WEST HARTFORD — When it came time for last year’s state of the town event, people clustered around tables in a room at Delamar West Hartford as Mayor Shari Cantor spoke to the group, amplified by a microphone.
This year’s event looked a bit different. Presented online and streamed on a variety of platforms, Cantor addressed the virtual audience from her home, with picture frames lining a hall and a staircase visible over her shoulder.
“2020 is a year like no other,” Cantor said. “I guess every 100 years, we have to have a year like no other. But the weird thing about it, it just feels almost like Groundhog Day. It feels like either one long day, or or just this endless, endless amount of time.”
And in that span of time, much has transpired. Cantor spoke about figures related to people who have died from COVID-19, and had a moment of reflection. Per the state’s tracker Thursday, there have been 7,354 COVID-related deaths in the state.
In the presentation that followed, Cantor went through a summary of the past year: Shutdowns early in the pandemic, rapid toilet paper purchasing, outdoor dining expansions, the town formally acknowledging Juneteenth, the 2020 election and absentee voting, local vaccine distribution and more.
There were at least 61 new businesses that joined the town, according to Cantor. “You wouldn’t know that we’re in a pandemic,” she said.
She also gave insight on emerging town efforts, including the Sustainability Task Force, envisioned to be a group of about 20 that gives input to the town as well as helping with “the town’s Sustainable Connecticut application,” according to Cantor.
West Hartford is also expected to make a housing-related affordability plan that will help examine what needs they have, Cantor said.
“Development will be also including a townwide housing needs assessment,” she said. “We will be reviewing ordinances to identify potential areas for modification, and creating opportunities that increase availability of housing types and affordability levels.”
Cantor noted how an Interval House advocate and the West Hartford Police Department are working together. The advocate, aimed to help people who have survived domestic violence, was set to start in a position within the department in January.
An arts commission was re-formed as well, Cantor said.
“They are collaborating and creating and innovating to make our community a more beautiful and rich community and culture,” she said. There was one in place in 1986, “but it really wasn’t active,” she added.
Cantor also mentioned the Civilian Police Review Board proposal, which the town council voted for on Tuesday.
“We had a civilian review board, but it was actually largely staffed by police department, and this one is completely staffed by civilians,” she said.
People who are interested in participating in that board can reach out to the town clerk, she said.
Another recent installment was the January passage of an accessory dwelling unit measure, which loosened requirements on what it takes to have one.
“This is something that we know our community wanted, and allows an ability to age in place, grow in place, options for family members, additional income streams for property owners and those who are struggling to hold onto and maintain their homes,” she said. “We also think it will provide some grand list growth.”
There could also be changes on the way for North Main Street. Cantor said North Main Street “has been a source of safety concerns” for years.
“People go too fast, it’s a residential road, and it’s very tight, four lanes,” she said. “So we’re looking at a three-lane configuration and we’ll probably try that out for a period of time and see how it goes, and make sure that any diversion is handled in a comprehensive way.”
The town and the Chamber of Commerce have a new website for tourism in the works, Cantor added, which is anticipated to be finished “by late spring.”
In her closing reflections, Cantor said, “We are in the final chapter of this year of loss, horror and change, but we have a renewed and deeper understanding what a gift it is to be alive and to be with ones we love.”