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Branchville Under The Microscope

As part of a regional Route 7 Study, the Branchville area was next on the list of areas along the corridor to be revitalized.

Shops, restaurants, multi-use buildings, higher density housing developments, pedestrian walkways, bike paths, all within walking distance to a commuter train.

This could be the future of the Branchville section of Ridgefield if local residents and business owners have it their way.

A focus group of the Route 7 Study underway regionally proposed ideas on what the area could look like at a meeting on Thursday night, appropriately held at Branchville Elementary School.

Branchville is one of two sections of Ridgefield's Route 7 that were scrutinized lately; the group met last week to review the area at the intersection of Route 35 and Route 7. Continuing participants include members of regional planning groups—the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials and South Western Regional Planning Agency—as well as a Hartford-based consulting firm.

Nineteen community members, including town officials and business owners, split into three groups Thursday night for the second time in two weeks to mark up maps and create their vision of the future of the area.

Rebecca Mucchetti, chairman of Ridgefield's Planning and Zoning Commission, was in attendance, as well as Joe Ancona, owner of Ancona's Market.

Leading the session was consulting firm Fitzgerald and Halliday's Susan VanBenschoten, project manager for the Route 7 Study, along with HVCEO and SWRPA members and staff from the state Department of Transportation.

Armed with voting keypads, attendees voted on the level of importance of possible aspects of the area, including better integration of the train station, better pedestrian access and traffic control. The most overwhelmingly positive responses were regarding the train station and pedestrian access, and 14 out of the 19 participants agreed that more development in the area is a good thing.

Empowered with the reign of a "king or queen," each group was to imagine they could "wave a scepter and make it happen" and asked to consider what they would envision for the future of the area.

With thoughts of creating a a self-sustaining community within a quarter mile of the Branchville train station, the three groups studied topographical maps of the Branchville area. Each group used different colored markers to mark up the map, adding streets, removing buildings and redesigning the district in line with their visions.

Though the groups differed in some of their ideas, they all agreed that pedestrian crossings over Route 7, bypass roads, more shops, more parking at the Branchville train station in the form of a parking deck and a walk/bike path would all be good ideas.

Dissention came from one group that did not think Branchville was the right area to increase building density. They said that due to the close proximity of Georgetown, only one mile south of Branchville, and the potential for another train station there, the two areas could end up in competition with each other.

Other groups disagreed, stating that Branchville and Georgetown would be two completely separate village districts. They believed the Branchville section should have its own service and convenience businesses such as a drug store, regardless of what Georgetown's amenities are.

After each group shared its visions, VonBenschoten projected images of different styles of downtown villages in different areas, and she asked participants to vote again, this time on how close the picture was to their image of the Branchville area.

The visuals that overwhelmingly received the highest ratings were those that depicted sidewalk cafes with wide walkways and pedestrian areas. The lowest ratings went to images that showed residential areas and to a picture of the current look of Branchville, which spoke volumes to VanBenschoten.

"That means people want to see change," she said.

The team will take the ideas pulled from the two focus groups and report their findings at the next workshop on Thursday, June 17, at Veterans Park Elementary School from 4:30-8 p.m. The format will be an open house, where people can come at any time during those hours to browse the various options.

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