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State transit proposal brings local worries
Dirk Perrefort |


Local officials are concerned that proposals to create a statewide transit development authority with eminent domain powers could impact local redevelopment plans surrounding Bethel's train station. Photo: Carol Kaliff

Local officials and developers raised concerns this week about how a proposal to create a statewide transit development authority could affect redevelopment efforts underway in the region.


The proposal to create the authority with powers of eminent domain was approved this week by a split vote of the Legislature's Transportation Committee and now moves to the full General Assembly for consideration. The proposal, which received little attention until this week, would create an authority that officials say could override local control.


That's at a time when Bethel officials are preparing to move forward with their own transit-oriented development district surrounding the town's train station. Danbury officials are also concerned about how the proposal could affect ongoing redevelopment efforts in the city's center, where a $70 million housing development touted as the key to reviving downtown is already underway.


"The proposal is certainly alarming," said Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, a Republican with gubernatorial aspirations. "We still have to review the fine print, but efforts to usurp local control are deeply troubling considering all the time we've put into the planning and zoning efforts to revive the downtown. There is nothing in the legislation that would prevent the authority coming in and putting a skyscraper next to the Danbury train station."


The transit authority, as currently proposed, could use eminent domain to seize property within a half-mile of a train station, sell bonds to finance a project, enter into agreements for management and work to create new office and retail space, parking garages and cultural attractions.


Gary Michael, a local developer, said that while he has yet to review the full proposal, "it certainly doesn't sound good." Michael has submitted plans for a luxury apartment complex near Bethel's train station.


"It seems to me that this could become another potential hurdle that developers will have to overcome," he said.


Janice Chrzescijanek, Bethel's economic development director, said town officials recently agreed to match a $100,000 state grant with $150,000 in local funding to move the local transit district forward.


The proposal would create a zone for mixed-use residential and commercial development in the area surrounding the train station. Chrzescijanek said the request for proposals to bring a consultant on board could be released within the next few weeks.


In light of the local effort and others like it in the region, Bethel planning director Stephen Palmer said the statewide authority isn't needed.


"We've spent more than seven years laying the groundwork for this type of development in town, and when its all said and done I believe the town will be rewarded with a responsible development," he said.


Both Palmer and Boughton said gathering interest among local property owners and providing incentives through zoning and other regulations are effective to promote development near transit zones.


"I don't think the state needs a hammer to make communities like ours embrace transit-oriented development," Palmer said.