Every seat was full at the Sound View Commission meeting in Old Lyme last night, and for good reason. This was the first public presentation of a proposal to revamp the town's beleaguered public beach area and local residents turned out en masse to see what the town had in mind.
The plan has been in the works since September of 2011, when the town hired BSC Group Engineering to come up with a concept and designs to help solve parking and public safety issues, and make the area a tourist destination.
The Sound View Commission, which was officially established by the Old Lyme Board of Selectmen in 2011 to address those same issues, was charged with reviewing the plans and arrived at the following. (You'll find the entire presentation attached as a PDF.)
The Big Reveal
The final design includes permanent flush toilets and showers, parking kiosks for the street and the town lot, bike paths, and a park for events and picnics. Mindful of the need for parking, which is already in short supply by the town's public beach, the Commission selected a design that preserved as many spaces as possible in the town's lot.
The total cost of the project amounts to $659,000, about half of which will go to pay for the parking kiosks and the bathrooms. The town has already applied for a Department of Transportation Enhancement Fund Grant that would fund most of the project. The cost to the town would be $132,000.
The project's supporters say the improvements to the area are expected to boost income to the town—which currently receives all the money from beach stickers and parking fees—by $24,000 annually. If that happens, the project should pay for itself after five and a half years.
While some people at the Sound View Commission meeting questioned the need for a park or bike paths, there is no grant available that would only cover the cost of kiosks and restrooms, which everyone agrees the beach area needs desperately. This grant is only available if the project also includes a park and alternative transportation links.
The Initial Reaction
After seeing the entire proposal, most people at the meeting seemed pretty enthusiastic.
"It's almost a dream that we can turn this community around," said Scott Boulinger, president of the Federation of Old Lyme Beaches. "I think this is one of the largest game-changers."
Some local business owners were slightly less effusive but many said they were encouraged by the fact that the town now seems willing to invest in the area. Overall, they said they were in favor of any improvements aimed at drawing more people and businesses into the increasingly blighted area.
Naturally, there were still a few reservations about parking. Businesses were concerned that the project would require taking space away from the town's existing parking lot and local parking lot operators were concerned about how the town would set parking fees for the new kiosks.
The Sound View Commission last night voted to establish a subcommittee on parking that would include representatives from local businesses and lot owners to try to come up with a plan that everyone could live with going forward.
Others had more specific questions about the proposed structures and landscaping. Would the buildings be able to withstand the flooding that plagues the area? Had anyone considered what might happen to the landscaping in the event of a strong storm or hurricane? They were assured that the engineers had taken all of that into consideration.
After hearing the full presentation, however, the final questions revolved around whether the town intended to move ahead with the plan, even if the grant money didn't come through, and how soon the project would be completed and if it would be in place by next Memorial Day.
The answer to those questions depends on whether the town gets the grant, whether voters approve it, and when any of that happens. Commission Chairman Frank Pappalardo took the fact that people were asking those questions as a good sign, however.
"Even those who were against it were for it," he said.