CHESHIRE — The town is continuing efforts to transform the West Main Street corridor into a more walkable, “town center” environment, and the state of Connecticut is helping move the planning process along.
With thriving restaurants and businesses, access to the Farmington Canal Linear Trail, and Ball & Socket Arts continuing to show its viability, some positive changes are already happening, Economic Development Coordinator Andrew Martelli informed the Town Council at its Sept. 19 meeting. Those successes include the relocation of Sweet Claude’s ice cream to Ball & Socket Arts in 2022.
A Brownfield Area Revitalization grant from the state Department of Economic and Community Development is a key part of the corridor’s continued growth. Martelli said Cheshire provided a 10% match in order to secure $100,000 in funding from the state, to be used primarily for planning purposes. A separate BAR grant, in the amount of $925,000, is being used for remediation and renovation at Ball & Socket Arts.
The West Main District runs roughly from Cornwall Avenue on the south to West Main Street, with Willow and Warren Streets on the eastern border and Ives Row to the west. According to Town Historian Diane Calabro, the District was first established as a commercial area in 1827.
The trail, Martelli said, “is really the centerpiece of this entire plan.”
Martelli mentioned that 207,000 people used the crossing at West Main last year, making it “the busiest trail crossing in the state of Connecticut.”
Providing flexibility to residents and business owners within the district is also part of the town’s vision. One regulatory step in making that plan a success is the adoption of a “form-based code.”
“At the end of this process, Planning and Zoning will adopt a new code for this district. (It’s) a way to regulate development that controls building form first and building use second, with the purpose of achieving a particular type of ‘place’ or built environment based on community vision,” explained Martelli, who has worked closely with Town Planner Michael Glidden on the project.
He distinguished form-based code from traditional zoning, which is generally meant to prevent “the most negative impacts of siting, size and use of buildings.”
“Form-based zoning codes regulate building design and scale, allowing a variety of uses within individual buildings and next to each other within neighborhoods,” Martelli said. This means that, instead of strict division between commercial and residential uses, “it’s going to allow for a mixture of uses on specific properties within this overall district.”
Hamden, Windsor, Canton, Hartford and Simsbury are among the Connecticut towns using form-based code, Martelli said.
The changes give the town the ability to control “building size, scale, what it looks like, how everything interacts with one another, signage, landscaping.”
Martelli also described a “visioning and scoping” process as central in the process. A steering committee that includes town staff and representatives of SLR Consulting, the project consultants, has met with “over 17” property owners within the district and will continue to do so. He noted that the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission will have a public hearing on the subject at a future date, perhaps as soon as the first few months of 2024.
Martelli stated that the town is “not trying to take anybody’s property through eminent domain, we’re not trying to remove their uses of what they can currently do on their property.” He mentioned that the town is being “mindful” of the businesses operating there and their economic importance to Cheshire.
“There’s all these things the community would really like to see, it’s just that we have to give them a framework to do that,” Martelli explained to the Council.
“The property owners that we met with have been enthusiastic about it,” he added.