Cost of Waterford center raises concerns

Waterford - Members of the Board of Finance are concerned about what board member John "Bill" Sheehan referred to in an email Thursday as possible "'surprise' demands on taxpayer dollars" that could come with creating a town center in Jordan Village.

The board and Planning Director Dennis Goderre discussed at the board's meeting Wednesday ways to better involve town officials in the process of developing a proposal to create a main street area, so as to avoid costs that board members fear the town can't handle.

Board chairman Ronald Fedor suggested during the meeting that a committee of town officials, including members of the board, form an advisory committee to be involved in planning the Jordan Village town center.

Goderre wrote in an email Friday that he agreed with the idea of forming such a group, which he said is recommended in the town's 2012 Plan of Preservation, Conservation and Development.

"With this committee we can define priorities for public investment that reflect the needs of the Town and the concerns of the Board of Finance," he wrote.

Goderre also wrote that he envisioned town center development as "being primarily based on land use policies that guide and manage land development," which planning and zoning officials could implement without the town having to expend additional funds.

Fedor wrote in an email Friday that his apprehension about potential town center plans is based in part on fear that workshops and other meetings about the proposed development of Jordan Village created expectations among residents.

Wednesday wasn't the first time board members voiced concerns. Board member Cheryl Larder said at a meeting in March that she resented feeling that her support for replacing the deteriorating pedestrian bridge over Jordan Brook could be confused with support for the Jordan Village master plan.

Goderre had mentioned during that meeting that replacing the bridge had come up in conversation among attendees of a series of workshops for residents interested in learning more about and participating in creating a plan for a town center.

Larder commented then that she had "no idea what the funding requirements are" for the town center plan, and added that multiple town projects were already on hold because of funding issues.

Sheehan said Sunday that the town needed to prioritize projects including upgrades to the town's sewer pump stations, repairs to degrading sewer pipes, the proposed new animal shelter and upgrades to the municipal complex on Hartford Road. He said the sewer pipe and pump station fixes and Hartford Road upgrades would each cost in the millions.

"There is a history that makes the BOF wary of 'new' civic triangle projects," Sheehan wrote in his Thursday email. He specifically cited last-minute requests from then-First Selectman Paul Eccard in the early 2000s.

Eccard proposed changes to the location of the Friendship School, seeking for it to be built on a site bordering New London to its current location next to Waterford High School, according to Sheehan.

Eccard tacked a new Community Center onto that plan, and the requests required an emergency appropriation to purchase the property adjacent to the high school, according to Sheehan.

Sheehan said Sunday that had Eccard's proposed plans to restrict part of Rope Ferry Road to pedestrian use also won town approval, the total cost would have been in the millions.

"The cost was very high and the obstacles from the State and the town's residents were great," Sheehan wrote in his email.

Ideas explored during March workshops devoted to exploring the town center idea, such as a proposal to move the Jordan fire department, could prove expensive, according to Sheehan.

Sheehan noted in his email however that, as Goderre mentioned, the bulk of proposed changes included in talks about developing a town center are alterations of zoning regulations.

During a presentation in May, consultants on the town center plan explained three key proposals for development of Jordan Village and surrounding areas: changing the zoning of Jordan Village to mixed use; making better use of Jordan Green next to the library; and consolidating various zones along Route 1 and Rope Ferry Road under an "overlay" village district.

Goderre mentioned in his Friday email that aspects of the Jordan Village plans are outlined in the plan of development, including developing a sense of place and creating a town center or focal point for the town.

t.townsend@theday.com

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