Posted on 16 March 2010.
Looking Forward: Commentary by Chris Jones
With all of the planning, protestations and delay that might accompany the rebuilding of something at the site of Ground Zero in New York City, our fair Town Center area seems to be caught in a time warp, some of which is good, some bad.
A welcome sign in New Hartford
Several years ago there were a couple of different plans put to paper for changes in the center of New Hartford to create a more pedestrian friendly environment. Modification to traffic flow, added walking areas and perhaps even a fix to the crosswalk lights at the intersection of Rte. 44 and Central Ave. (or is it Steele Rd. I always get them confused.) were all on the table as part of an enhanced plan to create more public parking for visitors and merchants alike.
Now, with several more years of inaction under our belts, it seems little has been done to see any of this come to fruition. Even now as the BOF (Board of Finance) and BOS (Board of Selectmen) swap ‘puts and takes’ in the budget process, monies always seem to go elsewhere rather than perhaps where they should go, or were intended to go.
Yes the sewer plant needs to be finished and yes we need to finish the Brown’s Corner project, but where’s the money coming from?
While there have been a number of very successful projects and improvements including the Land Trust’s management of the walking trail behind Town Hall, and the expanded municipal parking both at the river end of Bridge St. and behind the Catholic Church ~ they always seem to get the best parking while the Episcopalians still have to park on the street ~ the Downtown area still suffers from a lack of something.
I’m just not sure of what. Money, interest, or perhaps just plain determination.
The Garden Club has done a wonderful job of plantings, the faÃ§ade improvements to a number of the downtown properties have made a big difference, and the sign kiosk at the corner of Rte. 219 and Rte. 44 is a simple but nice added touch. Just not sure you can really get a good look at what’s on there unless you are walking by, but I guess that’s the point. You really need to make walking in the Center area a little less like crossing the 405 at rush hour.
Visually, New Hartford Center has always been a beautiful place. If there was a way to get rid of the power and phone lines above ground that clog the eyes of the beholder, the impact would be stunning. Several nice building improvements including Town Hall have also made a huge difference in what was the Old Center and today.
And now with the long overdue, and what appears to be fabulous rehabbing of the old Library building, we have added yet another piece to the puzzle; however, in doing so additional parking, and local traffic will need to be allocated to those firms that fill the newly-renovated space.
Thru it all we have created a quilt of streets that serve as parking lots and parking lots that serve as streets. It is a maze. And the problem with that, for example, is there is now regular parking on Central Ave. that effectively blocks the northbound side of Central Ave. as you head into Downtown.
So, to recap, love what the owners did with the property, not crazy about the new parking on the street, and lose the power lines.
Having said that there is a ton of stuff going on in the Center. A ton! That’s the good news.
I’m quite sure that P&Z considered all this in its deliberations regarding the use of the Old Library. However, with the rest of all that is happening in the area, and coupled with a crossing walkway light that has to my knowledge never been fixed, several DOT planned designs to change the traffic flow at that intersection, and increased parking demands in general, New Hartford Center is still a crap shoot during peak traffic hours. Unfortunately that is still the bad news!
Having been out of the loop now for a number of years I’m not really sure what the plan is for the Center area, but I am sure that a plan is needed. Whatever may have been created as a pedestrian-friendly plan has likely lost whatever luster it may have had and it now sits a lonely stepchild to more pressing or politically expedient public works projects. However, with 13,000+ cars a day traversing the downtown intersections on Rte. 44 and growing, the Town Leaders need to put the Center, and the idea of “pedestrian- friendly” back on the front burner.
The consumption of parking by apartment tenants and visitors alike is still a problem. Some of the merchants downtown have taken matters into their own hands and even been forced to put out signs reminding parkers that 15 minutes is all you are allowed if you want to park in front of their stores.( I think it a bit cheeky but I try to be a good citizen and park elsewhere.) Regardless, traffic flow, parking, and pedestrian safety and ease may never really see a suitable fix, but I hope it will always be a part of the greater dialogue.
I also understand all too clearly that with money tight, budgets busted, and with the Town roads reeling after another good winter beating so they now feel more like riding a luge than driving on a real road, resources will have to go elsewhere.
As a lifelong South Ender I have always thought that our Town Center was, and is, a very special place. Real New England charm! I also am a firm believer that as goes the Center of our Town, so go we all.
So I suppose this pipe dream is just one other chore to add to the ever-growing list of things “to do”. But keeping a plan in place for the Center of Town and the expanding demands by all who enjoy it and utilize it and depend on its resources won’t cost much.
Just some thought. And God knows we have plenty of that at Town Hall.
Oh, and fix the crosswalk light.
Chris Jones, a long-time resident of New Hartford, is a former selectman of the town. Chrisâ€™ Looking Forward commentaries appear regularly on NewHartfordPlus.
A view looking down Central Avenue towards the center of New Hartford. Photo: Maria Moore