Train Station Area Development Examined

With Permission A study of the half-mile radius around Branford’s train station shows areas that may be prime for development in the next decade— including Meadow Street, the electric substation site, Branford Landing, and the Anchor Reef complex.

“All of these things, in one way or another, may be in play in the next 10 years. We’re looking at those different development possibilities,” said Frank Fish, a founding principal of BFJ Planning of Stamford. 

The Eversource transformer plant, which occupies a key corner at Meadow and Rogers Streets is no longer needed by the utility company and is expected to close down in the near future, Fish said.

The consulting firm was hired by the town to conduct a Transit Oriented Development (TOD) study of the area near the recently expanded Shoreline East Train Station.

Diana Stricker Photo Fish and project planner Noah Levine presented an overview of the study at a special meeting at Fire Headquarters of the Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission Tuesday. A link to Tuesday’s power-point presentation can be found on the P&Z department’s page on the town’s web site.

The draft will be presented to P&Z Oct. 17, and a final report is due in November. Two public workshops have already been held, and a survey was conducted.

Fish said the TOD recommendations can be incorporated into the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) that will be getting underway shortly. 

Development Possibilities

Fish discussed several development possibilities as depicted in the top photo. He said portions of Meadow Street may be up for renovation at some point. “Certainly over time, some (property owners) may decide on other development possibilities,” he said.

The upper section of Meadow Street toward Montowese Street is slated to become Atlantic Wharf, a residential and retail complex on the site of the former Atlantic Wire factory. The factory has just been demolished to make way for the new construction.

At the other end of Meadow Street is the electric transformer site, which Fish said is slated for shut-down. “One new site that has come up is the CL&P transformer plant which is no longer necessary by the utility company,” he said.

Town Engineer Janice Plaziak told the Eagle that Eversource (formerly CL&P), has been installing new utility poles and wires to bypass the Meadow Street substation, which is located in a flood-prone area. Plaziak said the project, which should be complete by early next year, will allow the company to shut down that substation. She said town officials submitted a letter to Eversource expressing interest in obtaining the property. Eversource has also made upgrades to the larger station on East Main Street, and elevated much of the equipment.

The owners of the Stony Creek Brewery, which opened in 2015, have proposed building a small boutique hotel at the site of the former Paul’s Wire Rope & Sling company at 4-6 Indian Neck Avenue, which is across from the brewery. Plans are expected to be submitted soon to P&Z.

Another prime piece of riverfront property is between the brewery and Anchor Reef.  “Branford Landing is privately owned and the owner says he’d like to keep running it that way, but eventually he indicated that someday this would also be in play,” Fish said.  Branford Landing Marina and boat storage is on the site of the former Malleable Iron Fittings (MIF) factory.

The Anchor Reef Planned Development District (PDD), which was approved in 2001, called for three new condo buildings, a hotel, offices and one renovated condo building.  Revised plans for the complex at 60 Maple St. were approved in 2012 that called for two additional condo buildings, and offices that would be smaller in scale than originally planned. The proposed hotel was eliminated and would be replaced by a lawn area. The complex currently includes two upscale condominium buildings and a club house.

The owners of Anchor Reef were recently granted a 5-year extension for the completion of the PDD that was approved in 2012.

An economist with BFJ Planning said there is currently a stronger demand for residential construction rather than retail or offices in this area of Branford.  “The key test of the strength of the residential market is the Atlantic Wharf development,” Fish said.

He said the economist also concluded the town can benefit from additional cultural and recreational uses.

With Permission Fish said the P&Z Commission may be interested in creating an overlay zone for the areas that are zoned industrial, as indicated in purple on the map above. He previously discussed the overlay zone with the commissioners. He said it would be optional for property owners in the industrial zone. “If you opt in, you get some additional uses,” Fish said in regard to property owners. He said the town would also get some benefits, such as sidewalks and public access to the riverfront.

Streetscapes and Connectivity

Diana Stricker Photo Levine (pictured) said the plans are not just about the train station.

“A lot of people see this as a waterfront area, and there are beautiful assets and it’s close to the town center,” Levine said. “But there are some needs with regard to the streetscape, the sidewalks, and improving connections to the waterfront and to other destinations in the area.”

Levine said they looked at key streets to build linkages to the Town Center, the train station and the Branford River. He mentioned Kirkham Street, Meadow Street, a multi-use path connection from South Main to Meadow Street, and expanding the Shoreline Greenway trail.

Some improvements include additional sidewalks; signage that would direct people to various areas; trees and lighting; and traffic-calming techniques.
“We want to think about how to improve walkability and the sidewalk network,” Levine said.

Shuttle Loop Suggested

He also suggested creating a shuttle loop that could connect Branford Point, the train station, Stony Creek Brewery and the Town Center. Several people who attended the workshops spoke of the need for a shuttle.

Levine talked about ways to make the area more resistant to flooding, including a proposal by the town to install flood gates and a pump system at the underpass between Meadow Street and Indian Neck Avenue. That option was part of the town’s Coastal Resilience Plan that was drafted last year.

One person at the meeting asked who would fund a flood-gate project.

Diana Stricker Photo “That’s one of the benefits of planning,” said Chuck Andres, who chairs the P&Z. He said plans would already be on the books if funding becomes available.

Fish said he was pleased with the public turnout at the (TOD) workshops. “The four points of this draft vision statement really come out of the two workshops and looking over the results of the public survey,”  Fish said.

One of the key principles is development or revitalization of sites that are vacant or underutilized through construction that is compatible with the neighborhood. Other principles include creating land uses that don’t compete with the Town Center; improving connectivity, and encouraging development that is resilient to flooding.

More than 50 percent of 282 people who responded to surveys said that improved access to parks and the waterfront, and maintaining community character are the top priorities for the area around the train station.

The third priority was improving sidewalks and the streetscape.
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posted by: Pres102 on October 2, 2017  5:02pm

Yes, this TOD plan is very timely, especially since several major developments are already in place or about to be built. The Anchor Wharf apartment development will be a major contributor to this plan as will the completion of the condo development at Anchor Reef. Leasing up or selling these units will be a sign that the economy is strong enough to support the promise of this TOD plan. One sticky question is the noise from the brewery and it’s impact on the surrounding residential neighborhood. The huge popularity especially in the warmer months and the increase in special events at the brewery, with their accompanying loud music and traffic, must be addressed if we are going to create an attractive waterfront district residential users will want to live nearby. Don’t get me wrong, the brewery is a great asset but it’s owners need to be more cognizant of these concerns of its neighbors for the TOD district to be successful.