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Letter: Let’s Help Council Members Get West Hartford on the Right Track

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To the Editor:

On Tuesday, June 14 at 7 p.m., the West Hartford Town Council will hold a public hearing on an important proposal – an Ordinance Establishing the Transit-Oriented Development Zoning District. This new district would apply to lots within a quarter mile of the Elmwood and Flatbush CTfastrak stations along New Park Avenue. In this district, which is already buzzing with development, it would incentivize affordable housing, infill development, and sustainable building practices. At the same time, it lays out a design code to ensure a village-aesthetic building design and the preservation of open space similar to what we love about West Hartford Center.

While I would like to see the parking minimums reduced and the district expanded to a half-mile from the stations, this kind of project – one which lays out consistent standards to ensure affordability, walkability, and sustainability near public transit – is just what West Hartford needs. I strongly urge the Council to pass the measure.

It is a historical fact that West Hartford itself developed around transit. The town’s first subdivision was created along the streetcar lines that used to run along the length of Farmington Avenue, Elmwood sprang up around the New Haven railroad line that ran through the southeast corner of town. This zoning district represents a return to the kind of development that made our town a regional destination in the first place.

Affordable housing for lots of people, with easy access to transit, helped West Hartford grow in the 19th century and it can help us sustainably grow in the 21st century.

I myself live in one of the many three-family (or triple-decker) houses in West Hartford. If you live in one of these kinds of houses, you know how efficient and cost-effective they can be. You also know that your house is probably pretty old. That’s because most of the town’s multi-family houses were built before zoning regulations on setbacks, density, and height were introduced.  We have an opportunity to reverse the consequences of those past mistakes and provide our new neighbors with affordable, sustainable housing with easy access to transit.

Transit-oriented communities are exactly what Connecticut needs to break out of its economic and demographic funk. Groups across the state are doing their part to promote the concept. Last legislative session in Hartford, HB 5429: An Act Concerning Transit-Oriented Development, was raised to create a base-line for communities with transit stations to build more homes nearby. Though it didn’t pass, even opponents of the bill acknowledged the importance of transit-oriented development.

If you take their expressed concerns about local control at face value (it’s fair to be skeptical for some of them), what West Hartford is doing should become a model. Our local government is working proactively to create the kind of community that residents on both sides of the political aisle want to see.

It’s up to us, the majority, to show up and express our support for it and to overcome the usual minority opposition that tends to have a larger voice on these issues than they should.

Devin McGreevy
West Hartford

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