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The Shoreline Greenway Trail debate is not over yet. (Photo by Zoe Roos/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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Despite a failed vote at a recent Board of Selectmen (BOS) meeting to call a public information meeting on the Shoreline Greenway Trail (SGT), advocates for the trail are still pushing for renewed public discussion. At the BOS meeting on Sept. 18, residents spoke to the board about the need for a trail and the need for another opportunity for the public to speak.
The SGT is a planned, 25-mile continuous path designed for cyclists, walkers, and hikers. It is envisioned to, once completed, span five towns, with New Haven marking one end and Hammonasset State Park in Madison marking the other (though Clinton is now beginning work to extend the Madison trail further). The first section of the trail proposed in Guilford was 0.7 miles long and would have linked the East River Bridge to the junction of Boston Street and Route 1. The project was estimated to cost $840,055, and $875,000 had been secured in the form of state and federal grants to fund the project. However, the proposed section was hotly contested and the BOS officially voted “No” on the proposed section of trail on Jan. 17.
At the BOS meeting on Sept. 5, the board considered calling another informational meeting to discuss the SGT. There was no plan on the table or vote for any kind of approval, but a 2-2 split vote brought the motion down, closing the chance for another discussion. The agenda called for a discussion and possible action on calling a meeting for Sept. 19 to discuss the previously proposed section of the SGT.
Selectmen Cynthia Cartier and Gary MacElhiney voted “No” and Charles Havrda and First Selectman Joe Mazza voted “Yes,” splitting the vote and defeating the motion to call a meeting. Selectman Carl Balestracci was not present.
At the BOS meeting on Sept. 18, while the SGT was not a listed agenda item, resident Jennifer Scharf presented a petition signed by Sunrise development residents and residents who live in the East River area, calling for another meeting.
“We are residents of the Sunrise neighborhood who want a way to safely travel on foot or bike out of our neighborhood,” the petition read. “As you know the majority of our neighbors voted to support the SGT for this purpose. You voted not to approve the SGT plan in January 2017, but it was our understanding that you were going to look into modifying the design based on town feedback. We understand that there is a new design and we ask that you schedule a hearing to present it to the community. We are the people most directly affected by this proposal and we want a chance to review it.”
Selectmen said that it’s not a new design, but a potential new concept. At the Sept. 5 BOS meeting, Town Engineer Jim Portley said he had asked for the meeting to seek public input on some changes he was considering to the design, including moving the trail closer to the road to limit vegetation removal, decreasing the width down to eight feet, and changing the material to plain concrete so that the path looks more like a sidewalk.
Balestracci, who was not present at the Sept. 5 meeting, said he wanted to make his opinion known. While he said he’s in favor of more sidewalks around town, he’s not sure if a trail is the appropriate plan.
“I just don’t believe that any kind of a pathway with gravel or whatever would be beneficial,” he said. “But I do appreciate the fact that you need a safe sidewalk to get into town.”
Board members, acknowledging this issue is not likely to go away, had alternative ideas on a path forward. MacElhiney said he would like to see a new study completed so the town has a more accurate assessment of the community transportation needs. Cartier agreed with MacElhiney and said a committee, much like the committee used for the deer management program at the East River Preserve, might be the right forum for this issue.
“Maybe a study is done through that process and this way people are coming together collectively from varying interests on what—if anything—should be done,” she said.
Havrda, who voted in favor of the initial public meeting, said it seemed as though Cartier and MacElhiney had changed their minds from the last meeting where they both voted against the meeting. Cartier responded that she had not changed her mind, but didn’t see a public hearing as the right forum for this issue.
“I am not reconsidering—it’s what I have been saying all along. I don’t think having a hearing is going to solve anything; it’s just going to create more emotion,” she said. “It’s just a process that pits people against each other.”
First Selectman Joe Mazza said some people seem to be missing the point: The agenda item last meeting was to call an informational meeting, not a public hearing.
“It wasn’t to present a plan and have a hearing on it,” he said. “As you can see we are getting views right now and that was the purpose for having that informational meeting…I wish the vote was different, because now it looks like people want to express their views. That meeting was going to be set up to hear from many individuals on both sides of the issue.”
As to what affect the residents’ petition might have on the board’s decision, Mazza said he will wait for town counsel to review the petition and advise the board on options moving forward.
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