Wallingford’s downtown challenge

If you go to Wallingford’s uptown area, you’ll see commercial vitality and sense possibilities for more. If you head downtown, however, towards the train station, you don’t get the same feeling. There are reason for this.

After a long wait, the town is making improvements to the Wooding-Caplan area. A hint of progress came in 2008, when the broken-down, old gas building known as 390 Center Street was demolished, and a commitment was made by the mayor to convert Wallace Ave. from an alley to a street.

Now, things are popping. A new, spiffy Wallace Ave. is being completed, and an attractive temporary parking lot will be finished soon. We’ll see sidewalks on Wallace Ave., concrete curbing, and period lighting in the parking area. This new parking lot will support uptown businesses by providing parking for a growing customer base.

This wouldn’t have happened, however, if the parking lot were designated as “permanent.” By crafting a plan for only a temporary lot, however, the mayor and others who played supporting roles were able to get this project moving without acrimony. Well done.

If the parking lot is properly maintained, the public will like it and use it. Before long, it will be viewed as something that should stay. Most of it will be made permanent, eventually. What happens to the rest of the Wooding-Caplan area is an open question. The parking lot, however, is part of today’s sweet smell of progress.

The old library, a gracious 19th century building located within a short stroll of the Wooding-Caplan area, will also contribute to the new energy in uptown Wallingford. Joe Gouveia is planning to restore it, and after he does, his project will be another commercial destination contributing to the success of all businesses in the area.

The Zoning Board of Appeals wisely supported his plan by varying the impossible parking requirements the zoning regulations would have otherwise imposed on the property. The matter now moves to the Planning and Zoning Commission. If it issues the approvals Joe Gouveia needs, he can be off and running with a business model which everyone hopes will work for him and the entire town.

A little farther away, the Simpson Village project is getting back on track. The property where the old Simpson School used to stand has been unattractive and vacant for about seven years. But, the reason for the delay in the construction of new senior living units has been addressed and a new plan has been submitted for approval to the town. It calls for seven residences fronting Center Street and they will be bigger and more attractive than the ten units that were originally contemplated. It all adds up to more positive momentum.

Development downtown, however, has been sluggish. It has fewer possibilities because it has more obstacles. Although the town will soon improve the parking area around the “train station” which is a very good move, the railroad tracks will always split the area and so will Route 5. The location of the Center Street Cemetery, moreover, means that the businesses on the north side of Center Street have to stand alone without the support of any businesses across the street. The hill on Center Street and the gap in commercial space caused by the Holy Trinity School, limit the possibilities, too.

Should we think of a new approach that would stimulate more business activity in the downtown? New streetscapes on Hall Ave. and new trees won’t be enough. Should we deem the problem too difficult and allow the area to drift? An Incentive Housing Zone would have been a step in the right direction, but that’s dead in the water. What’s next?

With the uptown overflowing with optimism, it’s time to focus on the challenges of the downtown. This election season would be a good time to discuss that.

Candidates, what do you think? I mean, specifically.

Mike Brodinsky is a former town councilor, chairman of the School Roof Building Committee and host of public access show “Citizen Mike.”



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