Yankee Gas has pledged to meet with New Canaan’s highest elected official within two weeks to review a widely anticipated plan to bring natural gas to businesses, public buildings and residences here, a sales manager with the Berlin, CT-based utility said Wednesday.
Michael Collins told about 60 local businesspeople gathered for a special event downtown that Yankee Gas is “fully committed” to bringing natural gas to New Canaan starting prior to the “next heating season.”
“It’s a great thing for the town. It’s going to be a multi-year build-out,” Collins said during the New Canaan Chamber of Commerce’s Breakfast with First Selectman Rob Mallozzi.
Held at elm restaurant, the 90-minute event featured a meet-and-greet session over buffet-style breakfast for chamber members, comments from Mallozzi as well as a chance to put questions to him and chamber Executive Director Tucker Murphy, and the update from Collins.
Saying that Yankee Gas is not experiencing hiccups so much as “fitting it [the plan] into the box that we have been told to fit it into,” Collins told attendees that plans have changed since October-November due in part to new regulations at the state level. He encouraged anyone in New Canaan who’s interested in getting natural gas to notify his company by saying so here (a form used strictly for survey purposes, not official sign-up).
Collins said he’s solicited feedback from New Canaan town and chamber officials, business owners, condo associations and, importantly, public works—whose staff can inform Yankee Gas about what roads are newly paved and what roads will be opened up for things like water main work, and when—as the utility lays out a timetable with specific information.
“Because this is a multiyear thing, it’s not going to be the whole town at once,” Collins said.
He pledged to not disrupt the business district or dig up Elm Street itself. “I know that’s really important to you,” he said.
Collins indicated that Elm Street would be a priority for the business district, saying that Yankee Gas also would get to Town Hall and Main and Forest Streets, though perhaps not right away.
“We’re going to get to all of them. They may not happen in year one,” he said.
For residences, part of what will inform Yankee Gas’s plan will be interest expressed in conversion (through the form linked to above, here’s the URL again: http://newcanaan.iwantnaturalgas.com/).
During his own remarks, Mallozzi noted that he himself is a New Canaan merchant with a stake in the welfare of our main business district, and applauded the perseverance of local merchants and service providers for weathering one of the worst winters in memory.
“You deserve a round of applause for getting through what you got through,” Mallozzi said.
“February could not be a worse month for all of us,” he added. “As you know, school goes away for 10 days, the town leaves, you have all your Christmas bills and holiday bills coming in that you have to pay, you have three or four snow days, and then you think, ‘OK, I finally got through February and March is here and the shorts will come out,’ you think everything is going to be great and then you get stuck with what we have been stuck with.”
Mallozzi noted that the town, during a winter that saw the town walloped by consecutive snowstorms more than once, made clearing the downtown area a priority. This winter, New Canaan spent about $125,000 more on snow removal that it had planned, he said.
“That is a basic and vital service for the town to provide for the business community in our town,” he said. Adding: “We took that kind of effort this year to make sure things were up and running.”
Mallozzi said he works closely with Murphy, whom he praised as setting the gold standard for chambers, togther with Marketing Associate Laura Budd. In collaborating they problem-solve for businesses “so we can get the most out of what the town can do for you,” Mallozzi said.
“Just know that there is someone there [at Town Hall]—and the staff at Town Hall is the same way—we really are in tune with providing a measure of understanding of what you folks go through and what it takes for you to run your businesses,” he said.
Mallozzi discussed an allocation of $20,000 specifically dedicated to downtown marketing, and said that this year, town and business leaders are looking at “the deplorable condition of our garbage cans” and will spend funds to replace them.
“Now that doesn’t sound like a lot. But they’re $1,100 each, folks. That’s New Canaan: We have $1,100 garbage receptacles. I love it,” he said, drawing laughter as well as nods of recognition from the room.
Mallozzi also noted how his office has worked with the New Canaan Beautification League, which creates those really nice hanging baskets for downtown lampposts, to makes sure the flowers dangling down from them don’t obscure parking rules signs for visitors.
“Little things like that go a long way,” he said. “You don’t want to frustrate people that are coming and making an effort to shop in our town.”
Here are some of the highlights from the Q&A:
Locust Avenue parking lot: Addressing a question about the timing of a planned parking deck for Locust, Mallozzi said the construction will happen just as soon as there’s a plan to deal with the loss of parking New Canaan already is facing with the Town Hall renovation: “It’s pretty hard to make up for the shortfall we’d have if they went on simultaneously, and now that there are other conversations about additional parking assets right here behind us, I think and the building committee certainly felt it was worth exploring those fully before we sunk shovels in the ground.”
Businesses not located downtown: Addressing a point that New Canaan must remember not all enterprises are located right downtown (Summer Theatre of New Canaan, Philip Johnson Glass House, Nature Center, Silvermine Arts Center), Mallozzi said the town works hard to ensure “cross-pollination,” so that visitors to one area are made aware of what’s available in other parts of New Canaan.
Forest Street: Addressing a concern that Forest Street could use an upgrade, Mallozzi noted that the area in 2007-08 did get a lot of attention and work. Murphy added that a new mixed retail and residential complex is set to go in starting at 21 Forest St. and going up to the intersection at Locust.
Spring downtown happenings: Addressing a suggestion that the town plan more events for the spring, Murphy noted that the dynamic duo now in charge of the Carriage Barn Arts Center this year is helping to organize an Arts Stroll (May 22) to kick off the Arts in the Windows, and also that New Canaan resident Doug Zumbach (owner of the eponymous gourmet coffee shop over at Pine and Grove) will have his six-Sunday Caffeine & Carburetors event expand into Elm Street, starting April 6.