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    Friday, December 02, 2022

    Preston hopes state grant will restore village feel to Poquetanuck

    Residents Carol Matsumoto, left, and Keith Lozon walk along a neighbors lawn where they are no sidewalks in the Poquetanuck Village area of Preston Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2022. The town is seeking a grant for a $3 million project to slow down traffic and make it more pedestrian and visitor friendly. (Sarah Gordon / The Day)
    Cars move past St. James Church at the intersection of Route 2A, Poquetanuck Road and Route 117 in the Poquetanuck Village area of Preston Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2022. The town is seeking a grant for a $3 million project to slow down traffic and make it more pedestrian and visitor friendly. (Sarah Gordon / The Day)
    Residents Carol Matsumoto, left, and Keith Lozon talk about traffic issues in the area as they stand on the steps of Avery B&B in the Poquetanuck Village area of Preston Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2022. The town is seeking a grant for a $3 million project to slow down traffic and make it more pedestrian and visitor friendly. (Sarah Gordon / The Day)
    Residents Carol Matsumoto, left, and Keith Lozon talk about traffic issues in the area as they stand on the steps of Avery B&B in the Poquetanuck Village area in Preston Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2022. The town is seeking a grant to fund a $3 million project to slow down traffic and make it more pedestrian and visitor friendly. (Sarah Gordon / The Day)
    The town of Preston is applying for a $3 million grant from the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments to improve historic Poquetanuck Village by installing sidewalks, decorative lighting, and traffic safety measures, such as crosswalks with flashing lights and possibly traffic humps. The plan is designed to create more of a village atmosphere, support small businesses and encourage people to visit.

    Preston ― A description of Poquetanuck Village might sound like a typical old New England town: houses dating back to the 1700s, a couple of bed and breakfast inns, an old post office, a stagecoach stop and a large, modern-day recreation park.

    But much of the traffic that whizzes along Route 2A through town never notices the well maintained historic homes, the quaint village character and the meticulously constructed stonewalls, some just inches from the newly paved state road.

    In the early 1990s, Poquetanuck Village became sandwiched between what grew into two of the world’s largest casinos, Mohegan Sun to the west and Foxwoods to the east.

    At that same time, longtime resident Carol Matsumoto started calling Town Hall, state Department of Transportation, leaders of the Mashantucket-Pequot and Mohegan tribes to complain about the speeding traffic, huge casino-bound buses and large trucks that rattled 300-year-old homes and jarred rocks loose from the stone walls.

    Matsumoto, owner of the 1754 Captain Grant’s bed and breakfast and the 1790 Avery House bed and breakfast, first got the Post Office to agree that mailboxes be placed in front of their houses, so residents would not have to dart across the road to get their mail.

    She won a battle with Foxwoods to stop bus caravans that rumbled past the historic homes.

    “I made the front page of The Day for that one,” she said. “People were losing the plaster off their walls.”

    She got state troopers to patrol the route. She got the casinos to agree to pay for streetlights, but the town balked at paying the utility bills for the lights and killed the plan, she said.

    Now, Matsumoto and neighbor Keith W. Lozon, owner of a house built in 1748 at 125 Route 2A, have been circulating a petition in support of the town’s proposed $3 million project designed to slow down traffic, create a village atmosphere, support small business development and invite tourists to see some of the oldest homes in town.

    As of Tuesday, 19 property owners signed the petition urging town officials to support the project and apply for state grants to fund it.

    Officially called the Poquetanuck Village Traffic Calming Project Master Plan, the first phase would run from the Route 2A-117 junction at Preston Community Park, along Route 2A to Middle Road.

    The plan calls for building sidewalks, with retaining walls where necessary for pedestrian safety, raised hump crosswalks ― like those on Water Street in New London ― flashing lights at crosswalks, decorative lighting and a 10-foot-wide path from the town park to the new Tri-Town Trail on Route 117.

    Town officials hope to find space for a public parking lot for visitors to walk the village, view historic houses, read markers at key spots and, they hope, visit coffee shops and boutique shops.

    The Planning and Zoning Commission designated the village as an “area of special interest” in the 2014 Plan of Conservation and Development and created a Village Zone to allow a mix of residential and commercial development and bed and breakfast inns.

    “We would like to see things happen here,” Town Planner Kathy Warzecha told the Board of Finance at its Aug. 17 meeting. “It was noted that Route 2A with the increase in traffic, has really deteriorated the quality of life of the village. The plan recognizes that.”

    Preston requested $3 million for the first phase from the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments, and SCCOG tapped the project as one of its priorities for a portion of a $10 million Local Transportation Capital Improvements ’Program (LOTCIP) grant. The grant would cover construction costs, including purchasing rights of way where needed.

    The town would have to pay for design costs, estimated at $300,000 if the project makes it through local and state Department of Transportation approvals.

    Preston’s plan and projects in Montville and East Lyme were approved for the $10 million LOTCIP grants if plans move forward, Kate Rattan, transportation program manager for SCCOG, told the Board of Finance.

    The finance board voted unanimously to approve up to $11,500 for preliminary engineering design costs to prepare the town’s application to SCCOG, which is due Sept. 15.

    First Selectwoman Sandra Allyn-Gauthier, who has been working on the plan with Warzecha and Public Works Manager Jim Corley, walked the route last week with Kyle Haubert, an engineer with CLA Engineers, Inc. to discuss the ideas and what would be feasible.

    An earlier idea to place a traffic roundabout at the junction of route 2A, 117 and Lincoln Park Road and a smaller one in front of St. James Church at the Route 2A-117 fork, were removed from the plan because they were deemed too costly for the first phase.

    Along with CLA’s first-phase design plan, the town will submit to SCCOG the petitions signed by village residents.

    The top of the petition describes the town’s effort to obtain the SCCOG grant and describes the “traffic calming” goal of the project.

    “The town needs the villagers’ support to follow through and secure the grant,” the petition stated. “We, the following residents of Poquetanuck wish for the town to pursue the state grant.”

    Matsumoto and Lozon both said they are excited something finally could be done to slow down traffic in the village, where several homes are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

    During a recent walk along Route 2A, with Warzecha waving her arms to slow down oncoming cars, Lozon pointed out that owners of various homes are installing new staircases, painting and repairing foundations and walls.

    “There are so many historic buildings here,” Warzecha said. The plan calls for erecting a village map pointing out the historic homes and signs telling the histories of properties and the village.

    Lozon likes the idea of antique-style lighting, public parking, sidewalks and crosswalks with flashing lights.

    “Right now, you couldn’t put crosswalks here if you wanted to,” Lozon said.

    c.bessette@theday.com

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