July 30, 2014

Main Street East Reconstruction Project Draws Mixed Response at Chester Meeting, Location of New Sidewalks an Issue

CHESTER— The Main Street East reconstruction project drew a mixed reaction from residents an a public information meeting Tuesday, with some residents objecting to plans for a continuous sidewalk on the north side of the road.

About 70- residents turned out for the session held by the town’s volunteer Main Street Project Committee, with residents hearing a presentation by project engineer Kent Frost on two options for a segment of the project that has generated some debate in recent weeks. The project is the first phase of a long-planned project that will later include reconstruction of Main Street in the downtown commercial area. It calls for a reconstruction of 1,800-feet of Main Street from the entrance to the Laurel Hill Cemetery east to the intersection with  Middlesex Avenue (Route 154).

The committee last month gave a preliminary endorsement to constructing a four-foot wide sidewalk from the entrance to the cemetery east to Route 154, while also retaining and improving sidewalk that runs along portions of the south side of the street, including the area in the vicinity of the Chesterfields Health Care Center. The committee decided a continuous sidewalk on the north side of the street would enhance pedestrian safety by reducing the need for crossing the street to use sidewalk, though existing crosswalks at the intersection with School Lane and in front of Chesterfields would be retained and improved. Another factor in the panel’s recommendation is the possibility the town would built a new library at North Quarter Park on the north side of the street, bringing increased pedestrian traffic to this section of Main Street.

But some residents have objected to a proposed removal of three mature Maple trees in the vicinity of School Lane and the residential property at 131 Main St., and plans for sidewalk in front of a residential property at 137 Main St., where the existing house is closer to the roadway. A second option presented Tuesday would include improvements to the sidewalk on the south side of the street, but no continuous sidewalk on the north side of the road.

Frost said the property owners at 131 Main Street where the three trees are located, David and Lisa Meade, have offered qualified support for the plan, and a willingness to work with the committee on replacing the trees with newer trees and possible fencing. He said the property owners at 137 Main Street, Jeffrey and Mary Gates, have objected to the plans because of the proximity of the sidewalk to their house, and the need to remove a privacy hedge in front of a portion of their property.

Several residents at the meeting, and five who submitted written statements, expressed support for the continuous sidewalk ion the north side of the street. Most of the objections expressed at the meeting focused on the removal of the three trees, which are within the town’s road right-of-way.

First Selectman Edmund Meehan said the hedge in front of 137 Main St. is also located within the town right-of-way, and is a liability for the town because it blocks sight line views in the area of the crosswalk from a staff parking lot to the Chesterfields facility. He said the hedge must be removed even if there is no Main Street East reconstruction project.

Meehan said Wednesday the committee, in discussion after the public comment portion of the meeting, expressed a consensus to stand by the original recommendation for a continuous sidewalk on the north side of the street. Meehan said the board of selectmen would discuss the committee’s recommendation further at a meeting next month.
But Meehan also confirmed the debate over sidewalks has delayed an initial goal of putting the project out to bid and beginning construction by this fall. He said construction is now expected to begin in the spring of 2015. The estimated $1 million project is funded by a combination of state grants and some town funding.