- Associated Press - Sunday, August 16, 2015

REDDING, Conn. (AP) - When Redding recently named a stretch of Chestnut Woods a scenic road, it brought the total of such designations in town to almost 19 miles, and the total in Greater Danbury to more than 160 miles - about the distance from here to Boston.

But while there are enough scenic roads in the region to offer hours of sightseeing, the pace of scenic designation has slowed in recent years.

The designation of Chestnut Woods, a 0.7-mile stretch of road between Marchant and Topstone roads near the town park, was Redding’s first since Station Road in 2009 and only the third since 2000. This mirrors a local and statewide trend, owing partly to resistance from landowners wary of possible limitations on their rights to improve or develop their property.

“It’s not a frequent occurrence, because not everyone is ready to put restrictions on what they can do in their front lawns,” said Toby Welles, the secretary of the Redding Planning Commission.

Colleen Kissane, chair of the scenic road advisory board for the state Department of Transportation, said the agency used to get about three or four requests annually for designation of state roads as scenic, but hasn’t received one in two years. About 300 miles of state roads already enjoy the designation.

She said scenic designations were more frequent in the 1980s and 1990s, when it was seen as a way to avoid the disruptions caused by road improvements and even as a way to restrict development. In recent years, however, changes in the road construction techniques made such considerations less pressing.

Scenic designation has been used not only to highlight the natural beauty of the countryside but also to maintain the semi-rural character of neighborhoods and preserve historic features such as stone walls.

“Redding has a long history of preservation of historical and natural features,” Welles said.

The preservation movement picked up in town in the 1970s and 1980s, when surrounding towns began to develop and residents began to fear for the future of Redding’s semi-rural character. The scenic road ordinance was adopted in January 1986, one of the first in the area, to help keep unpaved roads from being paved, Welles said.

“This is something that protects this region, which is quite old in American standards,” Welles said. “Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.”

Ridgefield is the only town to buck the trend away from scenic designation. Last year nine segments of road totaling three miles were given scenic status, partly to preserve views of a lake and keep the roads safe.

In New Milford, which has more miles of scenic road than any other town in the region, three segments have been added since 2000. The town now has 26 scenic roads covering 28.7 miles.

Michael Zarba, New Milford’s director of public works, said many of the roads have cultural significance such as stone walls. The designation also helps keep the traffic down, he said.

Brookfield, Bethel and New Fairfield all lack designated scenic roads, although all have considered adopting ordinances make them possible.

In 1995, New Fairfield tried to classify Pine Hill Road as scenic, but the ordinance that would have achieved that and permitted future designations was defeated.

First Selectwoman Susan Chapman said this took place before her tenure but she believes it was defeated because some Pine Hill residents worried that it would prevent future development. She proposed a new ordinance when she joined the planning commission, but decided against it after she heard about the failure of the previous attempt.

Since then, she said, “no one has come to me and asked me to do a scenic road ordinance.”

Welles said Redding has some of the most restrictive requirements in place for designation of local roads. To be named scenic, a road must meet at least one of the following criteria: unpaved; bordered by trees or stone walls; under 20 feet wide; having scenic views; crossing bodies of water; and blending into the natural terrain.

The planning commission also monitors alterations done by residents who live on scenic streets and requires they have a lot of vegetation along the road. Utility lines also cannot be visible.

“I think the big picture is the scenic road ordinance gives residents the chance to preserve the part of Redding they know intimately and it gives the town the chance to control the slow, incremental changes that bleed the history out of a place,” Welles said.


Information from: The News-Times, https://www.newstimes.com

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