"Be a king," prompted Susan VanBenschoten. "Forget about money or zoning, or anything man made as constraints."
So empowered, 17 residents of Ridgefield, including town officials and business owners, used felt-tipped markers of various colors Wednesday night to recast a segment of Route 7 into how they envisioned it should be developed to meet the needs of the surrounding community.
Separated into three groups, the workshop paricipants hunched over large prints of an aerial photograph of the "focus area" and debated where new office buildings, condominiums and shopping centers should go, interspersed with bike paths, green space and other amenities.
Being king also granted the ability to scribble over existing structures deemed blemishes or eyesores, subjecting them to demolition by pen.
The segment of Route 7 that was under discussion Wednesday night runs from Little Pond, south of the Route 35 intersection, to the locations of the Pamby Motor's dealership and Ullman Devices Corporation to the north.
VanBenschoten is chief operating office and project manager of Fitzgerald and Halliday, a Hartford consulting firm hired by the state to create a development plan for the Route 7 corridor between Norwalk and Danbury. Intended to be implemented by 2030, the study seeks to improve traffic flow and meet the development needs of the communities the highway passes through: Wilton, Ridgefield and Redding.
The evening's program resulted from the consulting firm's decision that three areas of Route 7 corridor should receive special attention for improvement. In addition to the Route 35 intersection, they are the Branchville area of Ridgefield and Wilton Center.
Besides marking the aerial prints, the participants also were shown a series of photographs projected on a screen that depicted scenes of streets, outdoor dining areas, retail stores and wooded, undeveloped locations.
Using keypads that enabled them express the degree to which they liked or disliked each image, they selected scenes they felt depicted models of what should be included along the Route 35 intersection segment.
The evening concluded with a representative from each group describing what proposed improvements and changes were selected.
The 20-month-long study is sponsored by the South Western Regional Planning Agency and the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials.
A workshop for the Wilton Center area will be held May 11, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., in the Wilton Library and for the Branchville area May 13, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., in Branchville Elementary School.
The current results of the study can be found at www.route7study.org.