POCD 2019: Section 2

2.  Enhance “Sense of Place”

2.0  Enhance “Sense of Place”

 

Strengthening and enhancing a “sense of place” in the City is an important consideration in this Plan of Conservation and Development.  In an on-line survey conducted as part of the planning process, respondents indicated that strengthening and enhancing a “sense of place” in certain areas (Thames Street, Five Corners, gateways, etc.) was their highest priority for the future of the City.

And, according to the Economic and Market Trends Analysis prepared for the Town of Groton in 2016, quality of place has become one of the most important aspects of economic development today.  Enhancing the  quality of place in the City (and the Town) will ultimately help attract new residents, workers, businesses, and investment.

The term “sense of place” refers to locations which exhibit characteristics that make a place special or unique and/or foster a sense of fondness or attraction.  Places said to have a strong “sense of place” have a strong identity whereas “placeless” locations are those that have no special relationship to the places in which they are located—they could be anywhere; roadside strip shopping malls, gas stations and convenience stores, fast food chains, and chain stores.

It is a goal of this Plan to establish, maintain, and enhance areas in order to strengthen the overall “sense of place.”  Using the physical configuration of the City to strengthen the identity of the City of Groton and reinforce the activities occurring in the City has the potential to pay dividends in the long run.  Studies have found that strengthening “sense of place” also enhances economic returns, community character, and quality of life.

To enhance “sense of place”, the City intends to encourage vibrant, mixed use nodes with a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere which will be attractive to residents, employees, and visitors.

Click the map below to enlarge and the map will open in new window.

Strategies To Strengthen and Enhance Five Corners

  Priority Leader Partners
Overall      
1.       Continue to encourage establishment of a vibrant mixed-use node in the Five Corners area. 7.22 PZC EDC
Staff
2.       Use the “village district” provisions in the Zoning Regulations to establish and enhance the desired village character and scale of the Five Corners area. 5.56 PZC Staff
3.       Continue planning for the Five Corners area in order to promote the desired outcomes. 3.33 PZC EDC
Staff
4.       Encourage or require shared parking and ample sidewalks 3.89 PZC Staff
5.       Encourage the concentration of appropriate development around the Five Corners intersection to create a “City Center” which will serve the residents of the City and local employees. 6.67 PZC Council
EDC
Staff
6.       Discourage the establishment of automobile-oriented establishments and/or drive-through type establishments in the Five Corners area. 5.56 PZC Staff
Private Investment / Development      
7.       Continue to promote development which contributes to the overall vision for the Five Corners area as a pedestrian-friendly mixed use area. 6.67 PZC Council
EDC
Staff
8.       Work with property owners (including Electric Boat) to enhance the Five Corners area. 6.11 PZC Council
EDC
Staff
Public Investment / Actions      
9.       Consider using “tax increment financing” as a way to pay for public investments in the Five Corners area which will spur appropriate private development. 5.00 PZC Council
EDC
TOG
Staff
Click here for the Responsibility Legend

2.1 Strengthen and Enhance Thames Street

 

Thames Street was the main area identified by City residents as the area they would like to see strengthened and enhanced.

Thames Street, between Bridge Street and Fort Street, is the historic “heart” of Groton.  It was the business core of the City many years ago and the area still contains many 18th and 19th century structures used as residences or for commercial purposes.

For many years, efforts have been applied to upgrading the physical environment of Thames Street (sidewalks, cobble crosswalks, street lights, etc.).  The goal was to take advantage of the area’s historic resources and waterfront location to attract more visitors and thereby support the improvement of existing buildings and the creation of new businesses.

To help implement the overall strategy, the City modified the Zoning Regulations to establish the Waterfront Business Residence (WBR) zone and to establish a “village district” for this area.  A village district is a special type of zoning district in Connecticut which allows a Planning and Zoning Commission to review the aesthetics of new development to ensure it enhances the character of the area.

While the development of Thames Street has not evolved as fast as desired or in the ways it was anticipated, the goal remains a priority for residents and for City officials.  Survey respondents recognized what a special place Thames Street is (and can be in the future) and want to revitalize it to bring people to this area overlooking the Thames River.  People want to make Thames Street a destination for residents and visitors alike.  Strengthening and enhancing the Thames Street area will contribute to promoting compact, transit accessible, pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use development.

As this POCD was being formulated, the Thames River Innovation Partnership (TRIP) was doing additional planning to find ways to promote and enhance the Thames Street area including strategies to:

  • establish a critical mass of activities which will make Thames Street a vibrant hub of shops, restaurants, and other appropriate uses oriented to the river (and accessible by water taxi from New London).
  • help establish shared parking areas.
  • simplify traffic circulation and deter truck traffic (except local deliveries).
  • continue improving the sidewalks and streetscape along Thames Street to improve the pedestrian environment and overall aesthetics of the area.
  • promote the maintenance and expansion of buildings (including loans, grants, and other incentives).

Policies and Action Steps

Many sections of the POCD contain strategy recommendations.  Some of these are “policies” which are on-going activities which do not generally have an end date.

Others are “action steps” which are specific tasks that can be tracked.  In this POCD, “action steps” are presented as red text.

Leaders And Partners

Each “policy” or “action step” has an identified leader and partners.  The “leader” is the entity considered most likely to bear responsibility for implementing the policy or completing the action step.  Partners are other entities likely to be involved in implementation.

A legend for “leaders” and “partners” may be found on the inside back cover.

Priority

As part of preparing the POCD, participants reviewed the recommendations and scored them at one of four different priority levels.

Results were tabulated and the average score was converted to a 10-point scale.

The “priority” numbers in the strategy tables in the POCD are intended for general guidance

Strategies To Strengthen and Enhance Thames Street

  Priority Leader Partners
Overall      
1.       Continue to strengthen the vibrant mixed-use nature of the Thames Street area. 7.22 PZC Staff
2.       Continue to maintain and enhance the “sense of place” along Thames Street including use of the “village district” provisions in the Zoning Regulations and design guidelines (as recommended in Section 5.4 of the POCD on page 46). 7.78 PZC Staff
3.       Continue planning for the Thames Street area (including regionally supported redevelopment) in order to promote the desired outcomes. 3.89 PZC

 

EDC
TRIP
Staff
Private Investment / Development      
4.       Continue to promote development which contributes to the overall vision for the Thames Street area and is consistent with the historic character and scale. 6.11 PZC EDC
Staff
5.       Encourage or require private development to interconnect parking areas behind buildings and underneath buildings on the downhill side of Thames Street. 7.78 PZC Staff
Public Investment / Actions      
6.       Continue to upgrade the physical environment of Thames Street (paving, sidewalks and streetscape). 7.78 Council
 
EDC
PZC
TOG
7.       Consider using “tax increment financing” as a way to pay for public investments on Thames Street which will spur appropriate private development. 6.11 Council TOG
PZC
Staff
8.       Address future parking needs in the Thames Street area by:

  • Providing on-street and off-street parking facilities to meet current and future needs.
  • Investigating other ways to maximize parking opportunities in the Thames Street area including investigating one-way traffic flow.
5.56 PZC Council
EDC
Staff
9.       Consider acquiring strategic parcels in the Thames Street area for public waterfront access and parking. 3.33 Council
10.    Seek opportunities to create a public boardwalk along the Thames River, north of Electric Boat. 7.78 PZC Council
Staff
11.    Seek ways to simplify traffic circulation on Thames Street and deter truck traffic (except local deliveries). 5.00 Council Staff

 

Click here for the Responsibility Legend

Relevant Resources

Resources related to Thames Street include:

      • Historic District Study Report (1977)
      • Thames Street Study (1982)
      • Thames Street Revitalization Advisory Committee (1989)
      • Thames Street Beautification Program (1990)
Possible Boardwalk Images

2.2  Strengthen and Enhance Five Corners

 

Another area that City residents want to strengthen and enhance is the Five Corners area around the intersection of Poquonnock Road, Mitchell Street, Benham Road, and Chicago Avenue.

At the present time, this area contains a concentration of commercial land uses, parking lots, and small offices.  This area does not exude much in terms of “sense of place” at the present time since it has no special relationship to where it is located.  Some may say it feels “place-less.”

However, the potential for this area is significant.  It is centrally located within the City and offers an opportunity to create a mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly village type area that would help meet the needs of the community.  The location is also very close to the “front door” of Electric Boat Corporation and housing, retail, restaurants, services, and other amenities in this area could also enhance the working environment for EB workers.

The overall vision for this area is to convert what now appears and feels like an automobile-oriented area to an area that looks and feels like a pedestrian-oriented village.  To help make this happen, the Planning and Zoning Commission established a new zoning district for the Five Corners area.  Strengthening and enhancing the Five Corners area will contribute to promoting compact, transit accessible, pedestrian-oriented, mixed use development.

The purpose statement for the Five Corners District states:

The purpose of the Five Corners District as delineated on the Zoning Map is to reinforce and enhance the Five Corners area as a mixed‐use and pedestrian‐friendly focal point within the City of Groton, to establish opportunities for new development at an appropriate scale and intensity, and to provide for appropriate transitions to adjacent uses and neighborhoods.

The uses permitted in the district include:

  1. Mixed use building(s) containing housing units and businesses / service uses in the same building.
  2. Eating and/or drinking establishments.
  3. Retail businesses.
  4. Business and professional offices.
  5. Business service and personal service establishments.
  6. Multi‐family buildings (subject to certain limitations).

 

The Five Corners District was also set up as a “village district” so that the Planning and Zoning Commission can guide the appropriate development of this area in order to protect and promote a distinctive character and landscape within the district.

The zoning standards encourage the provision of a pedestrian-friendly environment with generous sidewalks and shared parking areas located to the side or rear of buildings (rather than having parking lots in front of buildings).  Greater building coverage and building height is permitted in order to create the desired ambience and intensity.

This area could support:

  • uses to serve City residents and workers at Electric Boat (food, banks, personal services, medical / dental offices, etc.).
  • incubator businesses associated with the on-going research and development activities at Electric Boat.
  • housing developments to serve an aging population, children of City residents, workers at Electric Boat, Naval personnel, and others.

2.3  Improve Place-Making

 

Where a “sense of place” does not exist intrinsically, place-making is required to fertilize and sustain a sense of place.

Place-making focuses on recognizing that places are for people and that appealing to the needs and desires of people will foster a “sense of place” which will attract even more people.  Squares, plazas, parks, streets and waterfronts that attract people because they are pleasurable or interesting are good examples of areas that can have a strong “sense of place.”  Events that attract people to these places are also an important part of place-making.

Importantly though, enhancing a “sense of place” can include smaller elements, such as gateways, wayfinding, and streetscapes as well as larger elements, such as inviting public spaces and lively neighborhoods.  When people feel oriented and connected to a place, they will begin to develop a feeling about the “sense of place.”

To enhance community character and “sense of place,” the City of Groton intends to focus on several efforts:

  • promoting activities and events that attract people to the City of Groton so they can experience it for themselves,
  • improving community “gateways” (such as at Bridge Street and Clarence B. Sharp Highway) to promote a sense of City identity and arrival and place “gateways” (such as at Thames Street and Five Corners) to promote specific places within the City,
  • using consistent elements to promote “way-finding” to destinations (such as Pfizer, Electric Boat, Avery Point, and Fort Griswold), and
  • enhancing streetscapes so that the journey through the City to various destinations is a pleasurable one.

Community Events And Activities

Places become memorable to people because of the events and activities that occur there.  Whether such events and activities are passive (such as a scenic view) or active (such as a concert or festival), they contribute to the overall experience that makes places memorable.

The City intends to encourage events and activities in the City to help promote the overall “sense of place.”

 

Improving Community and Place Gateways

Community character and “sense of place” in the City will also be enhanced by improving gateway areas that people use to enter the City.

Community character and “sense of place” in the City can be furthered by identifying specific places within the City (such as Thames Street and Five Corners).  Simple gateway features enhance the sense of arrival and belonging that contribute to “sense of place.”

Such improvements can be simple (such as signage and landscaping) or more elaborate.  In any case, the concept is to reinforce the feeling among residents, employees, and visitors that they have entered a special place.  As part of this program, the City could strive to identify a “memorable icon” which will reinforce the overall image of the community.

 

Improve Way Finding

While residents and employees know where they are going, visitors to the City do not.  Using signage or other wayfinding aids will help guide people to activity centers in the City and will be an important part of enhancing community character and sense of place.

The City intends to establish a program of consistent signage as part of a comprehensive signage program.  The program should consider the needs of visitors and trucks (such as designating best truck routes) and should be applied to both State and local roads.

In addition to signage for major land uses (such as Pfizer, Electric Boat, Avery Point, and Fort Griswold), these major uses could also be allowed to have additional identification provided it is consistent with the overall “gateway” and “wayfinding” themes established by the City.  This would help enhance community character and sense of place.  It may also encourage people visiting the City to consider visiting other destinations.

Tactical Urbanism”

Tactical urbanism is a concept or approach to “place-making” that uses flexible and short-term projects to advance long-term goals related to street safety, public space, and more.

Tactical urbanism can be “a city, organizational, and/or citizen-led approach … using short-term, low-cost, and scalable interventions to catalyze long-term change.”

The overall concept is to use low-cost materials to experiment with and gather input on:

      • potential street design changes.
      • pedestrian plazas.
      • parklets.
      • pop-up bike lanes.

 

More information can be found at:  tacticalurbanismguide.com

Enhance Streetscapes

While roads only occupy about 15 percent of the City of Groton’s land area, they have a disproportionate impact on the overall impression of the City since roads are the ways that people get around.  The following streetscape elements can affect the perception of a community or an area:

 

Streetscape Elements

Description
Sidewalks Sidewalks should be provided everywhere with sidewalks of generous width encouraged in pedestrian oriented areas such as mixed use nodes
Street Lighting Pedestrian scale and pedestrian oriented lighting should be promoted in areas intended for pedestrian use since it improves pedestrian safety and adds to the ambience of the area
Street Trees Street trees should be encouraged since they add to the ambience of an area, provide shade, reduce runoff, soften the urban environment, and provide a sense of protection from the automobile
Street Furniture Street furniture (benches, fountains, clocks, and similar items) contribute to the interest and identity of pedestrian areas and should be provided if they do not obstruct the sidewalk
Awnings Awnings can shelter pedestrians, reduce glare, and conserve energy and should be encouraged in pedestrian-oriented areas
Utilities Underground utilities should be encouraged or required.
Fences And Walls Fences and walls can detract from the streetscape and ambience of an area if they are opaque or of incompatible materials (chain link) in a pedestrian oriented area.
Property Maintenance Property maintenance (or lack thereof) can affect community character and quality of life and should be encouraged or required.

Strategies To Improve Place-Making

  Priority Leader Partners
Overall      
1.       Use place-making strategies as a way to project a memorable image of the City to others and help attract new residents, businesses, customers, and visitors. 9.44 PZC Council
EDC
Staff
Community Events And Activities      
2.       Promote community events and activities (concerts / festivals / recreation / music / food events) that contribute to the overall “sense of place” in the City. 7.22 Staff BPC
Gateways      
3.       Enhance the “sense of place” in the City by improving gateway areas and associated roadways. 7.22 EDC Council DOT
Staff
Wayfinding      
4.       Extend the “gateway” concept to consistent, coordinated signage that guides people to activity centers in the City. 4.44 EDC Staff
5.       Consider allowing major land uses (such as Pfizer, Electric Boat, Avery Point, and Fort Griswold) to have additional identification signage provided it is consistent with the overall “gateway” and “wayfinding” themes established by the City. 3.33 EDC PZC
Staff
Streetscapes      
6.       Undertake a street tree planting program focusing on main thoroughfares and pedestrian oriented areas. 6.67 Council CWC
Staff
7.       Modify zoning regulations to provide for temporary planters, street trees, and other landscaping as appropriate.. 2.78 PZC Staff
8.       Consider the adoption of a property maintenance ordinance. 3.89 Council Staff
9.       Continue to require the underground installation of utilities for all new development. 4.44 PZC Staff
10.    When opportunities arise, put existing overhead utilities underground. 5.56 UC Council
PZC
Staff
Click here for the Responsibility Legend

Groton