Bethel is starting a comprehensive study to plan the future development of the downtown area, including properties surrounding and adjacent to the Bethel Train Station. The plan will be known as "Bethel Forward". DPZ Partners, a leader in the field of urban planning and design, have been chosen to lead the effort.
The revitalization project centers around the new Bethel Train Station at the northern end of Depot Street. The area would be rezoned to permit new residential and commercial development. The goal is to then redevelop and connect the area to downtown.
First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker says the Planning and Zoning Department and Commission have worked on this for many years and it's finally coming to fruition in the planning stage. He says the project has tremendous possibilities.
Like other communities, Knickerbocker says residents have been speaking out about a number of closed shops in the area, and property owners have said it's difficult to attract new retailers there. This plan would connect downtown with an area within easy walking distance where people can live, which would provide a new customer base.
While it is pretty easy to walk from the train station to the downtown area because of the sidewalks already in place, this would go the next step. There's been some commercial development recently in the corridor, but the Bethel Forward plan would look at what zoning laws should be applied there that would make it possible for new commercial, retail and residential to be developed.
Residents have several ways to weigh in on what should happen in the downtown area. There is a survey online posted on the town's website. A Community Voices Workshop will be held Thursday night at 6:30pm in the Municipal Center. There will be another workshop on October 29th. A community charette is planned for the week of November 16-20 as an intense and interactive design workshop.
Some of the questions in the online survey ask about what new businesses of activities would residents like to see downtown, what words come to mind when thinking about downtown Bethel and are there any specific improvements that should be made to downtown. Another question asks about where residents usually shop for specific categories of goods and services.