By SHERIDAN CYR
The Town of Plainville hosted a public hearing regarding the gap closure of the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail (www.fchtrail.org) in a packed, wall-to-wall middle school auditorium. A number of Southington residents joined in the discussion, as the gap in question includes a section in Southington from Lazy Lane to Town Line Road, the official town line between the two towns.
The FCHT, often called the “Rail Trail,” when completed, will span from New Haven all the way up to Northampton, Mass. Additionally, when finished, it will complete the East Coast Greenway (www.greenway.org), a multi-use trail that will span from Florida to Maine.
All portions of the Connecticut FCHT are either completed or in the construction phase except for the gap in Plainville, which is in the planning phase. The pressure is on, but some Plainville residents are concerned about the proposed alignment as it is suggested to go through some residential areas.
In Southington, however, construction is moving forward.
“We currently have two incomplete sections of the trail,” said Public Works director Keith Hayden. He explained that there is a small gap across Hart and Curtiss Street to the southern end of the trail section, which was constructed by De Maximus—an environmental project management coordination and technical support incorporation—several years ago as part of a cleanup of an old factory.
That section was paved as part of the cleanup, but not completed. Hayden said that section is scheduled to be constructed this summer.
The second section that is incomplete runs from Lazy Lane to the town line. “This section is currently under design and is approximately 30 percent complete,” Hayden said.
The design of that section is scheduled to be complete in the fall of this year. Construction is to begin in spring of 2019, with an anticipated completion in spring of 2020.
The trail has been a positive amenity in the town of Southington, according to Town Planner Rob Philips.
“It’s a real asset to our downtown,” said Philips. “We see a lot of usage, between moms and baby carriages, bikers, walkers and such. It serves as a means of getting from place to place in a safe manner.”
He added that businesses along the route benefit from the trail’s usage. “It revitalized a critical piece of our town,” he said.
Philips said he is a resident of the town of Farmington, which in recent years completed their portion of the trail. He said there was concern at first from some residents who live on or near the proposed route of the trail, but that he has seen many homes that have actually created their own personal access ways to the trail from their own backyards for quick access to the route.
“The same people who were complaining about the trail have since made connections to get access to it,” he said. “Additionally I believe it raises property value when a home has close access to the trail.”
The point he raised about property values was emphasized during the public hearing by the Capitol Region Council of Governments, the organization that has partnered with the Connecticut Department of Transportation to perform the Gap Closure Study. According to their studies, property values do in fact increase.
Though there were mixed responses at the hearing, most speakers were in favor of the trail. One Plainville resident had gathered research on the usage of the Southington portion of the trail in order to sway listeners.
The resident said that according to CRCOG reports, in 2011, Southington’s trail saw an estimated 11,635 users throughout the year. In 2013, that number increased to 115,274. The most recent number he shared topped off at 117,849.
“All of that bodes well for economic development,” he said. “Visit surrounding towns with completed trails, and you will be very impressed.”
He added that another study on a trail in New York reported that having a trail produces an economic annual impact of $700,000 per mile. Another speaker, an avid trail user, called the trail, “one of Connecticut’s greatest resources.”
One resident shared memories of walking the trail with his children from the downtown Southington section up to Zingarella’s, stopping for a slice of pizza and an ice cream cone, then traveling back.
Some concerns were raised by a Southington resident who stated a bench was stolen from a Southington area along the trail. She also said there have been reports of graffiti and vandals. Though these reports are rare, they are critical. She offered that if more lighting and more policing were available, that may help counter those actions.
In Plainville, the period for public comment extends until Feb. 12. Comments may be emailed, mailed, or given via phone to Timothy Malone, Principal Planner at the CRCOG. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, (860) 724-4221, or 241 Main Street, Hartford, CT 06106.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Cyr, email her at SCyr@SouthingtonObserver.com.