Public shares vision for town center

By Colin Rajala - Staff Writer
Windsor - posted Wed., Jan. 16, 2013
Town Planner Eric Barz plots his star on a diagram looking for the public's view of the role of the downtown center during the Windsor Center Transit Oriented Development (TOD) program's public workshop on Jan. 10. Photos by Colin Rajala.
Town Planner Eric Barz plots his star on a diagram looking for the public's view of the role of the downtown center during the Windsor Center Transit Oriented Development (TOD) program's public workshop on Jan. 10. Photos by Colin Rajala.

Windsor residents and business owners sat down in the Council Chambers of Town Hall on Jan. 10, working together to create a district vision for downtown Windsor, as the Windsor Center Transit Oriented Development (TOD) program prepares to draft and finalize a plan for revamping the downtown center. “It seemed like there was a lot of energy in the room and a lot of passion for the future of Windsor,” said Town Planner Eric Barz.

The TOD program’s proposal aims to strengthen the town center as a "vibrant, walkable, mixed-use district, in anticipation of enhanced transit service." The baseline planning goals are to make the center accessible, safe, walkable and connected. The recommendations also include making the downtown more attractive and distinctive by preserving and enhancing the existing village character and historic assets. It is hoped that by including diverse uses of the downtown area, it will make it a destination in which to live, work, visit and, of course, shop.

The public workshops were planned to allow the community input in creating a plan that serves the needs of existing and future citizens, strengthens pedestrian and bicycle connections, delivers a heightened business and retail center, and examines prospective uses for development within the small downtown area.

The crowd of about 70 sat down in groups of 15 with five consultants from four different firms to take a look at conceptual alternatives of the plan. These alternatives would meet the overall goals or baseline recommendations, but have varying outcomes based upon key choices for the future, including the most desirable features of the area and stylistic changes.

During the group sessions, the citizens took a visual preference survey to specify features and style changes they preferred. In the survey, they looked at images of 16 possible styles in three areas that could under-go redevelopment and renovation - housing, streetscape/transportation/commercial and mixed use - before rating each image on a scale of 1-5.

Barz noted that the groups had varying perspectives on how they saw the downtown area going forward. One group made up of male business owners thought the downtown should be a town-oriented center with a destination appeal, while a younger group emphasized a chance for it to become a destination spot.

Once the groups determined the styles they preferred to see in the buildings, the sidewalks and roadways, they took out the maps and began to plot where they thought these different styles of buildings or roadways should be. They talked about what areas would be best suited for change and redevelopment. Some people's vision of the town center was based on other town centers they have seen and would like to emulate, like Tahoe, Colo., Northampton, Mass., or West Hartford, Conn.

The plotting gave the consultants some specific suggestions, like narrowing Broad Street to one lane to make it less car-centric, or adding a parking garage behind Town Hall to facilitate people visiting.

Following this portion of the workshop, the groups charted their ideas on a triangle, with the corners representing the redevelopment of the downtown into a place to live, a town-oriented center or a town center destination.

“What we got based on the summary of the exercise is a balanced approach, with no one strategy winning out,” Barz said. “Going forward, we will take a balanced approach. That is not to say we do nothing; it’s what we need to do to make it a little bit better place to live, a stronger town center and at the same time a little bit of a regional draw to support the things that we want to do.”

The main consulting group, the Cecil Group, will take into consideration information learned during the workshops and identify areas prime for redevelopment before narrowing it down to two sites specified in the contract. They will then develop ideas for the two sites in detail, comprehensively determining what the site will support, what mix of uses are best for the site and what type of features are best for those uses. A drafted plan by the Cecil Group will be presented to the public in May before a final transit-oriented development plan is created around July.

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