MERIDEN — Members of the public shared concerns about downtown housing, blight, preserving open space and natural resources at a public hearing on the city’s draft Plan of Conservation and Development.
About 45 people attended the hearing Wednesday night in the third-floor boardroom at the Board of Education building on Liberty Street.
After a brief overview of the 155-page plan, members or the public took turns praising city staff and members of the Planning Commission, offering constructive ideas, and at times delving into topics the commission had little control over.
The draft of the plan offered several objectives aimed at supporting Meriden’s attractiveness, maintaining a competitive business environment, preserving existing neighborhoods, encouraging market rate housing downtown, improving the quality of life, protecting resources and working to create a positive image of the city while improving communications.
The objectives came from a survey, about 10 focus groups, two public workshops and pop-up events.
“The city’s parks are one of Meriden’s greatest amenities,” said Noah Levine, project manager at BFJ Planning, which assisted the steering committee in drafting the document. He encouraged promoting the parks and recreation sites through better signage that could bring people into the city from other communities.
David James, president of the Quinnipiac River Watershed Association, presented a two-page letter to City Planner Renata Bertotti asking that specific conservation and environmental concerns be addressed. The letter was signed by representatives of the Meriden Linear Trails Advisory Committee, the Meriden Land Trust and Meriden Conservation Commission.
“We endorse the plan wholeheartedly,” James said. “We request that we have the document included.”
Specifics include maintenance and buffers and wetlands protection near all development and guaranteeing access through mapping, inventory, and signage for all public open space and improved communication and outreach for parks and recreation activities to promote use of Meriden’s extensive open space and recreation system.
Former Mayor Manny Santos drew attention to the plans for future housing.
“Thank all of you,” Santos said. “The plan is excellent.”
He particularly noted that the POCD encouraged market rate housing, as opposed to any additional affordable housing. It further suggested policies and practices that support closing the city’s income gap to improve economic development. “The best approach is not to focus on affordable housing but focus on a strategy that increases income.”
Santos also reiterated that a central premise of the plan was that it be used as a tool for setting policy. “We’ll hold the elected officials accountable,” he said.
Resident David Rauch suggested the city needs to take credit for its successes and promote its assets.
“This is not only a living plan but a living strategy that’s on the street and working,” Rauch said. “There’s nothing more positive than outdoor recreation and more outdoor opportunity,” Rauch said.
He asked that the 155-page plan includes an executive summary that can outline goals and objectives.
Building on the Green
Speaker after speaker spoke out against a proposed market rate/affordable mixed use building on the Meriden Green. They also decried the amount of affordable housing, vacant commercial space and how an apartment project at 11 Crown St. looked like it was “just all jammed in together.”
“There are many cities and towns with greens,” said Mary Ellen Mordarski. “I have never seen apartments on the Greens. We have development on Pratt Street and Colony Street that can be utilized for apartments. Instead of building on the Green, lets keep it open space.”
State Rep. Hilda Santiago, D-Meriden, told the committee she was part of the City Council that approved the plans for the Green, which included three economic development pads, but no longer supports additional development.
“Once the Meriden Green was built, it doesn’t make sense to build more housing on it,” Santiago said. “Why did they put in the amphitheater, if it wasn’t going to stay vacant?”
City Councilor and former Mayor Michael Rohde added that the legal agreement between the preferred developer Pennrose Properties and the city may not prevent the proposed housing.
Other speakers also raised questions about setting specifics and measurements and holding those accountable, whether it’s a city official or a property owner. Some commented that the city concentrates too much attention downtown and needs to focus on other areas.
The commission voted to close the public hearing and review the public’s comments for possibly tweaking the draft and prioritizing action items. It meets again on Feb. 12.