After months of heated debate among residents over the proposed section of the Shoreline Greenway Trail (SGT), town officials have begun to voice their own opinions on the trail. At a workshop meeting on the issue on Jan. 5, members of the Board of Selectmen (BOS) shared opinions in opposition to the trail and promised residents the board would take a vote on the design for the proposed section on Tuesday, Jan. 17.
The SGT is envisioned as a 25-mile continuous path designed for cyclists, walkers, and hikers. The first section of the trail proposed in Guilford is 0.7 miles long and would link the East River Bridge to the junction of Boston Street and Route 1. The project is estimated to cost $840,055, and $875,000 has been secured in the form of state and federal grants to fund the project.
The Guilford proposal has run into significant opposition from abutting property owners and other residents expressing concerns over, among other things, the lack of an overall plan, excess costs, and property rights. At a public hearing on Nov. 1, residents passionately argued for and against the trail for hours and First Selectman Joe Mazza said the board has received more than 200 emails and letters on the issue since the hearing.
After speaking with supporters and opponents of the trail, Mazza said he has formed the opinion that this design is not right for the town.
“I would vote against it and I would also recommend that the town elicit the services of a consulting group and look at a different alternative,” he said.
Fellow selectmen agreed with Mazza, saying the proposed section of the trail is not the right plan.
“This particular plan, while it would give us pedestrian access, is just the wrong plan, the wrong place, and the wrong time,” said Charles Havrda.
With the selectmen are now seemingly against the proposed section of trail, the board kicked around different ideas for alternatives including building a sidewalk.
“I still feel strongly that at this moment the best thing we could do is to build a sidewalk and I think that is consistent with everything we have done in the past,” said Carl Balestracci. “I don’t think we should spend any more money on the greenway trail until we have a complete plan.”
A sidewalk, if built, would be smaller than a greenway trail. Town Engineer Jim Portley said the minimum width for new sidewalks in town is five feet versus the designed 8- to 10-foot-wide greenway trail. However, Portley said a sidewalk presents challenges that do not apply to greenway trails.
“If you build a sidewalk, then you throw onto the table the other issue of snow removal,” he said. “You build a sidewalk and then the sidewalk ordinance comes into play and people who have frontage have the obligation to remove snow and ice like anybody downtown. Under state legislation, greenways have been given a pass on that.”
If the board votes to move in another direction, the issue of money is still on the table. Funds have been secured for the trail and Mazza said the town could only keep one of the three grants that make up the funds. Of the $875,000 secured for the project, a grant from the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) for $484,000 is solely for the town. The remaining $391,000, a combination of state and federal grants, belongs to SGT. Additionally, there are certain use restrictions tied to the $484,000 grant to the town.
Mazza said he would look into how the money can be used, but stressed that any further financial investment in a sidewalk or trail would have to come in the form of a grant. The state recently handed down mid-year budget cuts to municipalities and Mazza said there is no money to spare.
“I don’t want to lead anyone astray about how much the town can do on its own for this project—we can’t do anything right now,” he said. “As of yesterday, I put a freeze on all capital projects because of what the state did to us. I can’t commit anything going forward at least until we get through the winter months.”
The BOS will vote on the proposed section of the Shoreline Greenway Trail at their regular meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 17 at 2:30 p.m.
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