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06/15/2020 12:00 AM

Chester Solicits Citizen Feedback to Inform Reopening Efforts

As the second phase of the state’s reopening plan begins in mid-June, Chester is soliciting feedback from residents to better understand how they have been impacted by COVID-19 and what steps the town can take to address areas of concern.

A series of virtual town halls will take place on Monday, June 15 and Thursday, June 18 to discuss “visions, ideas, and practices” that “can contribute to re-energizing Chester,” according to the town website. Data from a 21-question town-wide survey will better inform decisions as certain COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

The survey and Chester’s reopening were discussed at a June 10 Board of Selectmen (BOS) meeting.

“This is a new paradigm that we’re living under and we have to figure out how to adjust ourselves accordingly,” said First Selectman Lauren Gister. “We don’t know how long it’s going to last. We don’t know what kinds of changes are going to be permanent and what is just temporary until we can get back to whatever normal was.”

The survey, which was developed by the town of Chester and the ReOpen Chester Group, was distributed by email and postcard to town residents. It was also made available on the town’s website.

The ReOpen Chester Group, composed of various community stakeholders and town officials including Chester’s Economic Development Commission Chair Susan Wright, was formed at the end of May to develop a coordinated effort, or plan, to reopening.

Wright says there has been “a lot of positive energy” around the town-wide survey.

“I’m looking forward to see what the results are,” she said.

The data from Chester’s survey of residents will eventually be combined with data from surveys recently conducted by Tri-Town Youth Services and the school system.

“We’re going to have some really good data to kind of fall back on and if we take this and try to write some grants, we actually have data to show why we’re asking for things, or what is actually happening in our town,” said Wright. “So, I’m really excited about it…It’s kind of a silver lining to all of this.”

Another important component to the work this group is doing includes meeting with restaurateurs and retailers in town, to gauge their needs.

Any formal proposals related to the town or town policy that are developed as a result of the efforts of the ReOpen Chester Group would come before the BOS and potentially the town’s Board of Finance for official adoption.

In addition to the work of this committee to solicit citizen input, steps are being taken to ease town-wide restrictions under the guidelines of the second phase of the governor’s reopening plan to prevent a resurgence in COVID infections.

“I know that some of our restaurants are absolutely going to be ready to start indoor dining at a maximum of 50 percent capacity,” said Gister. “There are a couple of others who are waffling a little bit. They’re not sure they are ready to go there, and then retail, I haven’t read as thoroughly through the retail as I did through the restaurant [guidelines], but I’m hoping that little by little, people will get comfortable with the kinds of make safe activities that we are limited to right now and be able to operate effectively around them.”

Gister also reported that the Town Hall could potentially open in July.

“We will open, but still encourage people to do as much remotely or by mail as possible,” said Gister.

As an example, dog license renewals are now being done by mail and the town’s tax bills will have a pre-addressed envelope to encourage paying by mail.

Pelletier Park on Cedar Lake, which opened on June 6, is another area where changes have been made to help ensure adherence to safety requirements.

“Park and Rec did a lot of work in setting [up the park]. I think they have 19 separate spaces on the beach for groups of up to five people to enjoy while making sure they are socially distanced from the next group over and they are requiring social distancing in the water as well,” said Gister.

The park, which is limited to operating at 50 percent capacity, opens at 10:30 a.m. and is closed at 2:30 p.m. to allow cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces before resuming operations at 3:30 p.m. Out-of-town passes are not being sold, and the town is checking public access passes.

All of these conditions are subject to change, depending on whether all safety protocols are being adhered to by residents.

“Hopefully we won’t have any new COVID cases,” said Gister. “And we will continue, while not being afraid but being cautious about, reopening slowly so that we don’t end up with a spike like some of these other places are having right now.”

Virtual Town Hall Meeting

Monday, June 15

Residents “Living Large in a Small Town” 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Business and Services 7:45 to 8:45 p.m.

Thursday, June 18

Retail 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.

Restaurants 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.

Culture & Tourism 7 to 8 p.m.

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