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11/22/2016 01:20 PM

Mariners’ Way Planning Sets Sail in Old Saybrook

Finding ways to connect the Boston Post Road east corridor, branded as Mariner’s Way, to other Old Saybrook activity nodes at the train station and at Main Street is one goal of the planning/branding study kicked-off at a community meeting facilitated by the firm Civic Moxie. Photo by Becky Coffey/Harbor News

Divergent views were expressed and questions asked of the discussion moderators in the professionally facilitated community kick-off of the Mariner’s Way planning process—once it was made clear precisely which plan for Mariner’s Way was under review. The Nov. 3 event was led by Susan Silverberg of Civic Moxie, the town’s lead contractor for the Brownsfields Area Revitalization grant project. More than 50 attendees—residents, business owners, and community leaders—offered their views and preferred visions about Mariner’s Way’s future.

In the session’s first 20 or 30 minutes, some of the attendees’ questions revealed uncertainty about which Mariner’s Way study project was to be the subject of the discussion at the community kick-off. Was it the results of the Brownfields Assessment study of nine industrial properties on Route One east, or was the goal of the session to gather public input on residents’ and business owners’ preferred future for redeveloping the Mariner’s Way study corridor, not just nine parcels within it? The Town of Old Saybrook is currently undertaking two projects with brownfields in the title, hence the confusion.

After the first half-hour, the session’s purpose—to gather input on the planning process for Mariner’s Way, not to unveil the environmental study results of the narrower brownfields assessment project—became clear to all, even those who had misunderstood the meeting’s purpose at first.

The costs for the Mariner’s Way redevelopment study at the center of the Nov. 3 meeting are reimbursed by a separate $200,000 Brownfields Area Revitalization (BAR) state grant. While the nine brownfields parcels targeted in the concurrent environmental study are within the Mariner’s Way study area, this study targets how best to revitalize the area surrounding these parcels on Boston Post Road east to add economic value.

The purpose of BAR grant project’s kick-off meeting of Nov. 3 was to collect ideas of residents, business owners and community leaders about Mariner’ Way redevelopment and improvement options. The Mariner’s Way study area extends along Route One east in Old Saybrook from Mystic Market to Ferry Point.

Silverberg shared a summary of citizen responses to Civic Moxie’s online survey on Mariner’s Way to open the session. She expressed disappointment that only 33 survey responses had been tallied by the date of the kick-off meeting.

Silverberg summarized her firm’s findings on existing conditions this way: “There are mostly commercial or undeveloped parcels in the study area. Clearly the nine parcels [subject to the Brownfields Assessment study] are core to this. There are wetlands within the corridor. Most of the area is outside of the 100-year flood plain. One of the things we’ll be asking is about connectivity. It is 1.1 miles or a 15-minute walk from Ferry Point to the other end. It is also a 15-minute walk from one end of Main Street to the other.”

While the length of the Main Street commercial corridor and the Mariner’s Way corridor is the same, their character is very different. Mariner’s Way does not have Main Street’s sidewalks or streetscape improvements to encourage walkability and the use of bicycles.

Could improvements in the Mariner’s Way corridor enhance connectivity between it and other areas of town, helping to link the two commercial areas?

A Civic Moxie subcontractor tapped to do an economic and market analysis of the corridor’s potential reported that the most viable options would be to attract or build businesses focused on tourism and recreation. The second and third best use options would be targeted businesses and specific targeted housing. Fourth and fifth on the list were targeted retail and environmentally friendly attractions.

Each table at the forum was then asked to respond by filling in the blanks in three phrases. The first was fill in the blank to the phrase: “I would be ecstatic if at the end of this plan ___________.” The second was to fill in the blank in this sentence: “I will be raving angry if at the end of the planning process there is a decision to _____.” The third and final one was to fill in the blank in this phrase: “I would love it if Mariner’s Way _______ but I think it will be hard to do because ______.”

This was the first of several planned public meetings of the Mariner’s Way planning process. As each stage of the study is completed, Civic Moxie plans to hold another public session to share their findings and get reactions.

The Other Brownfields Study

The brownfields study that the Nov. 3 meeting was not about is the project led by environmental contractor Tighe and Bond to prepare Phase 1, 2, and 3 environmental assessments for nine privately owned and contiguous parcels on Route One within the Mariner’s Way study area. This work, underway since early 2015, is funded by a $155,000 grant the town received from the State of Connecticut. Last month the firm delivered to town officials the first product of its work, a 1,500 page Phase 1 Environmental Assessment report for the nine parcels. Work on a Phase 2 study of the same parcels is now underway.

The goal of Tighe and Bond’s work is to document the scope and quantity of any residual contamination and to estimate the cost to clean it up. With this information in hand, the owner of the nine parcels can more effectively market the properties for redevelopment. Buyers would want to know precisely what clean-up costs they might face as part of any redevelopment project on the sites. For the town, if the sites can be returned to a more productive use, it could add value to the town’s tax base.

The Brownfields Assessment technical study is distinct and different in purpose from the Mariner’s Way planning project now being conducted by town consultant Civic Moxie.

About 50 local business owners, residents of the Boston Post Road east Mariner’s Way corridor, and town leaders, participated in the community kick-off meeting for the area’s planning and branding process. Photo by Becky Coffey/Harbor News