NEW MILFORD — For as long as New Milford has existed, the Housatonic River has been a vital asset.

To promote this natural resource, the Town Council recently extended by six months the tenure of a committee working on a riverfront revitalization plan.

“It’s just endless what we can do there,” said Liba Furhman, a member of the nine-member committee, which was established in the spring to create a plan to strengthen ties between the riverfront and the center of town.

With that accomplished, the committee said the project will enhance the town’s quality of life, attract businesses and new residents, generate property tax revenue, create jobs and increase recreational opportunities.

“There’s a huge urban area 90 miles south looking for things to do,” said Juliane Bailey, a committee member. “This is our chance to reclaim our title as the gateway to Litchfield County.”

The committee is considering creating housing opportunities for young professionals and adding a transportation hub near the river so people can take a bus, taxi or train, if passenger rail service is extended from Danbury to New Milford.

In the meantime, Furhman recommended adding benches, lighting and signs to encourage people to use existing pathways along the river and to generate enthusiasm for the project. She recommended hosting festivals and other events there.

Having “an institutional anchor,” such as a museum or satellite campus, near the riverfront helps reinvigorate the area because it attracts users and instills an excitement for it, she said.

Part of the project would include creation of a riverfront district from Boardman Bridge to Lovers Leap, with the nickname “Bridge to Bridge.” Work on this district would be broken into three phases.

The committee is trying to figure out how to overcome the physical obstacles of Patriots Way, the railroad and a parking lot, which sit between the riverfront and town center.

Furhman suggested winding sidewalks or steps cutting into the hill on Young’s Field to help get people closer to the river. The final plan will ensure any work done in the area does not negatively affect the river and surrounding environment. Sections along the river are within flood plains.

“Whatever you do, you have to make sure the river is protected,” Bailey said.

As part of the process, committee members have visited other riverfront projects and created a 12-person advisory committee with professionals and experts on different aspects of riverfront revitalization. They reviewed the town’s 2010 Plan of Conservation and Development, which included three pages dedicated to the effort.

Bailey said adding the revitalization plan to the 2010 plan creates a good foundation and will help the committee secure state and federal grants.

Community input is a valuable part of developing the plan.

“We want to make sure people in town have a role in the vision,” Bailey said. “We don’t want to be a small group that makes the decisions.”

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