First Selectman Vicki Tesoro’s message to the town’s business community was clear: Trumbull is a fine place to be, but there is work to do to keep the town competitive with other communities in Fairfield County.
Tesoro delivered the annual address to the business community Thursday at Tashua Knolls. The speech, also referred to as the State of the Town, focused primarily on the town’s economic and business atmosphere, but also included comments on education and infrastructure and the senior citizen community.
“My vision for Trumbull is a simple one,” Tesoro began. “A safe community, with excellent schools, a diverse housing stock to meet every need, ample recreation opportunities, efficient services and a sound financial profile.”
Starting with economic development, Tesoro touted the redevelopment of several properties around town, including the former call center at 55 Merritt Blvd. That building is on track to become a shared workspace for tradesmen such as landscapers, plumbers and contractors. Resort Lifestyle Communities of Nebraska has purchased the former Sacred Heart properties on Oakview drive and plans a 132-unit 55+ independent living facility. The former United Healthcare building at 48 Monroe Tpke. also could have a future as a 55+ development.
“With an increase of millions in tax revenue, no impact on our schools, and with increased business for nearby stores and restaurants it is a perfect development for that site,” Tesoro said. “If that was not enough, this outstanding development along with the Oakview drive facility will give our seniors much needed housing options for their future.”
Other economic development highlights were the opening of 20 new businesses in the past year, including three restaurants, and the purchase of the former Marissa’s Restaurant property by the Mex on Main complex’s ownership group.
But the picture Tesoro painted about Trumbull in 2019 is not all rosy. The town faces significant challenges, starting with the situation at the Westfield Trumbull mall, the town’s largest taxpayer.
“The retail environment is not favorable with competition from online retailers putting significant pressure on existing malls across our nation,” Tesoro said. “If that were not enough, a brand new mall in Norwalk will be opening their doors in the fall of this year.”
Last year the mall proposed a zone change to permit 580 two-bedroom and one-bedroom apartments with dens.
“I felt this was too much,” Tesoro said.
Following a series of conversations with mall officials, Tesoro said, the proposal was reduced to 260 apartments, with no dens. The Planning & Zoning Commission subsequently approved the zone change, though there has been no application so far.
Looking forward, Tesoro cited ongoing public safety efforts, including the installation of video surveillance cameras at Twin Brooks Park, Tait Road and Quarry Road, and the upcoming renovation of the Police Department’s Edison Road headquarters.
Tesoro also took the opportunity to state her opposition to state-mandated school regionalization.
“Regionalization should be decided by the communities involved and, as the history of our state shows, communities will make good choices without incentives or coercion,” she said. “Regionalization is wrong for Trumbull.”
Tesoro also stepped carefully around the issue of future housing development in town. Trumbull needs a diversified housing stock consisting of traditional single-family homes, plus options for seniors looking to downsize and singles and young professionals, she said. She mentioned the Oakview and Monroe Turnpike developments as a step to filling that need.
“We have some assisted living facilities and mixed facilities that combine active adult independent living and assisted living,” Tesoro said. “However, demand is strong and we need more and these developments will meet that need.”
The housing options for singles and young professionals is limited, though, and puts Trumbull at a competitive disadvantage with other communities such as Fairfield, Westport, Milford and Darien.
“As any young person will tell you, supply is limited and the cost nearly prohibitive,” she said. “If we want to attract businesses, both corporate and retail and if we want to remain competitive, we need to address this young demographic. However, we must proceed with caution.”
With current apartment projects already underway, Tesoro said the town would need time to assess their impact on the community.
“I believe we can strike the right balance between the need for more variety without sacrificing all that we enjoy,” she said. “Trumbull in the past has shown the ability to move from a farm community to a suburban one. We can navigate this change as well as long as we work together.”