TABLE OF CONTENTS
1.2 Citizen-Based Planning
1.3 Regional and Local Context
1.4 GIS Mapping
2.0 LAND USE 9
2.1 Current Land Uses 9
2.2 Development Potential 14
2.3 Using Land Development to Achieve Better Community Design 19
3.0 POPULATION 27
3.1 Growth 27
3.2 Race and Ethnicity 27
3.3 Age 28
3.4 Households 29
3.5 Income 31
3.6 Conclusions 32
4.0 HOUSING 33
4.1 Types 33
4.2 Occupancy And Vacancy 33
4.3 Cost 34
4.4 Households and Housing Use 37
4.5 Need for Lower Cost Housing 37
5.0 COMMUNITY FACILITIES 43
5.1 Parks and Recreation 43
5.2 Schools 45
5.3 Library 46
5.4 Social Services 46
5.5 Senior Citizens Center 47
5.6 Health Services 47
5.7 Municipal Buildings 48
5.8 Police Service 51
5.9 Fire Stations 51
5.10 Highways 52
5.11 Potential Uses of Publicly Owned Land 53
6.0 WATER AND SEWER UTILITIES 59
6.1 Existing Conditions 59
6.2 Future Needs 63
7.0 WATERSHED AND AQUIFER PROTECTION 67
7.1 Definition of Key Terms 67
7.2 Current Supply Sources 69
7.3 State of Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection Mandates 70
7.4 Bethel’s Current Protection Measures for Water Supply Watersheds
and Major Aquifers 72
7.5 Recommendations for Bethel for Public Water Supply Watersheds
and Major Aquifers 73
7.6 Aquifer and Watershed Protection Programs Around the Region 79
8.0 TRANSPORTATION AND TRAFFIC CIRCULATION 81
8.1 Current Transportation Demand 81
8.2 Traffic Accidents 82
8.3 Transportation Concerns Expressed in the Town-Wide Public Opinion Survey 84
8.4 Potential Transportation Improvements 86
8.5 Key Transportation Issues 88
9.0 ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT 91
9.1 Overview of the State and Region 91
9.2 Labor Market 91
9.3 Housatonic Valley Region Economic Development Summary 92
9.4 Bethel Economic Development Commission 99
9.5 Overcoming Negative Business Factors 99
9.6 Recommendations and Potential Build-out 100
10.0 SPECIAL PLANNING AREAS: ROUTE 6 AND DOWNTOWN BETHEL 103
10.1 Route 6 103
10.2 Downtown 118
11.0 FUTURE LAND USE PLAN 139
11.1 What is a Future Land Use Plan? 139
A. Public Opinion Survey A1
B. Survey-Based Goals and Objectives B1
C. June 1996 Public Workshop C1
D. Census Tract and Block Group Data D1
LIST OF FIGURES
Figure 2: Regional Context
Figure 3: Local Context
Figure 4: Town Map
Figure 5: Current Land Uses 11
Figure 6a: Examples of Bethel Land Uses 12
Figure 6b: Examples of Bethel Land Uses 13
Figure 7: Development Potential 16
Figure 8: Environmental Constraints 17
Figure 9: Zoning 18
Figure 10a: Housing Types 35
Figure 10b: Housing Types 36
Figure 11a: Municipal Facilities 49
Figure 11b: Municipal Facilities 50
Figure 12: Sewer Service Areas 60
Figure 13: Water Service Areas 61
Figure 14: Watershed Views 68
Figure 15: Aquifer and Watershed Protection: Proposed Regulatory Measures 74
Figure 16: Wetlands and Streams 76
Figure 17: Key Transportation Issues 89
Figure 18a Views of Bethel Businesses and Employers 95
Figure 18b: Views of Bethel Businesses and Employers 96
Figure 19: Economic Development Areas 101
Figure 20: Landscape Buffers on Route 6 107
Figure 21a: Views along Route 6 108
Figure 21b: Views along Route 6 109
Figure 22: Route 6 Corridor Study Hawleyville Road and Benedict Road 116
Figure 23: Route 6 Corridor Study Old Hawleyville Road and Route 6 117
Figure 24: Downtown Study Areas 120
Figure 25: Whitney Road - Beach Street: Views 121
Figure 26: Visual Analysis: Positive Features Whitney Road - Beach Street 122
Figure 27: Visual Analysis: Negative Features Whitney Road - Beach Street 123
Figure 28: Beach Street to Dolan Plaza: Views 125
Figure 29: Visual Analysis: Positive Features Beach Street - Dolan Plaza 126
Figure 30: Visual Analysis: Negative Features Beach Street - Dolan Plaza 127
Figure 31: Dolan Plaza to P.T. Barnum Square: Views 128
Figure 32 Visual Analysis: Positive Features Dolan Plaza - P.T. Barnum Square 130
Figure 33: Visual Analysis: Negative Features Dolan Plaza - P.T. Barnum Square 131
Figure 34: P.T. Barnum Square to Chestnut Street: View 132
Figure 35: Visual Analysis: Positive Features P.T. Barnum Square - Chestnut Street 133
Figure 36: Visual Analysis: Negative Features P.T. Barnum Square - Chestnut Street 134
Figure 37: Summary of Design Issues and Recommendations 135
Figure 38: Future Land Use Plan 141
Table 2: Base Zoning Standards and Development Potential 15
Table 3: Population by Age, 1970-1990 29
Table 4: Households and Families, 1970-1990 30
Table 5: Types of Households, 1980-1990 30
Table 6: Publicly Assisted Housing Units (as of 1994)
Housatonic Valley Planning Region 39
Table 7: Outdoor School Recreational Facilities 43
Table 8: Outdoor Recreational Facilities 44
Table 9: School Capacities and Square Footage 45
Table 10: Comparative Park, Open Space and Athletic Facilities 54
Table 11: NRPA Classifications 54
Table 12: Selected Outdoor Facilities Not Found in Bethel 55
Table 13: Total Number of Developable Units 62
Table 14: Journey to Work From Residence in Bethel 82
Table 15: Average Daily Traffic and Trends for State Roads in Bethel 83
Table 16: Danbury Labor Market Area: Non-Farm Wage and Salary
Employment Selected Statistics, January 1996 92
Table 17: Employment by Industry, 1970, 1980, 1990, 1994 Fairfield County 93
Table 18: High Technology Companies, Bethel, Connecticut 94
1.1 Preface: Planning for the 21st Century
During 1996 and 1997, the Bethel Planning and Zoning Commission worked, with the professional assistance of Buckhurst Fish & Jacquemart, on a new Plan of Development. This Plan of Development is the town’s policy guide to land use, development, and conservation decisions for the next ten years. The State of Connecticut requires municipalities to have such guides, and thus Bethel is in compliance with state mandate.
The last plan was published in 1984, and much has changed in Bethel since then. With a new plan, the Planning and Zoning Commission is better able to promote the wise use of private and publicly owned land, coordinate the growth and intensity of development with infrastructure, community services, and facilities, and sustain Bethel as a desirable place to live and work. The first record of land use dates from 1950, when over 92% of the land in the town was vacant or in use for roads. By 1996, this had dropped to just under 36%. This transformation in one generation from a farming community to a suburbanizing town is reflected in the census snapshots taken every ten years: between 1970 and 1980, the town’s population grew by 46%, tapering off some between 1980 and 1990 to only 10%. While the pace has slackened, the town continues to add people, houses, and businesses. Bethel has beauty, character, amenities, and a good location in the region’s job market. Thus the town can expect to continue growing, and to continue needing a plan for managing that growth.
This plan has chapters on demographic trends, current land uses,
housing, community facilities, transportation, economic development, and
utilities. It concludes with a plan and map of future land uses, and an
implementation plan. Within some of these chapters are special studies
of particular concern to the town. These are Route 6, the downtown, affordable
housing, and watershed protection. A cornerstone of the plan overall is
the reliance on realistic and achievable strategies for implementing the
plan’s recommendations. The Plan of Development sets land use policy into
the next century. Realizing this vision of preservation and growth will
require some changes in the tools which actually affect how property owners
use their land, such as the zoning code. Most of the recommendations can
be put into effect directly by town departments and commissions, sometimes
in concert with local citizens acting in public-private partnership. Bethel’s
Planning and Zoning Commission has thus produced for the town a living
document that can help create the town’s desired future.
1.2 Citizen-Based Planning
A second cornerstone of the Plan of Development was citizen involvement. The planning process depended on a public opinion survey, two public workshops, and a public hearing. These enabled Bethel residents and property owners to voice their concerns, goals and recommendations at critical points in the planning process. The writing of the plan also depended on public documents, a great many of which were produced by the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials, the regional planning agency. In the next two sections we describe the public participation aspect of the planning process.
1996 Bethel Public Opinion Survey on Town Issues
A total of 7,680 surveys were mailed to Bethel homes and businesses in March 1996. The response rate of 8.6% was high and revealed community opinion on development issues and goals. The survey contained open-ended and closed-ended questions. Appendix A provides a copy of the survey instrument, analysis, and response pie charts.
There was fair agreement on most issues. The most frequently mentioned items that people like about Bethel are 1) the small town atmosphere and charm, 2) the friendly mix of economically diverse people, 3) the downtown shopping district, 4) the proximity to Danbury and other larger towns and cities, 5) the schools, and 6) the town’s safeness. The least liked are 1) the lack of certain town facilities such as a swimming pool, adequate library, a teen or community recreation center, upgraded parks, and improved schools, 2) traffic on Greenwood Avenue, Route 302 and Route 6, 3) the Greenwood Avenue sidewalks, 4) the rundown character of the Greenwood Avenue shopping area, 5) high taxes and conflict over public education, 6) large subdivision and condominium complexes, 7) road conditions, 8) the need for more affordable (subsidized) housing, 9) inadequate sanding and plowing, and 10) the lack of public sewers in the Stony Hill and Chimney Heights areas.
A separate question dealt solely with Route 6. The majority of respondents felt that future development here should be controlled so as not to lose what remains of Bethel’s New England charm in this area. Light commercial uses were preferred; very few would be happy to see big-box retailers located here. A concern for design control and the preservation of some green space emerged from the survey. More detail on the questions and responses can be found in Appendix A. Appendix B has a list of land use goals and objectives derived from survey responses.
During the planning process, two public workshops were held. (See Figure 1: Photographs.) The first, held in June 1996, focused on the Phase I issues and preliminary recommendations for six areas: general land use goals and objectives, downtown design and development, Route 6/economic development/transportation and circulation, environmental protection/utilities, community facilities/parks and recreation, and housing. (See Appendix C for a full report on this workshop). A second workshop was held in April 1997. This focused on the Phase II topics of Route 6, a downtown historic district, community design, watershed protection, affordable housing, and the general plan of future land uses.
1: Photos from Workshop
1.3 Regional and Local Context
Bethel is seventeen square miles and lies within the Housatonic Valley of western Connecticut. (See Figure 2: Regional Context.) Of the ten municipalities in the Housatonic Valley planning region, it has the fifth largest population while being the ninth smallest in land area. The Housatonic Valley planning region is comprised of the City of Danbury and the towns of Bethel, Bridgewater, Brookfield, New Fairfield, New Milford, Redding, Ridgefield, Sherman, and Newtown. These towns also lie within the Danbury labor market and the Danbury Primary Metropolitan Statistical Area for the census. Planning for the region is coordinated by the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials.
The northern portion of the town is easily accessible from I-84 and
Route 6, which run east-west through Bethel. (See Figure 3: Local Context.)
I-84 is a direct route to larger economic and job markets in Danbury, northeast
to Hartford and Central Connecticut, and southeast to New York State. Other
major routes through the town are Route 302, which becomes Bethel’s main
commercial street (Greenwood Avenue/Milwaukee Avenue), and Routes 53 (Turkey
Plain Road/Grassy Plain Street) and 58 (Putnam Park Road). All routes,
except I-84, are state arterials. The town’s immediate neighbors are Brookfield,
Newtown, Redding, and Danbury.
1.4 GIS Mapping
As part of readying Bethel for the 21st century, the maps created
as part of the planning process were digitized using a Geographic Information
System (GIS). This enables the town to update its basic planning maps more
easily and accurately than in the past. For example, as land is subdivided,
the new lot lines and roads can be encoded on the base map and a new hard
copy printed out. The maps created using the GIS process are the 1) town
base map with lot lines and roads, 2) current land use, 3) zoning, 4) environmental
constraints, 5) water service, and 6) sewer service. The current land use
map was created through a five-day field survey which checked the apparent
use(s) on each lot; this survey was verified by Bethel municipal staff.
The environmental constraints map is a digitized compilation of steep slopes
(over 20%), floodplains, and wetlands. These natural features can limit
or constrain development. The utility infrastructure maps show all existing
and planned public and private water and sewer systems. As The Housatonic
Valley Council of Elected Officials maintain land use and zoning maps on
a regional basis, changes to the Bethel portion of these maps will be done
there, with the periodic updates printed and returned to Bethel.
2: Regional Context
3: Local Context
4: Town of Bethel (Base Map)
2.0 LAND USE
2.1 Current Land Uses
The total area of Bethel is 17 square miles. The town’s nucleus lies in the western shoulder and is formed by the downtown and its immediately surrounding neighborhoods. This nucleus has the town’s densest mix of land uses, with the smallest lots generally found in Bethel and a greater variety of single and multi-family houses, businesses, churches, and governmental offices. (See Figure 5: Current Land Uses.) The prevailing land use found in the rest of Bethel is single family residential on larger lots than in the downtown. This general land use pattern is punctuated in several places: the retail and office strip along Route 6, Francis J. Clarke Industrial Park off Route 53 (Grassy Plain Street), Berkshire Industrial Park (which includes Duracell’s headquarters) in the northwest wedge above I-84, the centrally located educational campus, and the many swaths of parks, open space, and preserved water company lands.
Compared to the other municipalities in the Housatonic Valley region, Bethel’s density of 1,032 persons per square mile lies between Danbury’s density (1,374) and Brookfield’s (713). This relatively high density is one of the prime reasons why Bethel has such an attractive small town sense to its development. The town nucleus is an obvious example of small town design, with its uniform and compact small lots, tidy houses and yards, stores and services, sidewalks, and tree-lined streets connected in a grid. What is unusual about Bethel is the continuation of this small town sense out into the larger scaled land use pattern. In the parts of town zoned for one-half up to one-acre minimum lot sizes, the urban sense of a small town, as opposed to suburban sprawl, is created through small-lot zoning, the uniformity of lot sizes within subdivisions, the intersecting road network (an avoidance of permanent dead ends), and the mix of different eras of architecture, similar to the mix of generations within a family. In addition to the effect created by controlled land development, Bethel has unique building design elements found in its older homes that create a common vocabulary distinguishing the town. These include wrap-around front and side porches, with a door at the end of the side porch, and unusual facade and roof shingle designs.
In Table 1, a comparison is made in land use acreages from 1950 to 1996. The categories are somewhat different among the four counts as the table compiles land use data from three sources in order to show historic change. However, the overall pattern in land use change is apparent: Bethel’s residential land use has increased as farms and vacant land have been developed.
Bethel’s evolution away from its historic nature as a rural town with densely settled pockets is apparent in the rate of growth in residential land use. The conversion of
Land Use Acreages
Source: 1984 Update of the Plan of Development
1995 HVCEO Data Book Update (1950, 1980, 1990)
1996 Land Use Field Survey by BF&J
(2) Municipal total acreage of 10,869 is from HVCEO data. The 1984 Plan of Development calculated 10,944. However, for uniformity, HVCEO data was used.
(3) "One Family" in the 1984 count includes one and two family residential.
(4) "Public parks" in 1950, 1980, and 1990 includes open space.
(5) Industrial acres in the 1950, 1980 and 1990 counts include corporate offices. In the 1984 Plan, commercial use includes commercial retail, service and office use. In 1996, office acres were calculated separately.
Vacant land in the 1984 and 1996 counts includes roads, water bodies and undeveloped parcels.
Figure 5: Current Land Uses fold out
6a: Examples of Bethel Land Uses
Figure 6b: Examples of Bethel Land Uses
agricultural land has happened at a faster pace than any other land
use, an indication of suburbanization. Census data on housing units show
that between 1960 and 1990, over 3,707 housing units were built, an increase
of nearly 138 percent. While this rate was faster than the region overall
(124%), Bethel’s rate of housing development lies right in the middle of
the various rates for the Housatonic Valley towns, which range from Bridgewater’s
87% over the three decades to Brookfield’s enormous 295 percent. In 1950,
nearly all of Bethel (92.2%) was either uncommitted or farmed, with the
largest non-farming use being residential at a tiny 4.4 percent. Thirty
years later this balance had just about tipped: vacant and farmed land
had been consumed down to 57% of the town area and housing use had grown
seven times to nearly 30%. Public parks, open space, businesses, industry,
and institutional uses had all expanded at least several fold to support
the burgeoning population.
2.2 Development Potential
Bethel’s development potential is shown in Table 2. The table is based on vacant land shown on the current land use map (Figure 5). Vacant land was identified by zone and then land was deducted that had significant environmental constraints (steep slopes of 20% and greater, floodplains, and wetlands). The remaining vacant land with no environmental constraints totals 2,235 acres. This is shown on Figure 7. Environmental Constraints are shown on Figure 8. To arrive at the maximum build-out, as-of-right, 15% of the acreage was deducted for roads, utilities, and design inefficiency from each zone’s vacant developable acreage. The remaining acreage was then used as a basis for calculating the maximum number of houses (d.u. = dwelling unit) and of non-residential square footage (s.f.), based on the zoning ordinance. (See Figure 9: Zoning Map.) The RM-O Zone is almost built-out, with only 3/4 of an acre left. The C zone is built-out.
The totals are:
If Bethel increases or decreases the allowed density in a zone, the number of houses, apartments and/or commercial square footage would necessarily change. If household size continues to decrease, the population count suggested by the number of dwelling units would be affected: while the number of homes and apartments will continue to grow, the population would increase at a lower rate.
Land suitability for development changes as a result of pressure
to develop. Steep slopes, wetlands, and floodplains generally are immutable.
However, a town’s willingness to see such land used for development can
change, opening up more acreage and thus pushing the development potential
higher. Conversely, additional constraints -- such as aquifer protection
regulation -- can be imposed, limiting development. In sum, the development
potential totals given here are theoretical, based on as of-the-moment
conditions in Bethel and are subject to change.
7: Development Potential
8: Environmental Constraints
2.3 Using Land Development to Achieve Better Community Design
Throughout the planning process, Bethel citizens and officials expressed concern about how to accommodate business and residential growth while preserving the small-town-in-a-natural-setting that draws people to Bethel. The community’s land use objectives are three-fold:
The following are recommendations which will help to create this desired future. There are four major recommendation categories: 1) zoning, 2) subdivision and site plan regulations, 3) control over hilltop development, and 4) conservation design and open space.
For the most part, Bethel’s zoning appears to be serving the town well. Zones are located in the right places and there is no need for creating wholly new zones or rezoning large sections. There are five focused recommendations for zoning changes which would further high quality community design.
End CI zoning along Greenwood Avenue: Downtown Bethel is largely zoned C and RM-O. However, there is a small piece from Griswold Street to Beach Street which is zoned CI. The established and preferred land use pattern in the central business district is a mix of professional offices, small shopping centers, stand-alone stores and services, and residences. The presence of industrial uses is inappropriate and is not the highest and best use for the town’s commercial heart. Route 6 is zoned CI, and should remain the only CI district given the highway’s parcel sizes, traffic volume, and established land use patterns. The Greenwood Avenue CI zone should be rezoned to C, with all existing uses grandfathered as long as the current use persists in the current building. This recommendation was also made in the 1984 Plan of Development.
Allow Upper Story Residential Use By-Right in C Zones: At present, apartments are allowed in commercial structures in C zones by special permit. If the same special permit conditions were kept [Section 118-31.B(1)] but residential use allowed by-right (except over public garages, restaurants, fast food establishments and automotive uses, where the special permit would remain), the C zone in downtown would, over time, acquire a 24-hour character. This would help to strengthen local retail and services and put "eyes on the street" during off-hours. As these would most likely be rental units, this change would begin to bring more apartments into the local rental market, now experiencing very low vacancy rates. As there is no other C zone in Bethel, this change would affect only the downtown, an appropriate place for mixed use buildings and rental units.
Preserve Established Setback or Build-to Lines in Downtown: The urban design of Greenwood Avenue would be enhanced if new buildings or additions to buildings had to follow an established set-back or build-to line. For example, new structures and additions in the downtown core would have to build up to the sidewalk. Along the western section of Greenwood Avenue where historic homes have been converted into commercial and professional use, anything new or projecting out from the front of a structure could not exceed the established build-to line.
Rezone a Portion of Durant Avenue: The town should consider rezoning a small portion of Durant Avenue. Durant Avenue on its west side is zoned for industrial uses; the east side is zoned RR-10. Beginning at School Street (where Durant Avenue begins) and moving north, there is a mix of uses: a large vacant parcel directly across from School Street, Eaton Corp., a beverage distributor, the new train station and parking lot, Bishop Curtis senior citizen housing, multi-family housing, a vacant lot, and Bethel Storage at the intersection with Wooster Street. The RR-10 side of Durant Avenue is occupied with multi-family uses, while the I side is a mix of industrial, transportation, and commercial uses, with two large vacant parcels. In order to avoid making existing businesses non-conforming , the rezoning should at present be restricted to the vacant parcel opposite School Street, although the larger goal is to have the mixed commercial/residential character of the downtown move up towards the train station. This parcel at School Street can readily be incorporated into the downtown fabric. South of it is the post office and several stores, and across the street is the Teen Center (old town hall), the Municipal Center, and one of Eaton Corp.’s administrative buildings. The streetscape program will traverse the lot’s frontage, linking Greenwood Avenue with the train station. The parcel can, and should be, reoriented towards the mixed commercial/residential/public nature of the downtown and away from the industrial character further north. The new zoning could be either RM-O or C. The parcel directly abuts both these zones, so either could be extended with strong rationale. While there are pros and cons for each zoning designation, RM-O is preferred. The advantage of this is that it allows downtown-type commercial and professional uses, and residential uses as-of-right. Apartments in the downtown would ease the rental market shortage, add the security of 24-hour occupancy, bring night life and more shoppers, and yield more commuters who could walk to the station.
Wooster Street: There was some concern expressed by the Planning and Zoning Commission about the I zoned section of Wooster Street. The area has a mix of industrial, commercial, and residential uses with a substantial amount of vacant and buildable land. The perceived problems with Wooster Street appear to stem from 1) the unsightly condition of some of the properties, which may be an enforcement issue, 2) the presence of truck traffic through residential neighborhoods given that this zone is relatively isolated and not directly accessible from a major road, and 3) the jarring presence of the few residences in an area where one expects to see solely industrial buildings and activities. Presumably this area was designated for industrial use because of rail freight service. Wooster Street was zoned for industrial use on both sides of the street so there would be no conflicting uses. Given the decline in freight service and the lack of good truck access, the I zone would now be an artifact but for the presence of a number of active industrial uses. The residential uses are non-conforming and their lot size is likely too small for them to be converted to industrial use unless they are assembled with larger, adjoining properties. One might expect that over time these residences will be absorbed into industrial use, yielding a more uniform land use pattern. The plan recommends that the developed part of this I zone remain intact as it serves a current market function. However, the Future Land Use Plan shows the vacant land in this general area rezoned to R-80 or large-lot residential use. This removes the hint that such an area could be used intensively and reduces the I zone to its actual size. This area has steep slopes and is over or near the aquifer recharge area and so must have uses meeting high performance standards. The houses in the abutting RR-10 zone on Wooster Street should, at all times, be well-buffered with landscaping and generous setbacks from neighboring industrial activities.
(2) Subdivision and Site Plan Regulations
Site Plan Approval
The text regarding site plan approval for non-residential applications (Section 118-34) is comprised of a list of items to be submitted for review by the Planning and Zoning Commission. The text does not describe the process and does not describe the factors which the Planning and Zoning Commission will take into consideration to make its decision. A clearer and more comprehensive text is desirable, so that all parties to land use decisions - property owner, developer, Planning and Zoning Commission and other municipal and state agencies, and the public- know the route that will be taken to the ultimate decision and where along that journey the application stands. Most of the items needed by a planning board or agency are present in the Bethel code. What is primarily needed is a reorganization of these items into a logical process where information builds upon itself and arrives at the Planning and Zoning Commission when needed, and language which explains how the approval decision will be made.
A revised site plan code would include the following items:
a. Sketch Plan (pre-application conference): The applicant submits legal data and a general project site description using both text and maps. Using Bethel’s existing site plan check list (also Section 118-34.B,) this would cover items 1, 2, 3, 4, 12, 13, 18 and 19. These items provide information on existing site conditions, ownership, and adjacent properties and their owners. The applicant meets with the Planning and Zoning Commission to discuss the proposed site development plan. The applicant is apprised of the procedure, and the Planning and Zoning Commission can begin making its recommendations at a stage early enough in the process that the applicant should readily be able to make changes in the plan. Nothing said at this stage is binding (by either the applicant or Planning and Zoning Commission). Applicant can ask that the sketch and preliminary plan be waived and that the application go directly to final plan review.
b. Preliminary Plan: In this next phase, the applicant provides all necessary information about site development. Using Bethel’s existing code, these are items 5 through 11, 14 through 17, and 20 (the latter found on the checklist and not in the code). This list should be beefed up with the plan (drawing) requirements (1=400 or 1=200 scale, north arrow, name and address of record owner and project engineer, land planner or surveyor preparing the site development plan) and the contents of the set of preliminary plans (site plans, elevations and sections of proposed structures and roads, proposed locations and use of all buildings and structures, location of drives and roads, pedestrian walkways, and fire lanes).
c. Final Plan: The applicant completes this last phase through completing
any unfinished business from the sketch and preliminary plan phases, and
submits a set of final grading and landscaping plans, done at 1=40 scale.
The language in 118-29 (Site Plan Requirements) should clearly refer the reader to the separate Subdivision of Land, Chapter 95 of the Bethel Code. At present, it simply states that a subdivision map needs to be on file in the Town Clerk’s office. Chapter 95 itself is as complete an explanation of the process as Section 118-34 is not for the site plan process. Recommendations here focus on the conservation subdivision provision and are discussed in that section.
(3) Control Over Hilltop Development
Parts of Bethel, especially southwest and northwest of Plumtrees Road, are hilly, with slopes over 20% in grade. Some hilltops, or ridgelines, have detached single family houses on them, while others have been developed with condominiums whose size and height are particularly apparent during the leafless winter months. As the Danbury job market continues to strengthen, more and more families discover that Bethel is a convenient and attractive place to purchase a home. There has likewise been the discovery of the beautiful views from atop Bethel’s hills and the pressure to build there. For Bethel residents at large there are two reasons to restrict ridgeline development. The first is visual, as the presence of such structures is visible for miles and so harms the natural beauty of the local landscape. The second is environmental, as the potential for serious disturbance can be great when steep hills are intensively developed: slope erosion, contamination of water resources by surface runoff, and the disruption of wildlife habitats and corridors can result.
In overlaying the land use map and the steep slope map, it appears that a number of hilly properties in both residential and non-residential zones are vacant (There are two major hilly areas located on preserved land and therefore not subject to development). The most significant of these properties is the rocky ridge that rises behind (west of) the Clarke Industrial Park between Trowbridge Drive and the Danbury line. Normally, such steeply sloped land would not be considered developable. But builders in Bethel have shown themselves to be resourceful, so it would appear that the town should take some measures to guide or restrict development in these areas. Bethel is permitted under state statute to regulate development based on a list of factors, one of these is, obviously, district zoning, but another is erosion and sediment control, specifically relevant to controlling ridgeline development.
The spectrum of options runs from setting up a local land trust to buy these properties for preservation in perpetuity to doing nothing. We have chosen from this spectrum a land use management approach that relies on zoning; this is an action that can be taken directly by town government. Bethel can use one of two zoning techniques, described below. However, the first step is undertaken in this Plan of Development process: the Future Land Use Plan shows all ridges as preserved land. This will enable the Planning and Zoning Commission to show potential developers what the expectation is for the site.
Ridge Overlay District: With this technique, the existing zoning is not changed. The steep slopes are mapped and an overlay district is delineated on top of the base zoning to encompass ridgetop, ridgeline, and slopes. (This same technique can be used for floodplains, wetlands, streams, aquifers, and other important natural resources where the resource itself or life and property need to be protected, and for community resources such as scenic views and historic properties.) An overlay district can be readily adopted by appending it to the existing zoning ordinance, so no substantial modification of existing local laws is necessary. According to a HVCEO study, seven of the region’s ten municipalities use floating or overlay zones. These either go into effect upon special application or supplement base zoning in fixed locations. For example, in Brookfield, Newtown, and Ridgefield, there are aquifer overlay zones to control new development over these sensitive resources.
The text of the ridge overlay district would discuss the siting of structures, tree cutting, landscape buffers, lighting, view corridors, open space, road and lot requirements. The uses allowed under the base zoning would remain in effect. For example, the ridge overlay district text would specify that houses and other structures are not allowed on the ridgetop but have to be sited lower on the hillside and close to existing roads. Conservation of subdivided lots would be encouraged. The Planning and Zoning Commission should consider offering a density bonus to encourage clustering. The text would also specify the use of natural (gray or earth tone) colors and /or natural materials in roofing and siding to minimize the visual impact. Utilities would have to be placed underground. Conservation easements, access to hiking trails, and recreation open space could be required. Supplemental regulations would control telecommunication towers, billboards and other signs.
Ridge Zoning: Areas of steep slopes would be mapped and a new zoning district would be created around them using the ridgeline, slopes, and soil types to delineate the boundaries of the district. New zoning text would specify appropriate by-right and special exception uses and subdivision and site plan standards.
The preference is for overlay districts as opposed to changing the actual zoning. This is an easier tool to use, and one that can be used to protect other resources in Bethel as town government identifies these critical areas and becomes accustomed to administering overlay districts.
(4) Conservation Subdivision Design and Open Space
The purposes of conservation or conservation subdivisions are manifold. For Bethel’s concern about community design, conservation subdivisions accommodate development while also creating a pool of preserved open space. This open space in turn preserves the fast-disappearing rural nature of the town in its earlier years of farming and hat-making. The compact character of these subdivisions, especially when designed well within a traditional New England framework, also recalls an earlier day of dense settlements surrounded by farmed and fallow land.
Encourage Conservation Development through Density Bonus: Given that Bethel cannot mandate that a land developer use a conservation subdivision design, the town can create an incentive for developers to make more use of this technique in order for the town to get what it wants. The typical incentive is to allow increased density over what the base zoning would allow a standard subdivision. Once the level of incentive is decided upon, modifying the existing conservation subdivision language (Section 95-17 of the subdivision code) could be readily accomplished. In order to qualify for the bonus, a developer would have to demonstrate that the proposed subdivision plan meets community objectives. (The plan’s presumption here is that Bethel wants something more than just another parcel of open space in return for allowing such a design.) These objectives are:
Amend the Conservation Subdivision Text: In the view of a HVCEO study, Bethel’s conservation subdivision regulations have resulted in successful projects where the units have obtained equal or higher purchase prices compared to neighboring conventional (cookie-cutter) projects. There are however some weaknesses in the code.
This chapter examines the components that make up Bethel’s population:
growth, race and ethnicity, age, and income. As of the 1990 census, Bethel
is divided into four census tracts. Each tract is representative of the
town, with similar percentages for each of the population topics investigated.
No one tract, for example, has disproportionately more elderly, Asians,
poor, or married couples. The plan also analyzed the thirteen block groups
into which the tracts are divided. (See Appendix D for tract and block
group data.) Here too there are no differences in percentages significant
enough to warrant separate analysis for land use planning.
Bethel’s population in 1990 was 17,541. This was a relatively small
increase of 10% since 1980. In previous decennials, Bethel had larger gains.
Between 1960 and 1970, the population grew by 33%, and between 1970 and
1980 it grew by 46%. This general pattern is true for the ten towns in
the Housatonic Valley region and thus for the region as a whole. The region
and Bethel are growing nearly twice as quickly as the state overall, whose
growth in the decade between 1980 and 1990 was only 5.8%. Bethel in 1990
was 9.3% of the region with the fifth largest population; the range being
from Danbury’s 65,585 to Bridgewater’s 1,654. Despite its ranking as fifth
largest, Bethel is second after Danbury in density: 1,032 people per square
mile. HVCEO and the state estimate that in the year 2000, the town’s population
will have further increased another 9.5% to 19,220, reflecting both Bethel’s
continued attractiveness as a place to live and the existence of available
land for development.
3.2 Race and Ethnicity
Bethel is, and has been, a largely white community. In the last census, white persons were 96% of the total population, with the next largest racial group being Asian and Pacific Islanders who were 2.1% of the town. This group was also the fastest to increase, having more than quadrupled in size since the 1980 census to 383 from 98 persons. Blacks in Bethel were 1.2% of the population in 1990, American Indian/Eskimo/Aleuts were 0.1%, and persons calling themselves Other were 0.3 percent. The largest component in the Asian/Pacific Islander group is made up of Asian Indians, followed by Chinese, Vietnamese, and Koreans. In 1980 and 1990 the census counted persons of Hispanic origin as a separate group but the persons identifying themselves as such could be of any race. (In Bethel, nearly all identified themselves as white.) The Hispanic population in 1990 was 2.1% of the total, an increase from 1.5% in 1980.
Between 1980 and 1990 all racial and ethnic groups other than Asian/Pacific Islander remained stable:
The median age in Bethel has been creeping up, from 27.7 in 1970 to 33.5 in 1990. This is part of a national trend, as the huge baby boom generation advances into middle age. The median age for the state was 35 in 1990, and this expected to increase to nearly 39 years by 2000, in concert with the national trend.
In 1990, Bethel’s under school-age population (up to 4 years old) was 1,307. This is a small increase over the 1980 figure (see Table 3), demonstrating that the late starters in the baby boom generation have now begun to have their families. This small peak will have shifted in the next census into the 5-19 group, and the pre-schoolers will continue their decline as a percent of the total population. In 1990, school-age children (5 to 19 years) totaled 3,855. Young adults in the family-creating stage (20 to 34 years) totaled 4,115. There are 6,687 in the family- and career-building stage from 35 to 65 years. Those older than 65 number 1,577, a larger group than the pre-school crowd.
Table 3 shows the age distribution for the past twenty years and
how this has changed. It is clear that while the pre-school and school-age
population has declined as a proportion of each decennial’s total population
(for example, from 10% to 7.4% for the 1-4 year olds), the group in its
middle years has grown. Also, the percent change in this group is astronomical
from 1970 to 1990, nearly doubling in the 20-34 and 35-64 groups (91.8%
and 98% respectively). The percent change in pre-school and school-age
children (18.4% and 15.9%) is a fraction of that of the older group, indicating
that the birth rate is dropping, the size of families is shrinking, and
the number of single adults is growing as baby boomers age. The retirement
age group has hovered around 9% as a percent of the total population, but
this can be expected to grow as the middle years group ages, as long as
they do not move out of Bethel. The town’s elderly population (75+) has
grown in number from 491 to 656, with one person in 1990 claiming to be
at least 110. If elderly Bethel residents choose to age in place - meaning
that they remain Bethelites - this group will also see an increase in the
Population by Age, 1970-1990
|1970||1,103 (10.0)*||3,325 (30.3)||2,145 (19.5)||3,376 (30.8)||996 (9.1)||
|1980||1,146 (7.1)||4,540 (28.3)||4,038 (25.2)||5,081 (31.7)||1,199 (7.4)||
|1990||1,307 (7.4)||3,855 (21.9)||4,115 (23.4)||6,687 (38.0)||1,577 (8.9)||
1970 to 1990
Source: Bulletin 80, 1995 Data Book, Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials (1/95)
* In parentheses is the age group’s percent of the total population
The shifts in the age composition of
Bethel’s population demonstrate that municipal priorities may shift. A
smaller number of school-age children and a growing number of middle-aged
and elderly residents will require a rethinking by the town and its taxpayers
of publicly funded social and educational services. It is also possible
that public education will seem less of a priority by older Bethelites
who no longer have children in school. Among Bethel’s four census tracts,
there is very little difference in age distribution: there are about the
same percentages of school-age children, young adults, middle-aged, and
elderly in each of the tracts. However, there are two small differences.
Tracts 2001 and 2002 (see Appendix D) have a somewhat greater proportion
of 25-34 year olds than the other two tracts (about 22% as opposed to 13%).
In the next two age conservation, 35-44 years and 45-54 years, the slightly
greater proportions switch to the other two census tracts. Tracts 2003.01
and 2003.02 have about 17% of their population in these age groups, while
the other two tracts have about 13 percent. This probably reflects a need
for growing families to have more space, and finding these larger more
expensive homes in tracts 2003.01 and 2003.02.
Bethel had 6,175 households in 1990,
an increase of 978 or nearly 19% since 1980. In census parlance, a household
includes all persons occupying a housing unit. All families are households,
but not all households are families. A household may be one person living
alone or a group of unrelated persons living together. A family is a householder
(adult head of household) and one or more persons living together related
to the householder by birth, marriage, or adoption. Thus, out of the 6,175
households, only 4,661 or 75% are families. This proportion has been dropping
(also reflective of national trends): in 1970 families were 84.5% of all
households and in 1980 they had somewhat declined to 81 percent, despite
the overall population increase (see Table 4). This trend is true across
the region. Within the region, Bethel lies about in the middle when families
as a percent of households are compared, from Danbury’s 67.6% to New Fairfield’s
83 percent. Bethel’s smaller family component than six other regional towns
may reflect a greater variety of housing choices and a range of housing
and rental costs, which allow more non-family households to live in Bethel.
Households and Families, 1970 - 1990
Percent of Household
|% Change, 1970 - 1990||90.2%||69.7%|
The number of persons living in a household
has also declined, from 3.37 in 1970 to 2.84 in 1990. In the region, the
median number of persons per household is nearly the same, at 2.75, as
Bethel. This indicates a growing number of households comprised of people
who live alone, single parents with children living at home, and couples
with no children or no children living at home. The traditional model of
two parents with children is declining in representation here in Bethel
as elsewhere nationally. The change since 1980 can be seen in Table 5.
Types of Households, 1980 - 1990
|Married Couple Family||70.4%||63.8%||72.4%||68.0%|
* Either husband or wife is not present
** Persons unrelated by blood, marriage or adoption sharing a housing unit
As with the changing age groups described
above, the changing nature of households and families in Bethel has an
implication for the kinds of services and housing stock that should be
available in the town.
The median household income in Bethel in 1990 was $53,761, which was 129% of Connecticut’s median household income. As is common, the median family income was higher, at $59,517, reflecting the presence of dual earner couples and the generally more stable finances of families as opposed to households. The per capita income was $20,528, which is 102% of the state per capita income. Within the region, Bethel’s median household income is eighth, with the range being from Danbury’s $43,832 to Redding’s $76,332.
These income figures naturally show a large increase since 1970; however, without holding the dollars constant, the comparisons made across decades can be misleading. For example, the 1970 median household income was $11,236, which is an apparently enormous increase in the standard of living for Bethel households. While the increase surely is real to some extent, it is not so large when inflation and the cost of providing for a household’s needs are taken into consideration. Some of the real increase in median income is explained by a look at the higher level of education within the Bethel population since 1970. Twenty years ago, 12% of the town’s adult population had a college education; in 1990 this had grown to a third of the population, with 86% having at least a high school education.
The rosiness of the household income picture is shaded by the families whose income places them below poverty. In 1990, 66 families, or 1.4% of all Bethel families, lived at or below the poverty threshold. This threshold varies depending on family size and the number of children under 18 living at home. A family of four (two adults and two children) with an income of $12,575 meets the poverty threshold. The poverty indicator has improved, however, for Bethel: in the 1970 census 146 or 3.4% of Bethel’s families were poor. In the region, the number of poor families has also been dropping, to 2.6% from 3.4% of all families. One difficulty for some of Bethel’s families may be the cost of their housing. In 1990, 40% of homeowner households and over 50% of renter households were paying more than 25 percent of their monthly household budget to cover the cost of housing. These figures are about the same for the Housatonic Valley region. Among Bethel’s four census tracts, there are some differences in income distribution. It appears that the 24% of Bethel households earning more than $75,000 per year are largely concentrated in tracts 2003.01 and 2003.02 (35% of all households in both these tracts). The other two tracts have less than 15% of their households living at this affluent level. A second income grouping, probably reflecting prevailing housing market prices, can be found in tracts 2001 and 2002 where 23% of the households in each tract earn $35,000 to $49,999. Tract 2001 also has a somewhat larger concentration of households earning $15,000 to $34,999 than the other two tracts. Aside from these differences, Bethel’s four census tracts have similar income distributions: i.e., about the same percentage of households in each tract earn $5,000 to $9,999, $10,000 to $14,999, etc.
It is clear from looking at these income
data and at changes in size and design of new single family homes that
Bethel has become a wealthier town over the past twenty years. The land
use issues arising from this are several-fold: whether the housing stock
is keeping pace in quantity and design with demographic changes, whether
poor families are being priced out of Bethel, and what Bethel must do to
remain attractive to homebuyers.
Bethel has been slowly changing over the past decades. The population size has increased in each of the last decennials since 1920, but the growth is slackening. The 1984 Plan of Development had anticipated that the town’s population in 1990 would be between 18,000 and 18,800; that number is now expected to be reached sometime between 1995 and 2000. With the growth in population, Bethel remains racially homogenous, although Asian and Indian families are increasingly making the town their home. The age structure of the overall population is shifting away from youth towards maturity: the proportion of the population which is in primary school is lessening as against the middle-aged and elderly. Bethel at the millennium will be an older, more financially comfortable and well-educated community than it was twenty and thirty years ago.
The reasons given in the 1984 plan for Bethel’s population growth remain valid more than ten years later:
In Bethel, housing is by far the most prevalent land use. Most land
has been developed for housing, and virtually all the remaining vacant
and underutilized land will have housing constructed on it. Thus, the character
of the town is shaped not only by discrete, localized land uses, such as
the downtown and the businesses along Route 6, but by the overall impression
created by the residential areas, made up of thousands of homes and their
yards. The population analysis showed that Bethel is still gaining population,
but at an ever-slower rate. This rate of increase is linked to - even controlled
by - the housing supply. Since there is not significant out-flux of households
leaving Bethel, the market must supply new housing for newcomers and in-place
Bethelites who wish to move into another home. Absent significant zoning
changes, new housing will conform to the existing patterns and the basic
character of the town will remain. However, within the larger pattern of
people and their homes, there are small changes which may and will happen.
These include changes in density, such as conservation developments to
preserve open space, changes in architectural style, such as a truer New
England aesthetic, and changes in household types, such as non-nuclear
and low-income families.
According to the 1990 census, there are 6,399 housing units in the
town. This covers all units, from houses to tents. This represents an increase
of nearly 138% since 1960, and an increase of 18% just since 1980. (By
comparison, the population grew only 10% in those same ten years, but household
number grew 19%, virtually matching the increase in housing stock.) Within
the ten-town region, Bethel ranks fifth in housing stock increase since
1960, Brookfield first and Bridgewater last. The town’s housing stock is
nearly three-quarters single family (4,741 units), with 1,268 two-to-nine
unit structures, 271 apartment structures (ten units or more), and 119
units such as boats, tents, vans or mobile homes. About 26% of Bethel’s
housing stock (1,658 units) is thus multi-family, predominantly two-family
4.2 Occupancy And Vacancy
At the time of the census, 6,175 of the total 6,399 units were occupied. Of the occupied dwellings, 4,630 (75%) were owner-occupied and 1,545 units (25%) renter-occupied. The census reported a combined vacancy rate for both owner-occupied and renter-occupied housing of 3.5%. Based on phone calls with local realtors, it appears that the rental vacancy rate is probably lower, with great unsatisfied demand for rentals. Most rentals are advertised by word of mouth or in the newspaper. Realtors generally see the higher end of rentals; one reported 22 phone calls in one day for a rental and another four offers on a two-bedroom townhouse. Houses, condos, and apartments for rent are snapped up as soon as they come on the market.
Federal vacancy guidelines state that a minimum acceptable vacancy rate for homeowner units is 2.5% and 5% for rental units. These rates allow the market to satisfy supply and demand: sufficient housing units are available at prices within a range affordable to local
households. According to the 1992 Bethel Housing Partnership report
to the state’s Housing Partnership Plan (here referred to as the Partnership
plan), the actual vacancy rates in Bethel were 3.05% for homeowner units
and 2.2% for rentals. The homeowner vacancy rate is above the target rate
and would indicate a functioning market. However, the rental vacancy rate
is well below the target, indicating a situation where there are not sufficient
rentals to satisfy demand and keep prices down. At the time of the 1990
census, only 69 units (1.1%) were vacant. This tight market is verified
by the conversations with local realtors.
The median gross rent (includes rent and an estimate of monthly fuel and utility costs if paid by renter) as reported in the 1990 census was $762. The largest proportion of renters (21.3%) pay between $750-$999. In the region, this is one of the lowest median rents, lying between New Fairfield, Redding, and Sherman, where the median is over $1,000, and Danbury’s $693. However, the rise in Bethel has been striking: the 1990 median rent is 140% higher than the 1980 median rent. As a percent of income, over 50% of the renters in Bethel pay more than 25% of their income in rent. Based on conversations with realtors, sample rents include $800 to $1,000 for a two-bedroom condo, and $500 for a one-bedroom in the downtown area. One of the factors limiting the supply of rental apartments is the history of condo conversions; condominiums now number 10% of Bethel’s housing stock. This is the same proportion as the region.
Housing prices in 1990 had a median of $171,000 (this included single
family houses, condominiums, and two- and three-family homes). Single family
homes had a median sales price of $207,700, an increase of 149% over 1980.
This sales price has continued to increase over the past six years according
to local realtors. Sample prices (when asked for "an average") included
condominiums selling in a range of $80,000 to one-half million, $180,000
to $200,000 for a three-bedroom raised ranch on one-half acre in Chimney
Heights or a Cape Cod on one-quarter acre "in town, " and $215,000 to $230,000
for a four-bedroom house. A development in Chimney Heights is reportedly
getting $150,000 for a one-acre unimproved lot and then $325,000 for a
2,000 square foot new house. According to the census, 40% of Bethel homeowners
pay more than 25% of their household income in monthly housing costs. The
change in housing prices over the past fifteen years is apparent from a
comparison with the 1984 Plan of Development. The plan reported a 1980
average value for condominiums of $65,700 and an average for all other
owner-occupied homes of $84,400. Average monthly rent was $277, with 61%
of all apartments renting for between $200 and $399.
10a: Housing Types
10b: Housing Types
4.4 Households and Housing Use
The pattern of housing use is changing in Bethel as in the region
and the country. Owner-occupied households are larger than renter households,
and yet these figures are dropping with each census. In 1990, the average
owner household had 3.05 persons, a decrease from the 1980 3.3 persons.
Renter households were 2.22 persons, also a decrease from 1980 when it
was 2.3 persons. The numbers of one-person households, households with
no children, single parent households, and unmarried couple households
are rising. Between 1970 and 1980, the number of one-person Bethel households
climbed 81%, and one-person and two-person households accounted for almost
42% of all housing unit occupancy in 1980. In 1990, single person households
alone were 20% of all Bethel households, and single parent households were
12%. As mentioned above, the numbers of households in Bethel are growing
with each census and the nature of these households is becoming more complicated.
Increasingly, Bethel’s housing stock must serve not only the traditional
nuclear family of two parents and (fewer numbers of ) children, but must
be adequate for the full range of Bethel household types.
4.5 Need for Lower Cost Housing
Satisfying the Need for Lower Cost Housing: Bethel’s Role
The type of housing built in Bethel and the rising cost of these homes may affect the future demographic characteristics of the community. Housing affordability is most frequently examined in terms of the percentage of a household’s income that must be spent on housing costs. Typically a unit is considered affordable where monthly costs are no greater than 30% of the household’s gross monthly income. The number of households spending more than 30% is a key indicator of the lack of housing affordability in an area. For purposes of low-cost housing development, the Connecticut legislature has defined affordable housing need: persons or households qualify for affordable (i.e., subsidized) housing if their annual income is less than or equal to 80% of the area or state median income, whichever is lower. Bethel’s median household income in 1990 was $53,761, and the state’s was $41,721. Thus, using 80% of the state annual median income (AMI), Bethel households earning $33,377 or less qualify for affordable housing. The 1990 census found that 27% of the town’s population earned $34,999 or less. In summary, around one-quarter of Bethel’s population qualifies for affordable housing using the state formula. The next section below discusses how this finding can have an impact on Bethel, based on recent state affordable housing legislation.
As the price of new construction increases, young couples who grew up in Bethel and would like to raise their families here, and elderly on fixed incomes who can no longer maintain a large home but want to remain in the town, may be priced out of Bethel. They will need to look elsewhere for housing. Also, as new construction prices increase, it becomes increasingly difficult for one wage earner families to purchase homes in Bethel. Two earner households of modest means will begin to have difficulty affording the type of large, single family, detached housing that comprises the majority of new homes. If most households consist of two wage earners, services that rely on volunteers, such as the fire department and emergency squad, may be affected since these households will no longer have the time to volunteer.
Bethel can respond to these issues in a number of ways. The first, of course, is to do nothing: Bethel could rely on the region to provide lower cost housing for its households of modest means. However, within the Housatonic Valley planning region, there are only two other municipalities with lower median housing sales prices (Danbury and New Milford). There are not many better housing options within the region for Bethel households of modest means. Bethel needs to provide within its boundaries housing whose type and cost matches the income levels of its residents.
Thus, the second response is to undertake a variety of measures which encourage the production of both lower cost housing and housing which is directly subsidized. Ownership housing types which are not necessarily subsidized but which can offer lower down payment and monthly carrying costs include two-family houses, townhouses, and small lot houses. Rental units include apartments in multi-family buildings and accessory units. These units can be encouraged through changes in the zoning code. These actions can be directly undertaken by the Planning and Zoning Commission. These actions have a long-term, incremental effect on the production of housing stock without involving the Planning and Zoning Commission in housing finance, subsidies, buyer or tenant selection, or other aspects of housing development better left to non-profit and for-profit housing providers.
Housing can also be made affordable to moderate income households through a variety of subsidy programs. (Such subsidized, below-market-rate housing is now what is generally meant by the term affordable housing.) These programs are offered through local, state, and federal vehicles, and usually assist first time home buyers and elderly. Some of these programs are 1) below market rate mortgage programs through the Connecticut Housing Finance Agency (CHFA), 2) HUD Section 202 funding for elderly housing projects, 3) grants and low-interest loans from the state to local non-profit housing organizations, 4) tax abatements or reductions for elderly homeowners, 5) land contribution by a municipality to facilitate housing construction (funded through the town’s capital budget), 6) housing site development grants from the state to homeowners for moderate income housing, and 7) state down payment assistance programs, providing low interest loans for down payments.
In Bethel, there are (as of 1994) 249 assisted dwelling units, utilizing
some of these programs: 36 family units, 124 elderly units, and 89 CHFA
mortgage assistance units. Bethel has already two entities in place which
either produce such subsidized housing or could do so to produce housing
in the future: the Housing Authority and the Bethel Housing Partnership.
Groups based outside Bethel, such as the Diocese of Bridgeport, could be
invited to produce housing in the town. Private, for-profit developers
are also capable of constructing subsidized housing, especially if there
are incentives attached. These incentives are described further on. These
recommendations do not require direct action by the Planning and Zoning
Commission, other than amending the zoning, site plan, and subdivision
texts to allow incentives for below-market-rate housing.
The State’s Role and Developer-Initiated Appeals Procedure Housing
Before moving to a discussion of affordable housing recommendations, it is important to understand the more active role that the state of Connecticut has chosen for itself in resolving the issue of housing and income match. First, Connecticut requires its municipalities to examine their need for affordable housing. Second, the mandated municipal comprehensive plans must have an affordable housing component. Third, municipalities are now authorized to set up programs in which developers provide affordable housing for moderate income households in exchange for a density bonus.
Fourth, a developer may seek a court appeal if a municipality rejects a mixed-income housing development proposal with 25% of all units made affordable. The burden of proof lies with the municipality to show that 10% or more of its total housing units are affordable. Using the state’s definition of affordable housing, units may be counted towards this ten percent if they are public housing, rent subsidized housing, state funded mortgages, or deed restricted property. If the municipality cannot prove this, the developer has the right to build. This is called appeals process or appeals procedure housing.
This possibility of developer initiated action is real for Bethel. While the town’s quantity of affordable housing is second only to Danbury, it falls short of the ten percent mandate by about 406 units. (See Table 6.) The recommendations which follow will produce housing that qualifies under the state law, and housing which does not, but which would relieve some of the price pressure on the Bethel housing market. This would make it more likely that households could pay for shelter costs using no more than 30% of their income.
Publicly Assisted Housing Units (as of 1994)
Housatonic Valley Planning Region
(as of 1994)
Bethel has had two studies demonstrating that there is unsatisfied housing need: both the 1984 Plan of Development and the 1992 Housing Partnership Plan discuss how the market is not providing housing choice and affordable purchase price or monthly rent to certain populations within town. These groups are primarily low and moderate income elderly and families, with some need expressed by the mentally ill, mentally retarded, and the mobility disabled.
At the time of the 1984 plan, Bethel had 140 subsidized units for the elderly and needed 90 more. There were two subsidized housing projects for low and moderate income elderly, Augustana Homes (Bishop Curtis) and Reynolds Ridge. These have been joined by 44 units of congregate housing on the Bishop Curtis site and 40 units of independent living units at Reynolds Ridge. The current waiting list is 50 single persons and five couples. There are no plans to build additional subsidized housing. The one subsidized non-elderly housing resource in Bethel is Phineas Park, built in 1985. This project has 28 moderate cost rentals, built with Farmers Home Administration funding.
The 1984 plan discussed the lack of low cost rentals and affordable homeowner dwellings. Then, as now, the rental market was under supplied with a median rent higher than could be afforded by town households living at or near poverty. Where home purchase became difficult for some families, these responded by overcrowding into units or doubling up, sharing a housing unit with non-relatives. Subsequent to this plan, the 1992 Housing Partnership plan found much the same situation. This plan reported that while "the median family income in Bethel rose by 106.5% between 1980 and 1990, the cost of housing rose between 69% and 148.7%....[O]nce a need primarily of families at the lowest end of the income scale, adequate and affordable housing is now a concern of moderate and middle income families and elderly persons as well." The 1990 median family income was $59,517; the Partnership plan reported that one-quarter of the town’s population had incomes below 80% of the median and 36% of all family households were below the median.
The Housing Partnership Plan recommended that 54 single-family homeowner units and 69 rental units be built or rehabilitated to increase the local housing stock to the level where the federal vacancy targets could be realized. About 226 housing units would be needed to satisfy the housing needs of local residents who are mobility disabled or have self-care limitations, five to eight units are needed for the mentally retarded who are able to live independently with some assistance, and between eight and twelve units are needed for the mentally ill, for a total of about 246 units. These latter three categories could be satisfied with rental housing. In summary, there is a need for:
2. Accessory Buildings: These are allowed under certain conditions. The Planning and Zoning Commission should examine the past history of variance requests to determine if the current language needs to be judiciously amended to allow more accessory buildings under a streamlined approval process. The same rent restrictions described above could apply here.
3. Apartments in C Zone: This zone is mapped along Greenwood Avenue. Apartments are allowed under special permit. The Planning and Zoning Commission should review the history of special permit applications to decide if this use should be made as-of-right. These multi-family buildings could have rent restrictions which would govern rent levels, monitored by the Housing Partnership, the Housing Authority, or a newly created Rent Board.
4. Residential Use in C-I Zone: This zone is primarily mapped along Route 6. On the eastern end of Bethel’s portion of Route 6 are several non-conforming residential lots and a large vacant parcel at the intersection of Route 6 and Old Hawleyville Road. There are a few other vacant parcels between Weed Road and Benedict Road. The Planning and Zoning Commission should examine the usefulness of allowing residential uses on Route 6, either as the primary land use or as one use in a mixed-use development. New housing here could be deed restricted and subsidized, using a density bonus program as a developer incentive. (See below.) Deed restricted housing is counted towards the 10% goal. Such deed restrictions normally run for 30 years but could also be in perpetuity. They are typically monitored by a local non-profit housing group, such as the Bethel Housing Partnership.
5. Road Ordinance: The Planning and Zoning Commission should examine the Bethel Road Ordinance with the Town Engineer and Public Works Commission to determine if flexible road standards (such as narrower widths) can be allowed in certain residential subdivisions. This, again, would somewhat reduce developer costs.
6. Conservation Subdivisions: Subdivisions whose lots are aggregated together to preserve open space cannot be mandated by the Planning and Zoning Commission. However, they can be strongly encouraged. Property and houses in such subdivisions can be somewhat less expensive than those in standard subdivisions as the developer’s costs are reduced by the smaller lots and lesser amount of roadway and utility infrastructure. These subdivisions could also contribute towards the 10% goal if a density bonus was used to make subsidized housing available (see below.)
7. Density Bonuses: The Planning and Zoning Commission should examine the feasibility of allowing a density bonus. This would enable a residential developer to construct a larger number of homes than would otherwise be allowed under a site’s zoning if a certain number of units (same size and workmanship as the market-rate units) were sold to persons or households qualifying for affordable housing. The affordability of these units would be protected upon resale by deed restrictions. The deed restrictions and re-sales would be monitored by the Bethel Housing Partnership, Housing Authority, or an other local non-profit group. The designated affordable units would be sold at a price using the state’s formula of 80 percent of annual median income. Buyers would be chosen through a lottery or waiting list, with preference going to those living and/or working in Bethel. Owners would be allowed to make a limited profit on the resale of their homes. The deed restrictions could run forever or be limited to 30 years, with their allowed resale price rising annually through an indexing method. Such housing would count towards the state’s 10% goal. The effort of monitoring subsidized housing would lie with the local housing non-profit. The initial effort of amending the zoning code would lie with the Planning And Zoning Commission and selectmen. The new text would spell out the necessary definitions, development standards, maximum rent and sales prices, mortgage amounts, eligibility standards, administration, and applicable zoning districts.
8. Land or Building Donation: A significant step that Bethel can
take towards lowering housing costs, increasing the overall housing supply,
and creating housing that counts towards the state goal is to donate publicly
owned land or buildings. The property would be given to an appropriate
housing developer (whether non-profit or for-profit) who would then build
subsidized housing. The project could be a mix of market-rate and subsidized
units or all subsidized units. Such an action would return the property
to the tax rolls and eliminate one of the big costs involved in housing
production. Specifically, Bethel has a few vacant parcels which would yield
some small amount of housing, such as the Judd parcel. Larger housing projects
could be created with the adaptive reuse of the Andrews Center and the
newly vacant Old Town Hall. The Andrews Center is currently for sale by
the town and has had no serious offers. It lies on 1.4 acres, near the
center of town, and is about 4,869 square feet. The Old Town Hall contains
4,720 square feet and is within walking distance of the train station.
This would allow families/persons living here to be less dependent on a
car for commuting. Apartments created in these two buildings could be condominiums
(thus ownership) and subject to deed restriction, enabling Bethel to count
these towards the 406 units necessary to bring it up to the 10% goal.
Community facilities are defined as those buildings or public places
that serve the general or specific needs of the public and are the responsibility
of the town or public agency. Included are parks and recreation areas,
schools, town owned buildings and land, police and fire services, public
health and utilities, and highways. The information here was obtained through
public documents, phone conservations, and interviews. A standout throughout
this research was that all town agencies are pleased with the recent move
to the Bethel Municipal Center. The increased space and centralization
has facilitated communication between agencies and has enabled the expansion
of old programs and the creation of new ones.
5.1 Parks and Recreation
Public recreational facilities range from volleyball, basketball, baseball, softball, and soccer (indoor and outdoor), to gymnastics, dance, and in-line hockey.
Table 7 inventories the available outdoor facilities at the municipal schools.
Outdoor School Recreational Facilities
2 Softball Fields
3 Soccer Fields
1 Softball Field
1 All-Purpose Field
1 All Purpose Field
1 Softball Field
1 Baseball Field
1 Soccer Field
1 All Purpose Field
4 Bocce Courts
10 Tennis Courts
1 Baseball Field
1 Football Field
1 All-Weather Track
1 Soccer Field
2 All-Purpose Fields
2 Basketball Courts
Don Haddon Nature Trail
|Total Acreage: 140|
Table 8 inventories the outdoor fields and facilities other than those at the municipal schools.
Outdoor Recreational Facilities
1 Softball Field
|1 Storage Bldg.||Electricity
Little League Field
1 BMX Bike Track
1 Storage Bldg.
|Meckauer Park and Bennett Property||
All Purpose Area
1 Storage Bldg.
1 Storage Closet
1 Winter Ice Pond Storage
Little League Fields
1 BMX Bike Track
||Passive Recreation||1 Storage Bldg.||None|
1 Little League Field
|1 Storage Bldg.||Water
According to the Director of the Parks and Recreation Department, the recent move into the new Municipal Center eliminated many of the problems cited in the 1984 Plan of
Development. The following list enumerates the accomplishments subsequent to the 1984 plan:
There are five public schools in Bethel, all of which are located in the Educational Park facility (140 acres). As of April 1, 1996 there were 3,229 total students enrolled. The Rockwell School, K-3, has 512 students enrolled and the Berry School, also K-3, has 516 students enrolled. The Johnson School, Grades 4 and 5, has 555 students enrolled. The Middle School, 6-8, has 800 students enrolled. Finally, the High School, 9-12, has 810 students enrolled. Thirty-six students are out of district, but are enrolled for special educational purposes. There is also one Parochial School in Bethel -- St. Mary School
(K-8) -- which is operated by St. Mary Roman Catholic Church.
The square footage and student capacities of each public school are as follows:
School Capacities and Square Footage
|Bethel High School||
|Bethel Middle School||
|R.M.T. Johnson School||
|F.A. Berry School||
|A.H. Rockwell School||
According to the Superintendent of Schools, the school district feels that Bethel population is increasing very slowly, so current facilities, such as classroom size, are adequate to provide for future generations of students. Furthermore, since there has not been a significant increase in primary school enrollment, facilities for future High School students will be satisfactory. The educational complex, coupled with the way in which the grades are organized, has facilitated the maintenance of proper class size, the scheduling of transportation, and the implementation of new technology.
Recently completed projects and current programs include a new 866 seating capacity auditorium in the Middle School, a distance learning program with Danbury and Richmond Schools, a Continuing Education program and an MBA program with Teikyo Post University in Waterbury, CT.
On the agenda for future is the implementation of new technology for the schools. The goal is to provide all the schools with computer on-line facilities.
According to the Superintendent of Buildings, the Berry school needs to be updated, as there are not enough outlets in the classrooms, and all school roofs need to be replaced. Asbestos removal has also been a major project.
The Bethel Town Library building occupies approximately 9,200 square feet, approximately half of the space recommended for the current population of Bethel, and about one-third of the space that will be needed by 2010. According to the Director of the Library, 0.9 square feet of library space is recommended per capita. Based on a current population of 17,000, 15,300, square feet are recommended, significantly more than at the present time. Comparisons with neighboring town libraries (Brookfield, Danbury, New Fairfield, New Milford, Newtown, Redding, and Ridgefield) reveal that Bethel ranks last in population to square footage and square footage to book stock ratios. The library has decided that expanding into the vacated town hall would not make sense for their operations, and so plans to expand are in the exploratory stages.
The parking problem has been significantly reduced due to the recent vacancy of the town hall, and the availability of parking in the old railroad station area. Since the move, the parking lot is usually half full during regular hours and completely full during special programs. The library offers several programs including preschool story hour, summer reading, an adult book discussion series, and a concert series.
On average, the library adds 4,200 books a year, but withdraws 2,000-3,000 a year because of lack of space. Other space issues affect both adult and child patrons:
The Bethel Social Services Department was founded in 1968. Its purpose is to administer a general assistance, information, and referral program for financially struggling individuals and families. The Municipal Agent for the Elderly helps seniors to pay their hospital bills and apply for benefits and entitlements. Social Services also coordinates holiday programs for Thanksgiving and Christmas, provides year-round food assistance, and funds a fuel bank for utility purposes. The recent move to the new Municipal Center has alleviated their need for additional space. As an example of their mission, the department is currently redesigning, in conjunction with Danbury Hospital, hospital bills so they are easier to understand.
Current issues affecting the groups served by social services are:
The Senior Citizens Center has moved to the basement of the new Municipal Center. The much needed enlarged space has enabled the center to expand popular programs and add new activities. Some of the programs offered include: cards, pinochle, scrabble, bridge (two tables), poker (three tables), pool table, arts and crafts (with instructor), ceramics (two rooms), line dancing, "seniorsize" exercise classes, 55-Alive driving program, trips to Atlantic City and Westchester theaters, and swimming classes at the Danbury Ramada Inn. Other programs offered include long-term care classes, computer classes, dental checks, and genealogist visits.
Transportation to the center is adequate.
However, according to the Director of the Senior Center, another "half"
a Sweet Hart bus is needed to pick up the slack. The Center would like
to be able to use the full kitchen. If the full kitchen were operative,
the Senior Center could accept offers from large groups who want catered
meetings or parties in the cafeteria. Such groups have proposed to donate
all profits to the Senior Center. As it stands, the Center has a kitchenette,
which was installed with the help of the Friends of the Seniors, a private
fund-raising group. The kitchenette is useful for providing sandwiches
everyday and hot lunches on Friday; however, in order to offer on-site
meals, the large, full kitchen is necessary. Also needed are new tables
for the cafeteria.
5.6 Health Services
The Health Department’s mission statement is "to protect and promote the physical and environmental well being of the citizens of Bethel through direct public health services, wellness promotion and active support of community efforts." The Department’s goal is to serve as the main access point for Public Health service in the community, and to provide public health protection to all Bethel citizens. The role of the Public Health Director is to identify and address local health problems, community health needs, and the available resources that can be targeted to those areas.
As the number of infectious diseases continues to rise nationally, so does Bethel’s awareness of the necessity to deal with such issues. The Bethel Health Department, thus, provides a number of public health programs to protect, promote and improve the quality of life for Bethel residents. These include:
Bethel Visiting Nurse Association (BVNA) is a non-profit organization that provides community based, quality health care. Since 1927, the BVNA has provided in-home care to people with acute, chronic, or terminal illness, mental or physical handicaps, serious injuries or fractures, post surgical and short-term disabilities, and children (including newborns). In addition to in-home care, BVNA operates a Well Child Health Clinic every Tuesday. BVNA’s move to the new Municipal Center has placated its need for more space and has centralized its services with those offered by the Public Health Department.
The services offered by BVNA include skilled nursing services, home health aides, maternal child care, physical, occupational and speech pathology therapy, social worker services, HIV therapy, and a hospice. Also offered are blood pressure clinics, mammography screenings, flu clinics, immunizations, physical examinations, counseling on child management, and health education.
Although employed by the Board of Education,
the school nurses work in close conjunction with Health Services. There
is one nurse in each of the five public schools and one floater nurse.
The purpose of the school nursing program is to maintain the health standards
5.7 Municipal Buildings
Public Works Garage. The public
works complex, built in 1977, is approximately 28,520 square feet, and
lies on 43.42 acres. The garage houses the Water, Buildings and Highway
Departments; all offices and some storage materials have been moved to
the new Municipal Center. Additional storage space is still needed for
tires, salt and flammable items. Grounds maintenance is now operated out
of the High School.
11a: Municipal Buildings
Figure 11b: Municipal Buildings
Grassy Plain School
The Grassy Plain School is currently leased to a daycare and nursery school program. It occupies 4,869 square feet and lies on 12 acres of land.
Old Railroad Station
The former railroad station is presently leased to the Boy Scouts. It occupies 2,066 square feet and lies on 0.805 acres of land.
Old Town Hall
Vacant - 4,720 square feet; 0.46 acres. May be partially used as a community center and teen hall. The town’s intent is for reuse for community purposes.
Andrews Municipal Center
Vacant - 4,869 square feet; 1.495 acres. For sale by the town.
Bethel Municipal Center
Almost all town agencies and departments are now housed in the Bethel
Municipal Center. The Center, which was converted from a school into an
administrative facility, sits on 5.62 acres of land and occupies 90,958
5.8 Police Service
The police station is located on 63.6 acres, and occupies 8,160 square feet. Since the 1984 plan, a new addition was added which included a storage bin, an employee lounge and a female locker room. According to the Chief of Police and the Superintendent of Buildings, however, lack of adequate storage space is still a problem.
The Chief of Police discussed the following needs:
There are two volunteer fire stations in Bethel: (1) the Bethel Fire House - 1.10 acres, 6,160 square feet, and (2) Stony Hill Fire House - 0.742 acres, 7,768 square feet. The following needs were described by the Fire Department:
According to the Director of Public Works, since 1984 road mileage has increased by 20 miles. Total road mileage in Bethel is approximately 85 miles.
Projects that have been completed since 1984 are as follows:
Intersections prone to accidents are:
5.11 Potential Uses of Publicly Owned Land
To conclude, the municipality of Bethel owns 197 acres of parkland, 128 acres in school use, and 87 acres in passive open space. The expansion and upgrade requirements of town parks and playgrounds may be accomplished on existing parkland or may necessitate the use of other publicly owned land. Achieving other town goals may also require public land, such as the construction of moderate income housing, tax base expansion, and creation of more open space. According to the tax assessor, the municipality owns about 556 acres of vacant land. This total is made up of 61 parcels whose size varies from .08 to 255 acres (Francis J. Clarke Industrial Park.) Many of the parcels are waste, wet, steep, leftovers from road realignments, or dedicated open space. Usable vacant land can be found in the following locations:
Parks, Playgrounds, and Open Space
According to the 1993-1998 final draft of the Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP) , Bethel has 412 acres in intensive and non-intensive open space use. The breakdown is as follows:
197 acres - Non-school intensive active use (park lands)
128 acres - School use
87 acres - Casual passive use
412 Total acres
A national group, National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), has issued benchmarks for the type and quantity of recreation facilities and acreage. The benchmarks are not minimums that a town should provide, such as four tennis courts per one thousand population, but rather are starting points for a community discussion on the town’s unique recreation, park, and open space needs. Keeping this in mind, the plan provides here the following three tables as comparison points for Bethel to ponder. The data are drawn from the NRPA’s latest guide Park, Recreation, Open Space, and Greenway Guidelines and from the State’s SCORP. This latter plan compares the ten towns within the Housatonic Region. For purposes of comparison, there are three towns to compare to Bethel: Bridgewater, which has nearly identically the same land area as Bethel; Newtown, which has the closest population size to Bethel; and Brookfield, which has the closest density. Bethel has other recreational areas not enumerated in the SCORP and so not listed below. These are the new Don Haddon Nature Trail, four bocce courts, one winter ice pond, one BMX bike track, and two playgrounds.
Comparative Park, Open Space and Athletic Facilities
Bethel Bridgewater Brookfield Newtown
Size in Acres 10,880 10,432 12,672 38,643
1990 Population 17,541 1,654 14,113 20,779
1990 Density 1.61 0.16 1.14 0.54
Total Open Space 412 122 826 655.5
Park Acres 194 6 272 91
School Acres 128 0 90 145
Non-Intensive Acres 87 78 458 420
Multi-Purpose Fields 2 0 1 0
Hardball Diamond 14 1 8 6
Softball Diamonds 12 2 1 6
Football Fields 4 1 2 2
Soccer, Field Hockey 9 1 6 8
Running Track 2 0 1 1
Basketball Courts 9 1 3 2
Tennis Courts 20 3 8 8
Classification Location Criteria Size Criteria
Mini Park Less than a 1/4 mile Between 2500 sq. ft. distance in residential setting and one acre in size
Neighborhood Park 1/4 to 1/2 mile distance and 5 acres is considered uninterrupted by non- minimum size.
residential roads and other 5 to 10 acres is optional.
School-Park Determined by location of Variable -- depends on
school district property. function.
Community Park Usually serves two or more Usually between 30 and
neighborhoods and 1/2 to 3 50 acres.
Natural Resource Areas Resource availability and Variable.
Greenways Resource availability and Variable.
Sports Complex Strategically located community- Determined by projected
wide facilities. demand. Usually a
minimum of 25 acres, with
40 to 80 acres being optimal.
Selected Outdoor Facilities Not Found In Bethel
Activity Recommended Size and Spacing Service Radius
1. Par 3 Average length varies 50-60 acres 1/2-1 hour travel time
(18 hole) -600 - 2700 yards.
2. 9-hole Average length Minimum of 50 9-hole course can accommodate
standard 2250 yards. acres 350 people/day.
3. 18-hole Average length Minimum 110 Yds. 500 - 550 people/day.
standard 6500 yards.
Course may be located in
community, district or
Golf-driving range 900’x690’ wide. 13.5 acres for min. 30 minute travel time. Part of
add 12’ width each of 25 tees. golf course complex. As
additional tee. separate unit may be privately
Swimming Pools Teaching - min. Varies on size of 15 to 30 minute travel time. Pools
25 yds. x 45’ even pool and amenities. for general community use
depth of 3-4 feet. Usually 1-2 acres should be planned for teaching
sites. competitive and recreational
Competitive - min. purposes with enough to
25 m x 16 m. accommodate 1m and 3m
Min. of 25 sq. ft. diving boards. Located in
water surface per community park or school
swimmer. Ration of site.
2 to 1 deck to water.
Beach areas Beach area should N/A N/A 1/2 to 1 hour travel time.
have 50 sq. ft. of land Should have a sand bottom
and 50 sq. ft. of water with a maximum slope of 5%.
per user. Turnover Boating areas completely
rate is 3. There should segregated from swimming
be a 3 - 4 acres supporting areas. In regional/metro parks.
area per acre of beach.
Ice hockey Rink 85’ x 200’ 22,000 sq. ft. 1/2 - 1 hour travel time.
(min. 85’ x 185’) including support Climate important
Additional 5,000 area. consideration affecting # of
22,000 sq. ft. units. Best as part of multi-
including support area. purpose facility.
Bethel’s growing population and housing stock have necessarily meant the loss of open land. Vacant developable acreage in the town is now at around 1,760 acres. Most of this acreage lies in the southeast where land is zoned R-80 (minimum two acre lot size). While this zoning enables the town to avoid sewering, it is also tremendously land-consuming. Conservatively, at the average rate of 100 new houses a year (the 1980-1990 rate of housing growth), the remaining developable 1,163 acres in R-80 could be converted to housing within another ten years. If Bethel wishes to create playgrounds and parks in the new population centers, the town will have to begin planning now to acquire the land or to require public open space from developers.
Given that there is no resource book that definitively quantifies the kind of recreation a town of Bethel’s size should have, decisions will have to be based on an understanding of the town’s particular needs and a determination of Level of Service Standards appropriate to the town. Also, there can be rapid changes in youth and teenage recreation: waning and waxing enthusiasms for model boating and airplanes, in-line skating, skateboarding, competitive jump roping, frisbee tossing, mountain biking, etc. The following are the steps for the community to take in discussing the upgrade and expansion of parks and recreation facilities:
At present, Bethel government has no definite plans to increase the supply of subsidized housing. A number of recommendations were made in the August 1994 Bethel Housing Partnership report to the state. These included the use of certain parcels for home construction to meet local housing needs. It should be noted that the larger proportion of housing recommended by the Partnership was to be rehabilitated housing (not new construction). The report stated that the highest priority was the construction or substantial rehabilitation of 69 new rental units available to low and/or moderate income households. The report also developed a list of properties available at the time which could serve as low/moderate income housing sites. The two which were town-owned are no longer listed by the Tax Assessor as municipal properties
Given that there is currently no plan
to create additional subsidized units, the plan cannot estimate the amount
of town-owned land that could be made available. However, subsidized housing
is a reasonable use of publicly owned land. Preferably land would be made
available which is within walking distance of mass transportation, such
as the train station or bus routes. This enhances the affordability of
the units as household reliance on car ownership is decreased.
WATER AND SEWER UTILITIES
6.1 Existing Conditions
Sewers: Sewer lines serve the entire downtown Bethel area, Francis Clarke and Berkshire Industrial Parks, Hoyts Hill and the Route 6 corridor (completed 1991-92). (See Figure 12.) In the downtown area, the sewer service area is virtually coterminous with the water service area. Preliminary designs for sewers in Stony Hill and Chimney Heights have been prepared. Currently these areas and all other non-sewered areas are serviced by on-site septic fields. Pursuant to a 1993 court order, the Danbury Sewage Treatment Plant processes the sewage generated in Bethel’s serviced areas. The Bethel Waste Water Treatment Plant was converted into a large pumping station. This eliminated the contamination, and improved the quality of Still River, as well as rectified the over-capacity problems during rainstorms. The Danbury plant was enlarged in order to accommodate Bethel’s needs. As it stands, maximum capacity of the Danbury plant is 1.8 million gallons a day. Bethel contributes 1.1 million gallons a day.
Water: There are two water service areas in town: Stony Hill, Chimney Heights, and Berkshire Corporate Park in the north which are served by Bethel Consolidated Water Company, a private utility, and the downtown/central area which is served by the Bethel Water Department, a municipal utility (see Figure 13). The town-owned Eureka Reservoir and Chestnut Ridge systems supply potable water from Eureka and Mountain Pond Reservoirs, located in Danbury. According to the 1995 Bethel Water Supply Plan, these two water bodies have a combined safe yield of 0.33 million gallons per day (MGD). The Eureka Reservoir System is supplemented by the Bethel-located Chestnut Ridge Reservoir and Maple Avenue wells. Eureka Reservoir serves all industrial zones as well as most of the commercial zones. The Maple Avenue well field has a safe yield of 1.16 MGD, giving Eureka a total safe yield of 1.49 MGD. The Eureka Reservoir can be supplied in an emergency by water diverted from Murphy’s Brook to Mountain Pond. The Chestnut Ridge system, supplied by the Chestnut Ridge reservoir, has a safe yield of 0.17 MGD. It serves a predominantly residential area with a small amount of commercial use along Greenwood Avenue. The Bethel Water Department currently serves about 7,778 people or 46% of the population.
Both private and public water utilities have water supplies in excess of current demand; their supplies are expected to permit projected population increases and anticipated system expansion without adversely affecting the existing quality of service.
The safe yields for Chestnut Ridge Reservoir are 0.17 MGD, Eureka
Reservoir - 0.20 MGD and Mountain Pond - 0.13 MGD. The combined safe yields
for the Maple Avenue Wells are 1.16 MGD. The maximum amount of water that
the Bethel Water Department can dependably supply equals the sum of the
safe yields of all sources during the critical dry period, or 1.66 MGD.
The amount of available water in excess of demand is expected to permit
projected population increases and anticipated system expansion without
adversely affecting the existing quality of service.
12: Sewer Service Areas
Figure 13: Water Service Areas
The service area ratio (number of residential services/total number of housing units) of the Bethel Water District (BWD) has remained constant over the last decade, but will begin to decrease in the near future. This is because the future service area of the BWD has very little developable land, while outside the service area, development can continue at a greater rate. Based on current zoning regulations, 389 dwelling units could be developed (see Table 13). Based on population projections through 2040, as population increases outside the BWD service area, the service ratio will decrease.
Total Number of Developable Units
|HDR - High Density Residential||34 Acres||8||272|
|MDR - Moderate Density Residential||44 Acres||2||88|
|RDR - Rural Density Residential||57 Acres||0.5||29|
Source: Bethel Water
Supply Plan, April 1995
Bethel owns 42% of the Eureka Reservoir Watershed, 46% of the Chestnut Ridge Reservoir Watershed and 100% of the Maple Avenue wellhead radius. There are 635 acres dedicated to water department use. The office site, 6.6 acres, is out of the watershed. None of the 635 acres could be released for private development.
Bethel Water Department has been exploring possible new well sites. One has already been selected for future wells and two more are under consideration. Test wells have been drilled on the 64 acre site behind the Police Station in the East Swamp Aquifer.
Bethel’s source protection program is composed of several non-regulatory and regulatory measures. Currently, there is no local program for groundwater protection. Actions taken by the BWD which have land use and development policy implications are:
6.2 Future Needs
Water: The 1984 Plan of Development projected demand on water supply. At that time, the system was adequate for the existing demand. But using data from the Army Corps of Engineers Housatonic River Basin Urban Study, the plan showed that the then-safe yield of 1.3 MGD (millions of gallons per day) would be "borderline" sufficient to meet projected population demand by 2000 and 2030. The sources of future water supply with the greatest potential were found to be the East Swamp Aquifer well field development, Dibble’s Brook Aquifer, and Murphy’s Brook Aquifer. In response to the 1984 recommendations, the Bethel Water Department explored possible new well sites. One has been selected for future wells, with another two under consideration. Test wells were drilled on a 64-acre site behind the Police Station in the East Swamp Aquifer and it was determined that these wells would be the priority for source expansion, having between 0.8 and 1.00 MGD available. Other preliminary investigations have found additional potential water sources in the Dibble Brook Aquifer near Kristy Drive and in the Murphy’s Brook Aquifer in the Francis J. Clarke Industrial Park. This latter one has been reserved for future use.
Expansion of the existing public water service area will be limited to encompass the immediately adjacent land. There is a limit of 500 new homes allowed within the service area and industrial development may only occur on land currently zoned for such use. The water department has also identified additional facilities and improvement needed to meet anticipated peak loads through 2015. The Water Department has a short-term (through 1999) improvement capital plan requiring $840,000, and a long-term (through 2015) plan requiring $1,615,000.
Given that 1,163 acres or the bulk of vacant, residentially-zoned, and developable land is zoned for a minimum of two acres (R-80), most new houses in Bethel will not need to be served by a private or public water company but will use on-site wells. If a new housing development features single family homes on smaller lots, aggregated together to preserve open space, the houses may rely on a privately managed community well. There are 111 vacant and developable acres in land zoned R-20 (one-half acre minimum lot size). New R-20 houses lying south or east of the downtown would tie into the existing Bethel Water Department system. R-20 homes north or south of Route 6 could tie into the private Consolidated Water Company depending on proximity.
The issue of expansion of water utilities and development is clearly discussed in the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials’ excellent Regional Water Resources and Supplies (Regional Planning Bulletin #74, 12/93.) We quote here from that text: "The expansion of public water supply systems serving multiple users is a complex process and a heavily regulated aspect of regional growth. Connecticut is one of several national leaders in the streamlining and managing of this process, expressed through "An Act Concerning a Connecticut Plan for Public Water Supply Coordination" which in 1985 mandated a coordinated approach long range water supply planning. Throughout the State "Water Utility Coordinating Committees" (WUCC’s) were created.... A key to the WUCC’s plan is the designation of "exclusive service areas" for all public and private water utilities, defined as areas where public water is or will be supplied by one system.... Public water can reach as yet unserved portions of exclusive service areas by extending existing water mains or by interconnection with a nearby water utility.... The declaration by a water company of an exclusive service area cannot induce local Planning and Zoning authorities to promote the spread of public water service where those commissions state it is inappropriate.... Importantly, state statutes require local planning commissions to have prior evidence of state approval of proposed new water systems, before they grant local approvals to new developments intending to make use of such new systems. If a planning commission should grant local approvals before state approval and if the water utility should subsequently fail, the municipality is then required to take over and run the system."
As part of the WUCC’s process, Bethel’s two water utilities have claimed future service areas. The Bethel Water Department has claimed a "[s]light expansion along western, southwestern, and northeastern edges of existing service area." The private Bethel Consolidated Company, serving Chimney Heights, has claimed "[e]xpansion of approximately 1000 feet around the circumference of the two existing service areas except along the Route 6 corridor. Area along Route 6 corridor to extend from Payne Road (at the Danbury Town line) to intersection of Route 6 and Weed Road."
Sewer: In February 1995, Greiner Engineers produced a study on the feasibility of extending sanitary sewer service from the Route 6 trunk sewer to R-20 and R-30 residential areas north and south of Route 6. Six potential service areas were investigated: Vail Road, Old Hawleyville Road north of Route 6, Benedict Road, Payne Road, Oak Ridge Road, and Colonial Drive. In total, about 1,205 lots would receive sewer service at an estimated construction cost of $12,500,000 or about $10,400 per lot. The study found that about 80% of the study area has soils that are severely limited for septic field utilization and septic tank absorption fields, and another 10% is moderately limited. Indeed, the area reported 152 septic failures between 1975-1995, or nearly 13% of the area’s lots reporting failures. The failures are largely due to the local clay soils and the one-half acre lot sizes. Thus, the report concluded that the Stony Hill area could be sewered and probably should be. However, at present, there are no active municipal plans to undertake this program.
In addition to planning new sanitary sewer systems, the town can designate areas outside the service areas for sewer avoidance. Development here would be subject to on-site solutions and stringent oversight by the town. Connecticut’s Department of Environmental Protection makes the following recommendations for minimum lot sizes for single family residences using septic systems:
Without Public Water With Public Water
Minimum 1.0 acre 0.6 acre
Water Supply Watershed 2.0 acres 2.0 acres
High Yield Aquifer 2.0 acres 2.0 acre
Inland Waterfront Areas 1.5 acres 1.5 acres
WATERSHED AND AQUIFER PROTECTION
In Bethel, four major stratified drift aquifers and surface water reservoirs are used for public water supply. Because the Dibbles Brook, East Swamp, Limekiln Brook, and Sympaug Brook aquifers are an essential natural resource and a major source of public drinking water in Bethel, their protection is paramount. Furthermore, use of groundwater is likely to increase, as the population grows and opportunities for new surface water supplies diminish due to the rising cost of land and increasingly intense development. This memo will focus on protection measures for Bethel’s water sources, and act as a guide so the town can implement its own Watershed and Aquifer Protection Program.
Bethel needs to take steps to protect its stratified drift and bedrock
aquifers. Groundwater (aquifer) contamination occurs through inappropriate
zoning, chemical discharges, failing septic fields, and other land use
development results. According to the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected
Officials’ report Regional Water Resources and Supplies (Dec. 1993),
"[c]ommon groundwater contaminants in Connecticut are pesticides, nitrates,
solvents, gas and oil, and road salt. The state has mandated that municipalities
protect their aquifers in order to preserve the quality of potable water.
State DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) has requested that Bethel
undertake a procedure call Mapping A, to control salt storage on ground
over the aquifer. This first stage is voluntary, but it is expected that
the DEP will eventually require that zoning regulations be enacted to protect
the aquifers. Bethel could possibly adopt the DEP regulations as its own
in order to be in compliance. At present, Bethel’s source protection program
has several non-regulatory and regulatory aspects, with no local program
specifically for groundwater protection. In place are wetland and watercourse
regulations, state regulations on pesticide and fertilizer use, and the
donation of open space created by residential development to the Bethel
Land Trust. Additional protective measures could include a stratified drift
aquifer overlay zone, a residential fuel tank control ordinance, and a
hazardous materials management ordinance. The town should also investigate
its salt storage facilities and salt-spreading measures.
7.1 Definition of Key Terms
Public Water Supply Watershed
Bethel is served by Eureka and Mountain Pond reservoirs, both of which are located in Danbury. The Eureka system is supplemented by the Chestnut Ridge Reservoir, located in southern Bethel, and the Maple Avenue wells, located north of the central business district area in the East Swamp Aquifer. There are two local utilities. The private Consolidated Water Co. serves the Chimney Heights/Stony Hill area. The municipally-owned Bethel Water Department currently serves the downtown and central core, approximately 7,778 people or 46% of the population.
Bethel owns 42% of the Eureka Reservoir Watershed, 46% of the Chestnut Ridge Reservoir Watershed and 100% of the Maple Avenue wellhead radius. There are 635 acres dedicated to water department use. The Chestnut Ridge system serves a predominantly residential area with a small amount of commercial use along Greenwood Avenue. The Eureka system serves all industrial zones, as well as most of the commercial zones. According to the 1995 Water Supply Plan, the safe yields for Chestnut Ridge Reservoir are 0.17 million gallons per day (MGD), Eureka Reservoir- 0.20 MGD and Mountain Pond - 0.13 MGD. The combined safe yields for the Maple Avenue Wells are 1.16 MGD. The maximum amount of water that the Bethel Water Department can dependably supply equals the sum of the safe yields of all sources during the critical dry period, or 1.66 MGD. The amount of available water in excess of demand is expected to permit projected population increases and anticipated system expansion without adversely affecting the existing quality of service.
The aquifers in Bethel are gravel areas beneath the soil that are capable of storing large quantities of water. They are technically known as "stratified drift aquifers" as they were originally deposited by glacial meltwaters. These aquifers contrast sharply with the remainder of the town, where bedrock is tapped for water supply. The difference in yield between two areas can be dramatic; perhaps a million gallons per day for a well in the aquifer, but only a few thousand gallons per day or less for a bedrock well. Generally speaking, large wells for public purposes are only drilled into the stratified aquifer and not into bedrock.
Both types of groundwater sources are of course entitled to land use regulatory protection. However, the contamination of just one public well on an aquifer, serving thousands of homes, is so catastrophic that aquifer protection has had its own regulatory history, aside from the parallel protection of bedrock areas through health code standards and other techniques. A significant contributing factor to separate regulation is that aquifers are almost always in low flat areas, traditionally the locations of business and industrial zones, where risks of contamination are highest.
Bethel Water Department has been exploring possible new well sites. One site has already been selected for future wells and two more are under consideration. Test wells have been drilled on the 64 acre site behind the Police Station in the East Swamp Aquifer. Test wells are also being drilled on Kristy Drive, located in the Dibble Brook Aquifer, off Old Hawleyville Road, north of Route 302.
The Grassy Plain Wells, tapping the Sympaug Brook Aquifer, have been
out of use since 1964 due to chemical contamination. The Parloa Well Field,
also in the Sympaug Brook Aquifer, is no longer used due to the construction
of sewers nearby, raising the risk of contamination, although these wells
are not now contaminated.
7.3 State of Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection Mandates
Public Water Supply Watershed
Public Act 85-279 entitled "An Act Concerning the Protection of Public Water Supplies" requires, rather than allows, municipal Planning and Zoning commissions to consider protection of existing and potential public surface water supplies in their plans and regulations. Bethel’s 1996 Water Supply Plan discusses actions taken by the Bethel Water Department in response to a "check list of municipal actions to consider," issued by the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. These measures are discussed in 7.4.
According to the Connecticut State Legislature, use of groundwater is likely to increase, as the population grows and opportunities for new surface water supplies diminish due to the rising cost of land and increasingly intense development. The legislature has, therefore, determined that protection of existing and future groundwater supplies demands greater action by state and local government.
The state’s Aquifer Protection Program intends to advance groundwater protection by:
The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection requires all towns with utilities serving more than 1,000 people to:
There are other small stratified drift gravel deposits in Bethel,
including along parts of Route 58. However, the statewide Connecticut Department
of Environmental Protection led regional delineations of aquifer management
areas did not include such smaller areas, as they were of insufficient
depth or had overall limited transmissivity to be considered viable as
public water supply system well sites. This does not mean that groundwater
quality protection there should be ignored; small bedrock wells will be
drilled through the aquifer in those locations and thus such areas are
in need of long term protection. The approach of the 1980 and current groundwater
protection program of Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection,
Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials, and the United States Geological
Survey is to only regulate what really needs to be regulated; minimize
the boundaries as much as possible. That is why the setting of aquifer
boundaries in effect "chopped off" some aquifer areas of lesser value,
such as along Route 58. It was felt that new restrictions on property use
to preserve groundwater should be required only for aquifers that were
known to be large enough to be of use to a public supply system.
Bethel has adopted all DEP regulations pertaining to groundwater protection, and has required utilities to purchase or obtain controlling interest in the land within a 200 foot minimum radius of most public water supply wells. Bethel does not have, however, a local source protection program of its own. Measures Bethel has taken to protect its surface and groundwater are as follows:
2. The R-20 and R-40 single family residence zones within the recharge
area should be modified to prohibit high risk land use activities which
are currently allowed through special exception uses. Any further development
of schools, nursing homes and hospitals should be prohibited within zones
situated in recharge areas.
protection of this vital resource. The regulations should govern the use of lands over the primary and secondary recharge areas of Bethel’s stratified drift aquifer.
Within this zone, certain high risk activities are prohibited outright, while others are allowed conditionally. Permitted and regulated uses should be delineated, classification systems should be employed, development densities should be limited, underground fuel storage tanks should be prohibited, and street salt dumping and the disposal of household chemicals into septic tanks should be carefully monitored. Once aquifer protection areas are designated some businesses and industries may face adjustments on their properties. Fortunately for Bethel, there are only two industrial uses and one retail use on Maple Avenue, approximately 680 feet, 980 feet , and 2,100 feet, respectively, from the wells. Bethel will need to create a program tailored to its specific conditions. However the town must meet the minimum standards of a model state regulation (to be developed by CT DEP).
Because the Bethel Water Department owns most of the land surrounding its watersheds, development is limited and contamination is, thus, reduced. However, Bethel has not specifically addressed the protection of land surrounding its groundwater recharge areas. Furthermore, Bethel’s conservation subdivision program falls short of providing effective regulatory measures for the protection of public drinking water supplies.
For developments in recharge areas, the Planning and Zoning Commission should require a comprehensive environmental analysis to determine the following:
Bethel’s Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission has the authority
to restrict development in sensitive watershed areas (see Figure 16) to
prevent degradation of water
16: Wetlands and Streams
supplies. However, this authority is inadequately supported by the existing regulations because the regulations do not specify stream and wetland setback requirements. The following conditions should become part of the inland wetlands and watercourses regulatory program:
Residential Fuel Tank Control Ordinance
Although there are no federal or state regulations pertaining to residential underground storage tanks, many Connecticut municipalities have already acted on their own to protect their groundwater. Several measures Bethel can take to do the same are:
The purpose of a hazardous waste materials ordinance is to regulate commercial and industrial use and storage of hazardous substances and chemicals. This ordinance would be directed at all existing and future users of hazardous materials.
Bethel requires a percentage of land in new conservation developments to be preserved as open space, in R-40 and R-80 Zones. The percentage to be deducted, however, in no way correlate open space requirements with water quality protection in sensitive recharge areas. Conservation subdivisions should also be encouraged in areas surrounding the recharge area.
Household Hazardous Materials
Public awareness of the effects that fertilizers and pesticides can have on drinking water needs to be buttressed. Bethel should increase its collection of hazardous materials to at least once a year, if not more, to raise awareness and reduce impact of improper disposal on drinking water. State funding is available to municipalities for a program of this type.
The use of calcium chloride/sand mix should be considered. This mixture is just as corrosive as sodium chloride alone, and can actually reduce the sodium levels in water supply. It is also less toxic to vegetation than sodium chloride alone. Bethel would need additional storage facilities and equipment capable of spreading this material. A calibrated spreader would allow more effective control over the rate of sand to salt application in watershed and recharge areas. The primary sand/salt mixture per eight mile run should be mixed at a ratio of eight parts of sand and one part of salt on roadways in the public drinking water supply. A de-icing salt management policy and procedure incorporating the above recommendations should be developed by the Public Works Department to provide an acceptable standard of winter maintenance.
7.6 Aquifer and Watershed Protection Programs Around the Region
Brookfield has an "AP District" which is an aquifer overlay zone, in the zoning regulations. Its zoning regulation contains specific wastewater effluent standards and wastewater loading rates by soil type and slope.
Danbury’s hazardous materials management ordinance, adopted in 1982, has served as a model for other communities in Connecticut. Furthermore, Danbury implemented a comprehensive water supply watershed protection strategy in August of 1993. Within the former are residential fuel tank control features for new developments in watershed areas. These include underground tank installation requirements such as requiring the tank to be placed in a vault, liner or double lined containment system; requiring a leak detection system, and requiring overfill protection. Above ground tank installation requirements include a roofed secondary containment area with a cleanout sump or a "tank within a tank" secondary containment alternative design. Furthermore, the owner of any underground storage tank in a Class I or Class II watershed area must register the tank and tank system with the Danbury Health Department.
"The Public Water Supply Watershed Protection Zone" is an overlay zone regulating activities on Class I and Class II watershed areas. The watershed boundaries have been mapped. The regulations governing activities within these boundaries 1) prohibit certain uses, 2) require certain performance standards, and 3) require environmental impact analysis before development. According to Danbury’s Planning and Zoning Department, this protection zone has been useful in allowing development to proceed in a careful way, without impact to environmentally sensitive land and without requiring the extension of public sewer service.
There is an aquifer overlay zone, adopted in 1981 for the Pootatuck Aquifer. In 1994, a Residential Fuel Tank control Ordinance was proposed which would regulate and prohibit the following: (1) new installations or replacement of underground tanks are prohibited in areas of high groundwater or wetlands as defined by soil tests, and the aquifer protection zones; (2) a permit must be obtained to install storage tanks or bury transmission lines; (3) a safety shield or sleeve is required if transmission lines are buried in soil or through concrete; and (4) underground installation of either new or replacement storage tanks is prohibited, unless special exception is obtained. There are no, as of yet, formal watershed protection regulations in Newtown.
A draft aquifer protection overlay zone was prepared in 1990. This
regulation would include residential fuel tank control regulations.
8.0 TRANSPORTATION AND TRAFFIC CIRCULATION
This chapter summarizes current transportation conditions in the Town of Bethel. This evaluation is based on the town-wide public opinion survey and existing documents and studies, including the following:
One of the most critical components of the transportation demand is the home-to-work or commuter trips. The 1990 Census provides information on commute pattern to and from Bethel. Table 14 shows the major locations of employment for the 9,462 Bethel employed residents. It can be seen that about one third of the employed residents work in Danbury and one fifth work in Bethel itself. The other work destinations represent small proportions of the Bethel work force, i.e. 5.3% or less for each destination.
Table 14 also shows the number of commute trips made in single occupancy vehicles, i.e. persons driving to work by themselves. On average 87% of the commute trips produced in Bethel are being made by "solo" drivers. This proportion is lower for Manhattan (21%) and to a lesser degree for the towns located along the MetroNorth line. Those destinations in Table 14 that have a large number of car drivers (typically more than 200 drivers) are potential candidates for ride sharing improvements.
For the 6,184 jobs located in Bethel, about one third are held by
Bethel residents and one fourth by Danbury residents. The other residential
origins represent again very small proportions, i.e. 5.2% or less each.
Journey To Work From Residence in Bethel
Source: Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials, December 1993
Work at home included
in 1990 data
Table 15 summarizes the daily traffic
volumes on the state highways in Bethel in 1985 and in 1994, as well as
the average annual increases over the nine year period. As can be seen
traffic increases over the last nine years have generally been very low,
in most cases 1.8 % per year or less. Two road sections even showed decreases
in traffic volumes. Only I-84 and the section of Route 6 that is part of
the Interchange #8 have experienced higher growth rates over the last 9
8.2 Traffic Accidents
In September 1995 the Connecticut Department
of Transportation published a 1991-1993 Traffic Accident Surveillance Report
and a suggested list of Surveillance Study Sites for all State highways
in the Housatonic Valley Region. The list of Surveillance Study Sites includes
accident locations where the actual accident rate over the three year period
exceeded the critical accident rate for that type of location and where
there were 15 or more accidents. No accident locations in the Town of Bethel
appeared on that list of critical locations.
AVERAGE DAILY TRAFFIC AND TRENDS
FOR STATE ROADS IN BETHEL
Bethel-Danbury Town Line to Sky Edge Drive
Sky Edge Drive to Hawleyville Road
Hawleyville Road to Old Hawleyville Road
Old Hawleyville Road to Bethel-Newtown Town Line
Bethel-Redding Town Line to Nashville Road
Nashville Road to South Street
South Street to Route 302 (Greenwood Avenue)
Route 302 (Greenwood Avenue) to Fleetwood Avenue
Fleetwood Avenue to Mansfield Street
Mansfield Street to Bethel-Danbury Town Line
Redding-Bethel Town Line to Sunset Hill Road
Sunset Hill Road to Hoyts Hill Road
Hoyts Hill Road to Route 302 (Milwaukee Avenue)
From Rt. 6 Eastbound to Brookfield Town Line
Route 53 (Bethel) to Chestnut Ridge Road
Chestnut Ridge Road to Topstone Drive
Topstone Drive to Milwaukee Avenue
Milwaukee Avenue to Judd Avenue
Judd Avenue to Wolfpits Road
Wolfpits Road to Bethel-Newtown Town Line
Source: Connecticut Department of Transportation
NA =: Not available,
because the highway sections being counted are different.
According to the Bethel Police chief the following intersections represent traffic safety hazards:
8.3 Transportation Concerns Expressed in the Town-Wide Public Opinion Survey
Typically the roadways in a community are organized according to a functional classification or a hierarchy. This classification takes into consideration the fact that not every road can satisfy all circulation needs. Two basic functions can be fulfilled by a road: the function of through movement and the function of access to adjacent land. In the past when traffic volumes in the rural or small town areas were very low, there was no need to distinguish between these functions. A two-lane road could provide for the through movement and access to adjacent properties without any conflict between the two functions. As traffic volumes increase it becomes increasingly important to organize the network so that through traffic can be avoided or at least minimized on local streets and driveways can be minimized on through roads. Very often traffic problems and accidents can be related to a conflict in functional classification, whether it is regional through traffic on a residential road or an excess of driveways on state arterials. Bethel’s network can be classified as follows:
I-84 is the only expressway through the Town of Bethel. As access to the expressways is restricted to grade-separated interchanges it represents the highest category of roadways. Bethel residents can use either Interchange #8 on the border with Danbury or Interchange #9 in the Town of Newtown. Interchange #8 is a very complex interchange integrated into a pair of one-way frontage roads, partially functioning as Route 6. Because of the one-way system and the spread out ramps, this interchange causes fairly circuitous movements.
State Maintained Arterials:
Four state arterials serve the Town of Bethel: Routes 6, 53, 58 and 302. Two routes operate in an east-west direction (Routes 6 and 302) and the other two in a north-south direction. All four routes are two lanes wide (one lane in each direction).
Route 6 (Stony Hill Road) runs parallel to I-84 and is substantially commercial. It has five traffic signals along its length in Bethel. Traffic volumes decrease from west to east. Traffic along Route 6 in Bethel has generally not increased to any significant degree.
Route 53 (Grassy Plain Street/Turkey Plain Road) runs north-south in the westerly part of Bethel and connects Danbury and Bethel to the Merritt Parkway and to I-95. It is also a two-lane road with modest traffic growth.
Route 58 connects the central area of Bethel to the Town of Redding and also to the Merritt Parkway and to I-95. Route 58 terminates at Route 302 (Milwaukee Avenue).
Route 302 (Greenwood Avenue/Milwaukee Avenue) traverses the center of Bethel in an east-west direction connecting to Route 53 in the west and to Newtown in the east.
Collector and Local Streets:
Collector streets are meant to collect traffic from the local (residential) streets and to bring traffic to the arterials. Often the intersections between arterials and collectors are signalized, whereas intersections between collectors and local streets are controlled by stop signs. Secondary traffic generators such as elementary schools or small retail establishments can be located along collectors. Twelve town roads in Bethel have been classified as collectors by Connecticut Department of Transportation.
Bethel has a total of 85 miles of improved town roads, including the collector and local streets.
8.4 Potential Transportation Improvements
I-84 traffic has been increasing at an average annual rate of 3.5% since 1985. Traffic congestion along I-84 caused by accidents or other bottlenecks shifts traffic volumes unto Route 6 on a frequent basis. State and regional plans call for widening I-84 through Bethel from four to six lanes. The widening could be achieved without any major reconstruction nor land taking in Bethel. The Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials recommend widening I-84 from two to three lanes in each direction between the Danbury Line and Brookfield Line. Connecticut Department of Transportation has already completed the air impact modeling.
The construction of a new eastbound I-84 ramp located immediately north of Payne Road was discussed in 1982 as a way to provide a more direct access from Payne Road to I-84 eastbound and improving the link between I-84 and the center of Bethel via Payne Road. Payne Road would then function as a minor arterial. This ideal was rejected by Connecticut Department of Transportation in 1989 because the new ramp would be too close to the existing eastbound ramp and the demand would not justify this expense. An alternative improvement would consist in a new Interchange 8 ramp, replacing the existing eastbound ramp, located a short distance to the east of the existing are, to a point directly opposite Payne Road. This would eliminate the need for northbound Payne Road traffic attempting to enter I-84 east to travel around the large rotary at Interchange 8.
The 1.6-mile section of Route 6 in Bethel was studied in 1993 by the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials as part of the Bethel-Danbury-Newtown Route 6 Traffic and Curb Cut Management Plan. This study recommended that Route 6 in Bethel be widened to a five-lane cross-section (two through lanes in each direction plus one left-turning lane) from Sky Edge Drive through Benedict Road and to a four-lane section from east of Benedict Road to Newtown. Certain curb-cut modifications were also recommended. The following intersections need to be improved: Sky Edge Drive, Garella and Sand Hill Roads, Benedict and Hawleyville Roads, and Old Hawleyville Road. These improvements should be made first, with the road widening done as a last resort. The need to widen should be generated by local traffic volume, not I-84 overflow. Enough land and setbacks should be reserved to allow the possible widening.
Bethel Business District
Several past studies have evaluated the Bethel center traffic circulation and have made recommendations to improve traffic and pedestrian circulation, as well as parking. These included a four-lane "Business Center Bypass" expressway in conjunction with a loop system creating a rectangular loop around Bethel Center (1958 Town Plan). The 1969 Town Plan Policy proposed a one-way circulation system on upgraded School and South Streets to relieve congestion on Greenwood Avenue. Later studies concluded that these major new roadways and the widening of Greenwood Avenue are not feasible and concentrated instead on individual intersection improvements and signalization changes. The 1987 HVCEO Planning Bulletin "Bethel Center Traffic Flow Improvement Plan" made the following type of recommendations: restrictions of on-street parking during peak hours, promotion of off-street parking, one-way southbound Depot Place and installation and coordination of traffic signals. This Plan of Development does not recommend making Depot Place one way.
Bethel Center-Great Pasture Connector
A past proposal called for the extension of Durant Avenue northward into Great Pasture Road in Danbury. The objective was to improve the north-south connection between Bethel and Danbury. There does not appear to be a great demand for this now, and thus this Plan does not recommend it.
Bethel Center-I-84 Connector
A certain number of proposals have been made over the past thirty years to improve the connections between Bethel Center and I-84. The first of these proposals involved a limited access highway between Maple Avenue and the I-84 Interchange 8 west of Payne Road. This proposal later became the East Swamp Connector or the Old Sherman Turnpike Extension. This project was not pursued because of right-of-way and wetlands considerations. The 1984 Update of the Plan of Development mentioned the need to address the demand for a connection between Bethel Center and I-84. The town now feels that such a connection is not practical. This plan does not recommend it.
Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials’ Proposals
Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials have made a series of other recommendations whose implementation requires study. Others have been discussed that were implemented over the last years, such as the new railroad station and several intersection improvements. Those for further study are:
Safety Improvements: Consider safety improvements at locations suggested by Bethel Police including the intersections with 302 Chestnut Street, Library Place, and Grassy Plain Street, and of Fleetwood Avenue with Route 53.
Route 302-Wolfpit Road: Improve sight distance and geometry of Route 302 with Wolfpit Road and Taylor Road.
Collector and Local Roadways: As a general goal, make improvements that facilitate better accessibility between Bethel Center and I-84 Interchange 8. Widen Plumtrees Road at its bridge over East Swamp Brook at the corner of Walnut Hill Road. Improve sight distance at the corner of Old Hawleyville Road and Plumtrees Road.
Parking: Seek to develop more
commuter parking lots within Bethel.
8.5 Key Transportation Issues
The following are the key transportation issues (identified and numbered on Figure 17 (not in order of priority).
2. Circulation and Parking Improvements in downtown Bethel: Bethel Center has been able to maintain a unique character and charm, possibly because some of the improvements that were considered 30 years ago were never built. Being "hidden away" may have saved the downtown from larger commercial intrusions. However, it is important to devise plans for maintaining the overall circulation quality here. This will probably involve spot improvements at critical intersections, possibly additional minor connections, improvements to the pedestrian circulation and safety, parking strategies, etc.
3. I-84 Widening: Bethel would like to see I-84 widened to three lanes each way. This would ease traffic pressure on Route 6. (See Section 8.4.)
17: Key Transportation Issues
9.1 Overview of the State and Region
The Connecticut economic picture is relatively strong, coming out
of the recent recession. The state retains one of the highest national
per capita income rates, along with high resident earnings and property
tax income. The effects of the recession were somewhat cushioned by the
state’s history of a strong, balanced economy which depended on manufacturing
(especially for defense needs), foreign markets, and multinational corporate
headquarters. The recession pushed down personal income and decreased the
employment base over the labor force, which had always been higher than
the job base due to commutation into New York City and Westchester County.
Relative to the other fourteen labor markets in the state, the Danbury
metropolitan area has retained some strength, with the third highest per
capita income and the third lowest unemployment rate (following Stamford
and Norwalk). The Danbury area has a substantial pool of skilled labor
which has made it attractive for corporate and industrial move-ins, as
shown by Duracell International locating its headquarters in Bethel’s Berkshire
Corporate Park. Despite the small decrease in the labor force between 1995
and 1996 (see Table 16), the local area appears to be stabilizing again
following the recession: the unemployment rate remains unchanged in the
past year and the various employment sectors are showing either small decreases,
no change, or slight increases. This small improvement is not yet enough
to calm worry about economic security or concern about long-term underemployment.
All too many regional households now understand the pressures of global
competition, industry downsizing, and corporate rootlessness.
9.2 Labor Market
The Connecticut Department of Labor reported in January 1996 that the Danbury Labor Market Area (in which Bethel falls) had a civilian labor force of 108,200 persons, with a total of 4,500 persons unemployed. This unemployment rate of 4.2% is unchanged from one year ago. Over the year, the total civilian labor force declined by 2,600 residents and the number of unemployed fell by 200. In the various employment sectors, total non-farm employment lost 800 jobs: the goods producing sector lost 300 jobs and the services producing sector lost the remaining 500. Goods producing industries had 81,800 wage-earning and salaried employees, while service producing industries had 60,000. In the goods sector, there were more than seven times as many in manufacturing than construction, with the bulk of these in machinery and electric equipment, chemicals, instruments, and printing and publishing. In the service sector, most are employed in services and trade, followed (in order) by government, FIRE (finance, insurance, and real estate), and transportation, communications, and utilities. The largest changes in employment over the pass year were in manufactured durable goods (-22.2%), other nondurable goods (-11.8%; durable and nondurable not broken out in the table below), FIRE (-8.1%) and state and local government (-8.8%).
Danbury Labor Market Area: Non-farm Wage and Salary Employment
Selected Statistics, January 1996
Jan 1996 Jan 1995 Percent Change
Total Civilian Labor Force 108,200 110,800 -2.3%
Total Unemployed 4,500 4,700 -4.3%
Unemployment Rate 4.2% 4.2% 0
Total Employed 103,700 106,100 -2.3%
Total Nonfarm Employment 81,800 82,600 -1.0%
Goods Producing 21,800 22,100 -1.4%
Construction 2,700 2,700 0
Manufacturing 19,100 19,400 -1.5%
Service Producing 60,000 60,500 -0.8%
TCU 3,200 3,000 6.7%
Trade 21,400 22,000 -2.7%
FIRE 3,400 3,700 -8.1%
Government 9,100 9,900 -8.8%
TCU: Transportation, Communications, Utilities
FIRE: Finance, Insurance, Real Estate
9.3 Housatonic Valley Region Economic Development Summary
In April 1994, the Housatonic Valley Economic Development Partnership released a study prepared by Mt. Auburn Associates. The report, Building on Our Strengths: An Economic Strategy for the Housatonic Valley Region, discussed the region’s economy, resource base, and competitive position, and presented a strategic plan for enhancing the region economically. The study emphasized that while the region had fared well in the past twenty years, its strong and diversified economic base was in danger of erosion should the region "coast" on its past success. The towns of the region would need to find "an economic development path that regains the economic momentum, sharpens the
Employment by Industry, 1970, 1980, 1990, 1994
1970 1980 1990 1994 % Change
Employment 302,900 372,400 419,900 400,500 12.75%
Construction 14,100 13,400 15,400 11,100 14.9%
Manufacturing 123,900 128,000 98,300 81,600 -23.2%
TCU 12,500 14,000 17,700 17,300 26.4%
Trade 57,700 81,300 93,400 88,200 14.8%
FIRE 11,500 19,000 33,300 33,700 75.2%
Service 51,000 77,100 118,700 128,000 53.9%
Government 32,200 39,600 43,200 40,700 9.0%
TCU: Transportation, Communications, Utilities
FIRE: Finance, Insurance, Real Estate
The population of the Housatonic Valley Region is affluent compared to other regions. The region’s per capita income is 15% higher than the state’s and 61% higher than the nation’s. Bethel’s per capita income (1989) was $20,528, above New Milford and Danbury, with the highest being Redding’s at $37,193.
The regional economy grew at rates above that for the rest of the state and New England over the past decade, and is rebounding from the recent recession. The region’s employment rate grew by 11% between 1980 and 1992. Employment and job creation have shifted up and down but with an increasing trend. Danbury is the primary economic center (54% of all jobs in the region are located here), with Bethel, New Milford, Ridgefield, and Newtown, making up the region’s economic core in their vote, as the region’s secondary economic centers. The surge in the regional employment rate has been driven by three interconnected factors: the arrival and expansion of companies in the region, large population increases due to in-migration (one-quarter of the region’s population was living elsewhere in 1990), and an increase in the number of employed persons commuting out for their jobs. Bethel’s share in these factors can be seen: between 1980 and 1992, 1,064 new housing units were authorized, the population grew nearly 11%, and 1,720 nonagricultural wage and salary jobs were added, an increase of 40%.
The regional economy has "stretched" beyond a historic dependence on one industry to rely on an increasingly diversified base. The early reliance on agriculture gave way to hatting, which then yielded to defense. With the "evaporation of demand" in the latter two industries, the region has had to found its growth on non-manufacturing sectors such as health services, business services, retail trade, government, and construction. According to the Mt. Auburn report however, the region remains dependent on "a handful of large manufacturers," some of which themselves are dependent on defense contracts. The largest sectors within manufacturing are metalworking and advanced manufacturing equipment (ultrasonics, test equipment, and robotics makers).
Other significant industries are pharmaceutical, medical and biomedical products, energy-related products, photonics and optics, printing and publishing, telecommunications, paper products, and electronic equipment. The report makes the interesting point that "at many sites of manufacturing companies, there is not a blue-collar in the place. A significant portion of employment in the Region is at headquarters facilities, the most notable one being Union Carbide." Some of the manufacturers are not the blue-chip, established ones such as Union Carbide and Duracell, but are start-up firms involved in new technology and product development: the Greater Danbury region is one of the top ten technology centers in New England. Bethel itself is home to several high technology companies listed below.
High Technology Companies
Sector Firm Employees in
Factory Automation Applied Ultrasonics 6
CCW Inc. 10-25
Del-Tron Precision 40
Eaton Corp. 630
Olson Saw Co. 25-49
Vitta Corp. 18
Chemicals Duracell International Inc. 650
Intersurface Dynamics 5
Kanthal Corp. 40
Vanderbilt Chemical Corp. 47
Computer Hardware Defense Capitol Switch, Inc. 20
International Creative Data Ind. 40
Manufacturing Equipment Advanced Materials DCG Precision Manufacturing Corp. 120
INRAD Optical Systems 10
Kanthal Corp. 80
Medical Kinetic Instruments, Inc. 25
Photonics Laser Optics, Inc. 32
Computer Software Vector Information Systems, Inc. 12
Subassemblies & Components Beaver Brook Circuits, Inc. 100
Imperial Electronic Assembly, Inc. 25
Transportation Parama Corp. 25
Holding Companies Blackstone Industries, Inc. 90
Source: Corporate Technology Information Services, cited in Building
on Our Strengths: An Economic Strategy for the Housatonic Valley Region.
178a Views of Bethel Businesses and Employers
Figure 18b: Views of Bethel Businesses and Employers
The weakness in the region’s economic base lies in the overreliance on large manufacturers. Mt. Auburn reports that half the region’s manufacturing employment is provided by only eleven firms. This lack of diversity fails to protect the Housatonic Valley region against an economic crisis if any of the large manufacturing sectors suffers a downturn. The report attempts to redirect economic strategy towards the various industrial concentrations, in order to diversify the economic base. A concentration is a collection of firms sharing a common technology, customer base, supplier base or unique resource. The region’s concentrations are defense, photonics/optics, advanced manufacturing technologies, metalworking, medical and biomedical supplies, specialty chemicals, and advanced materials. Bethel is home to five of the 20 photonics firms.
Aside from manufacturing, there are concentrations in competitive business and engineering services, and tourism. Opportunity for economic development lies within these and the above mentioned concentrations as they have already shown the region to be a competitive location. As they grow, they will directly provide more jobs and will indirectly support economic growth in related or supplier sectors.
Factors Affecting Potential Economic Development in Bethel
The Mt. Auburn report investigates a number of issues with economic development consequences: the availability and quality of the region’s work force, the availability of finance capital, regional education and job training resources, and institutions of higher learning. With most of these, the Bethel Planning and Zoning Commission can have little or no impact. However, regarding two issues, the Commission can make a contribution, especially if it works with other municipal agencies: the availability and quality of physical infrastructure and the creation of development sites with regional economic development potential.
Physical Infrastructure: While rail freight is not critical for most businesses, it continues to play a role in Bethel, having expanded somewhat over the past decade. Bethel should support the use of rail freight. The widening of I-84 and the major upgrading of Exit 8 should be pursued to accommodate ever-increasing traffic volumes. Improvements to Route 7 and 25 will not directly impinge on Bethel, but would improve the overall accessibility of the region.
Public Transit: HART bus service has been expanded to link major commercial/industrial sites in Bethel, Danbury, New Milford, and Brookfield. Two-thirds of bus trips are now work-related; employment growth in the region will need to be served by a growing bus network. Commuter rail service links the Housatonic Valley towns with employment centers in Danbury, Norwalk, and New York City. A feasibility study was completed looking at extending service to the I-84/Route 7 interchange. The owners of Berkshire Corporate Park have indicated interest in locating a new station on their property at this interchange. There is insufficient parking at the new railroad station in Bethel. This is under study by the town and Metro North.
Public Utilities: Bethel forms part of the region’s economic core as it provides the basic utilities of water, sewer and gas to its commercial centers and is willing to plan for expanded services in order to attract new businesses. Generally speaking, water is not an important factor in economic development, while sewerage can be a limiting factor. A commitment to economic development necessarily means a commitment to bringing water, sewer, electricity, telecommunications, and possibly natural gas to land identified as prime for commercial and industrial development.
Sites with Regional Economic Development Potential: At present, the region has a large inventory of buildings and land zoned for commercial and industrial use. Office space is in good supply with a vacancy rate of about 18%, while industrial space is limited with a vacancy rate of about 11 percent. The usable industrial vacancy rate is probably lower: much of what is available is older space dating from before 1970 and is too large and too old for modern users. The region has over 5,000 acres of land zoned for office or industrial use in the six towns making up the economic core, and very little of this abundance is land serviced by utilities. Land zoned for industrial use is increasingly occupied by office and other corporate uses, thereby reducing the true amount of land available for strictly industrial use.
There are three key sites in Bethel for economic development. These are sites whose development would have regional economic ramifications.
Francis J. Clarke Industrial Park: The report advised that Bethel must now advertise for tenants, and not rely on its initial "build it and they will come" popularity, as the regional market conditions have changed.
Berkshire Corporate Park: This is the home of Duracell headquarters. The 300-acre park lies in three towns and is owned by Steiner, Inc. which recently enhanced the already attractive and competitive location by constructing a bridge connecting the corporate park with the Route 7 service road. The site is improved with water, sewer, gas, and electricity - and the presence of Duracell. The town can aid Steiner, Inc., (and all commercial and industrial property owners in Bethel) in marketing their locations by determining whether the length and complexity of the current site development approval process attracts or scares off desirable businesses.
Route 6: Continued commercial expansion here will provide missing goods and services for Bethelites living in the central and northern part of town. In particular, a large supermarket would serve the Chimney Heights and Stony Hill communities, which now travel more easily into Danbury for groceries than to other parts of Bethel. The largest vacant commercially-zoned site on Route 6 lies at the intersection with Old Hawleyville Road. A possible assemblage here could be made of the site on the corner and the adjoining site which most recently housed a plant nursery. This site has sufficient size and regularity of shape to be attractive to a single, large use such as a regional supermarket or a smaller anchor and strip mall stores. Route 6 has other smaller sites which are either vacant or underutilized, one of which houses a vacant and decrepit house. According to the Plan of Development Public Opinion Survey, development on any of these parcels, large or small, should be attractive, low-scale, and aimed at community needs rather than regional needs.
9.4 Bethel Economic Development Commission
Bethel’s Economic Development Commission (EDC) was founded in 1979. The Commission consists of seven volunteer members from the town. Its primary purpose is to promote and develop the business and industrial resources of the town, study and investigate conditions affecting existing Bethel industry, business and commerce, and promote and encourage the preservation, expansion and development of the town.
According to the Chairman of Bethel’s EDC, the Commission has spent most of its seventeen years studying, developing, and promoting the 220 acre Francis J. Clarke Industrial Park. The industrial park has been a joint effort between the State of Connecticut and the town. Consequently, all of the EDC’s funding has been for the sole purpose of promoting the Industrial Park. Future development in Clarke Park may be encouraged by the construction of Trowbridge Road deeper into the next four to six lots.
Projects on the horizon for Bethel’s EDC include the future development of Route 6, Greenwood Avenue, and the Stony Hill area. The EDC will also continue to market Bethel’s business districts, and work in conjunction with the State of Connecticut’s EDC. The Housatonic Valley Economic Development Partnership has prepared a set of promotional maps and overlays to assist Bethel and the EDC in recruiting new businesses.
Although other towns may describe the work of their EDCs as "very
weak", relying on volunteer boards which receive little funding to accomplish
their goals, Bethel’s EDC should not be labeled in this way. Bethel’s EDC
did, in fact, accomplish its goal of creating a publicly owned industrial
park, and received funds to do so. Today, Francis J. Clarke Industrial
Park employees 750 people, and generates a sizeable amount of income for
Bethel - a considerable feat for Bethel’s EDC.
9.5 Overcoming Negative Business Factors
A common problem in attracting economic development lies in the unwittingly contradictory messages sent by a municipality. On the one hand, a town may have land zoned for commercial purposes in locations well served by the local and regional road network, and the land may even be served by utilities. Despite this apparent readiness for development, the town may have site development approval processes and requirements that thwart development, pushing away attractive businesses. In a survey done by Mt. Auburn Associates, nearly 19% of the local business respondents said that zoning was one of the fifteen worst business factors in the region. The Mt. Auburn report warns, "Most of the towns in the Housatonic Valley Region are still perceived as anti-development. The changing attitudes about economic development in the towns have not resulted in easing the regulatory and permitting process that businesses must go through." In Bethel’s case, the Planning & Zoning Commission should work with the Bethel Economic Development Commission specifically to address this issue. Questions to be looked at might include the impact of parking requirements on development and occupancy in the downtown, streamlining and shortening the approval process, improving coordination among reviewing departments and commissions to allow for simultaneous rather than sequential review, fast-tracking small projects, and the ability of the town to pre-qualify certain sites for specific types of development.
There are other business factors cited in the Mt. Auburn survey that the Planning & Zoning Commission, Board of Selectmen, and Economic Development Commission should work on together to overcome, making Bethel a magnet for new business. The percentage following each item is the survey response rate: business taxes (65%), housing costs (60.5%), property taxes (49%), cost of utilities (39%), cost of energy (37%), and road quality (19%). Overcoming these issues would require choosing from a menu of established and innovative techniques. These might include offering below market residentially-zoned land to reduce housing costs (which would attract employers with median income employees), tax incentives, low-cost financing, and public-private partnerships to create or improve roads and utility service.
9.6 Recommendations and Potential Build-out
Bethel has sufficient area zoned for commercial and industrial use; there is no need at present to re-zone. There are four non-residential zones, three of which (Commercial-Industrial (CI), Industrial (I), and Industrial Park (IP)) have substantial remaining vacant and developable acreage (see Figure 19). The fourth, zone C (Commercial), is mapped along Grassy Plain Street and Greenwood Avenue, and is virtually fully developed. Development here will primarily occur through change in building use (new stores and offices) and major renovation or replacement of existing buildings, and with some small potential for single-story buildings to be rebuilt with upper stories housing offices and apartments. According to the development potential analysis performed earlier, zone CI has 33 remaining developable acres, zone I has 80, and zone IP has 133. These are acres unencumbered by wetlands, floodplains, or hillsides 20% or greater in slope and with 15% deducted for road and utility construction. Under current zoning, these 246 acres could be developed as-of-right with 3,526,000 square feet of commercial and industrial space.
Berkshire Corporate Park: This successful corporate park, created by Steiner, Inc., has about fifteen subdivided parcels remaining, split between two distinct areas. The plan anticipates that these will be assembled by future tenants in various configurations. The park lies in an IP zone. In the northern end of the park, along the Brookfield town line, there is a total of about 37 contiguous acres, which would yield about 445,000 square feet of light manufacturing or office use. In the southern end, adjacent to I-84 and the Danbury line, there are about 33 contiguous acres, which would yield a maximum build-out of about 395,000 square feet. In both areas, development is constrained by rocky hills; thus, the maximum build-out might well be much less. The park is largely occupied by Duracell’s international headquarters. Development in the immediate future will probably result from Duracell expansion and spin-offs, construction by companies which supply Duracell, and other light manufacturers dependent on easy highway access for truck shipments.
Francis J. Clarke Industrial Park: This park is also zoned IP, and has about eleven to fifteen remaining subdivided parcels. Four of the parcels are in the early purchase and site planning stages. These are a variety of sizes, from about 2.5 acres to 19.5 acres, situated on a range of environmental constraints (from flat to wet to hilly). Again, the plan
Figure 19: Economic Development Areas
anticipates that some of these parcels will be assembled for development since there are five areas with contiguous parcels. There is a total of about 85 vacant acres, which could yield a maximum build-out of 1 million square feet. This amount of development is unlikely, given the difficulty of the remaining terrain, the distance from major highway access, the height limitation of the railroad overpass immediately south of the park, and the park’s established development scale of small-scale facilities, each surrounded by large areas of landscaping.
I Zone East of Turkey Plain Road/Grassy Plain Street (Route 53): This is a substantial industrial zone mapped east of Turkey Plain Road and split by the railroad. Most of this zone is developed, but there are approximately 11 parcels remaining, most of which have serious development constraints. The first four parcels are located east of the railroad (about 8 acres). Two have access from Taylor Avenue; however, the other two appear to be landlocked. These contiguous parcels abut a wetland, thus restricting development. Also, development here would lie behind residences and require careful site planning to fit construction to the narrow, irregularly shaped lot. The next two adjacent parcels directly front the railroad and are approximately 5 acres in size, maximally yielding 100,000 s.f. of industrial space. These parcels are the likeliest development sites. There are no environmental constraints affecting these parcels. The next large parcel (about 6 acres) fronts Diamond Avenue, but has a wetland to its rear. There are two very small contiguous parcels on Grassy Plain Street and Whitney Avenue (1/2 acre total), and finally, two parcels on Grassy Plain Street, near Mansfield Street (2.5 acres total), all of which have wetlands to the rear.
In Chapter 10.0, the plan looks in detail at Route 6 and the downtown,
the town’s two major commercial districts.
SPECIAL PLANNING AREAS: ROUTE 6 AND DOWNTOWN BETHEL
10.1 Route 6
This section seeks to resolve the planning issues arising from current conditions and potential future conditions on Route 6. The plan is mindful of one of the Planning and Zoning Commission’s objectives for the Plan of Development: to find approaches and techniques that can be implemented by the Planning and Zoning Commission directly or other town entities. Under the exercise of town governance, through zoning and other land use regulations, the public sector can shape real estate market actions. In this way, the results of private sector development will ultimately advance Bethel’s land use and community design goals. Thus the Route 6 plan’s recommendations focus on zoning and other development controls, roadway improvements, and aesthetic improvements.
(1) Existing Zoning
Route 6 is zoned CI, which is intended to allow light industrial and convenience retail. Convenience retail is the kind of store or business which offers goods and services for the small, local market of the surrounding neighborhood. Generally, convenience businesses do not serve a regional market. Consumers do not comparison-shop for convenience goods as these are not durable or semi-durable consumer items, such as entertainment equipment, appliances, or cars. Under Bethel’s zoning, a list of commercial and industrial uses are permitted, with certain uses allowed by special permit. The following development controls are applied:
Minimum lot area 20,000 square feet
Minimum lot width 140 feet
Maximum lot coverage 25%, provided that off-street parking requirements are met.
Front 50 feet
Side 20 feet (in certain cases, this may be waived)
Rear 25 feet
Maximum height 2 stories
or 25 feet
Route 6 is a prime location for new commercial development. Economic development opportunities here are enhanced by the sheer size of most of the vacant parcels. The parcels are large, regularly shaped, and have significant Route 6 frontage and so can attract and accommodate major retail and office space. There are a total of 14 such parcels which range in size from 1.5 acres to nine acres for a total of about 33 acres. If all were built out with commercial or office uses, a maximum of about 330,000 square feet could be built.
Development on Route 6 can serve two markets. The first is a local one, serving the needs of northern Bethel residents who otherwise would travel into Newtown or Danbury for convenience goods and services. The other is a regional market, taking advantage of the thousands of cars daily that pass along this part of Route 6 en route to destinations outside Bethel. The clear preference expressed in the Plan of Development Public Opinion Survey and at the Phase I Public Workshop was for goods and services serving the local communities, with a particular need expressed for a large supermarket. "Big box" discount retailers such as Wal-Mart are not desired. There are three major impacts usually related to such stores - or any large-scale commercial development. These are 1) the economic impact on smaller, competing retailers, especially in a downtown where parking is limited, 2) the appearance and scale of the big stores, and 3) the traffic. Recognizing the community’s preferences, the possibly differing desires of the Route 6 landowners, and the attractiveness of some of the Route 6 parcels to large retailers, there are several points and recommendations to be made regarding the potential impacts. First, Bethel’s downtown serves a different market and to some extent would not be affected by large-scale development on Route 6. The downtown has already found itself a series of niches: as a cultural and community center, with the library, Municipal Center, Post Office, and train station, as a high-end clothing, food, and dining center, and an antique/second-hand furniture center. Local business is supported by the surrounding residential areas and is responding to the growing affluence of the town.
Second, the appearance and scale of big box retailers can be controlled through local ordinances. Bethel can regulate the scale, bulk, appearance, site placement, landscaping, and signage of commercial uses. New regulations should be put in place prior to the next round of Route 6 development. In this way, Bethel could benefit from commercial and retail development while also preserving the tree-lined, small scale look of the more attractive stretches of Route 6. And third, the impact of traffic created by big box retailers is mitigated by the Route 6 location itself: to a marginal extent shoppers would prefer the speed and directness of using Route 6 and would likely use the slower local roads only marginally.
(2) Proposed Zoning Changes
The recommendations for Route 6 apply to its full length. The town should keep the basic CI zoning, with a few targeted changes. All uses currently allowed would remain allowed; however, fast food restaurants would not be permitted. The first set of recommendations breaks into the following categories: 1) zoning, 2) site plan approval requirements, and 3) design standards. In the second part of this chapter, traffic and roadway improvements are presented which will enable Route 6 to continue functioning well, both as a road for passing-through drivers and as destination for shoppers and employees.
The nature of Route 6 is changing from primarily convenience goods and services (as currently anticipated by the zoning ordinance) to a mix of light industrial, convenience goods, offices, entertainment and hotels, and regionally-based retail. Changes to the zoning regulation will enable Bethel to again anticipate and shape the market forces at play on Route 6. The corridor is inevitably going to have a more significant role in the local and regional market now that 1) there are sewers in place, 2) the remaining vacant parcels are large ones, 3) Berkshire Corporate Park is nearly fully tenanted with a first class corporation, generating secondary economic development, 4) the local population continues to grow in size and affluence, and 5) zoning just over the town line in Newtown allows only professional and residential uses, making even more attractive the vacant commercially zoned parcels in Bethel so close to I-84’s Exit 8.
Route 6 in Bethel has two sides to its character. Most of the existing commercial uses are developed on small lots. The remaining vacant lots (and redevelopment parcels such as Yankee Gas and D’Agostino’s Nursery) are larger than the developed lots. Development on these lots will likely be quite different in scale and character than the existing commercial uses. The following recommendations address this issue of development character, and take into account the market forces enumerated above. There should be a two-tier approach: 1) the minimum lot size should be doubled to one acre (40,000 acre), which will accommodate most small-scale redevelopment, and 2) for development applications of 50,000 square feet or more of office park and/or shopping center, the minimum lot size required should be five acres. These large developments will have to meet somewhat more strict design and density standards in order to mitigate their impact on the corridor itself and on neighboring residential uses.
Proposed Density, Area, Height and Yard Requirements:
A) All Uses Except Large* Office/Industrial Parks and Shopping Centers
Minimum lot area 40,000 square feet
Minimum lot width 200 feet
Maximum Floor Area Ratio 0.25
Front 50 feet or 100 feet**
Side 20 feet (in certain cases, this may be waived)
Rear 25 feet
Maximum height 2.5 stories or 30 feet (to the mean)
Minimum landscape buffer on Route 6 25 feet ’ or 35’***
** For structures with parking in the rear, the front building setback shall be at least 50 feet. For structures with parking in the front, the setback shall be at least 100 feet.
*** For structures that lie within 300 feet of a Route 6 intersection, the minimum landscape buffer increases to 35 feet to accommodate potential future turning lanes that might be constructed on Route 6.
Minimum lot area 5 acres
Minimum frontage 200 Feet
Maximum Floor Area Ratio 0.25
Front 50 feet
Side 40 feet
Rear 50 feet
Maximum height 2.5 stories or 30 feet (to the mean)
Minimum landscape buffer:
Front 50 feet or 100 feet** (see above note)
Side 10 feet
Rear 20 feet
Maximum # of Structures 1 with more allowed by Special Permit
The figures which follow this page illustrate the changes created by increasing the landscape buffer and the differences between a site with a 50-foot setback and one with a 100-foot setback.
A Uses: The rationale for these changes is as follows. By doubling the minimum lot size from one-half acre to one-acre, Bethel will reduce by one-half the number of potential curb cuts as land is developed. Increasing the minimum lot size will deter the development of Route 6 into a continuous strip mall corridor. The current minimum yard (setback) is left in place. A floor-to-area ratio of 0.25 is instituted which flexibly regulates the amount of floor area on a parcel. The maximum building height is increased by a small amount. This will allow a developer’s architect to create a pitched roof more in keeping with a New England design aesthetic than a flat roof. All existing and conforming uses will be grandfathered, until they come before the Planning and Zoning Commission or Building Inspector for renovation or replacement.
B Uses: There is a second tier within the CI zone. This second group recognizes that the remaining development parcels (whether the land or the building is vacant) are large for the area, averaging about eight acres apiece. While the allowed uses do not change in this recommendation, it is anticipated that market conditions will find the large vacant parcels particularly attractive for office and light industrial parks and large shopping facilities (whether multi-store centers or single big box retailers.) These type of facilities are commonly 50,000 square feet or larger, requiring a minimum of five acres to accommodate the building(s), parking, internal circulation, and setbacks. The bulk and density schedule is thus structured to shape these large uses to meet community goals for Route 6’s function and appearance. The minimum lot size is large, reflecting the actual development parcels and assemblages in this corridor. The density is regulated by a floor-area ratio which is a more flexible determinant of scale than the traditional method. The side and rear yard setbacks are increased to protect neighboring uses (especially residential) from noxious impacts created by the largest building scale, lighted parking and delivery areas, dumpster areas, and truck movement.
Landscape Buffer: A building can have parking within its front yard setback. However, a permanent buffer between the street line and the building line must remain free of parking, devoted to landscaping (preferably with the type of large specimen trees found on the Stony Hill Inn property). There are two purposes for this: 1) to create over time a steady line of large mature trees in a greenbelt which will make this highway more attractive, and 2) to allow for the eventual widening of Route 6 without having the new turning lanes or travel lanes encroach on the existing businesses’ parking and drop-off areas. In the B Use category, the landscape buffer also applies to the side and rear yards to protect adjacent properties.
Parking: Property developers
have a choice of a standard 50 feet front yard setback or a 100 feet one.
If the building line is set back only 50 feet from the property line, no
parking will be allowed in front of the building except for drop-off or
porte-cochere use, emergency vehicle use, and a small amount of parallel
parking for visitors. All parking will then be to the side and/or rear.
If parking is planned for the front yard, the building must then be set
back a minimum of 100 feet.
20: Landscape Buffers on Route 6
21a: Views along Route 6
21b: Views along Route 6
Fast Food Restaurants: Fast food uses will be prohibited in the CI Zone. This can be done with a minor text change to the zoning code and the inclusion of a legally defensible definition of fast food restaurant. The definition could be worded:
Note: With pre-packaged foods and a minimum wait for customer, fast-food restaurants generally produce a much higher volume of foot and automobile traffic than do other types of restaurants.
There should be several additions to the existing site plan approval requirements. These have to do with 1) traffic impact studies, 2) curb cuts and 3) design standards.
Traffic Impact Studies: Any proposed development having 150 or more parking spaces will be required to prepare a traffic impact study which analyzes existing and future traffic conditions and proposed mitigation. Any existing business with 150 or more spaces which plans to add 50 or more spaces must also prepare a traffic impact study. This recommendation was first made in the 1984 plan and was seconded by the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials. All proposed development on five acres or more or proposing 50,000 square feet of space (the B Use category above) must do a traffic impact study.
Curb Cuts: No lot in the Route 6 CI zone may have more than one curb cut on Route 6 and more than one on another town road, unless the applicant prepares a traffic study which shows the necessity for more curb cuts. The traffic impact study must be prepared for the Planning and Zoning Commission, and the Planning and Zoning Commission must approve the additional curb cuts based on the study’s analysis. The study must analyze alternative access points into the site, such as from adjoining properties and local roads. If these alternatives are shown to not work, the Planning and Zoning Commission may then approve the additional curb cuts. In 1997, the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials issued a Route 6 Access Management Plan, adopted by Bethel’s Planning and Zoning Commission. The plan proposes an access management overlay zone, to be added to the zoning code. The maps in this plan would be guides to the design and location of driveways and curb cuts.
Design Standards: Applicants in the B Use category will be subject to design standards. The quality of overall site design, building architecture, and parking lot and site landscaping will be reviewed during site plan approval. This is discussed in more detail below.
4) Design Standards
Design standards must be strengthened to meet community objectives. The objective of these is to create over time, as Route 6 is developed, a coherent and attractive design quality conforming to the community’s expressed desire for a New England character to the road.
Parking Lots: All parking areas shall be divided into smaller parking courts, separated by raised, landscaped planting islands (minimum 6 feet wide), building blocks, or other architectural or landscape architectural features. The trees in the parking lot shall be a minimum of 3-inch caliper and for every 10 spaces there shall be at least one tree. Walkways shall also be landscaped. The integration of pedestrian, vehicular and utility access between neighboring properties, as appropriate, shall be required by the Planning and Zoning Commission as a condition of site plan approval. If the applicant proposes to connect the site’s parking lot with a neighboring one, the Planning and Zoning Commission may waive the parking space requirements by as many as two spaces if this is necessary to accommodate the new internal connection.
Overall Site and Architectural Design: Sites shall be designed with the objective of creating a New England character and minimizing the visual impact of the paved parking areas. Site design for properties located at or near the intersections shall seek to create an attractive gateway into the rest of the Bethel community. A New England character shall be created through special attention to the 1) relationship of building(s) to the site, 2) the relationship of buildings and site to adjoining areas, 3) landscape and site treatment (with the use of salt-tolerant native trees, shrubs and groundcovers), 4) building design, 5) signs, and 6) miscellaneous structures and street hardware, such as lamps, benches, litter containers, planting containers, etc. This design evaluation will be made by the Planning and Zoning Commission, using an architectural review board or consultants as needed. The board would be advisory to the Planning and Zoning Commission, and would review all development on Route 6 of five acres or more, and all development in Bethel Center.
The actual architectural style shall not be restricted, but the evaluation of the appearance of a project shall be based on the quality of its design and relationship to its surroundings and community aesthetic goals for Route 6. Buildings shall have good scale and be in harmonious conformance with permanent neighboring development, if that development conforms to a New England aesthetic. Building components, such as windows, doors, eaves, and parapets, shall have good proportions and relationships to one another as found in a typical New England style. Colors shall be harmonious and shall use only compatible accents. Mechanical equipment or other utility hardware on the roof, ground, or buildings shall be screened from public view with materials harmonious with the building. Or they shall be located as not to be visible from any public ways. Exterior lighting shall be part of the architectural concept and shall be no higher than 20 feet. Refuse areas, service yards, storage yards, and exterior work areas shall be screened from public ways using the small materials as with equipment screening. Monotony of design in single or multiple building projects shall be avoided.
Signs: Generally, all signage must be carefully integrated with other site design elements. The purpose of the sign ordinance should be to enhance and protect the town’s physical appearance and provide a more scenic and pleasing community. Section 118.47.2 of the Bethel zoning code regulates signs. The following recommendations would amend this section and would apply throughout the town:
5) Accommodating Traffic Growth Along Route 6
There does not appear to be a need to widen Route 6 in the Town of Bethel at the current stage. There are no traffic forecasts that would indicate such a need in the near future. However, it is essential that the Bethel Plan of Development allow for such growth. The purpose of this section is to present strategies to allow for future capacity increases as needed. Some of the strategies discussed address the potential capacity shortages and also traffic safety.
These strategies are presented in the context of the regional transportation plan that recommends a widening of I-84 throughout this region. For years the widening of I-84 from two lanes to three lanes in each direction has been viewed as an important improvement for the region. This widening would have beneficial impacts on Route 6 in the sense that no traffic volumes would shift from I-84 onto Route 6 because of a lack of capacity on I-84. Currently significant traffic volumes shift from I-84 onto Route 6 whenever there are any blockages (e.g. accidents or construction) on I-84.
Driveway Consolidation and Access Management: Driveway consolidation and access management is an important tool to maintain or increase capacities and fluidity along an arterial. Route 6 is a state highway meant to carry traffic between adjacent communities. The function of through traffic is in conflict with the proliferation of driveways along an arterial. As has been shown in many situations, a high number of driveways along a regional arterial leads to numerous backups caused by turning traffic and to more numerous traffic accidents. As reported in the Bethel-Danbury-Newtown Route 6 Traffic and Curb Cut Management Study prepared by the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials, there were a total of 60 accidents over a three year period along Route 6 in Bethel. Of these 28 were rear-end accidents and 15 were related to turning movement paths. While the town wants to maintain reasonable access to adjacent properties, it also wants to maintain fluidity and safety along Route 6.
Besides improved traffic flow and safety, driveway consolidation will also lead to a more aesthetic road with fewer driveway interruptions and to a road that is friendlier to pedestrians and bicyclists. A proliferation of driveways makes walking and bicycling unpleasant and hazardous.
Even though Route 6 is a federal route and the state has jurisdiction over its design and configuration and the state approves or prohibits driveways along Route 6, the town has an important responsibility in the planning and management of access along Route 6. Because of its basic authority over land uses and development the town has, in effect, more influence over driveways along Route 6 than the state. This is especially true because Connecticut State Department of Transportation is not very aggressive in terms of controlling driveways along state highways and only prohibits driveways if they are a clear and direct safety hazard.
The Town of Bethel has a responsibility to manage access along Route 6 through its zoning code and subdivision regulations. These efforts should be coordinated with the region and the state.
The difficulty with these changes is that they can only be implemented over time as property owners or developers come before the town requesting approvals for development or changes to their property. Without any development application, neither the town nor the state has any legal right or leverage to request changes to the driveways, unless there is a clear and direct safety hazard.
The other drawback to a very detailed access management plan is that the access management strategies could change depending on the development plans. A large retail development could present different access opportunities than a smaller professional office.
In April of 1997, Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials prepared the Route 6 Access Management Plan for Bethel, CT, for adoption by the Planning And Zoning Commission. The Route 6 Access Management Plan is part of the Bethel Plan of Development even though it is produced as a separate document. This is an "on-the-go" access management plan with the following basic rules:
2. The access management plans should be devised on a case-by-case basis and should be specific to each development. The plan should be used as a general guide and a source of ideas.
3. Sometimes the applicant before the town is willing to consolidate driveways and curb cuts, but the neighbor does not want to participate. In that case the town can set conditions for the future and can ask the applicant to provide an easement to the adjacent property so that consolidation can happen in the future.
4. Generally access is preferable from the side street rather from Route 6, and it is preferable to provide only one driveway along a particular road rather than two. If a parcel has frontage on more than one road, traffic impacts can be minimized by distributing traffic over two or more roads and by having one driveway on each frontage road.
5. For any major development along Route 6 a traffic impact study should be requested by the town to study traffic impacts, mitigation measures and access management.
Intersection Improvements: The next line of defense to accommodate traffic increases will be to increase capacity at the critical locations, i.e. at the intersections. Intersection improvements have been identified in the Route 6 Traffic and Curb Cut Management Plan, in traffic studies submitted as part of an application to the State Traffic Commission (for the Berkshire Industrial Park) and by the town planning consultant. These strategies are listed from west to east:
Even though the four-lane Route 6 is not part of the Bethel Plan
of Development, it is important to reserve enough land and setbacks so
that the widening can occur in the future. Today the right-of-way width
varies from 70’ to 110’ between Sky Edge Drive and Benedict Road and from
60’ to 85’ between Benedict Road and the Newtown line. A total future right-of-way
of a minimum of 80’ is recommended except for those sections within 300’
from any of the above intersections where the R.O.W. should be 90’.
Figure 22: Route 6 Corridor Study Hawleyville Road and Benedict Road
Figure 23: Route 6 Corridor Study Old Hawleyville Road and Route 6
(1) Description of Study Area
Bethel’s downtown area is centered along Greenwood Avenue and extends from Chestnut Street on the east, to Grassy Plain Street and the Whitney Road and Fleetwood Avenue intersection on the west. Retail uses are concentrated within two districts of the almost one-mile long study area: the central core area (between the old railroad station and P.T. Barnum Square), and the more fragmented district adjacent to the Greenwood Avenue/Grassy Plain Street intersection. The downtown area incorporates a variety of retail uses including a number of shopping plazas, office and general commercial businesses, several churches, residential buildings and community facilities, such as the Town Hall and Library.
Historically, commercial uses first appeared on Greenwood Avenue in the mid-nineteenth century. The construction of the Shepaug Valley Rail Road with the station building at Depot Place established the avenue as Bethel’s major shopping district. Conversion of historic residences for retail and office use was followed by construction of new buildings such as the three-story buildings lining the south side of Greenwood Avenue which were built specifically for mixed commercial and residential use.
The majority of structures in downtown date from the mid-nineteenth century and document the area’s development as both a residential and commercial center. The more recent construction has generally been built on properties originally used as industrial sites. The downtown’s capacity for additional development will likely lie in small
improvements whose overall impact, if handled correctly, will be greater than the sum of the increments. In the downtown (and also at the gateway intersections of Routes 302 and 53, and Greenwood Avenue and Nashville Road) there will be opportunities for infill development, greater site utilization, and building reuse. Buildings whose reuse will have an impact on the downtown are the vacated Town Hall, railroad station, St. Mary Church, and its rectory. There are important steps the town can take to improve the attractiveness of this commercial district, through control over the new sidewalks and urban design features, control over signage, and regulation of building design and site placement. Creating a historic district in the downtown would give town officials greater leverage over the aesthetics of new development and major renovations.
The downtown has two models of commercial development. On either side of the intersection with Library Place and Depot Place, Greenwood Avenue’s commercial character differs. To the west is a modern, suburban model where the shops are contained within strip malls whose parking lots are off-street, separating the stores from the sidewalk. To the east is a traditional, small town model where the storefronts line the sidewalk and parking can be found along the street and in some cases to the rear of the stores. It is now understood that the second model encourages pedestrian use, increases walkability between stores and multi-stop shopping trips, attracts out-of-towners interested in weekend visits, and can be developed into evening and nighttime use. This old-fashioned shopping model creates a distinct character and makes memorable a town center. The Planning and Zoning Commission should study existing zoning to determine how it might be changed so that future development builds upon the established traditional commercial character.
The design quality and character of Bethel’s downtown varies considerably along the length of the district. Four district areas can be defined:
(2) An area of residential buildings and professional offices between Beach Street and the Dolan Plaza Shopping Center.
(3) Downtown’s core retail district, extending from Dolan Plaza to P.T. Barnum Square.
(4) The more fragmented mixed commercial area between the P.T. Barnum Square and the east end of downtown, terminating at Chestnut Street.
Whitney Road/Fleetwood Avenue to Beach Street
This western section of Bethel’s downtown incorporates commercial uses along Grassy Plain Street as well as along Greenwood Avenue. The area contains a broad mix of uses: a number of restaurants, two banks, two gas stations and a variety of retail and office uses. The largest building in this area is the partially vacant retail plaza complex, involving a
total of approximately 28,000 square feet of retail space. In general, this section of downtown is dominated by automobile-related uses and discourages pedestrian activity due primarily to the suburban nature of building layouts and distribution - (see Figure 25).
Positive Visual Features. This section forms the western gateway to downtown. Unfortunately, it presents a generally unattractive image with few distinguished buildings and minimum landscape treatment. One attractive residence -- No. 49 Grassy Plain Street - and the street trees marking the residential section beyond the Greenwood Avenue intersection are among the more attractive elements in this area. (See Figure 26.)
Negative Features. The extensive surface parking lots, all with frontage to Greenwood Avenue and Grassy Plain Street and the three gas stations located in prominent positions along the main street establish an automobile - dominated environment for this section of downtown (see Figure 27). Other features that contribute to a generally negative image include:
25: Whitney Road to Beach Street: Views
Figure 26: Whitney Road to Beach Street: Visual Analysis, Positive Features
In contrast to the development to the west, this stretch of the study area is characterized by attractive, well preserved buildings set back behind trees and lawns (see Figure 28). The historic residential uses of this area are largely retained in the section between Blackman Avenue and Beach Street, with St. Mary Church (now vacant) being the dominant structure on the north side of the street. Further east, many of the buildings have been converted to office use, including legal and medical offices. Two or three buildings on the south side include ground floor retail and commercial uses.
Positive Visual Features. This section of Greenwood Avenue presents an attractive high quality image due to the well-preserved historic buildings and mature landscape. Over 20 structures date back to the mid or late nineteenth century, and the uninterrupted sequence
of these historic buildings, combined with large street trees and spacious setbacks, give this area a special identity (see Figure 29). This quality extends northward along High Street and Grand Street, where historic, well-maintained homes line both roads.
Negative Features. The overhead utility lines, cobra-style fixtures of the street lighting, and pill-box additions to building fronts detract from the overall attractive image of this part of downtown (see Figure 30).
Dolan Plaza to P.T. Barnum Square
Most of the commercial core of downtown is located between Dolan Plaza and P.T. Barnum Square, with the Depot Place/Library Place intersection representing Bethel’s center. Major retail and commercial areas include the recently constructed Dolan Plaza and Bethel Village Square development on the west side of the railroad, as well as the retail frontages on the south side of Greenwood Avenue between Depot Place and the P.T. Barnum Square. P.T. Barnum Square itself is surrounded by small-scale retail and commercial stores.
The library, a church, two banks, restaurants and professional office space add to the mix of uses to be found along this stretch of Greenwood Avenue. Depot Place and the vacant old railroad station -- together with other adjacent historic buildings such as the Verdi Woodwork building -- together form a potentially important asset to downtown given its strategic location relative to the Greenwood Avenue (see Figure 31).
Streetscape improvements for this stretch of Greenwood Avenue have
been funded as part of the Phase One Rail Station Access and Streetscape
Enhancement Project. These improvements include construction of brick sidewalks,
additional street trees and new street furniture such as ornamental street
lamps and benches. It is anticipated that the streetscape work will include
the length of Greenwood Avenue from the railroad tracks to Rector Street,
as well as along Depot Place and Library Place.
28: Beach Street -Dolan Plaza: Views
Figure 29: Beach Street to Dolan
Plaza: Visual Analysis, Positive Features
Figure 30: Beach Street to Dolan Plaza: Visual Analysis, Negative Features
Figure 31: Dolan Plaza to P.T. Barnum: Views
Positive Visual Features. This core area contains an important mix of well-designed historic structures and attractively landscaped open spaces. The key assets, shown in Figure 32, include:
P.T. Barnum Square to Chestnut Street
This section of downtown presents a fragmented and untidy image due to the large gaps in building frontage and the wide variety of building types and scales. Chestnut Street marks the eastern entry to Bethel’s downtown. Unfortunately, this gateway is identified by two gas stations and other auto related uses. The most dominant building is the Bethel Food Market, a 32,000 square feet store on the south side of Greenwood Avenue. Opposite is the attractive St. Thomas Episcopal Church (see Figure 34).
Positive Visual Features. This area contains a number of smaller structures that reflect Greenwood Avenue’s earlier role as a residential street. The Gothic Revival St. Thomas Episcopal Church building (built in 1909) and the Masonic Temple Building (1910) represent the most important assets along this section of Greenwood Avenue (see Figure 35).
Negative Features. Pedestrian activity is discouraged along Greenwood Avenue given the dominance of parking lots, gas stations and curb cuts. In particular, the obtrusive scale of the Citgo Gas Station canopy at the Chestnut Street entry creates an inappropriate image on the edge of Bethel’s important historic district (see Figure 36).
(2) Issues And Recommendations
A summary of the major design issues that need to be addressed in the future plan for the downtown district is illustrated in Figure 37. These issues are based on a review of the existing conditions described above, and are combined with the results of the public workshop held in June 1996. An over-riding issue relates to the need for significant landscape design and streetscape improvements to the two outlying sections of the business district -- Sections (1) and (4) described above. Both of these commercial areas
Figure 32: Dolan Plaza to P.T. Barnum: Visual Analysis, Positive Features
Figure 33: Dolan Plaza to P.T. Barnum: Visual Analysis, Negative Features
Figure 34: P.T. Barnum to Chestnut Street: View
Figure 35: P.T. Barnum to Chestnut Street: Visual Analysis, Positive Features
Figure 36: P.T. Barnum to Chestnut Street: Visual Analysis, Negative Features
Figure 37: Summary of Design Issues and Recommendations
display a more suburban character in terms of the scale and arrangement of buildings and parking lots, resulting in less regard for pedestrian amenity, safety and comfort.
Issues: Other issues include the following:
- On sites adjacent to the rail road crossing;
- At the eastern entry from Chestnut Street, incorporating the two major parking lots near the United Methodist Church.
FUTURE LAND USE PLAN
11.1 What is a Future Land Use Plan?
A future land use plan guides future development in Bethel. It is both a map and accompanying text describing the different land use categories. Figure 38 shows generalized future land uses and the proposed zoning and urban design changes recommended in this Plan of Development. It recognizes the established settlement pattern, natural features, opportunities for economic development, the impact of the proposed sewer service area in the northern part of Bethel, and the need to avoid sewer construction in the remaining rural areas of town. Thus, the future land use plan attempts to reconcile community goals and objectives for conservation and development over the next ten years, with existing land uses, existing zoning, market pressures for development, environmental constraints on development, and existing and proposed infrastructure. The map can be considered a visual representation of an ideal form for the town.
The land use plan is generally consistent with existing development so that people do not own homes or buildings that become non-conforming uses in a zoning district.
Sudden changes in zoning (the publicly prescribed pattern of development) would create uncertainty in the market. The land use plan for Bethel therefore does not depart radically from existing zoning except for those areas subject to environmental degradation or where the land uses are already in transition and the existing zoning is lagging behind.
The Plan of Development channels real estate trends for public purposes. The plan supports the existing zoning as the zoning generally allows homes where people wish to live and businesses where these would be best located. The most significant recommendation in the plan would amend the zoning along Route 6. These changes are in response to the increasing development pressure here, and largely seek to modify density, site planning, and landscape buffering.
There are two major natural resources requiring protection: the aquifer and the hilltops. The Plan of Development proposes an aquifer protection overlay and a ridge protection overlay. These are amendments to the zoning code which would more stringently control development in these environmentally sensitive areas. Open space - areas which are not developed at all - remains a strongly held community goal. However, there are no specific areas set aside in the Future Land Use Plan for complete conservation. On a case-by-case
basis, these areas will be determined by the Planning and Zoning Commission, the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission, or other municipal bodies.
Access from adequate roads and proximity to existing or potential
water and sewer utilities are two factors defining the capacity of land
to accommodate different types and densities of development If these constraints
are ignored, roads become congested, the ground’s carrying capacity becomes
overburdened, and the town may find it has to construct community utilities
at large expense. The Bethel Plan of Development therefore supports higher
density housing and commercial use in the sewered parts of town and concurs
with sewer avoidance in the remaining rural parts of town.
11.2 Land Use Plan Elements
There are five basic elements to the Future Land Use plan. These are the underlying lots and road network, residential uses, commercial uses, industrial uses, and proposed zoning changes. The three land uses are the primary ones in Bethel, with agriculture, institutional, and parks and recreation uses playing much more minor roles. As most development over the next ten years will be either housing or businesses, the future land use plan highlights these uses. The zoning changes are indicated on the map with hatched lines, as they do not entail changing the underlying zoning (except in two small instances). They are mostly modifications of existing zoning or overlay districts.
Parcelization and Circulation System
The Future Land Use map proposes no changes in the tax lots and roads as existing at the time of writing.
The land use plan shows a range of densities of housing, the primary land use in the town. In general respects, the plan is based on the existing zoning. There are three residential categories and two mixed use categories which include commercial uses.
The one category for industrial use comprises both the I and IP zones. The important issues for development in these zones will be mitigation of environmental impacts, traffic impacts , and the construction of buildings whose architecture complements the prevailing town style. The I zone around Wooster Street is cut back to cover only an area with minor environmental constraints. A new R-80 zone is recommended here. It largely covers an area with steep slopes, and so essentially serves as notice that development is highly controlled in this area. The new shape to the I zone more accurately reflects the true extent of development potential
There are six areas where zoning changes are recommended:
Bethel Planning and
Planning and Zoning Commission
Denis Riordan, Chairman
Michael J. Mannion, Vice Chairman
Kitty Grant, Secretary
J. Richard Shannon, Treasurer
Frederick J. Jones, Jr.*
The Commission wishes to especially thank Sue Lorusso, the Administrative Assistant, for her tireless and cheerful work on this project.
Buildings and Zoning Department
Raymond C. Rubley, Jr., Building Official, Zoning Enforcement Officer
Floyd R. Banzhaf, Land use Coordinator, Enforcement Officer
Public Works Department
Hemraj Khona, P.E., Director
Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission
E. Joyce Dixon, Chairman
Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials (HVCEO)
Jonathan Chew, Director
Buckhurst Fish &
72 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10011
65 Farmington Avenue
Farmington, CT 06032
Frank Fish, AICP, Principal
Harlan Sexton, AICP, Project Director
Georges Jacquemart, AICP, Principal, Traffic Planner
Paul Buckhurst, AICP, Principal, Urban Design Planner
Kristi Broff-Knecht, Planner/GIS
Martin Torre, Graphics
Donna Roberts, Production
Wendy Bernard, Production
Redley Exantus, Production
John Ziegler, Principal
URS Greiner Engineers
Art Johnson, P.E.