Library to return home

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
July 31, 2008

GUILFORD — The town library will close for the month of August so officials can move materials back to the renovated Park Street building, which is due to reopen in early September.

The Guilford Free Library has been operating from a temporary facility on Carter Drive since last summer. The $8 million expansion will nearly double the space available at Park Street to 34,000 square feet.

The 1933 library was last expanded in 1977. The new construction includes a variety of technological upgrades, Library Director Sandra Ruoff said.

Over the next few weeks, staff will move books, supplies and some furniture back to the building at 67 Park St.

“In the new library, the staff has to be completely retrained because we’re going to have some different computer systems, a different phone system, different security system,” Ruoff said.

Major construction on the new building has been completed, and contractors are finishing work on some interior sections. Ruoff said she decided to begin the transition back to Park Street now because the library has been paying about $14,000 a month in rent at the temporary site.

“We’ve been very grateful to have had this temporary site. It worked out very well for the people of Guilford,” she said. “In a lot of situations where libraries have to move out, they go to much smaller quarters and they have to pack away a lot of their collection and they can’t provide all the services.”

Ruoff said the library will not be charging any late fees during August, but people wanting to return books can still do so using the drop box at the 20 Carter Drive facility. Guilford library card holders can use any other public library in the state, she added. Staff will continue to answer the library’s main phone number, 453-8282, between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday.

The library’s board of directors is continuing to raise money toward the renovation, which was covered partly by a $6.4 million town bond and a $500,000 state grant. Ruoff said the group will hold a fundraiser in the new building Sept. 4 and is still selling bricks for the library courtyard that people can personalize.

The temporary library on Carter Drive will be open today from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and close Friday. Ruoff said that a definite opening date for early September has not yet been set.

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North Branford growth plan revealed

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
July 26, 2008

NORTH BRANFORD — The town should focus on preserving open space and farms while also promoting business growth along Route 80 in the next 10 years, consultants on the new Plan of Conservation and Development said this week.

The first public hearing on the town’s revised plan — which was last updated in 1991 — Thursday night drew about 25 residents interested in discussing the development goals of the town.

The Plan of Conservation and Development includes demographic, economic and geographic information and sets priorities for future growth.

“This is quite an important document,” said Brian Miller, a consultant for the town. “This is intended to guide the growth and development and the land use of the town over the next five to 10 years.”

Thursday’s hearing included a presentation from Miller and another consultant as well as input from several members of the public hearing audience.

Miller noted that the plan hopes to preserve two of North Branford’s most distinctive features, the continuing existence of farmland and the town’s separation into two communities — Northford and North Branford center.

“North Branford certainly has room for additional development,” he said. “So how that land is to be used and how the existing community is to grow is very important.”

In addition to overall goals for the town, the plan also contains details like where to extend sewers and how to rezone certain properties.

Several residents spoke Thursday on different aspects of the plan.

Dudley Harrison, who also sent the Planning and Zoning Commission a letter on the topic, said that he hopes the town will not zone the old Town Hall site at 1599 Foxon Road for commercial use, as indicated in the draft plan. Town Council members have said in the past that they hope to sell the site for commercial development.

“As a lifetime resident of North Branford I do not want to see that put as commercial,” Harrison said. “I think it should be kept as open space.”

Joe Vita, another resident, called the proposed plan “very comprehensive and well thought out.” He said he likes the idea of making the central North Branford area — near the intersection of routes 80 and 139 — a more unified community, but he added that the town should install more “traffic-calming” devices.

“The first and foremost thing that needs to be done is to act on the recommendations as they’re written in this plan to make that area more pedestrian friendly,” Vita said. “For the economic development to be appropriate and be vital we also need to consider the quality of life aspects.”

At the meeting, Town Manager Richard Branigan encouraged residents to offer their opinions on the plan.

The Planning and Zoning Commission will set a date for a second public hearing at the commission’s next meeting on Aug. 7.

Branigan said anyone who cannot attend the public hearings can send comments to the Planning Department at Town Hall.

Following the public hearings, town staff and the consultants may make changes to the plan, which will ultimately come before the Planning and Zoning Commission for approval.

“Your input to this document is important and vital,” Branigan said. “This is the town’s document; it is the residents’ document; it is the taxpayers’ document.”

Guilford to remedy tax relief shortfall

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
July 25, 2008

GUILFORD — Town officials say they have found a solution to the funding shortfall that took benefits away from some Elderly Tax Relief Program participants this year.

After meeting Tuesday night, members of the Elderly Tax Stabilization Committee are recommending that the town amend the ordinance that governs the program to allow an increase in the maximum amount of money available.

For this fiscal year, the amount of taxes frozen in the program — which had a cap of about $360,000 — overran the funding by more than $300,000. That led the town to remove all benefits for about 215 eligible participants.

William Bloss, committee vice chairman, said that the proposed change will allow the Board of Finance to increase the cap and restore full benefits for everyone affected by the funding issues.

“Problem solved,” Bloss said. “It will be remedied for the current tax year, so the bottom line is that everybody who qualified is going to get their relief.”

For most people — those who have paid or plan to pay half of their tax bill by the end of the month — the relief will come in the form of a reduced bill for the second half of the year. For anyone who has paid their full tax bill, the town will issue a rebate check, Bloss said.

“It’s not a prorated benefit,” he said. “The full benefit for the entire 2008-09 tax year is going to be reinstituted, it’s just going to be reflected in the second half of the annual payment.”

To implement the solution, the Board of Finance and Board of Selectmen will have to amend the ordinance, First Selectman Carl Balestracci said.

“The selectmen will have to hold a public hearing and then vote to make this law if the Board of Finance recommends it to us, and I’m sure that they will.” Balestracci added he hopes the process can be completed by September.

The ordinance establishing the Elderly Tax Relief Program took effect in 2001. It offers benefits for disabled residents or those over age 65 who own a primary residence in town and meet certain income guidelines based on years of residence. About 675 participants must reapply for the program each year.

Balestracci said that the additional money needed to cover the program this year could come from several sources, including the more than $330,000 settlement received last year from a lawsuit against the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority. He added that once the boards of Finance and Selectmen have voted on the plan, a letter will be sent to program participants explaining the changes.

Meanwhile, Bloss said, the Tax Stabilization Committee will continue meeting to determine how to avoid a similar situation in the future. After falling within funding guidelines for its first years of existence, the Tax Relief Program overran the cap by about $30,000 two years ago. The more than $300,000 shortfall this year was due to revaluation last year, which increased some property values and changed the tax distribution in the town, officials said.

“I think we should just do away with the cap,” Bloss said. “I think that everybody who qualifies should be guaranteed the relief because the foundation of the program is the ability of a senior citizen on a relatively low income to be assured that his or her taxes are going to remain stable. That assurance is at the heart of the program, and that assurance has to be kept under all circumstances, in my opinion.”

Saybrook residents report twister uprooted trees

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
July 25, 2008

OLD SAYBROOK — Some residents reported what they thought was a tornado or funnel cloud during a day of wild weather Wednesday.

Several people in the School House Road area north of Interstate 95 called Old Saybrook police and the National Weather Service reporting a funnel cloud moving through their backyards. Deputy Chief Michael Spera said that there were twisted and uprooted trees in the neighborhood, but no houses were damaged.

But police and weather officials said it is unclear whether there was a tornado or other unusual phenomenon, or whether it was just a powerful thunderstorm.

“We did have reports of a funnel cloud by a couple different folks in the Old Saybrook area from the thunderstorms that moved across, but we have nothing confirmed in terms of any damage related to tornadoes,” said Jeff Tongue, science and operations officer with the National Weather Service in Upton, N.Y. “As far as we know, there was no tornado.”

A funnel cloud is the “precursor to a tornado” before it has touched the ground, Tongue said. Alternatively, Spera said, the event may have been a microburst, a column of high downward winds.

Spera said state police contacted the National Weather Service to conduct an investigation of the incident, but Tongue said he was not aware of one at his office, which covers southern Connecticut. He added that funnel clouds or tornadoes are “very rare” in Connecticut, with one or two occurring each year.

“Most are extremely small — many actually go undetected,” he said. “I’d say it’s a very rare meteorological (event) in the Northeast.”

The National Weather Service will conduct an investigation in cases of heavy damage, Tongue said. If it concludes that a tornado occurred, officials will assign a severity rating to the twister.

He added that the Weather Service did not issue a tornado warning for the area yesterday. Spera said several houses in Old Saybrook were struck by lightning and the downtown area was flooded with about 4 inches of water, which has now receded.

“It was a very fast, quick-moving storm — nothing that we’re not used to in the summertime,” he said. “It’s something that public safety expects during the summer months.”

At 100, librarian’s life is an open book

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff0
July 23, 2008

GUILFORD — Surrounded by friends, family and colleagues, Edith Nettleton celebrated her 100th birthday Tuesday at the place where she has spent much of her adult life — the Guilford Free Library.

Tuesday’s party could not take place at the main Park Street library, where Nettleton became the first librarian in 1934. The building is under construction and due to reopen in early September.

But that didn’t stop well-wishers from filling the temporary library on Carter Drive for the occasion.

The party — which included punch and her requested chocolate cake and coffee ice cream — was one of four in the past few days for Nettleton, whose birthday was Tuesday.

“It’s overwhelming,” Nettleton said of the party. “It’s lovely.”

She started working at the library 75 years ago, and retired from her role as library director in 1978. Since then, she has continued as a volunteer librarian, often working on special projects on Guilford history or genealogy.

She can still be found at the library a few days a week, where the main reading room — the Edith B. Nettleton Historical Room — is named for her.

Many townspeople remember Nettleton as the helpful librarian who guided them through history projects and book reports.

First Selectman Carl Balestracci said he met Nettleton when he was a kindergartener. When he was in seventh grade, she helped him research the history of the Guilford unit of the Connecticut National Guard.

“She was always so sweet and so supportive — she was so encouraging to kids using the library,” Balestracci said. “I’m doing a research project now on African-American history in Guilford … and guess who’s helping me research it? She’s over at the temporary library and she’s digging out all kinds of books for me to get information and everything.”

At the party, Balestracci read a proclamation from the Board of Selectmen making Tuesday Edith Nettleton Day in thanks for the “many contributions she has made to our quality of life in Guilford.”

Library Director Sandra Ruoff called Tuesday a “thrilling day for us.”

“Next year, we’ll have her 101st in the renovated library at 67 Park St.,” Ruoff told the party guests.

Ruoff said before the party that Nettleton has continued to work as a volunteer during the library’s stay in the temporary building, where it moved last year. The Park Street building’s Edith B. Nettleton Historical Room, the original part of the library, will remain largely the same, Ruoff said, with only the addition of new windows and lights.

“She’s a lovely person and she’s a very dedicated and professional librarian,” Ruoff said. “She will research something until she gets the answer. She probably helped five generations of Guilford citizens as they used the library from 1933 ‘til now.”

In addition to her work at the library, Nettleton is co-historian with her sister-in-law, Ruth Nettleton, for the First Congregational Church. The church, where she has been a member for more than 80 years, also held a celebration for her after Sunday services July 13.

Senior Minister Kendrick Norris described Nettleton as a “real worker” in researching the history of the nearly 370-year-old church.

“She has done an amazing job,” Norris said. “Our church goes back to 1639, so, you know, she has found this stuff, she’s saved the stuff, she’s preserved the stuff, she’s catalogued the stuff and she’s indexed it three different ways. She’s usually still in once a week to do work on all our historical things.”

Norris used words like “humble,” “unassuming” and “understated” to describe the longtime librarian.

“The bottom line is, she’s great and everyone loves her,” he said. “She does have a twinkle in her eye and she’s a very special lady.”

Nettleton was born in Washington, Conn., July 22, 1908. When she was a child, her family moved to a farm on Clapboard Hill Road in Guilford. Today, she lives in a house on the same street.

She graduated from high school in Guilford and earned a degree as a librarian in Springfield, Mass., before returning to Guilford to begin working for the library in 1933. She was the first librarian at the Park Street facility, which opened in 1934.

In addition to her sister-in-law, she has a sister who also lives in Guilford.

Nettleton said that reaching her 100th birthday did not make her feel any different.

“You get up and wake up in the morning — it’s just like any other day,” she said of Tuesday. “You’re thankful you can do it.”

Guilford teen faces larceny charges

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
July 22, 2008

NORTH BRANFORD — A Guilford teenager apparently tried to rob a North Branford convenience store and break into a pickup truck with an ax early Saturday, according to police.

The 18-year-old allegedly stole three packs of cigarettes worth about $15, but now faces a long list of charges, police said.

Police Saturday arrested Tyler Gruen and charged him with several counts of larceny and attempted larceny related to the alleged crimes.

North Branford police responded to a call Saturday morning that a man wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt and ski mask had entered the Cumberland Farms on Foxon Road and attempted to break into the cash registers.

The store’s manager said the person took three packs of Kool cigarettes and tried to open the registers, but was unable to do so.

The man then left the store, but not before removing his mask, which allowed the store’s closed-circuit TV cameras to capture an image of his face, according to police.

The officers responding to the report began patrolling the neighborhood, and were stopped by a man who said someone had tried to break into his grandfather’s pickup truck, which was parked at their home on West Pond Road.

The man said he saw someone swinging a pickax — which had previously been stored in the truck’s bed — at the Chevrolet Silverado’s passenger door. He yelled and the person dropped the ax and ran.

The West Pond Road resident’s description of the man matched the one provided by the Cumberland Farms manager.

An officer stationed West Pond Road and Glenwood Road stopped a man on a bicycle who matched the description about an hour later on Saturday.

Police said the man, Gruen, had with him a backpack with three packs of Kool cigarettes, a dark sweatshirt and a ski mask.

The officers arrested Gruen, charging him with sixth-degree larceny, third-degree attempted burglary, sixth-degree attempted larceny, possession of burglary tools, second-degree criminal trespass and third-degree criminal mischief.

He was released on $10,000 bond and is next due in court Aug. 1.

N. Branford’s revised town plan set for hearing

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
July 22, 2008

NORTH BRANFORD — Residents will have a chance this week to offer input on one of the town’s most important planning documents.

The Plan of Conservation and Development offers a guide for where and how the town will grow, Town Manager Richard Branigan said. Town officials have been working on updating it for months for the first revision in about a decade.

The Planning and Zoning Commission has scheduled the first public hearing on the revised plan for Thursday. The hearing will include a presentation on the plan as well as about two hours set aside for public input, according to Town Planner Carol Zebb.

Branigan said that the process could include several nights of public hearings.

“This is typically something that will take some time — it’s an important document,” he said.

The plan includes many features, such as the town’s demographic makeup, economic figures, housing information, land-use trends and existing open space. It is meant to serve as a guide for town officials, with a list of development priorities.

“It will talk about what the future’s going to look like, where community development might take place, what types of development the town might be looking at (and) what are some of the transitional challenges the town might face in the future,” Branigan said.

“It’s used as a tool to help the Planning and Zoning Commission and other town agencies make decisions on land use and development issues and such going forward.”

A Plan of Conservation and Development is required by state statute, and towns are supposed to update their plans every 10 years, Branigan said.

“I wouldn’t say it’s outdated, but there have been changes in state requirements that need to be reflected,” he said. “There have been issues that have come about that have become more important,” including open space and affordable housing, he said.

The town is now applying for a $20,000 state grant through the Office of Policy and Management that would help offset the cost in town employees’ time toward updating the plan.

Following the public hearings and any revisions, the Planning and Zoning Commission will vote on whether to accept the updated plan. The Town Council also held a workshop on the plan earlier this month.

A copy of the draft Plan of Conservation and Development is available on the town’s Web site at http://www.townofnorthbranfordct.com. Thursday’s public hearing will take place at 7 p.m. at North Branford Auditorium, on Route 80 between the intermediate school and high school.