West Hartford moves forward with transit-oriented development district

·3 min read

Town Manager Richard Ledwith said the plan was six years in the making, as the West Hartford Town Council heard a presentation on creating a Transit-Oriented Development Zoning District in the New Park Road area of town, at a public hearing and its regular meeting on June 14.

In 2020, Ledwith said, the town’s new Plan of Conservation and Development included transit-oriented development as one of its tenets. In 2021, a study began, which lead to the plan to center development in the area around its Elmwood and Flatbush CT Fastrak stations, as well as a planned railroad station.

The crux of the plan is to create a pedestrian-friendly environment near (within a quarter-mile of) the stations.

“In addition to promoting mixed use in a pedestrian-friendly environment, the TOD encourages lower parking requirements, which benefits our community by promoting lower energy consumption, greenhouse gasses, and contributes to a vibrant, livable, and sustainable community,” Ledwith said.

Town Planner Todd Dumais said key components to the ordinance include permitted uses in the zone, design (including setbacks, building orientation, architectural standards and parking requirements), and the population density in the area, which makes the plan feasible.

Predominantly, the properties within the zone are industrially/commercially zoned.

Dumais said the density requirement will be achieved by lot areas limited to 750 square feet. Buildings will also be allowed to be up to five stories.

Some residents, however, found fault with the ordinance.

Eric Castiglione said the ordinance is “not a plan and it’s not a design.”

“It’s only a technical specification,” he said. “It’s not much different than saying, ‘I want a structure to accommodate my family of four, that has parking for two cars and a lot size of one quarter acre.’ You could end up with a center-entry Colonial, or you could end up with a double-wide trailer.”

Admitting his statement was hyperbole, the point, Castiglione said, is that the missing piece is the town’s POCD, which, while providing for ‘future opportunities,’ would also require the town to invest in infrastructure, including improving traffic in the area.

“You don’t know how these things are going to work until they’re tested,” said resident Rick Liftig, adding that he learned lessons from the town’s Traditional Neighborhood Design ordinance, approximately 25 years ago.

“I’ve learned that zoning rules do not create a market,” Liftig said. “Development only takes place when market forces are favorable. On the other hand, if you have rules in place in advance of the next market surge, it’s an invaluable guide and protector.”

Weaknesses in zoning ordinances, Lifig said, can be exploited by developers and their legal teams.

Dumais said that the Planning office would report regularly to the council, to ensure the ordinance was proceeding as planned.

Council members applauded Dumais and town staffers for their work on the ordinance.

“I’m excited. This has been quite a long struggle, and a lot of work,” said councilman Ben Wenograd. “No ordinance is perfect, but we have to start somewhere, and I think this is a really great start.”

“I support this,” said council member Mary Fay. “We have to think bigger and long-term than we have been.... We do have to monitor this and stay on top of it... I’m optimistic. I think it is going to create the vibrancy and the things that we want.”

The council voted unanimously in favor of the ordinance.

For more information, visit www.westhartfordct.gov.