When people tell you why they moved to Ridgefield, they’ll talk about the great schools and quality of life. But what first attracted them to our town? Almost always, our lively, picturesque Main Street.
Peggy and I live on Main Street, so I might be partial. But every article about our state’s charming main streets includes—or features—our very own. Connecticut Magazine raves about it. Onlyinyourstate.com ranks it #1 and calls it “picture perfect all year round.
As the world changes, and small-town main streets around the country fade, we have to make sure our jewel continues to sparkle. I’ve been working to do just that, in four ways:
1. Control traffic: There are times—especially during rush hours and weekends—when it can take longer than expected to get through town. There are four reasons for this.
• Drivers turning left force their lanes to stop until they have an opening.
• The jog at the junction of Prospect St. and the CVS lot adds an unnecessary interruption.
• The concrete blocks installed to block traffic flow between parking lots behind the east side of Main St. force drivers onto Main Street.
• Finally, rush-hour traffic on I-84 and I-684 induces drivers to use GPS apps to divert onto our roads.
Main Street is a state road (Route 35), which limits our ability to act alone. But it also benefits us with state resources and funding. Working with the state, we’ve developed plans that will greatly improve traffic flow—without dimming one watt of our charm.The plans call for aligning Prospect St. and the CVS lot, eliminating one light. We’ll add turning lanes and close some of the redundant alleys used for turning. Preparations will begin in 2020 and the work will be completed in 2021.The concrete blocks are on private properly, but we’re working with the property owners to get them removed.As for traffic diversion through town, I and other local elected officials have met with transportation officials from NY and CT. Finding a solution won’t be easy, but work is underway.One last note: parking. The new Bailey Avenue lot I spearheaded will soon go up, providing all-day parking for employees and freeing up vital spots downtown.
2. Protect retail: Malls, big-box stores and internet shopping have shuttered stores on main streets around the country. But what distinguishes our downtown is that it’s an attraction—a place people come to explore, mingle, stroll and dine, as well as pick up necessities.We’ve had our share of vacancies, and I’ve worked with our Economic and Community Development Commission to fill them. Further, we’ve created a modest tax incentive for retailers who sign a three-year lease, and it’s helping.First-floor retail is important to keep a downtown vibrant, but it’s hard to force landlords to say no to office tenants. I believe the Planning & Zoning Commission should enact regulations to encourage first-floor retail. I am also working with business owners who have first-floor offices to find a way to create retail subtenancies for their storefronts.
3. Promote tourism: “If you build it, they will come,” the saying goes. And it’s true.During my tenure, the addition of the Prospector and ACT theaters, the Ridgefield Playhouse and CHIRP have boosted appeal that was already here.Today Ridgefield is a destination for shopping, dining, arts and culture. Our Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Merchants Association and the ECDC promote Ridgefield widely and well. And now, on weekend evenings, our restaurants are full and the town is buzzing!We’ll continue to promote tourism, and I am proud to be Ridgefield’s ambassador wherever I go.
4. Carefully manage development: Main Street’s charm depends on its visual appeal. Big, hulking buildings and developments creeping out to the lot line can spoil the look of our beautiful downtown.I am not against growth—we need it to survive. But we have to make sure any development is limited in size and conforms visually to the standards established over time.The State Affordable Housing Appeals law (8-30g) ties our hands in certain situations (I’ll deal with this in another post). Further, our Planning & Zoning Commission has legal jurisdiction. But I will continue to work with individual property owners to create case-by-case solutions. And when necessary—as it was with the Schlumberger property—I will take action.
I live and work on Main Street. When I got my first car (a ’55 Chevy), I would cruise up and down. I know what’s at risk. And that’s why I work every day to make sure the Main Street I love will be here for our kids. ~ Rudy