Heritage Park & Trail Proposal Unveiled For Sandy Hook
Legislative Council members were among the first to see conceptual images and to hear a proposal for an ambitious project that the Sandy Hook Organization for Prosperity (SHOP) envisions for a vacant brownfields site at 7 Glen Road.
Local developer and SHOP President Michael Burton and local builder Christopher Hottois unveiled and discussed the potential for the improvement project that would convert the former site of an auto garage in Sandy Hook center to an attractive landmark and destination that would include a modest pavilion, attractive landscaping along the Pootatuck River, and additional parking for 29 to 30 vehicles.
The site is intended to serve as a trail head for those looking to meander into the Rocky Glen State Park or to pick up the locally maintained Al’s Trail, which connects Sandy Hook Village to the Fairfield Hills campus. It would also be the centerpiece of a self-guided Sandy Hook walking tour that would feature permanently installed markers that would educate visitors about various architectural and historical features of the area, according to Mr Hottois.
The pair told the council they saw the proposal as an exciting project beneficial to the town and Sandy Hook. The proposal took shape after gathering input from neighbors, and they had already tapped the expertise of volunteers from SHOP, along with some pro bono work from a local architect, a civil engineer, and a landscape designer.
Mr Burton explained that parking has always been an impediment to developments in the tight-knit Sandy Hook Village center. He said SHOP has acquired the funds to do a “Museum in the Street” project.
Mr Hottois said volunteer Town Historian Dan Cruson would be curating aspects of the proposed historical walk.
“We feel it’s the best fit for the property considering the environmental unknowns,” he added, referring to hazardous contaminants already identified on the former repair garage site.
He recognized the work already done on the proposal from residents John Cost, Rob Sherwood, and Al Shepherd, who all donated their time and assistance developing the presentation.
Mr Hottois said the project would position part of the parking area as a cap for the environmentally sensitive areas of the property, with the pavilion serving as a community gathering space and welcoming center for anyone coming to Sandy Hook.
The pavilion would have some historical information posted inside, along with a trail map. Pointing out that there is a tremendous amount of history associated with Sandy Hook Village, Mr Hottois said SHOP volunteers had already identified more than two dozen points of interest that could be included in the walking trail.
He said part of concept involves Dayton Street enhancements that include an overlook pocket park, along with some enhancements on property owned by Mr Burton across from Eagle Rock Road that has an elevation and views of the village center.
Mr Hottois told the council he was “not here to ask for money, just to put [the proposal] in context.” He provided anticipated costs for the Heritage Park and trail head development, with its improved landscaping and streetscape elements, at $230,000. The additional production and installation of historical trail markers is estimated at $34,500, while enhancements to the Dayton Street parcel would cost approximately $18,000.
He estimated the total project price tag of $285,000 being offset by a SHOP donation of $56,000 in labor, coupled with about $18,000 in donations already raised for the project. In addition, Mr Hottois and his Flint Ridge Development partner Christopher Wilson agreed to put up $50,000 to serve as a matching grant, leaving $112,000 as an estimated net cost.
He clarified that at least 60 percent of the total project cost would be raised independently.
Mr Hottois pointed out that several sidewalk installations or extensions that would enhance the proposed Heritage Park and Trail would complete a plan of development for Sandy Hook center. He estimated those additional streetscape extensions would collectively cost about $450,000 but would not be critical to the Heritage Trail proposal.
In closing, Mr Hottois reviewed the potential benefits of the town retaining the parcel and developing it as proposed. He said it would mitigate any risks of remediating the 7 Glen Road parcel, and it has the potential to increase real estate values around SH Center.
He said a recent report from the Trust for Public Land estimated property values around new parks and park systems like the one proposed for the Sandy Hook site could escalate up to 15 percent within 500 feet of the development.
If developed privately, Mr Hottois estimated the 4,000 square feet at 7 Glen Road could generate $16,000 to $18,000 in property taxes annually. But he said increasing property values around the proposed development by just five percent would generate $20,000 in increased property taxes.
Beyond any economic value, he added that such a project would enhance Sandy Hook’s identity and would showcase both the history and natural features of the area.
“It would attract, welcome, educate, and enable visitors because parking is a challenge,” he said. “And it celebrates historical preservation.”
Council Chairman Paul Lundquist reminded his panel that the presentation was simply an opportunity for “sharing a vision that SHOP has had for some time,” but there was no plans for action or extensive discussion that evening.
Council member Judit DeStefano asked about anticipated ongoing maintenance costs and whether they would be part of a SHOP initiative or shared with the town.
Mr Burton replied, saying he envisioned certain aspects of the upkeep being shared with the town, but the pavilion itself would be designed to require minimal maintenance. He said SHOP volunteers would be engaged to tidy up the area as needed, while tapping the town for landscape maintenance.
He added that the Newtown Forest Association (NFA) trails committee could participate. Bob Eekenrode, NFA president, was in the audience and came to the presentation table to tell the council that “This project is of interest to me.”
He reminded the council that the NFA has more than 113 properties across town, the smallest being the neighboring Glen Preserve in Sandy Hook center.
“I’m told it’s one of the most scenic and emotionally comforting spots in Fairfield County,” he said, adding that NFA is a member of SHOP. He said members were intrigued when they heard SHOP was hoping to open up spots along the river by taking a blighted property and turning into a missing piece of the local network of trails.
Council member Jordana Bloom said, “I like it — capping [the parcel] and making it just a parking lot would be awful.”
Councilman Jay Mattegat asked if construction companies who are SHOP members would recuse themselves from the bidding process if the project involved public money. Mr Burton, who is among those company owners, replied that he is “hoping labor would be donated.” He said, however, that if there was bidding on a public construction project tied to the Heritage Park, “we would recuse ourselves.”
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