July 29, 2014

Chester Selectmen Stand by Main Street Project with North Side Sidewalk

CHESTER— The board of selectmen Wednesday approved plans for the Main Street East project that include a continuous sidewalk on the north side of the road that has drawn objections from some residents in recent weeks.

The board accepted the recommendation of the volunteer Main Street Project Committee to direct project engineers to prepare final design plans that would include the north side sidewalk. The decision was unanimous and bipartisan, with Republican Selectman Tom Englert joining Democratic First Selectman Edmund Meehan and Democratic Selectman Larry Sypher in the vote.

The Main Street East Project, the first phase of a long-planned reconstruction of Main Street through the downtown village, calls for reconstructing 1,800 linear feet of Main Street from the entrance to the Laurel Hill Cemetery east to the intersection with Middlesex Avenue (Route 148). The committee’s recommendation for a continuous north side sidewalk, made in March, drew a mixed response from residents at a well-attended April 22 public information meeting

Project engineers with the Mystic firm Kent & Frost Associates presented alternative plans at the session, with most of the discussion focused on the north side sidewalk option that would require some changes to residential properties at 131 and 137 Main Street. Many of the objections focused on the need to remove three mature maple tree in the vicinity of 131 Main St. and the School Lane intersection. But other residents supported the plan for a continuous north side sidewalk and safer and more convenient for pedestrians, particularly with the possibility the town will pursue construction of a new library on a section of North Quarter Park that is located off the north side of the street.

The property owners at 131 Main St., David and Lisa Meade, have expressed a willingness to accept the sidewalk with tree removal and work with the committee and engineers on landscape improvements and replacement of the trees. The property owners at 137 Main St., Jeff and Comer Gates, continue to oppose the project plans.

Comer Gates and three other residents continued to voice objections to the north side sidewalk before the board’s vote Wednesday. Henry Krempel suggested delaying a decision on the north side sidewalk until after plans and funding for a new library at North Quarter park receive approval from town voters.

But Meehan said the Main Street reconstruction is “long overdue,” with the north side sidewalk a much safer long range improvement for pedestrians. He noted all work for the four-foot wide sidewalk would be in the town’s right of way, with no need for taking of any private property for the project. Meehan said the town remains willing to work with both property owners, and pick up the cost for landscaping improvements on their properties.
Englert, who served briefly as acting first selectman in 2011, said he had initial concerns about the north side sidewalk, but was convinced by comments from residents at the April 22 information meeting that it would be a safer long term improvement for the town by reducing the number of crosswalks between the north and south side of the street.

Meehan said there would be no need for a town meeting vote on the project design plans, though a town meeting vote would be required at a future date to transfer any needed town funding for the project. Most of the project would be funded by about $980,000 in state grant funds, though some additional town funding would likely be needed before the project could be put out to bid. Officials hop to being construction of the Main Street East project in the spring of 2015.
In other business Wednesday, selectmen accepted a volunteer committee’s recommendation to hire the Avon firm Richter & Cegan inc. as the consults for drafting a master plan for North Quarter Park that would include a possible library site The other firm interviewed by the committee Wednesday was Kent & Frost.. Officials want the master plan completed by July 15.