Privacy, safety concerns raised with new Riverwalk

Now that construction of the new Riverwalk section has started, some residents of an adjacent condominium complex are again raising concerns about whether the design will impact their privacy.

The start of Riverwalk’s Phase Two section will be between the Birmingham condominium and the Shelton Avalon apartment complex, with access off Canal Street.

The brick walkway will run close to residential units in this area, with concerns about whether the design will create a place for people to gather near the water, next to the Birmingham.

That spot is only a few feet from where Birmingham resident Rebecca Twombly lives. Her unit is on the ground floor in that corner, near the river.

Twombly doesn’t think city officials are taking her and her neighbors’ concerns for safety and privacy as seriously as they should in the design.

“I’ll come and put a park bench under your window and see what you think,” she said, referring to the proximity of her home to the planned walkway.

People may congregate

Twombly worries that people will congregate and create noise, and potentially could break into ground-level units like hers. “It’s a huge safety issue for me, and a noise and privacy issue for many others,” she said.

On a more innocent level, she said young children might run ahead of their parents and go near windows of residential units to look inside.

Twombly said city officials should take into consideration that zoning officials approved ground-level residential units in the Birmingham, prior to the Riverwalk being finalized.

Avalon units are about one story above ground level in that area, she noted.

Twombly isn’t opposed to the new Riverwalk section, but wants the design to not encourage people to gather next to the Birmingham or any other residential building. The first Riverwalk section is not near any similar structures.

Concerns raised in 2008

Twombly and some other Birmingham residents raised similar concerns at a city public hearing on the future of the Riverwalk in 2008, when Phase Two was still in its conceptual stage.

The new Riverwalk phase is being done as a design-build project, which means a specific final design wasn’t presented for public review.

The new Riverwalk’s path has been dug in the ground, and brick pavers should begin being installed soon.

Plans call for building the new Riverwalk’s brick walkway and lighting before winter and then adding landscaping — and perhaps benches — in the spring.

City response to concerns

City officials said the original idea was to extend the walkway close to the water, near that corner of the Birmingham, creating an area to visually take in water views.

They said that has changed, based on the concerns expressed earlier, but the corner may still have a rounded area as “an architectural concept.”

“This is a design-type thing,” said James Ryan, president of the Shelton Economic Development Corp. (SEDC), the entity overseeing the project for the city.

Ryan said there are places where users of the new Riverwalk section will naturally gather, such as the entrance on Canal Street. However, he said, “most of these walkways tend to keep people moving.”

The new Riverwalk’s Phase Two design is slightly more passive than earlier versions, Ryan said, and therefore may generate less visible public activity in that vicinity.

Mayor: 'Legitimate concerns' deserve action

Mayor Mark Lauretti said the city can take steps to increase the privacy of residents. “If there are legitimate concerns, they have to be addressed,” he said. “We’ll have to discuss it.”

Lauretti said steps can be taken “to create privacy,” such as adding natural screening through landscaping.

Gathering spots

Twombly said she now walks the original Riverwalk and sees how people — especially young people — often gather at certain spots, especially in the summer and including when darkness is setting in.

She said skateboards, music and sometimes even the aroma of marijuana can be found at these gathering spots.

“It will be too inviting to do all these things — day and night,” said Twombly, who added she fears she will have to frequently call the police.

'I won't be able to do that anymore'

Now, in the summer, she can open her windows at the Birmingham to take advantage of the breeze. “I won’t be able to do that anymore,” she said.

Twombly also worries about the safety of children and teens in the area, with old industrial artifacts, the steep drop-off to the river, and changing water levels due to the nearby dam at the end of Canal Street.

Twombly is a member of the Shelton Citizens Advisory Board, which provides input to the SEDC, focusing mainly on downtown.

Ryan said it’s important to remember the Riverwalk has played a pivotal role in downtown Shelton redevelopment, with the Riverwalk’s popularity being a part of ongoing riverfront reclamation efforts.

Editor’s note: Brad Durrell, the author of this article, is a resident of the Birmingham and lives on an upper-floor unit in the corner being referenced in the story.