NEWINGTON ‚Äď A train stop and all that it brings is back on the town‚Äôs radar, after an inquiry from the new town planner reignited the flame and elected officials‚Äô interest.
Renata Bertotti, who was hired as Newington‚Äôs Town Planner in Nov. 2020, brought together members of the Town Plan & Zoning Commission (TPZ) and Town Council Tuesday night to find out more about this alleged train station proposal, which was on the back burner for years.
Old concerns and enthusiasm both came to light, along with divisions on location and scope.
‚ÄúMy approaching you all with this was honestly trying to get to the bottom of it,‚ÄĚ Bertotti told elected officials. ‚ÄúI received a couple inquiries from residents asking for updates and I never could give them any because I didn‚Äôt have any.‚ÄĚ
The Capitol Region Council of Governments (CRCOG) also contacted her in hopes of doing a site study ahead of the project, but Bertotti was uncertain as to what specific site was chosen.
‚ÄúFrom my recollection the council was very split on where the location should be,‚ÄĚ Mayor Beth DelBuono said of discussions a few years back regarding the project.
The Council and TPZ did approve Transit Village Design District (TVDD) regulations in Aug. 2019 for a 64-acre site along 565 Cedar St., which the State Department of Transportation had been considering for a new stop along Amtrak‚Äôs Hartford-New Haven line.
‚ÄúThe state felt Cedar Street made more sense in terms of its location in relation to other stations,‚ÄĚ the mayor recalled. ‚ÄúFrom my perspective the Newington Junction, West Hill area made a lot of sense. It gives us opportunities to develop that as a historical district; to make it more walk-able, so people can come and visit. I see why Cedar Street is attractive as well. I think the biggest thing we need to figure out is, is the state willing to do one or the other or are they decided on one location.‚ÄĚ
The answer to that and other questions will be obtained before Newington can move forward.
TPZ Chairman Domenico Pane also leaned toward Newington Junction as a better location, but emphasized the right decision would be the one that‚Äôs best for Newington.
‚ÄúI like the fact it‚Äôs more of a community station,‚ÄĚ he said of the Junction site. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs walking distance to a tremendous amount of people in Newington and the southern end of West Hartford.
On the other hand, Pane added, the Cedar St. site was preferred by the DOT for its proximity to I-84 for commuters, but would require costly environmental remediation.
‚ÄúWhat station would be in the best interest of Newington citizens, not necessarily State of Connecticut?‚ÄĚ he asked.
New town councilor Mitch Page urged fellow elected officials to ‚Äúthink big.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúIf we think creatively, innovatively and through a lens of abundance we can create a lot of mixed use, retail, housing for young people‚Ä¶create energy and get a lot of money coming in to stabilize our tax base,‚ÄĚ Page said. ‚ÄúWe need to be brave and courageous‚Ä¶the Cedar Street site made sense then and it makes sense now.‚ÄĚ
Deputy Mayor Gail Budrejko was not as privy to the possibility of this grand-scale development.
‚ÄúPart of the issue for me is the scale,‚ÄĚ Budrejko said. ‚ÄúI don‚Äôt think this station should be a magnet for surrounding towns to just come and park and leave. I think it should also be attractive.‚ÄĚ
In a letter sent to the Council beforehand and in his address at the meeting, State Rep. Gary Turco cautioned elected officials on shifting their support for the station‚Äôs location, pointing to a 2018 DOT study that concluded the Cedar St. site was better suited than the Junction.
‚ÄúSome of those reasons include a more viable construction site, potential for economic development and strategic access to highways and Central Connecticut State University,‚ÄĚ Turco said. ‚ÄúThe DOT‚Äôs support of the proposed site is essential to move the project forward. Funding needs to be secured within the State of Connecticut‚Äôs budget and will most likely include federal grants. Without the DOT‚Äôs support for the site location, the project will not move forward.‚ÄĚ
Turco went on to share how Newington residents might benefit from the train station and surrounding development and promised to help the town open lines of communication with DOT to discuss ideas.
Town officials are now hoping to meet with the DOT to get answers to their questions before returning to the table.
‚ÄúI appreciate the open dialogue tonight. I‚Äôm hopeful we can work with the DOT to get what we feel is best for the Town of Newington,‚ÄĚ DelBuono said, going on to address how the project‚Äôs parameters may have changed since last discussed. ‚ÄúI think we are doing our due diligence to ask, ‚Äėis the vision that was right years ago still the vision that is right for Newington and its residents?‚Äô‚ÄĚ
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at email@example.com.