Selectmen briefed: New sidewalks becoming reality

In September 2014, the town of Wilton received notice it had been awarded a $425,000 grant from the Connecticut Department of Housing to improve the sidewalks along River Road in Wilton Center by replacing segments of concrete, grass trim and painted crosswalks with integrated pavement, a material that can be made to resemble red brick, a common aesthetic element.
Now, almost a year later, the Board of Selectmen has been briefed on the proposed design plans, implementation plans and approval process.
The briefing took place at the July 7 Board of Selectmen meeting.
The board submitted a draft of the design plans to the state Department of Housing for approval, which it will need to begin construction.
According to First Selectman Bill Brennan, the goal of the project is twofold: “ improve public safety and to enhance the aesthetic quality of the town.”
Brennan also pointed out there are several areas in Wilton Center that do not have the proper sidewalk ramps handicapped individuals need for their wheelchairs. He said the project will supply those ramps.
Town Planner Bob Nerney told the board Wilton is one of a select few — and also one of the nicest — towns that has been approved for the grant, which is officially titled the ‘Main Street Investment Fund’ (MSIF).
“This program is for distressed downtown communities. When we made application, we were told by the state that roughly 5% of the applications are approved,” said Nerney.
“To be honest with you,” he continued, “I didn’t think we really had much of a chance, if any, because, again, they’re really geared more toward trying to stimulate economic development within distressed communities, and I would not put Wilton within that category. We were quite fortunate.”
“This gives us a sense of where we’re headed,” Selectman Richard Dubow said of the briefing, “but is it possible to have the design company to come in and give a presentation?”
Nerney explained that is not on the immediate horizon due to the nature of the grant. The grant only covers construction; it does not cover planning.
“We were constrained by budgetary constraints in terms of the plan itself. That (the design plan) does not come in under the grant; that was done out of the past fiscal year operating expenses,” he said.
Dubow raised another issue.
He was concerned that the segmented installation of the integrated pavement will interfere with the very unity of design elements the town hopes the new material will achieve.
“My fear is that this will look attractive but there is not a holistic approach, and we’ll be leaving parts unaddressed,” said Dubow.
Brennan answered him, saying, “It covers about 75% of the center, I would think,” a statistic that Dubow seemed satisfied with, saying, “Oh, it does?”
According to Brennan, there is some urgency to the project, because it must be completed before River Road is paved, and River Road must be paved before the arrival of winter.

The grant

According to the Connecticut Department of Housing website, the MSIF is an “act promoting economic growth and job creation in the state,” and is a grant to be used “for improvements to property owned by the municipality.”
It cannot exceed $500,000 and can only be granted to towns with fewer than 30,000 people or those eligible for the small town economic assistance program (STEAP).