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Poquonnock Bridge design guidelines unveiled

Groton — A consultant has unveiled proposed draft design guidelines to reinforce Poquonnock Bridge's history as a village and make the area more accessible to pedestrians and cyclists.

Sidewalks lined with trees, architecture that fits the village scale and character, storefronts with large windows that draw pedestrians in, and parking areas located to the side or behind buildings were among the recommendations presented by consultant Union Studio Architecture & Community Design of Providence at a public meeting Thursday at the Groton Public Library.

The guidelines would work alongside a proposed Mixed Village Center zone intended to provide consistent zoning standards for new development in Poquonnock Bridge, which is currently a "hodgepodge" of different zones, according to the presentation.

The intention is to make Poquonnock Bridge a more cohesive village center, said Jeremy Lake, senior associate at the Providence firm. The guidelines aim to reinforce the development pattern rooted in the area's history as a village and encourage historical architectural styles, mixed uses and features to make the area more walkable, he explained.

The project came about after the town's 2016 Plan of Conservation and Development designated Poquonnock Bridge as a "historic village center" and a "special focus area" where "sense of place should be enhanced," according to Thursday's presentation. A public meeting was held last year to inform people and get feedback on their visual preferences for the area to help with developing the design guidelines.

The town also is updating its zoning regulations and has proposed a Mixed Village Center zone for the Poquonnock Bridge area, according to the presentation.

The proposed regulations would only apply as properties are ready to be redeveloped over time, not to those that remain unchanged or undergo standard repair projects, said Jeff Davis, project planner with Horsley Witten Group, which is helping the Zoning Commission update the town's regulations. They would not apply to single-family homes.

The Mixed Village Center zoning proposed for the area represents standards that must be done, while the design guidelines encompass things that are merely encouraged, Davis said. For example, the zoning standards specify that lighting could be no more than 20 feet tall, while the design guidelines encourage the lighting to be suitable to a pedestrian-friendly area, avoiding the types of fixtures found on highways.

The proposed zoning standards call for clearly marked pedestrian crossings and bikeways; areas in front of buildings that are accessible to pedestrians and cyclists; and 10-foot sidewalks along Route 1. They also encourage as many utilities to be underground as possible and parking and loading areas to be on the side or the rear of a business. They prohibit chain-link fencing in front and side yards, unless it's required for security and is screened with trees, among other components, according to the presentation.

The design guidelines call for planting "street trees" whenever possible in strips between sidewalks and streets to provide safety and shade to pedestrians; give suggestions for designing sidewalks, landscaping with native plants and making storefronts appealing to pedestrians; and promote village-type architecture, among other features.

Lake provided examples of theoretical redevelopment scenarios, with clearer pedestrian crossings, enhanced landscaping, parking behind businesses, underground utilities and architecture in line with a village.

Residents weighed in Thursday and asked questions, including who would pay for the improvements and what the next steps are.

The consultant plans to take the feedback into consideration to finalize the design guidelines. Planning Director Jonathan Reiner said public hearings will be held on the town's proposed updated zoning regulations, likely starting in June. Reiner said the proposals are intended to create incremental change as new development happens over time. 

Jack Rodgers applauded the project as a great idea to improve the area over the next 30 to 40 years, rather than have it become and look more commercial.

"It's going to be incremental," he said. "It's going to happen over a long period of time, and I like the real positive approach that your team is taking."

But resident Gale Goode said many older people don't want to be strolling along or have to walk when they could have parked right in front of a business before. She also said Route 1 in that area of town gets a lot of traffic and whenever there is an accident, particularly in the summer, people take that route to get back to where they need to go and don't slow down.

"This is not downtown Mystic. This is Poquonnock Bridge" she added. "I don't know where you got the village part from. It's Poquonnock Bridge."

Zell Stever suggested officials consider the role of public transportation — where there would be bus stops and what kind of bus or shuttle service there might be.

Town Mayor Patrice Granatosky said Groton is a series of neighborhoods, and the idea is to treasure and value what is unique about each of those neighborhoods. She said Poquonnock Bridge has a lot of character and some lovely old homes. She said it's good to have what is proposed out there as an alternative template, so developers can potentially do something different, rather than build another strip mall. 

"There are alternative ideas that will treasure and respect the character of the neighborhood, the old farms, the old houses that are there," she said.

k.drelich@theday.com

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