Much of the discussion at Monday night's Planning & Zoning Commission meeting was based on unofficial plans and hypothetical situations, but there's no denying that the conversation about could revolutionize the town of Tolland.
"We're not just the bedroom community for Hartford. We might also serve as the bedroom community to Storrs," said Nerac president and CEO Kevin Bouley, who also serves on Tolland's Economic Development Commission, as well as UConn's School of Engineering Advisory Board and the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CCEI). He was also a member on the UConn Tech Park Visioning Committee.
Members of Town Council, the Economic Development Commission and the Design Advisory Board discussed how the town can benefit from the proposed research park, which Bouley said would boast a million square feet of research floor space. The park would focus on developments in fields such as aerospace and defense, chemicals, electronic equipment and biotechnology, to name a few.
Bouley said that the first building of many could be completed during late 2014 or early 2015, meaning that Tolland needs to act now if it wants to take advantage of its unique position as the gateway to UConn.
However, he emphasized that Tolland could begin with small steps to ready itself for the multitude of opportunities that the park could provide.
"We need the ability to determine what one thing can we do in the next year to have a positive impact," Bouley said. "And then we build upon that foundation."
While Tolland would most likely not participate in the park with competitive, high-tech buildings of its own, Bouley said that the town would be a perfect area for start-up technology businesses, affordable housing for graduate students or faculty, daycare, restaurants or even a hotel to support the research park that Bouley noted is only 5 and a half miles down Route 195.
While many possible opportunities were discussed, no actual action was taken on the research park.
The Planning & Zoning Commission decided to meet up with commission chairs to draft a proposal on how the town should deal with the economic development, which P&ZC Chairperson Marilee Beebe noted could be used to discuss possible state funding with the governor and lieutenant governor. Beebe added that the commission could begin to reach out to Mansfield and Coventry boards.
The commission also stated that public input would be essential to drafting and deciding on any further action, noting that public support is essential.
"As you move forward, communication to the community is really important to get on board," noted Economic Development Commission Chairperson George Mantak, a sentiment with which the commission generally seemed to agree.
Town Manager Steven Werbner added that the commission should move quickly to secure utility and water diversion permits along the technology zone route as they would be crucial to any chance of meaningful development.
Although no formal Tolland plan even exists for the UConn Research Park, many of the participants said that the park is a golden opportunity for Tolland that could profoundly shape its future.
"This new thing that's growing right next door could very well be part of our destiny," said EDC member Christine Fields. "I don't think we have to be afraid of that."
Governor Dannel Malloy jump-starting the project in August 2011. It is thought that the park would complete a triangle of innovation between the UConn Medical Center in Farmington and the Yale Science Park in New Haven.
To see Bouley's collected presentations (compiled from a variety of sources), check out the P&ZC's Web site.