MERIDEN — Improved marketing of city resources, including rail transportation, and moving the courthouse from downtown were some of the ideas discussed at a public forum on the citywide Plan of Conservation and Development last week.
The courthouse “should be where it was 20 years ago,” City Councilor Daniel Brunet said during the Thursday forum. “It should be on Miller Street, and move the police station too.”
About 30 city officials and members of the public viewed a draft of the Plan of Conservation and Development and offered suggestions. The city is required by state law to produce a new POCD, which serves as a guide to future development, every 10 years.
The city hired New York City-based BFJ Planning to draft the POCD at the direction of a steering committee made up of members of the city's Planning Commission and City Council. A public hearing on the final proposal is set for January.
Frank Fish, a principal of BFJ, detailed aspects of the draft and outlined accomplishments since the last plan.
Meriden needs to “maintain the existing roadway system,” Fish said.”There needs to be improvements on east and west main corridors.”
It also needs to improve the bus system, including extended hours. The Hartford Line, which serves about 75 passengers from Meriden daily, has potential, Fish said.
“... there is a potential for ridership growth,” he added.
The city doesn’t have much developable land, but there are pockets, including along the Berlin Turnpike, said project manager Noah Levine.
Levine reported the city’s overall population and school enrollment declined slightly. There are more jobs, but more people in poverty than in nearby communities. Much of the city’s housing stock was built before 1960. Possible incentive programs could help property owners make improvements, Levine said.
City lawmakers and residents offered thoughts on future economic development.
“I want more development downtown” said state Rep. Hilda Santiago, D-Meriden. “We need to develop a connection between the city and landlords and deal with some of the landlords with blighted properties. It’s like pulling teeth. I don’t think the city has been proactive about getting those landlords.”
Santiago also suggested using metered parking to eliminate cars parked for hours in spots along West Main and Colony streets.
City Economic Development Director Joseph Feest said he’s pleased with the POCD progress, adding he was involved with streamlining the Planning Department and the Zoning Board of Appeals.
“Some people have realized Meriden has changed, that we’re easier to do business with,” Feest said. “Do we have a lot of vacant land? No? But there are opportunities.”
David Cooley, who directs the Making Meriden Business Center, wants to see improving the city’s image take a higher priority in the POCD. Cooley is also an alternate member of the Planning Commission.
“Meriden is not the scary place that people think,” he said. “It’s pretty nice.”
Audience members wanted to see more marketing of the rail line.
Joe Florio, owner of the Silver City Ballroom on Colony Street, questioned whether the city has enough market rate housing downtown.
“There is a real opportunity for development downtown,” Fish said. “But we need something that attracts people like restaurants...Downtown needs market rate housing.”
Feest pointed to the Meriden Economic Development Corp. as a source of potential funding to help get new businesses into downtown leases.
Donald Smith, former state forester at the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, criticized the plan for not including tree maintenance.
“Tree resources are normally included in plans of conservation and development,” Smith said. “We must be proposing there be an inventory developed on trees in Meriden...”
Members of the arts community discussed the numbers of people undertaking projects using out of pocket funds to improve the city’s appearance.
Santiago informed the group that state funding is available and she has told local artists to contact her with proposals.
“There is a lot of funding at the state level through the state Department of Economic and Community Development,” she said. “A lot of cities like West Hartford take advantage of it. New Haven takes a lot of advantage. There is a lot of money available.”
City Planner Renata Bertotti drew applause when she informed the group her office had worked to make zoning more flexible to encourage more uses in the transit-oriented district in downtown.
“The meeting went very well,” Bertotti said Friday. “I am beyond grateful to all who came out and offered their comments on the draft plan. I think the comments were insightful, relevant and helpful.”