New era in Lakeville needs one more change

The Lakeville renaissance, which has been noted in both the news and Compass sections of this newspaper, has improved the center of that town in many ways. The Patco Handy Stop store has a new renovation (yes, that is an important part of the center of town.) Seth Churchill has done striking renovations of two downtown structures: his own building company’s and the Green Café and the Studio Lakeville Gym and Fitness Center, which was the old firehouse. 

There is Katie Baldwin’s interior design shop right on Main Street, and the Lakeville Interiors’ location just off it. The state of Connecticut Department of Transportation completed a pedestrian walkway, new curbing and general traffic flow redesign that has made this center much easier and safer to navigate on foot or in a vehicle.

This makes it a lovely walk to the Black Squirrel antiques shop across from the main office of Salisbury Bank. 

And, all the important longtime downtown businesses like the Petpourri pet shop, the auto shop, the art galleries, the restaurants and the health food store have maintained their locations well over the years. Even the post office has kept its property in good condition, with lovely plantings, like all those done by the nonprofit Lakeville Community Conservancy, Inc., members, which have beautified the town center.

Yet there is one location that stands out in this town center like a sore thumb, or a missing tooth: the abandoned former Chinese restaurant that is slowly rotting right in the middle of Main Street. It has been vacant for years, and was left in a state of disrepair that has only gotten worse. The deterioration of the exterior of this building is obvious, and the interior appears to only have been left to continue its downhill slide since it became vacant. This makes it a possible breeding ground for rodents (though the town has inspected it several times, according to the first selectman, and found it to be free of such visitors), and also possibly an attraction for children, who tend to be fascinated by such untended structures. 

There was interest in the property discussed at the June Salisbury Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, presented by Seth Churchill and Richard Gentile of Madison, Conn. Then, at the August P & Z meeting, $42,000 was approved to have town planners AKRF rewrite the zoning regulations to accommodate more dwelling units in any town structure, according to Salisbury First Selectman Curtis Rand. 

Rand, in a recent interview, said that when the original Salisbury zoning regulations went into effect, the number of dwelling units in a house were limited to three. Gentile would like to do more in the former restaurant. As Salisbury struggles to meet the state requirement for affordable housing, one would hope this could be a step toward that goal. 

The town Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance also need to give approvals for the AKRF hiring (the first of these approvals happened Monday, Sept. 10, at the Board of Selectmen’s meeting.) All the approvals will make for a longer process, but it will be done in a way that will make it legal for all structures in Salisbury, rather than just that one, to have more than three dwelling units. Rand pointed out that “spot zoning” is illegal anyway, so it could not have been remedied quickly as a one-off.

Here’s a plea, a heartfelt one, to the owner of the building, Amy Yang, and potential buyer Gentile to keep at their negotiations and be patient enough to form a plan that will benefit Lakeville’s Main Street, and therefore all of Salisbury and the region. All the area downtowns are connected, and their vitality is crucial to the health of the communities they represent.