Thursday, October 22, 2020

Local News

Boutique Hotel to Boardwalks: Branford TOD Plan Shaping Up

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TOD Steering Committee member Marci Palluzzi discusses ideas for the proposed development area, at one of the the round table group discussions at the June 22 workshop. 

Pam Johnson/The Sound

TOD Steering Committee member Marci Palluzzi discusses ideas for the proposed development area, at one of the the round table group discussions at the June 22 workshop. Pam Johnson/The Sound | Buy This Photo)

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Branford First Selectman Jamie Cosgrove, left, discusses ideas with Blackstone Library Director Karen Jensen (also at left) and other Wayfinding discussion members, including TOD study planning team member Anthony Russell of Russell Design.

Pam Johnson/The Sound

Branford First Selectman Jamie Cosgrove, left, discusses ideas with Blackstone Library Director Karen Jensen (also at left) and other Wayfinding discussion members, including TOD study planning team member Anthony Russell of Russell Design. Pam Johnson/The Sound | Buy This Photo)

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A resident gathers information to take away from a TOD area map detailing land use. 

Pam Johnson/The Sound

A resident gathers information to take away from a TOD area map detailing land use. Pam Johnson/The Sound | Buy This Photo)

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This slide shared on June 22 identifies some areas of the TOD where future development could be a possibility.

Pam Johnson/The Sound

This slide shared on June 22 identifies some areas of the TOD where future development could be a possibility. Pam Johnson/The Sound | Buy This Photo)

With a proposed boutique hotel already added to the mix, a second Branford Train Station Transit Oriented Development (TOD) workshop brought over 40 community members with ideas – and some concerns – about shaping what could be a major milestone in Branford's growth as a community.

At the start of June 22 workshop, Branford First Selectman James B. Cosgrove acknowledged one concern he shares with residents -- the Federal Rail Administration's (FRA) proposed Northeast Corridor high speed rail expansion through Guilford and Branford, to include the TOD area.  Cosgrove said an upcoming Branford information session, similar to one held in Guilford on June 7, will take place to help residents learn what's known about the FRA's plans. Information on the date, time and place for the information session will be announced as soon as possible, according to the First Selectman's office.

At the June 22 meeting, BFJ Planning Group (NY), the group hired to do the TOD study with a grant won by the town, shared a brief note on what it termed "Amtrak Quad Plans" stating, "...not going to happen for a long time, if at all."

Cosgrove acknowledged it could be years for the FRA to pull the trigger, but now is the time for the town to be proactive.

"It is a long-range plan. It's many years out," said Cosgrove. "However, there are many residents, myself included, who feel when these things are being looked at, we want to be proactive and really understand how they impact our town."

Another concern raised June 22 was a resident's issue with proposed re-zoning of the TOD's industrial zone areas to allow more residential complexes on a few parcels which may become available. As someone who uses the rail station frequently, the concerned resident also said ridership is low and that will likely continue, unless Metro North/Amtrak scheduling and access increases.

"If the premise is if we develop it, people will come [via train], I don't think that's going to happen," said the woman, who sat in on the night's Proposed Development round table discussion.

If the ridership doesn't change, that will mean more residents' vehicles, tourists and hotel guest vehicles congesting the area, she added.

Table spokesperson, Jacey Wyatt, said the group asked BFJ to delve deeper into ridership numbers at Branford train station.

"We need more study and information on how many riders and where they're heading; and utilizing the train station better. If it's not working for her, how many other people is it not working for?" said Wyatt.

As for what's being developed in the TOD area, Wyatt said the group "...wants to see Branford grow on those locations for what people want; not just what developers want," adding one of the most sought-after citizens' requests for the area is waterfront access and connectivity for the public.

BFJ reports to the TOD steering committee, which includes Town Planner Harry Smith and Cosgrove among its 12 members. After gathering input from the June 22 workshop, BFJ will complete its technical analysis and begin preparing a final master plan and zoning recommendations, to be delivered in September.

Cosgrove said the TOD study is important to the future of Branford.

"I truly feel this is a very important study to do," said Cosgrove. "There is some development that has recently occurred, and some in the works; and we want to make sure that we truly develop this area, focusing [from] the train station, down Meadow [Street] and up Montowese through the center, in a cohesive way. We want to make sure we not only retain the characteristics of our town that make this a special place, [with] a sense of community; but essentially strengthen those characteristics."

What's In the TOD?

The TOD's radius pulls in the rail station and grabs a small segment west of the station's main lot on Maple Street to a border along Reynolds Lane/Road down to Driscoll Road and into the Branford River. The border then cuts through the center of the river, turning at the Hubbard Bridge to run up Montowese Street. It turns again at South Main Street to meet Main Street, stretching to a point just before the Richlin Plaza, when it turns back toward the station.

Along the Branford River are several existing entities, beginning with Dutch Wharf. Others include Anchor Reef luxury condominiums (which, when first constructed, also received zoning permission, which still stands, to construct up to two more buildings on its property), businesses and marina/boat storage at the Branford Landing, Nellie Greene's Restaurant and Stony Creek Brewery, existing Meadow Street businesses and the planned Atlantic Wharf mixed-use development.

As Smith noted on June 22, a boutique hotel beside the Branford River is being proposed by Stony Creek Brewery owner Ed Crowley. Crowley recently approached town with preliminary plans to build a 34-room boutique hotel across the street from the brewery, on property incorporating Paul's Wire Rope & Sling and adjoining land on Indian Neck Avenue.

"I think it's a really exciting development," said Smith. "I think that's an example of the kind of thing we can see more of, with the end result of this study."

BFJ principal Frank Fish said the hotel would nicely "book-end" a stretch of Branford River between Atlantic Wharf and the Stony Creek Brewery. Fish shared a preliminary overview of the hotel's proposed street-level parking below its building and a boardwalk segment that could include a small dock for kayaks. Knitting together areas such as the proposed hotel boardwalk with other points in the TOD could create more connectivity along the waterfront, said Fish.

Preliminary renderings by BFJ already desingate a segment of easement-secured boardwalk running along the Branford River from a point midway at the Meadow Street businesses to Atlantic Wharf. Set to begin construction this season, Atlantic Wharf will bring over 200 new residences and some 15,000 square feet for specialty retail, restaurant and office space at the former Atlantic Wire Factory site. The complex will also have connectivity to the Shoreline Greenway Trail (SGT).

At the train station end of the TOD, ideas include directing pedestrians to a waterfront pathway that potentially sets off from Dutch Wharf or Anchor Reef. Other pathways (bikeway and pedestrian, including sidewalks) could connect from the train station to central spaces to reach the town center, bringing pedestrians and cyclists to restaurants, businesses and cultural events on the historic town green. The paths would also connect to town sites in the heart of the TOD, including Hammer Field and the soon-to-be renovated and expanded Community/Senior Center. Additionally, shuttle buses are being considering to bring visitors from the station into town.

A new part of TOD plan introduced June 22 by Fish is "wayfinding" -- directional and informational signs, kiosks and other elements, such as naming areas within the TOD. The signage would point out pathways, places to visit, and could also post educational, environmental and historic information.

Before breaking out into round table discussion groups on June 22, Fish and his team shared some possible areas for development-- now or in the future -- within the TOD area. One proposal, in which he said CT Dept. of Transportation has shown some interest, would be to build a new residential complex on the station's currently underutilized overflow parking lot to the west of the main lot on Maple St. The DOT's excess parking needs would be then addressed by constructing a low-rise parking garage in the main station lot.

In general, BFJ continues to see residential complexes and multi-unit housing as the strongest development possibility for the TOD, which will require re-zoning.

The night's five round table discussion groups covered land use and zoning, development possibilities, roadway connection and transportation, environment and waterfront, and wayfinding.

"It's encouraging to see such a great turnout and participation at these workshops," said Cosgrove. "We look forward to the final plan coming out of this [and] this won't be a plan that just sits on the shelf. This will be a plan that we will use."

Information, maps and other details shared to date for proposed TOD study are posted at the Town of Branford website here




Pam Johnson covers news for Branford and North Branford for Zip06. Email Pam at p.johnson@shorepublishing.com.

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