?” Sullivan said. “Do we want to do what West Hartford does? ... I don’t think so and I don’t think we’ll be doing that.”
When asked what he would like to see in the downtown area, Mirra said he was a fan of “period lighting” — fixtures that are installed to provide a vintage aesthetic. Some of the street lights along Center Street are examples of period lighting, Mirra said.
“When we develop, we really have to keep one foot in the past and create a future. We have to put a blend downtown — keep the past intact, but also wanting to expand for the needs of the future,” Mirra said. “We’ve got a good downtown that’s served us well for a couple hundred years, but we’ve got to prepare for the grandkids’ generation.”