Enfield seeks input on future of Thompsonville, ‘to know what people want to see’

Originally published in the Hartford Courant: LINK. Photo and article by Steve Smith, Hartford Courant.

Enfield — Downtown Thompsonville used to be the hub of Enfield’s economic and social activity.

Decades of housing sprawl the advent of the shopping malls and plazas along Elm Street and Hazard Avenue shifted the focus away from the borough, but some think that a revitalization effort, already underway, could add much to the area and the entire town.

On Wednesday, the Town of Enfield held a Thompsonville Open House at Town Hall, to seek input on what residents think the current needs are, as well as what their priorities are for Thompsonville’s future. The results of the event, presented in conjunction with the firm of Goman+York, will be compiled by the firm and will help form the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development. The POCD must be updated every 10 years, and is due by the end of 2022.

Town Director of Development Services Lauren Whitten explained that the workshop will help wrap up the POCD, which did have some delays due to COVID.

“Thompsonville is one of the elements that we have to look at,” Whitten said, adding that a keystone to the future is the planned train station near the Connecticut River, around which other development is already being planned – or at least conjured.

“We’re hoping for 2023,” Whitten said, regarding the train station, adding that major changes are on the way for the town’s zoning regulations, which will be simplified.

The workshop consisted of interactive activities, in which residents could play games that provide input. In one game, participants are given $100 in play money, and they may “spend” it on a variety of “investments” in Thompsonville, including commercial development, job opportunities, parks and public spaces, housing affordability, and housing development, among others, by placing the bills in labeled bags. The dollars collected at the end of the event will be used to identify the priorities of the townspeople.

“We wanted something interactive, something kind of fun,” Whitten said, “so people don’t feel like they’re being talked at. They get to relay their information to us.”

Proud and Sorry, one of the activities, was explained by Goman+York’s Alyssa Fleming.

“We’re asking you to list five things that you are most proud of about the community, the area, and programs, and five things that you think need the most work,” Fleming said.

Residents Pamela Townsend and Lucien Lefevre were among those taking part in the workshop.

“I believe that Thompsonville is a real gem,” Townsend said. “I’m excited for the train station to come in. I think it’s going to be a real asset to the whole community. I wanted to see what some of the other residents in this area want to do in the community.”

“I think Thompsonville is the forgotten gem,” Lefevre said. “When Thompsonville does well, the entire Town of Enfield does well. I think it’s really going to be the catalyst to push the town forward, and the train station is going to be a big part of it. This used to be the heart of town, before all the malls and other things came in.”

But, development upon development doesn’t appear to the answer, either. The town’s history and culture is also something residents want to see preserved.

“Some of the history needs to stay,” Lefevre said.

“Where they can’t keep the buildings, for whatever reason, they should have some kind of markers or display of what was there and what it meant to the community,” Townsend said.

What Thompsonville looks like five or 10 years from now of course remains to be seen, but the shape of it is hopefully forming now.

“That’s exactly why we’re here,” Whitten said. “We want to know what people want to see. Do they want to see more shopping, more housing, or more parks, restaurants, or retail?”

Townsend said she enjoyed the way the workshop was presented.

“I like it. It makes you think a little bit about all the things that have been talked about. It was nice to see that the subjects that I’ve talked about are on the table. They’re giving the probing questions, not telling you what’s happening, but getting the thoughts from the community” she said.

For more information, visit www.enfield-ct.gov.