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Cosgrove Discusses State of the Town at Branford Economic Forum
Branford First Selectman Jamie Cosgrove discusses the State of the Town at the March 28 Branford Economic Forum presented by the Branford Economic Development Commission at Stony Creek Brewery. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound)
State Representative Sean Scanlon (D, District 98) talks with Branford Economic Development Dept. Head Terry Elton (left), EDC chair Perry Maresca and Eversource VP of Renewable Energy Development Michael Ausere (right) at the 2019 Branford Economic Forum. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound)
The 2019 Branford Economic Forum at Stony Creek Brewery drew 120 attendees to the morning event on March 28. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound)
Some members of the Branford High School Class Act student culinary team, which catered the 2019 Branford Economic Forum, included (l-r): Brendon Diaz, instructor Mindy Baker, Cooper Jaconette and Cristian Torres. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound)
BHS Class Act senior Jason Johnson talks to the crowd about business learning opportunities presented to students in the program as well as his opportunity to use the course to earn early college credits from Gateway Community College. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound)
Eversource VP of Renewable Energy Development Michael Ausere answers a question from the audience; listening in are CT Economic Resource Center VP of Research Alissa DeJonge and Branford First Selectman Jamie Cosgrove. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound)
Economic Development Commission chairman Perry Maresca greets the audience at the 2019 Branford Economic Forum. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound)
Branford First Selectman Jamie Cosgrove gives the 2019 Branford Economic Forum audience a view, and some insights, into the benefits of Branford's new solar farm program, situated on the Town's Tabor property. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound)
Branford First Selectman Jamie Cosgrove discussed the State of the Town at the 2019 Branford Economic Forum, presented by the Branford Economic Development Commission (EDC) on Thursday, March 28.
The forum, sponsored by Eversource Energy, packed the second-floor Celebration Room at Stony Creek Brewery (SCB) with 120 attendees. Guests were also treated to a tempting breakfast spread prepared and served up Class Act, Branford High School's (BHS) student culinary program.
In addition to Cosgrove, featured speakers were Eversource VP of Renewable Energy Development Michael Ausere (speaking on "Today's Renewable Energy Landscape") and CT Economic Resource Center VP of Research Alissa DeJonge (discussing Economic Performance and Forecast for Branford and the Region). The crowd also heard about the Class Act program from BHS senior Jason Johnson. The audience was welcomed by Branford Economic Development Dept. Head Terry Elton and EDC chair Perry Maresca.
Financially Strong, Economically Diverse
"Branford is a great town, a very strong town," said Cosgrove on March 28. "It has top-notch services and a very strong financial position; and that's been across multiple administrations."
Cosgrove said that continuity is dependent on the work of the Town's department heads and employees, thanking them all.
With Branford is celebrating it's 375th birthday this year, Cosgrove said evidence of the town's economic history could be seen right outside SCB at 5 Indian Neck Avenue, from farmland along the Branford River to the former Malleable Iron Fittings factory land where SCB now stands.
"As we reflect back on Branford's history, and see where we are today, it is clear that economic diversity is part of the fabric of Branford not only today, but has been for a long time....it is truly a place of opportunity," said Cosgrove. "And that opportunity exists today in the wide breadth of business that make Branford home."
Cosgrove recognized Branford resident and SCB business owner Ed Crowley Sr.'s vision to develop SCB as a "destination." The location is also a short walk from the Branford rail station and accessible by boat from the Branford River, with direct docking for tie-up during brewery visits.
Maresca noted over 90 percent of the services which went into building the brewery were Branford-based. SCB, which turns four this year, is also becoming one of the state's top destinations, with over 300,000 visitors a year, said Maresca.
Branford is currently in the midst of its annual budget process. The Representative Town Meeting (RTM) is reviewing a Board of Finance-recommended annual tax increase of 1.85 percent equaling a 0.53 mill increase, for a proposed new mill rate of 29.17 mills. Cosgrove said the numbers are telling.
"I think what is important to note is what is included in that. We fully fund our long-term liabilities, maintain a high level of services, we've invested in our infrastructure and we maintain one of the lowest mill rates in our region. This provides stability and predictability for our residents as well as our businesses. That is that strategy that has been led by our Finance Department, our Board of Finance, our RTM and our administration, to ensure that we provide stability to businesses and the residents," said Cosgrove.
One new arm of that strategy was put in place just this year, when RTM approved Branford's new Coastal Resiliency Fund, said Cosgrove. The fund is another example of Branford's proactive work to address long-term liabilities by investing funds so as to "...eventually yield a savings to the taxpayer as we address future projects," said Cosgrove.
As for the characteristics which make up Branford's strengths; when people are asked what distinguishes Branford among shoreline communities and in the state of Connecticut, "...often, people remark it's our diversity," said Cosgrove.
"Branford is diverse in many ways: natural assets, population, industry, housing stock," said Cosgrove. "In order for a town or city to be a sustainable, vibrant community, it must embrace economic diversity -- a place where various industries can thrive, and people across the socioeconomic spectrum have opportunities."
Branford's recent Transit Oriented District (TOD) design study and this year's updated ten-year plan of Conservation and Development are just some ways the Town supports economic diversity, said Cosgrove.
Cosgrove also touched on four new commercial projects which he said illustrate Branford's diverse economy. Two of the projects are hotels: the Tidal Lodge, a boutique hotel which Crowley has received approval to build across the road from SCB on Indian Neck Avenue; and the Hampton Hilton Hotel on East Main Street (Route 1).
Both show "...we have a wide need here in Branford," to accommodate visitors, including those traveling here on business and tourists attracted by all that Branford has to offer, said Cosgrove.
A new industry coming to Branford is Bausch & Stroebel, a German-based Machine Company with a location currently in North Branford. The company will be building a state-of-the-art facility in Branford on Route 139, said Cosgrove. The company manufactures the equipment used to make pharmaceutical packaging.
"They've grown rapidly. Their U.S. market has grown, and they chose to stay in Branford," said Cosgrove. "We worked with them to ensure that we welcome them here, and we're trying to assist and will continue to reach out to the state [to help]. This is a company we'd like to keep here in town."
In another area of the business spectrum a New Haven-based family business of four generations that's moving to Branford soon, said Cosgrove. The fruit and produce distributor, Carbonella & DeSarbo Inc., is coming to a site on East Industrial Road.
"DeSarbo Company [has] a long history in New Haven. However, they needed to expand, and they needed to come to a stable environment. They chose Branford, and we welcome them," said Cosgrove.
Buildings, Bridges and Roads
Cosgrove reviewed several infrastructure and building projects underway or recently completed in Branford.
Completed bridge projects include the Route 139 state bridge replacement and the School Ground Road town bridge replacement; both of which support development in the east end of town.
Cosgrove highlighted the recently-completed Harbor Street bridge town-state project, saying it creates more opportunities for transit by vehicle, peddle and on foot while maintaining the character of the original bridge. It also leads to Parker Park and Branford Point, the town's notable public beach and town dock. The bridge is a main access to reach the state boat launch on Goodsell Point Road, which reopened in 2018 after a $1 million upgrade and expansion and is now considered among the best in CT. The all-new boat launch construction is ADA accessible, and includes a new kayak and canoe launch area. Cosgrove noted the boat launch accesses another asset in town, the Branford River; with its many marinas, recreational opportunities and area attractions.
Another bridge project coming to Branford will be the state's upgrades to the Sybil Creek Bridge in Indian Neck. Adjacent to landmark Lenny's Indian Head Inn, the project will install new tide gates beneath the bridge and add pedestrian access to a location that's "become a destination" due to additional dining/entertainment venues in the area. The state will put the bridge project out to bid in August, 2019, said Cosgrove.
State improvements are also being made to nearby Limewood Avenue/Route 146, where a CT DOT project will bring in a new seawall to address undermining of the roadway due to rising seas and extreme weather events. The project will also add a five-foot-wide pedestrian sidewalk along the length of the new seawall.
Another upgrade coming to the area, with construction set to start in April, is the town's replacement of the Indian Neck/Pine Orchard Volunteer Fire House. The $1.7 million project will be partially offset by a $500,000 Small Town Economic Assistance (STEAP) grant.
On the other side of town, Branford is the beneficiary of a $6.1 million major state road project underway to realign state road 740 (Brushy Plains Road/Totoket Road), known locally as "Snake Hill Road." The project is expected to be completed by the end of 2019, said Cosgrove.
Cosgrove also talked about the three notable Town renovation/expansion building projects underway right now at the Senior/Community Center, Walsh Intermediate School (WIS) and Blackstone Library.
The $12.1 million construction upgrade to the Community/Senior Center at 46 Church Street is expected to be complete by the end of May, 2019.
"The vision of this is to be the hub of the activity in town, with the spokes out to our other assets we have," said Cosgrove.
The center is located within Branford's TOD design study area, which stretches from the Branford rail station to the Branford town green and businesses, and over to the Branford River. It's also near to what Cosgrove described as one of the best examples of the all-volunteer Shoreline Greenway Trail (SGT) project: Branford's new SGT section off Tabor Drive. The ¾ mile trail section is 10 feet wide, paved with asphalt and provides pedestrians, cyclists and wheelchair-friendly access from Tabor Drive to Pine Orchard Road. The Tabor section cost $468,000, with 80 percent paid by U.S. Department of Transportation funds and the balance covered with a state bond match. In addition to providing town-owned land, the town also provided labor and engineering assistance in-kind.
Branford's $88.2 million WIS project will receive a state reimbursement of 30 percent and began Phase I construction in June 2018. The huge project is the town's most expensive building project, adding a three-story academic wing to a portion of the remaining, renovated existing building. Replacement of the old WIS, constructed in the early 1970's, was a long-recognized need; due to its failed "open classroom" building design, said Cosgrove.
Cosgrove noted the WIS project, and all Town building projects, have been made "financially feasible" thanks to the integral part played by Town Finance Director Jim Finch and his team. Branford's bond rating remains AAA.
"It shows that we can do these projects and invest in our community while still being a vibrant community, and do it responsibly," said Cosgrove.
The project underway at Branford's iconic Blackstone Library will ensure future use of the remarkable, historic building as a "cultural center" for decades to come, said Cosgrove. The town-bonded project's $5.2 million cost will be partially defrayed by a $1 million Connecticut State Library grant, together with over $800,000 secured by Blackstone Trustees' Campaign for the Blackstone.
As part of its 375th celebration, Branford will beautify Tyler's Green next door to the Blackstone library, said Cosgrove. The linear stretch of open land along Main Street will become a better conduit from the town center over to the businesses on the west end of Main Street (Fourth Ward). It will be upgraded with curb and sidewalk replacements, plantings and decorative lighting installations (opposite side of the street) matching town center lighting, "...to give a sense of place as you're walking through from the green to the library to the business village that's on the western end of Main Street," said Cosgrove.
Cosgrove also discussed Branford's newly operational solar farm, located on town-owned land off Tabor Drive at the former landfill (now Ecology Park). The solar farm was installed after Branford took advantage of the expansion of the state's virtual net metering agreement (2016), allowing more towns, including Branford, to sell or share electricity from solar farm systems. The Branford installation, now in its first year of operation, has the capacity to generate enough power to supply the equivalent of 200 homes. The company which purchases that electricity has entered into a 20-year agreement with the Town of Branford, said Cosgrove.
"The agreement is [that] the power is pumped back into the grid; there's a meter on it [and] Eversource then gives us a real credit off our electrical bill," said Cosgrove.
He said the Town of Branford should realize about $83,000 in cost savings in its first year.
The solar power generated by the array also adds up to "... removing about 840 tons of CO2 emissions in the air, which is equivalent to 170 cars coming off the road; or planting 35,000 trees," Cosgrove shared.
All speakers at the EDC Breakfast were taped by Branford Community Television; to view their talks, visit www.branfordtv.org