By Andreas Yilma, Staff Writer
NAUGATUCK — Traffic on a section of Church Street now flows one way — a change that officials hope can boost downtown and business leaders are optimistic about.
The section of Church Street from Maple Street to Rubber Avenue is now a one-way road. Traffic flows from Maple Street to Rubber Avenue. The change went into effect on Sept. 27.
Borough officials discussed and backed the change in June as a way to allow for more outdoor seating for restaurants, increase foot traffic in the area and improve the atmosphere downtown. The borough has allowed restaurants to have temporary outdoor dining during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said the ultimate goal is to make downtown Naugatuck more vibrant, which ties into the development of Parcel B.
Parcel B is the vacant lot at the corner of Maple Street and Old Firehouse Road. Officials are hoping to find a developer to build a transit-oriented development on the borough-owned site. Officials envision a development that will include commercial, retail and residential components, as well as a new train station for the Waterbury branch of the Metro-North Railroad.
“We decided to pursue this project now on a trial basis while we are preparing for the development of Parcel B and the relocation of the train platform to parcel B,” said Hess about the one-way traffic on Church Street. “We need more people living in the downtown area to improve our demographics and ability to obtain more downtown business.”
Whether Church Street will stay one-way, revert to two-way traffic, or even become a pedestrian-only street will be determined when borough officials select a plan for Parcel B, Hess said.
Some Church Street business people are optimistic about the change.
Jay Brewer, manager of Hub Pizza Bar, said restaurant workers are pleased.
“We think it’s a good decision,” Brewer said. “They’re going to let us build out, so we’ll have more room for customers and a lot more fun. So we’re happy about it.”
Doreen Sorrentino, owner of The Loaded Goat Coffee Company, said she doesn’t know what the end result will be, but supports the idea.
“I think it’ll be great in the long run, I hope,” said Sorrentino, who has owned the cafe for nearly two years. “I hope it doesn’t hinder any business. I hope it helps, but we won’t know until we try. So I think it’s worth giving a try.”
Stephanie Fusco, owner of Terri’s Flower Shop, said she likes the change but doesn’t know how much of an impact it will have on her business.
“I don’t think it will make a difference for us,” said Fusco, who has owned the shop for over 14 years. “The majority of our business is over the phone.”
A lack of parking on the street and trouble crossing the street were a couple issues raised by business leaders.
Sorrentino said the parking situation as a whole is always an issue.
“The clients that do come in always complain about getting a parking space,” she said.
Sorrentino added she watches pedestrians try to cross the street on a regular basis and it can be difficult, “like a game of Frogger nonstop.”
“I have seen and watched a lot of people dodge cars. I had a customer walk out with a full tray of cups and drop them because a car almost hit them,” Sorrentino said. “I see it a lot.”
Sorrentino said making street one-way will make it safer for customers who want to come downtown, which in turn makes it better for the business owners who want customers to come downtown.
Employees of local businesses take up a majority of parking spaces on the street, according to Fusco.
Officials have discussed placing limits on how long people can park on the street and in the municipal parking lot to two or three hours, but nothing has been decided yet. Hess said the borough will allow employees of businesses on the street unrestricted free parking on Parcel B.
As drivers adjust to the change, Fusco suggested borough officials place large caution or construction-type signs for about the next month to inform them, especially those who may be away at this time.
Naugatuck police had officers stationed on the street Sept. 27 to ensure a smooth transition, Deputy Police Chief C. Colin McAllister said.