The town has embarked on a renewed effort to re-envision and enliven the town’s business district, also sometimes lovingly called The Flats or “Downtown.” On September 15, the 2030 Task Force invited residents and business owners, both from the commercial district as well as residential Woodbridge, to meet over a glass of beer and “dream big.” The meeting took place under a large tent set up in front of New England Brewing Company, and the turnout was lively, with a mix of town officials, business owners and involved residents. About 40 participated.
Turns out, dreaming big is not all that easy for New Englanders who pride themselves on their sense of prudence and fiscal responsibility. But some ideas did percolate, for example a zip line or a gondola over West Rock, an amphitheater with West Rock as the backdrop, a wedding venue; a skate park and ice rink; outdoor ping-pong; an all-seasons farmers market – the ideas were all taken in by consultant Laura Pirie, who encouraged the participants to “suspend disbelieve.”
The effort is under the auspices of the 2030 Task Force, an ad-hoc group of residents called by First Selectman Beth Heller to think about ways to grow the town’s Grand List, which lists all the taxable properties. The hope is that a growing Grand List will spread the tax burden among more people. The name of the task force reflects the time horizon – the year 2030 – to make this a reality.
Yet Pirie did not leave the pie in the sky – or at least, that is her promise. Her firm, Pirie Associates, will synthesize the information gleaned from the meeting and from multiple surveys, and work them into a plan of what the business district could look like going forward. “Ideas are not solutions,” Pirie said. “Our team will synthesize them into solutions.” She said the surveys, in particular the residents’ survey, showed that any solution would be “nature-forward.”
What makes Woodbridge unique is the love of outdoor recreational activities, said Danielle Davis, a project architect with Pirie’s office. And that love is reflected in the types of businesses that draw traffic from out-of-towners, businesses such as the bowling alley, Woodbridge Running Co. and Amity Bike.
Pirie described the character of the district as “nature-forward,” “informal but tidy,” “open and airy.” Any planning would try to maximize its unique geographic location, with mixed use and “not too dense.”
Actually, the first exercise was to name the District, as some people avoid “The Flats” as being pejorative; a previous planning effort referred to “Woodbridge Village.” Residents were invited to write their ideas on a board, and later they were invited to add stickers for their favorite ones.
Another piece of the puzzle is the street scape preferences and traffic patterns. Pirie asked participants to fill out, based on photographs, which street scenes/buildings/amenities they would prefer and why.
The results will be presented at a subsequent meeting sometime in November, Pirie said. This meeting was just the first in a series of three. The third and last of the community meetings is planned to take place in early January.
Members of the 2030 Task Force are Chris Dickerson and Susan Jacobs, co-chairmen; Chris Lovejoy, Garett Luciani, Jeremy Rosner and Teri Schatz.
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent
Pictured: Laura Pirie, right, and Chris Dickerson, Woodbridge business owner and co-chairman of the 2030 Task Force, welcome residents to a brainstorming session