Shelton mayor candidate puts focus on downtown

David Eldridge, running as a Democrat, is challenging longtime incumbent Mayor Mark Lauretti.

David Eldridge, running as a Democrat, is challenging longtime incumbent Mayor Mark Lauretti.

Contributed photo

SHELTON — Downtown is experiencing a development boom, but mayoral candidate David Eldridge says the results are not nearly as positive as the city administration would ask residents to believe.

Eldridge, the retired police officer challenging longtime incumbent Republican Mark Lauretti for the city’s top job, said the work on Howe Avenue and Canal Street is a “mish-mosh” of housing developments, led by preferred developers, that remains undesirable while straining the infrastructure.

“Downtown is not a desired destination for most residents and visitors,” Eldridge said. “It should be and could be with proper planning, development and investment.”

Over the last three decades that Lauretti has been mayor, private developers have invested more than $144 million in 15 already completed projects and those in planning or under construction. That includes more than 841 apartments and 30 commercial units.

Eldridge said the developments are overbuilt and out of scale for the area — thanks in part, he said, to a lack of a true downtown plan.

“The projects are poorly planned and do not represent a transformation of the area,” Eldridge said. “There are quality issues associated with several of the projects that have impacted the residents living in those projects.”

Eldridge said he would “hit pause” on any new high density apartment development until officials can examine how the roughly 1,000 units are impacting roads, parking, first responder services and schools.

“We don’t examine impact in this city and we are paying dearly as a result,” Eldridge said. “People throughout Shelton, as I go door-to-door, are disgusted. They feel enough is enough. We need to take control of what is happening.”

He added that the projects are straining the infrastructure of the area and clogging parking capacity, which ultimately is hurting the small businesses. The development is also creating a disfigured streetscape, and taking away potential of true waterfront development, Eldridge said.

“We need to do a detailed plan with buy-in from the community for the entire downtown area and corridor,” Eldridge said. “We need to set a vision that will transform the area to a true destination. We need to delineate and prioritize improvements to infrastructure, traffic circulation, the pedestrian experience. We need to establish a sense of place so people want to come downtown and stay for a while.”

Eldridge said if elected he would be meet with corporations and businesses throughout the city to let them know he supports their business success and future growth in Shelton.

“I will let them know they can count on low taxes and a more stable financial footing,” Eldridge said. “Businesses understand what that means over time.”

He also said he would like to see a police substation return to the area.

What the developments are doing is helping increase a grand list that rises annually — and has helped Lauretti keep taxes low. The city’s 2020 grand list increased 1.49 percent over the previous year. The net grand list sits at $4.89 billion in total assessments, which is 70 percent of market value, an increase of $72 million from 2019.

Eldridge says his plans for the city will not bring tax hikes because there are areas of waste to help cover any increases in spending.

“We waste millions of dollars in Shelton every year,” Eldridge said.

Examples of waste include poorly managed priorities and legal fees and lawsuits.

“That will stop,” he said. “We will redirect that money to priorities and improvements.”

Eldridge said he would “maximize all grants opportunities available

“We do not at present,” Eldridge said. “The city has gotten some funding for brownfield clean up and some road projects, but they pass on applying or winning grants through many state and federal programs that can help us improve our physical infrastructure and amenities, our Police Department, and services for residents.”

Eldridge said he would redirect money spent on running a bus company — Lauretti took over student transportation nearly three years ago — toward improving services.

“It is about better management, establishing priorities, planning, not wasting money and going after all of the alternative funding resources we can,” Eldridge said. “And let’s add partnerships and collaboration, which the current mayor doesn’t seem to believe in.”

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com