MERIDEN — Members of the steering committee working on a new Plan of Conservation and Development expressed frustration last week over the slow growth of economic development.
The city hired consultant BFJ Planning to assist it in drafting the new 10-year master plan that will outline the city’s development goals.
When asked by steering committee members what it saw as the city’s strengths, Frank Fish principal of BFJ replied its access to highways.
”We have highways from east to west and north and south. Let’s do something about this,” said Enrico Buccilli, chairman of the Planning Commission. “I’m sick and tired of hearing this. I’ve been hearing this for a long time. I want some concrete suggestions on how we move forward.”
Buccilli wasn’t alone. Other steering committee members, such as Len Rich expressed frustration over the city’s high property taxes on residents that could be mitigated with more commercial development.
The members’ comments were directed at the recommendations that will come out of the final report, said City Planner Renata Bertotti.
“Everybody is frustrated because everybody wants more,” Bertotti said. “It’s still early in the process.”
BFJ is gathering information and reviewing the city’s current Plan of Conservation and Development, adopted in 2009, to see what goals were accomplished and whether unaccomplished goals are still relevant. The Steering Committee, made up of members of the Planning Commission, will issue new guidance based on input from city residents and stakeholders.
The committee is currently drafting a survey of questions to determine citywide goals and priorities. It will also review whether the 2009 goals were met, should remain, or be abandoned. Bertotti’s office will notify the public when the survey is available.
Last month, the Steering Committee met with BFJ Planning representatives and reviewed some demographic information about Meriden. It also looked at projects the city has completed since the previous plan was adopted.
Steering Committee member Ross Gulino challenged the report’s definition of vacant space and the committee agreed to review the data and sources.
Members of the public were invited to share comments last month on issues and goals for the plan as well as participate in a straw poll that weighed priorities. Goals were grouped by topic areas: community character, and historic resources, housing and population density, economic development, transportation and circulation, community facilities and natural resources.
Some of the comments stated there is no need for additional low income or subsidized housing in the city, and criticized the number of properties taken off the city’s grand list by the Meriden Housing Authority. Other comments included zoning impediments to developing market-rate housing due to overly restrictive zoning regulations.
Participants cited the high commercial vacancy rate in the city and the need for Meriden to develop “experiential” shopping to attract young people. Other people called on the Economic Development Department to reach out to real estate agents who can connect property with potential investors. There were also suggestions about wellness services downtown and the high cost of rent.
There were also suggestions regarding the linear trails and recreation, and expanding the historic districts to take advantage of available funding at the state level. Survey participants preferred maintaining and reinvesting in city roads and improving traffic flow to making public transit more available.
Buccilli, who is also Planning Commission chairman, noted that the zoning changes in the city’s Transit-Oriented District were a positive development in the past 10 years.
The changes allowed for more mixed-use development, allowed less parking to increase density, and streamlined the approval process for developers.
“I’m told most developers like that flexibility,” Bucilli said.
The committee will meet again in July. Residents and stakeholders may visit https://meridenpocd.weebly.com for the full summary, updates and the survey when it becomes available.