SEYMOUR — The Strategic Planning Committee, meeting Wednesday, September 11, prepared for the presentation of the first, one-year portion of its 10-year strategic plan to the Board of Selectmen and heard suggestions from town economic development consultant Sadie Colcord.
Since the committee’s conception, its members—Chairman Kathie Vrlik, Don Smith, Jr., Selectman Trisha Danka, Rory Burke and Selectman Stephan Behuniak—have interviewed and received feedback from departments and agencies within the municipality and have taken comments from the first selectman and the Board of Selectmen.
After the first draft of the 10-year plan was finalized, the committee developed an strategy to better execute the plan: Members prioritized specific items and identified the ones they believe they can successfully carry out in a year.
The committee will present the one-year plan, to be carried out in 2020, to the Board of Selectmen in December after a required biannual update with First Selectman Kurt Miller in October and a subsequent revision in November.
“At least in this first year, what we’re including is a lot of low-hanging fruit,” said Mr. Burke. He added that multi-year projects, like transit-oriented development and economic development, were more likely to be broken down into component parts in year two or three.
Ms. Colcord presented several suggestions for economic development on Wednesday, preluding a more formal interview with the committee when it begins drafting its 2021 plan.
Ms. Colcord has been regularly meeting with business owners in town to help inform her ideas.
She said using an economic development corporation makes sense for Seymour; since most of the land has already been developed, many projects will involve working with existing properties that are underutilized.
Economic development “best practice,” she said, is business retention. Engaging existing businesses and making sure they are satisfied is a more reasonable tactic than trying to bring new businesses in.
She suggested hosting something like a “state of the town” biannual event to draw businesses in and speak with business owners about different projects going on and things the town is doing to support them.
Commenting on the Derby Avenue industrial park, Ms. Colcord said that along with roadway improvement and plan enforcement of the area, the town should consider putting up signage, something the businesses there would appreciate.
She also pointed out, conceding it may be a zoning issue, that there is an R-18 district within the industrial park consisting of several small houses that pre-date the industrial zone.
She suggested talking to the Planning and Zoning Department about re-zoning the area and making it all industrial. The houses would remain nonconforming until they are all sold or until residents move out, which would then allow for transformation of the houses into places for industrial development.
Ms. Colcord had some ideas for downtown. To alleviate the perceived parking issue, she suggested posting way-finding signage to help people locate the public parking lot behind Town Hall, implementing parking time limits and restricting overnight parking.
In response to Mr. Behuniak, who asked whether they should close some streets to car traffic and make them pedestrian-only, Ms. Colcord said the idea probably wouldn’t go over well, but that it could be a seasonal option.
She also brought up commissioning a street artist to make the cityscape more engaging and encourage people to walk.
On the subject of appearance, she said the town could consider a revolving loan fund for building facade improvements, probably in the downtown area. The town could put money into the fund and provide low-interest loans to property owners who want to improve the looks of their buildings.
More generally, Ms. Colcord suggested creating a town logo to put on all signage, something “more marketable” than the town seal.
Ms. Colcord explained some options for funding new developments. She pointed out that there are a number of available parcels on Derby Avenue and suggested turning them into a tax increment financing—or TIF—district.
When an area is designated a TIF district, any additional tax revenue resulting from a development project is recycled back into general improvements for the area such as aesthetic upkeep, plantings, safety and traffic updates, etc.
Another option is a credit enhancement agreement. A developer would make investments in infrastructure, and the town could then reimburse the developer with the tax revenue that results from the development improvement.
She said the town should also explore grants for transit-oriented or housing development and identify the projects they would prioritize with those funds.
One issue that came up was resident input: “Determining economic development priorities is as much about what the businesses need as what the residents are interested in and willing to allow to happen in their town,” said Ms. Colcord, “the types of development that they’re looking for, the demographics of the community and the trends moving forward.”
The board discussed different ways they could reach the community. Mr. Burke said the committee, in collaboration with the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments, hosted a series of poorly attended public input sessions in 2016.
Since residents don’t seem to respond a public forum setup, the committee then hosted a public input session, inviting representatives from local organizations to represent different pockets of the community; Pop-Warner and Little League, for example, represented families. The turnout was much greater.
“I think we got an essence of what people were thinking about,” said Ms. Vrlik.
The committee discussed briefly how to present the plan to Mr. Miller and then the Board of Selectmen.
Members decided they would give a general narrative overview of what they have done over the past several months.
The Strategic Planning Committee, established in 2013 by Ms. Danka, the former chairman, is comprised of a group of passionate residents who wish to make the town a better place for businesses, residents, visitors and taxpayers all-around.
Residents may view the 10-year strategic plan on the town’s website.