It’s taken two years, lots of research, numerous public hearings, and two phone polls to pull it together, but Waterford now has a plan that it hopes will carry the town into the next decade.
After the final, sparsely attended, public hearing on Waterford’s Plan of Preservation, Conservation, and Development Monday night, the Planning and Zoning Committee gave the document its official approval.
So what does the future of Waterford look like? Frankly, it’s not much different from the vision laid out in the last plan, which was written in 1998.
Waterford residents report being generally satisfied with the quality of life and are keen to preserve and enhance it, said Glenn Chalder, president of Planimetrics in Avon, who wrote the document with Waterford’s Town Planner. So that’s what this new plan set out to accomplish, with an additional section on implementation that lays out which governing bodies should be responsible for overseeing different aspects of development.
“Even the best laid plans aren’t worth much if they’re not implemented,” Chalder said.
Historically, Waterford has been less of a town with a main street and more of a collection of villages and hamlets. That’s one of the aspects of Waterford that residents like, however, so the plan aims to preserve that and enhance it with what John Sheehan, who wrote the previous plan, terms “smart development.”
As Sheehan explains it, the classic example of smart development is a city, which has buildings with businesses on the first floor, residences on the second floor, all located within walking distance of the train station. As a suburb, however, Waterford’s development took a different path.
Waterford evolved with the road system and development was predicated on the idea that most people are driving, not walking, to get where they need to go. Residential neighborhoods, therefore, are often far removed from shops, services, and restaurants, which are typically clustered together in distinct business or industrial districts located along main arteries.
A smart development approach to Waterford would change that. In Jordan Village, for instance, residents can walk to for breakfast or to the local barbershop for a haircut, and there’s a church and a daycare center within walking distance.
“It’s mixed development with small businesses that support the area,” said Sheehan.
Future development, then, may take a page from the past to create more of a village center in Waterford’s various hamlets.
Preserving the Environment
Environmentally, Waterford has always taken a proactive approach, often leading the state when it comes to insisting on low impact development, preserving and expanding green space, and testing for water quality in the rivers, ponds, and coastal areas. Recent storms, Chalder said, emphasized the fact that more needs to be done to prevent flooding and preserve coastal areas.
The plan includes maps that highlight some of the more environmentally sensitive areas. As one Jordan Brook resident noted at last night’s meeting, the area in which she lives falls into an “environmentally sensitive” category, yet there is a proposal to locate a in that very area on Industrial Drive. Whether the new plan will put the kibosh on the controversial proposal remains to be seen.
Overall, the plan lays out which areas are most appropriate for new housing, new businesses, and new industries, and which areas should be preserved as open space or remain undeveloped to protect the environment.
The new development plan also aims to expand transportation options beyond roads to include more pedestrian walkways and bike paths. That might include a pedestrian zone for Clark Lane, for instance, or more greenways and trails around Waterford.
The plan also suggests that Waterford develop design guidelines to ensure that new buildings fit in with existing ones.
However, the document doesn’t set planning and zoning policy. As First Selectman Dan Steward put it, “this plan is really a roadmap for planning and zoning. I think the plan is a good one. It allows for flexibility.”
Serving the Community
The kind of services that the town provides will be dictated in large part by Waterford’s changing demographics. When the last plan was written, Waterford had a younger population and more children. Now the median age for Waterford residents is 46, which is older than the state median age of 40.
“The population of 55 and older is projected to increase,” said Chalder. The new 10-year plan, therefore, considers how best to serve the needs of an increasingly aging population. That’s not to say that the town’s young people are going to be neglected, however.
Telephone polls conducted as part of the research to put the plan together found that schools and a lack of focus on youth and activities for kids were the second most mentioned concerns for Waterford residents.
Number one on the list, however, were tax hikes and town spending. Much of Waterford’s taxes are offset by taxes paid by Dominion Nuclear Power but as Millstone’s tax contribution continues to decrease, that issue will also need to be addressed in the coming years.
The plan will be officially published, with just few minor editorial changes to the draft copy which is available at the town’s website, on January 1, 2012.