Residents Walk And Talk With First Selectman
“No question is a bad one. No question is too little or big,” said First Selectman Dan Rosenthal. He was speaking to the roughly ten residents to join him on the first in a series of Walk and Talk strolls through Fairfield Hills, in which he invites questions and conversation.
Saying people may have different points of view about topics, he clarified the setting “was not a debate; we can all engage,” in conversation.
He invites residents to join him in walking the trails at Fairfield Hills, weather permitting, every other Friday, from May 24 through August 30, from noon to approximately 12:45 pm. Guests should plan to meet Mr Rosenthal near the southern entrance of Newtown Municipal Center, 3 Primrose Street (opposite the new Newtown Community Center. For those interested but unable to walk the trails, Mr Rosenthal will then be available in his office from 12:45 to 1:30 pm.
“I was thinking of more laid-back ways to try to interact with people outside of the typical government structure,” such as a Board of Selectmen’s meeting, Mr Rosenthal said. The afternoon walks will get residents outside, walking, promoting fitness, and will show off the Fairfield Hills campus, he said.
A mix of past and present uses for the Fairfield Hills buildings and grounds drove conversation on Friday, May 24, during the initial Walk and Talk.
As residents met outside his office, which faces the community and senior center construction, he said that project was on track to open in July. Mr Rosenthal introduced Community Center Director Matthew Ariniello, who joined the walk.
The Senior Center space is meant for “active living,” he said.
Gary MacRae noted the center is for “retired people who want to live an active life.”’
As the group stepped past the new construction, they soon approached Stratford Hall, which is under renovation to serve as a brewpub, Asylum. Ownership came into question.
“This is a lease,” Mr Rosenthal said. “The town will own the building.”
Establishing Asylum in the town-owned former state hospital building is restauranteur Mark Tambascio, who will lease the space.
Mr Rosenthal sees breweries “as something different than a bar scene, more like a gathering space.”
Across the street from Stratford are duplex buildings, the first of which has been renovated for Parent Connection offices and use by 12/14 family foundations. “That’s a great model for what is possible here,” Mr Rosenthal said.
A question about housing on the campus also came up.
The first selectman does envision some form of housing on site. Rather than multiple single-family houses, he sees one-and two-bedroom apartments. He said, “We can manage it here. There is infrastructure here.”
He also explained, “We lack work-force housing, senior housing.” Regarding seniors, “their support structure is here,” from family, friends, doctors, and more. An apartment “gives people a chance to stay in town.”
“I’m all for a place for seniors who want to stay put and downsize,” said Joan Reynolds. Mr MacRae noted that the Fairfield Hills Master Plan Review Committee recently circulated a survey that asked questions specifically about housing. (See related article this edition).
Julia Provey considered the campus with its ball fields, trails, municipal building, the NYA Sports and Fitness Complex, and the soon-to-open community and senior centers. She said, “I like a congregation place for everyone.”
Mr Ariniello said the community center will “have events for people to interact.”
As the group traveled along a trail between soccer fields, Mr Rosenthal brought up transportation. “We want to explore a bus loop to bring people through town. There is a demand there.”
With a nod to the landscaping and the trees and meadows, Mr Rosenthal said, “[The Conservation Commission] has done a lot to keep invasives cleared.”
As the trail took walkers into the meadows overlooking campus buildings, wind sluiced through tall field grasses. The group paused, looking out across the meadow, and down at the multiple brick buildings appearing small from above. Ms Reynolds observed that Fairfield Hills is a “center of activity.”
The location can host large events, Mr Rosenthal said.
Walkers crested the High Meadow and soon began walking back down toward Mile Hill South, entering tree cover. Ms Reynolds said she “used to walk with a group of friends here.”
“We’re going to start some walking groups,” Mr Ariniello said.
Conversation turned to possibly welcoming Nunnawauk Meadows residents to make the short walk from their property and onto the campus; water drainage; tunnels that once connected the former state hospital buildings; demolition costs of structures that are slated for it; the Emergency Operations Center, which is also located at Fairfield Hills; and chatted again about the community center.
The small group eventually made the loop around and were standing behind the community and senior center where Mr Ariniello pointed to the pool area and the separate senior part of the construction.
Almost finished with their walk, the group passed Plymouth Hall, which once offered a gymnasium, bowling alley, and movie theater and served essentially as a community center.
For more information, contact the first selectman’s office at 203-270-4201, or visit newtown-ct.gov.