New Milford strengthening connection between downtown and river
NEW MILFORD — The town is looking to expand on its recent progress in connecting the riverfront and downtown by creating a master plan and increasing accessibility with sidewalks and parking spots.
The Riverfront Revitalization Committee is reviewing 12 bids to create a master plan, which is expected to be done next September. The committee plans to present their choice to Town Council next week for approval. It is expected to cost $30,000 or less.
“This will dovetail perfectly with the Plan of Conservation and Development that the Planning Commission and Town Council are undergoing so that all of that good information can go into the POCD,” said Liba Furhamn, chair of the Riverfront Revitalization committee.
They’re also looking at a company to complete a market analysis by May 15 and working to get some grants to restore old buildings in a park along the river, as well as improve accessibility with sidewalks or an easier way to get down to the river from the Green.
Tuesday’s presentation was on the agenda as the committee’s final report, but the Town Council unanimously voted to reappoint all of its members and extend the committee another six months.
Furhman suggested the committee become permanent to help with the long-term initiatives.
“This could go on forever because the riverfront will always be there to take care of,” she said.
Plans are split between eight categories to further the connection between downtown and the riverfront, including revitalizing brownfields, improving public transportation and infrastructure, as well as providing economic benefits.
Furhman said they have already made progress in some of these areas, including getting funding to build a sidewalk along Patriot’s Way and establishing a walking loop that travels around the green and down to the river.
She recognized there are some physical barriers including the railroad tracks and the steepness of the embankment at Young’s Field.
Furhman said she hopes to expand on existing initiatives as well.
The committee hosted the inaugural riverfront festival this month, which she said more than 1,300 people attended. She said the event successfully drew people from the businesses around the Green to the riverfront and vice versa. She’s hoping the festival can be held for two days next year.
This and other events have shown the downtown and riverfront are connected, Furhman said.
“We’ve shown the riverfront and downtown can truly be looked at as a unified space and not as two distinct and opposing business centers,” she said. “They really have to be treated as one.”
New Milford has been working to improve access to the Housatonic River for years. Under former Mayor David Gronbach, the first piece of the riverwalk was completed and a kayak rental company agreed to set up by Young’s Field.
Officials have continually touted the benefits the river brings to the area, especially in terms of tourism and improving the quality of life, which helps attract businesses.
“We’d like to emphasis the Housatonic River for the powerful asset it is,” she said, adding the views alone are worth $1 million.
This year, the town, local businesses and organizations put out flower pots and other landscaping to beautify downtown. A long-term maintenance plan was also rolled out for the riverwalk.
Fuhrman said she hopes this can keep going and ultimately envisions affordable housing being built on some of the brownfield along the river, as well as adding parking ad other transportation options, such as car or bike rentals. The town already received a state $170,000 grant to create a plan to revitalize brownfields.
She said it’s important to have established businesses or organizations, such as colleges or museums, to help draw people to the area and keep it going.