Old Lyme streetscape project on Hartford Avenue completed
Old Lyme — After years of planning, local officials and members of the Sound View community gathered on Friday to celebrate the completion of streetscape improvements to Hartford Avenue in Sound View.
The streetscape project features handicap-accessible sidewalks, "bump-outs," landscaping, improved drainage, bike racks and a share-the-road bikeway on Hartford Avenue.
"This was a decadeslong project in the making, so I really have to thank the town," said Selectwoman Mary Jo Nosal, who oversaw the project with the Sound View Improvements Committee. Nosal spoke to a group of local officials, area residents and business owners at the celebration at the Shoreline Community Center.
Nosal listed all those who participated in the "team effort" to make the project a reality. "Thank you all," she said. "This is your prize."
First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder joked that Nosal forgot one firm: "MJN" for Mary Jo Nosal, and attendees laughed and applauded.
"She really made this happen," Reemsnyder said.
Sound View Improvements Committee Chairman Frank Pappalardo said the improvements were a long time coming, and local officials cut a ribbon outside with a backdrop of the new streetscape on Hartford Avenue.
Years of planning
Town reports going back to the 1940s and 1950s reference the need to do something about Sound View, according to Alison Mitchell, co-chair of the Old Lyme Historical Society.
Nosal said the town had wanted a project to calm traffic, bring visitors to the area, improve business and potentially extend the season.
After Pappalardo of the Sound View Commission, with Reemsnyder, applied for funding for the area, the town was notified in 2013 that it would receive up to 80 percent reimbursement from a federal transportation grant, administered through the state DOT, for improvements that included a bike lane, town green and restrooms. The council of governments had selected the project as a regional priority.
Nosal said the town followed a multistep process set by the DOT during the project, and the Sound View Improvements Committee met 70 times since 2013.
When costs for a town green and restrooms came in higher than anticipated, local officials in 2015 said they would focus on streetscape improvements and look for grant funding to implement the town green and restrooms at a later phase.
Voters in 2016 backed funding for the construction of the improvements, and a groundbreaking ceremony was held in the fall of 2016.
The improvements were about $185,000 after reimbursement, Nosal said. She added that, without the grant, it would have cost the town about $500,000 just for handicapped-accessible sidewalks and improved drainage.
Dee Vowles, who owns the Carousel Shop with her husband, Jerry, said that she thought Hartford Avenue looks great.
"It definitely looks good — and hopefully the people who come down here will think it looks good," she said with a chuckle.
Lenny Corto of Lenny's on the Beach said Friday that the street looks beautiful. But he said that, unfortunately, it wasn't really a redesign project as items, such as bathrooms, were removed because the town couldn't afford them as part of the project.
"It was really a parking reduction project," he said, adding that it has been detrimental to businesses in the area. Over the course of the project, several Sound View business owners raised objections to a reduction in parking spaces.
Nosal said the town had a dry run of the parking last year and it ran smoothly. The area has at least 200 spaces, including both town and private spaces.
Douglas Whalen, chairman of the Old Colony Beach Club Association, a nearby beach community, said the Hartford Avenue project shows the town is committed to the beach areas.
"We appreciate all the hard work to keep Sound View active and moving in the right direction," he said.
Lower Connecticut River Valley Council of Governments Executive Director Sam Gold said Sound View can function as a "second downtown" for Old Lyme.
"We're hopeful that this will rejuvenate this part of the neighborhood and bring commercial development here," he said. "It really beautifies and makes this place more attractive year-round."