Whether to add more outdoor pedestrian space or more parking is a dilemma presented in the newest proposed concept plans for a two-block area in downtown Shelton.
Some plans would create plazas where people would be encouraged to gather and sit at cafes, surrounded by sculptures and fountains.
There could even be a linear pedestrian way, like a road for people instead of cars. This concept has proven popular in Burlington, Vt., and many warm-weather tourist communities.
Other plans would add mostly ground-level parking between new buildings constructed near the outer streets. These plans are seen as less radical and more practical, since convenient parking always is in demand in downtown districts.
And while the idea of adding below-ground parking is attractive and would allow for pedestrian areas above the parking, it’s also expensive and could extend the timeline to complete a redevelopment plan.
“There’s a lot of dynamics going on here,” Mayor Mark Lauretti said.
Six concepts presented
Jason C. Williams, lead landscape architect with Milone & MacBroom, presented six new concept plans to the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z)’s Downtown Subcommittee for the two blocks bordered by Howe Avenue, Center Street, Coram Avenue, and White Street.
The city owns much of the land, and is looking at the possibility of building a new city hall there as part of a larger redevelopment. The firehouse and probate court would be demolished and relocated, and the U.S. post office likely would move and that structure be taken down or used for a new purpose.
The row of buildings on Howe Avenue from Bridge to White streets would remain, including the historic Pierpont Block building.
A few of the new concept plans would add up to four large, new buildings on the Center Street side, which some people found to be too intense for the location.
Some people at the Downtown Subcommittee meeting stressed that having more parking is essential to attracting people, whether to shops, restaurants or clubs.
Williams said studies of downtown traffic and City Hall space needs would have to be done.
The state will play a role in what happens because three of the four roads that form the two-block area, as well as Bridge Street toward Derby, are state roads.
Matto site’s future discussed
The issue of whether to incorporate the Matto family’s plan for its site, where the January 2014 fire occurred, also came to the forefront.
The Downtown Subcommittee, and Lauretti in particular, wanted to consider concepts that might use that land for something new rather than a structure to be somewhat similar to what was there before.
Only two of Williams’ six new concepts include a new Matto building.
Elaine Matto said if the family proceeds, it expects to construct something similar to the building that burned down. Elaine and Ralph Matto, husband and wife, own the property.
“We’ve been trying to work with people here,” Elaine Matto said.
‘Completely negates our existence’
Son Joseph Matto, an architect who has been working with city staff and the Downtown Subcommittee, said Williams’ conceptual work “completely negates our existence, which is unbelievable to me.”
Joseph Matto said a new City Hall could go on the Matto land, and he had presented ideas on how to do this months ago.
Son Marc Matto said the more drastic concepts would require that many entities be relocated, not just the Matto’s plans for a new building. “Everyone just can’t leave,” he said.
He said the family needs to know what to do soon, but thinks the family and the city can still work together. “We can’t sit and wait too long,” Marc Matto said.
Many city officials expect the Mattos to seek zoning permission for a new building in the near future.
Some people at the meeting said a new Matto building could be done first, designed to fit in with whatever might happen around it later.
“The Matto building could be the anchor, and we could go out from there,” said P&Z member Anthony Pogoda.
Michele Bialek, co-owner of Liquid Lunch, also was taken aback by many of the new concepts.
“Will our business be included as part of the discussion?” asked Bialek, noting Liquid Lunch was there for 10 years before the fire and that she and her husband, Fred, are preparing to refurbish and re-open in the original location. The Mattos own that site.
Bialek said no one has called her to seek her input.
Williams said the concept plans include restaurants, perhaps in new locations, and the Bialeks should be a part of that. “Liquid Lunch is an important part of downtown. We want you there,” he said.
John Anglace, Board of Aldermen president, said existing stakeholders such as the Mattos must be considered, partly because they have a more immediate timeline than the city.
Williams said Shelton shouldn’t be afraid to do something radical, pointing to the success of Blue Back Square in West Hartford, a newer outdoor retail/restaurant/entertainment area. “They thought big and they did it,” he said.
P&Z member Virginia Harger said Blue Back covers a much larger area, and whatever Shelton does within these two blocks needs to reflect that it’s a more compact location.
Lauretti said the concepts should be viewed as early ideas, and there will be many changes as a plan takes shape. “There’s a lot to digest here,” he said.
P&Z Chairman Ruth Parkins agreed. “This whole process is an exercise in thinking outside the box — to envision what could be there,” she said.
Williams is expected to refine a few ideas, based on feedback, and present three-dimensional renderings of them in the future.
Milone & MacBroom, an architectural and engineering firm, is being paid by the P&Z to work on the concept plans.