Coalition seeks recognition of new regional district
Published 10:26 am, Monday, August 2, 2010
Municipal leaders from Greenwich to Weston are hoping state officials will recognize their coalition to seek federal money for public works, transportation and other economic development projects designed to promote responsible growth in the region.
Floyd Lapp, executive director for the Southwestern Regional Metropolitan Planning Agency, said a proposed economic development district including the 14 cities and towns could possibly be considered too small to be recognized under a 2010 state law that requires new economic districts to be composed of no fewer than 15 municipalities.
This year, the Connecticut Economic Resource Council completed a comprehensive economic development strategy for the 14-town group called the Coastal Fairfield County One Coast Report, which includes a five-year plan that will need approval from state economic officials before the group can seek state-administered funding from the U.S. Economic Development Administration for regional projects, Lapp said.
"We've asked that they consider the 15-town limit as a guideline," Lapp said. "We think common sense will prevail, and since economic development doesn't have anything to do with the number of cities involved, we hope they will dispense with a size requirement altogether."
Jim Watson, a spokesman for the Department of Economic and Community Development, said that the group's economic development strategy is being reviewed by the state, which is more likely given the plan has already been approved by the Economic Development Administration.
The state law, Public Act 168, calls for the state's 169 towns and cities to be grouped in a maximum of eight economic development districts.
"With the EDA-approved (plan) they are already eligible to apply for federal EDA funding," Watson said.
New Canaan First Selectman Jeb Walker, chairman of the Southwestern Regional Metropolitan Planning Organization, which represents towns including Stamford, Greenwich, Wilton, Norwalk and Darien, said the effort is an expansion of efforts already under way to consider combining emergency dispatch and other municipal services already taking place in lower Fairfield County.
"There are a lot of shared interests we have like promoting affordable housing and reducing traffic congestion that stymie the ability of businesses to operate efficiently that we can work on together," Walker said.
The economic strategy lays out a five-year list of broad goals for the region to move toward a variety of goals including reductions in automobile congestion, improved air quality, new residential and commercial development, and increasing the use of alternative energy.
The plan includes the $28 million South Norwalk Railroad Station Intermodal Project, to create a transit facility including an expanded bus terminal and pedestrian safety improvements, and the 350-unit Waypoint housing development on West Avenue in Norwalk as projects in need of federal funding.
Two other related projects that are included in the plan are two related projects: the Lake Success Business Park in Bridgeport, which officials estimate would create more than 4,000 new jobs, and the Seaview Avenue Corridor Access Project, which would improve traffic flow between Interstate 95 and Route 1 in Bridgeport.
Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia said he views the broader approach to regional cooperation to compete for funds will be positive, with better roads and utilities and corporate office space in Bridgeport, Stratford and other towns also benefiting lower Fairfield County.
"If the state is saying it will look favorably on that regional type approach, I think it will be good," Moccia said. "People get leery about it because they think you are giving up on opportunities for the local economy."