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Tuesday, February 20 News

Petition drive aims to fast track plan for waiting area, rest rooms at Fairfield Metro

When the Fairfield Metro train station finally opened in December 2011, the product of a decade-long, problem-plagued project was met with cheers from some, jeers from others and from just about everyone a question: Where are the bathrooms?

The short answer: There were none.

The state Department of Transportation included no plans for a waiting room or rest rooms when it built the passenger platforms and the pedestrian bridge spanning the tracks. Those bathrooms, and that waiting area, state officials said, were going to be built by the private developer who owned the rest of the 35-acre site on lower Black Rock Turnpike.

The multi-million-

dollar plans by that developer, Blackrock Realty, for its share of the property included a concourse building for the train station, along with retail shops, restaurants, offices, apartments and a Hilton hotel.

So far, however, none of that has materialized. Last year, Kurt Wittek, principal of Blackrock Realty, said he would be open to building temporary bathrooms as a condition of approval for an a 197-unit apartment building on the property. The apartment proposal, after briefly surfacing, was never formally proposed before the Town Plan and Zoning Commission.

Now, instead of waiting for Wittek, a college student from Bridgeport's Black Rock section has started an online petition at www.change.org, urging the state to provide commuters with rest rooms and a coffee shop.

Katie Fredericks, 20, said she used to take the train every day while a student at Lauralton Hall in Milford. The new station's location meant she could walk to the train. Now, the Fordham University junior uses the train when making visits home from New York.

"I've been using this station since it opened," Fredericks said, adding she's never seen a train station without restrooms.

She said she's "pretty hopeful" her petition -- the online address is http://chn.ge/1wdZ79x -- will bring some relief to train riders. "I think it only makes sense," Fredericks said.

As of late this week, 39 people have signed the petition, which was posted online about two weeks ago. It asks: "Why should commuters be forced to settle for a sub-par station?"

The town offered to help defray the cost of temporary bathrooms when the station opened, according to Community and Economic Development Director Mark Barnhart, but that offer was rebuffed by the DOT, which owns and manages the Fairfield Metro station.

First Selectman Michael Tetreau confirmed that the town talked to state officials about at least getting some portable toilets installed at the station.

"As I understand it, they (bathrooms) don't fit their business model," Tetreau said.

"I just don't get it," said Sam Hadley, a Fairfield resident who said he uses the train station several times a week. "How do you build a train station without a waiting room and bathrooms?"

Amani Young, 19, lives about a block away from the station and uses the train to get to his classes at Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport.

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"I think there should be a bathroom," Young said. "And it would be nice, too, if there was a little store or coffee shop. That would be nice."

It might be "nice" in some commuters' opinion, but DOT spokesman Judd Everhart said there are no plans for bathrooms at Fairfield Metro.

"There are multiple bathrooms on every train," he said, as an alternative.

A clause in the Fairfield Metro development agreement between the town, DOT and Blackrock Realty states that if a commuter waiting area is not built by the developer within five years of the station's opening, the portion of property set aside for that waiting area must be conveyed to the state for $1. It's unclear if the state will act on that clause if there still is no commuter waiting area by the end of 2016.

As for the status of Blackrock Realty's commercial-residential development plans, Tetreau said he has had a few meetings with Wittek, who may be looking to start planning from scratch at the site.

Attempts to contact Wittek were unsuccessful.

"We're looking at hiring a consultant to facilitate this process," Tetreau said, and setting up planning meetings, much like was done with the town's Commerce Drive plan to get ideas from the community that residents would support.