Downtown Derby between the Housatonic River and Main Street is poised for positive change.
Perhaps you’ve heard that before?
Perhaps you’ve read stories from countless local media outlets, including this one?
Perhaps you’ve lived through an election cycle in Derby?
Hey look, here’s a 26-year-old story from The New York Times with the headline, “Can Main Street Revive Itself?”
Well, here’s some news that’s been floating under the radar:
Just before Christmas, an old Mexican restaurant at 106 Main St. met the wrecking ball.
It was an eyesore, next to the Route 8 ramps from Main Street/Route 34, near the former Lifetouch property.
It was also a fat insult to Derby, because of graffiti with pseudo-political undertones. Thousands of motorists getting off Route 8 there were greeted with the spray-pained anti-Derby warning, “NOT KANSAS.”
Scott Boulton, a Republican who was running for the Derby Board of Aldermen in November, pointed it out in an election season guest column.
The building is gone now, thankfully.
Other than another check off the city’s long as your arm blight list, who cares?
Because, local officials said, it is tangible proof that the state is moving forward with long-held plans to widen and rebuild Main Street/Route 34.
The property is one of a bunch on the south side of Main Street purchased by the state to make room for an expanded Route 34, a roughly $14 million project that will, hopefully, give downtown Derby a much needed facelift.
More buildings are scheduled to come down later this year. It takes about six months to empty a building after the owner sells to the state.
“To all those people who say it will never happen, I say: it is. It is happening,” said Dominick Thomas, a prominent land use lawyer with Cohen & Thomas at 315 Main St.
The widening project has been talked about for years. Main Street in its current condition is woefully inadequate to handle the massive volume of vehicles on it every day.
Click play on the video below to watch a summary of the project aired in August on WTNH:
In addition to improving traffic flow, engineers, politicians and officials have promised a new road that will look good, be friendly to pedestrians, and spur economic development along a stretch that has been underutilized for years.
The project’s “phases” were a backdrop to every Derby Redevelopment Agency meeting from 2009 until the agency was disbanded by Mayor Anita Dugatto in 2014.
Was it still happening? Was it delayed? What phase was it in? Design phase? Preliminary phase? Final phase? Set your phasers on stun phase?
The Mexican restaurant demolition is progress.
“It’s the beginning piece,” Derby Alderman Carmen DiCenso said. “It shows us things are moving forward.”
“It is a significant step forward,” Alderman Art Gerckens said.
“The state expansion of Main Street has been in the works for many years. It’s good to see the state finally making something happen in Derby,” said Sam Pollastro Jr., a Republican Party leader.
The state needs to acquire about 18 properties before they can start widening the road. A DOT spokesman said there are three to six partial acquisitions needed, too.
“The rights of way people from the state are working feverishly now,” Thomas said.
Here’s a map that was created from information from the state Department of Transportation, state business records and city assessor files.
- Properties the state has purchased on the south side of Main Street (Route 34)
- The sale price
- Seller info
- Properties the state needs to purchase
(Click the back button to get back here)
It should be noted — as a reader pointed out on a Valley Indy Facebook thread — that these properties are being “acquired” by the state, to use the state’s term.
If an owner doesn’t agree to sell or can’t agree on a price, the state can start the eminent domain process. It’s a point that drew concerns from state Rep. Themis Klarides last September.
Click this link for an interview last year with Rick Dunne of the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments about the project.
DiCenso said the state is on track to take down more buildings later this year, including the space that houses Oliwa Supply and a package store that recently cleared out to make way for the road’s expansion.
“They’re purchasing properties and things will start coming down over the next few months,” DiCenso said.
The groundbreaking for the expansion is scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2017.
Here is a summary of the roughly $14 million project, taken from past Valley Indy stories:
The plan calls for additional travel and turning lanes on the road, from the Derby-Shelton bridge to roughly Home Depot, along with a series of aesthetic and pedestrian improvements to Derby’s busiest road.
In addition to more travel lanes, the plan is to change the traffic patterns for the roads in Derby that feed Main Street.
The plan calls for Elizabeth Street to become a one-way road heading south (toward Route 34) from Third Street.
The plan calls for Minerva Street to become one-way north (heading away from Route 34) up to Third Street.
Construction will take at least two years.
What About The Redevelopment Zone?
The Route 34 widening — a state project, albeit one that has been done hand-in-hand with Derby and the lower Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments — is separate from efforts to lure developers to the Derby Redevelopment Zone.
Mayor Dugatto’s administration disbanded the city’s redevelopment authority in 2014, saying the group had essentially disbanded itself by no longer meeting.
The move came after Eclipse Development of California could not get a redevelopment project off the ground in the redevelopment zone (which includes land on the shores of the Housatonic between the Derby-Shelton bridge and the Route 8 on-ramp next to the former Lifetouch building).
Two things have happened in the redevelopment zone in the last year or so.
First, the City of Derby purchased two properties in the redevelopment zone — Derby Feed and Valley Sheet Metal. Those acquisitions give the city more leverage when it comes to developing the zone.
“Those buildings will be torn down, too,” DiCenso said.
Second, the city put out a request for proposals for companies to create a “credible, detailed” plan for the redevelopment zone.
The city is using a state grant of $445,000 to go toward the project.
Derby is, essentially, starting its redevelopment zone initiative over, since nothing has been successful thus far.
“Interest in the Redevelopment Zone has been intermittent over the years, and we’ve had a few missed opportunities,” Dugatto said in a press release. “We need to know where things went wrong and what we can do to better position ourselves for investment.”
Click here for a press release with more info.
DiCenso thinks a better economy, coupled with the fact the state is moving forward with the road widening, puts the redevelopment zone in a good place.
“I think this time, everyone sees the state is involved and the road widening is happening. The plan has started. The state has taken action,” DiCenso said.