Halls Road Improvement Committee: Spring 2020 Update

The Halls Road Improvement Committee (HRIC) was created by the Town of Old Lyme to evaluate and plan for suggested improvements to the area along Halls Road, the town's main commercial district. In pursuit of that aim, the HRIC has sought broad community input to help create a master plan for future development in the area – guiding both the efforts that could be undertaken by the Town (such as sidewalks, greenspaces, etc.) and those that would be made by private property investors. Our focus throughout has been to create an environment that will retain and attract businesses and customers in an era when “bricks and mortar” retail businesses are under increasing pressure. At the same time, as our research has shown, any future development in the Halls Road area must be consistent and compatible with the traditional character of Old Lyme.

This page briefly describes, in chronological order, our progress to date, and the next steps in our effort to support the long-term viability of Halls Road as a business hub and community resource for our town.

1. Community Input/Information Gathering

In conjunction with the Town’s Economic Development Commission (EDC), the HRIC has provided multiple opportunities for both residents and businesses to provide input to the planning process for any Halls Road improvements. An extensive survey of town residents and business people showed that 80% are in favor of improvements to the Halls Road area.

Information gathering actions have included:

  • Early public meetings (held at the Old Lyme Phoebe Griffin Noyes Library and other locations) to introduce the committee and its purpose, as well as hear from attendees their interests and concerns regarding Halls Road improvements.
  • Two public meeting/workshop events (facilitated by the Yale Urban Design Workshop) to gather public input on what might be included in a “best future version” of Halls Road.
  • Door-to-door project introduction and FAQ sheets to businesses along Halls Road, requesting feedback.
  • Presentation of a “Vision Proposal” (one possible future view of Halls Road in the coming decades) shown at two open houses at Town Hall. One-on-one discussions with attendees to answer questions and invite them to vote on specific elements of the proposal.
  • Presentations of the Vision Proposal to various local community groups, including the Chamber of Commerce, Zoning Commission, Duck River Garden Club, Lions Club, and an Adult Forum at the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme.
  • The EDC in conjunction with Advance CT (previously titled the Connecticut Economic Resource Center/CERC) conducted a postal mail/online survey of residents and business owners. The response rate was higher than typical for this type of survey: About 10% of adult residents and more than 10% of all businesses in town.
  • The EDC, again in conjunction with Advance CT, conducted focus groups to assess the perceived Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) in Old Lyme’s economic future.

2. Informed Analysis and Planning

The information gained in these sessions and surveys, along with broader regional economic data and analysis supplied by Advance CT, forms the basis of the HRIC’s proposals and recommendations going forward.

Through the feedback gained from town residents and business people, the HRIC has been able to identify certain characteristics of a future Halls Road that are of most interest to Old Lyme taxpayers. These include: improved safety for pedestrians, bicycles, and cars; more ways to enjoy outdoor spaces on Halls Road; improved signage and wayfinding for businesses; and, an area that is in keeping with the character of the town. There is also significant interest among respondents for transforming Halls Road over time into something like what Lyme Street traditionally was: a vibrant mixed-use area where retail is embedded in a genuine neighborhood that includes business, residential, and public spaces. Such a change would particularly serve town residents seeking to downsize or young families wishing to move into town, but it would also support a stronger retail environment and a more vibrant community resource.

The work of Advance CT addressed the economic development strategy for all of Old Lyme, but within that context it also focused on opportunities for improvements along Halls Road. The analysis is based on their economic study of the greater Old Lyme region, as well as the previously-mentioned survey and SWOT group exercises. The resulting report will be finalized in the coming weeks, and will join the survey and SWOT results on the Town’s website at: https://www.oldlyme-ct.gov/economic-development-commission.

Key takeaways from the Advance CT work can be synthesized into two related suggestions for Halls Road improvements:

Create a “Main Street” Experience: Parking once and walking to shop, dine, or simply enjoy the environment while out for a family stroll – is one way to create needed foot traffic to support retail businesses.

  • Halls Road has the potential for a pedestrian/bicycle friendly environment, one which incorporates the natural amenities (most notably the view of the Lieutenant River and its marshes) and the cultural treasures within walking distance to Halls Road. A walking path, one which might include a pedestrian bridge over the Lieutenant River, would enhance the connectivity from the arts and cultural organizations on Lyme Street to dining and retail options on Halls Road.
  • This also speaks to the need for safe roads, sidewalks, improved lighting, and crosswalks, all requiring CT Department of Transportation participation on this state road (see Upcoming Actions).
  • Improved wayfinding and signage visibility along the roadside would better support shop and restaurant owners, many of whom shared concerns that their businesses are often hard to locate in the shopping centers.

Create a Village Setting: Although currently zoned as a Commercial (only) District, re-zoning Halls Road as a Village District with a mix of retail, residential, and open space would create a more vibrant business environment and likely prove more sustainable over the long-term.

  • Retail establishments in mixed-use neighborhoods are some of the few businesses to have shown resilience in the face of online competition and economic downturns, and continue to attract investment.
  • Older residents downsizing from their current Old Lyme homes would often prefer to stay in Old Lyme, but are moving to local towns that provide a village setting where they can walk to restaurants and amenities. Young adults, also key to a town’s economic viability, also often seek out a village setting with a mix of residential and commercial.
  • Re-zoning Halls Road to a Village District would allow property owners to diversify land use to incorporate residential, which would in turn help support the dining, entertainment, and retail options desired by town residents.

3. Next Steps/Upcoming Actions

The HRIC is actively pursuing three critical paths forward:

  • Formalizing a Master Plan: A master plan is a dynamic long-term planning document that provides a conceptual layout to guide future growth and development. The plan also addresses infrastructure needs as well as perceived limitations (such as water, waste, boundaries). The HRIC is working to have a contract in place for the professional design of its Halls Road Master Plan, based on all of the community input and analyses recently completed, and using funds already allocated. The early output will include specific plans incorporating walkways and sidewalks as well as other features to create a safe, enjoyable Halls Road environment. Having a Halls Road Master Plan in hand will allow us to seek grants to offset costs to the town of these infrastructure improvements. As a dynamic long-term document, this Master Plan will guide any future development on Halls Road.
  • DOT to Consider Improvements to Road Safety: The CT Department of Transportation (CT DOT) has jurisdiction over Halls Road (a part of US 1) and I-95 with its right-of-way. A preliminary Master Plan will allow HRIC to approach DOT to propose specific improvements, including traffic management, crosswalks, lighting, and more.
  • Proposed Re-Zoning as a Village District: The HRIC is creating a working group with members from the Economic Development Commission, Planning, and Zoning to formally explore and propose re-zoning the Halls Road Commercial District as a Village District. The Village District designation would possibly address issues such as road setbacks, architectural regulations for new or renovated buildings, water/sewage requirements, etc. Many towns have found this approach the most comprehensive, direct, and effective way to control development in a particular area and in keeping with the town’s vision. A clear statement of intent can be an attraction to investors and a support to existing and new businesses alike.

We thank all of the residents and business persons who have chosen to participate in this process to date. Our goal represents this feedback: That the Halls Road of 2030 or 2040 presents a picture in keeping with the character of Old Lyme, a New England village setting that serves as a gateway to our Historic District and its arts attractions.  We envision a Halls Road that contributes to the Town’s economic viability while sustainable, vibrant and inviting.

Minutes of our monthly committee meetings, reports, and findings are on our page of the Old Lyme Town website: www.oldlyme-ct.gov/halls-road-improvements-committee. CERC findings can be found at https://www.oldlyme-ct.gov/economic-development-commission.  

Please send us your thoughts at HallsRoadCommittee@oldlyme-ct.gov .