North Guilford Property Purchase Approved as Potential Site for Public Works
On Nov. 16, the purchase of an approximately 22-acre property at Route 80 and Long Hill Road was approved by town meeting, with the town likely to seek approval from residents and voters to relocate the Public Works Department there.
First Selectman Matt Hoey said that a needs assessment for Public Works is currently ongoing, with a report expected early next year as the town seeks to address inefficiencies and issues identified in a comprehensive facilities study that was completed last spring.
The current location of Public Works—at the end of Old Whitfield Street just south of downtown—was singled out as particularly unwieldy and inappropriate, with town employees far removed from areas of need and heavy equipment forced to navigate narrow roads and traffic around the green.
Hoey said that so far, elected officials and town department leaders are optimistic about making the move, though it will almost certainly require a bonding referendum approved by voters at some point. If for some reason it is not approved by voters, the $495,000 purchase agreement includes a five-year moratorium on resale, according to Hoey, which means Guilford will have to find something to do with the property at least in the short-term.
“There is consensus...that Public Works is inappropriately placed and should be moved somewhere else, out of a floodplain. Where we have millions of dollars of equipment down there...I think there’s general consensus among town leaders, the elected officials that that is the right thing to do long term,” he said. “And we were presented an opportunity to pick up a piece of property at a very fair price.”
Though he was clear that the town would be seeking the approval of townsfolk and neighbors, and that moving Public Works was “by no means a foregone conclusion,” Hoey described a number of other positive developments that could come out of the move, including addressing needs identified in the facilities study, along with offsetting the cost.
This includes potentially selling the current Public Works property to a developer, something Hoey emphasized had been “contemplated” in the 2008 Town Hall South plan.
That domino effect started by moving the Public Works Department was also discussed extensively by members of the Facilities Task Force in September. That body found significant storage issues across almost every town department, and departments like Parks & Recreation and Social Services crammed into insufficient spaces.
A new Public Works building could potentially be consolidated with appropriate Parks & Recreation vehicles, offices, and equipment, freeing up more space for other town needs.
According to Hoey, the recently purchased 22-acre parcel will most likely have more than enough space, and could be partially used for hiking or other passive recreation.
Hoey promised community conversations and public input meetings around these decisions, though likely not until after the ongoing needs assessment is completed. But he also emphasized that current issues with Public Works were significant and not going away.
Heavy trucks and equipment have to move through the center of town at least a couple times a day, and much more often during storms. Hoey stopped short of calling this “a safety issue,” but indicated it was certainly less than ideal.
“It doesn’t make an awful lot of sense to me for the organization that has to cover every road in town, for their headquarters to be at one end of town, which maximizes the number of miles on all their routes,” Hoey said.