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Letter: Response to Letter Urging Residents to Speak Up About Former UConn Campus Plans

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Editor’s Note: This letter was submitted for publication as a response to a letter written by Roberta Echelson and published on Aug. 31, 2023.

Dear Ms. Echelson,

Thank you for encouraging West Hartford residents to speak up. Although I no longer permanently reside in West Hartford, I did grow up there and both of my parents are still residents. So, I feel justified in taking your advice and speaking up.

I actually think the plans are on the right track! If anything, I would prefer to see more housing, and less parking, especially since amenities like a grocery store and retail are planned within walking distance. Let me explain by addressing some of your points:

Neighborhood character

I don’t see how the character of the buildings is “absurd.” You argue that the development is inappropriate in a neighborhood of one- and two-story homes. I would argue that there is no neighborhood where the UConn campus once stood. It is a void, a blank canvas. It takes nothing away from the surrounding single-family character to have a node of higher density nearby.

Moreover, the development’s sizing is in line with that in various other areas of the town, many of which I would argue are among its most successful: West Hartford Center, Elmwood Center, Bishop’s Corner. About a half mile east of the UConn site is the Residence at Steele Road, which has four-story buildings. Additionally, the developer has made a concerted effort to gradually transition from small structures to larger building massing. The largest proposed buildings are tucked in the middle of the site, insulated from the surrounding single-family houses by much smaller townhomes.

The “look” of the development is fine too. Do I think it’s gorgeous? No, it’s better than much of the brutalist architecture built in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, and we built plenty of that. Brutalism is even having a moment right now. Wouldn’t it be worse if the developer were trying to falsely imitate the style of homes immediately surrounding the site?


First and foremost, I do not think the 620 units proposed here would worsen traffic to any noticeable degree. The Residence at Steele Road added nearly 200 units, but the roads didn’t suddenly back up! The idea that we need to expand our roads or preserve the capacity that we have is misguided. We have plenty of road capacity left. And travel demand is not fixed; instead, some travel behavior is flexible, meaning certain travelers will opt to travel at off-peak times or use alternative modes like buses or biking, constituting a natural form of demand management.

If you are actually worried about the traffic or safety implications of the development, it doesn’t make sense to blame the number of proposed units. A new unit does not necessarily mean a new car on the road. I myself do not own a car, nor do many of my friends. I walk or bike around because this type of travel is possible where I live. We can discourage car travel in and around the development, either by making driving less appealing or by making other travel modes more appealing. Get rid of all that parking. Add bike lanes. Improve bus service. Ensure that walking feels safe and easy. Safety can be improved by narrowing lanes, enforcing speed limits, reducing turning radii, and introducing speed tables.

A final thought

Finally, I assume you are concerned about the climate and worried about the rising costs of living, especially housing. I am too. Unfortunately, it is often the most well-meaning individuals who also oppose the kinds of neighborhood planning that would have the greatest benefits for the climate and for housing affordability. It is mixed-use communities and more housing supply, not more suburban sprawl, that will help make a dent in both issues.


Josiah Blackwell-Lipkind

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  • I pretty much agree with all of this comment.
    There is demand for more housing in West Hartford that can not be met by adding more single family units.

  • Thank you so much. I agree wholeheartedly with what you have said, and your comments about the elasticity of traffic and parking demand are extremely important. The complaints about traffic and “character” are going to happen with pretty much any development, and I think they come from good intentions but sometimes end up being used as a cudgel to stop all growth (see California).

    Infill moderate density development is good for quality of life and good for the environment. There will be a new grocery store that is walkable for not only the new residents, but also for residents already in the surrounding neighborhoods who might otherwise need to drive to Bishop’s Corner or elsewhere. A certain degree of density helps create a sense of place and community, of spontaneous connections, a place to kids to hang out and safely develop their independence, and a place for active mobility. It will provide hugely needed assisted living housing for elderly people, who will be able to live in a community of all ages and abilities. That will likely be far better for their mental and physical health than being isolated in a dedicated facility with no access to the broader community. It will be a major destination along the Trout Brook Trail which will improve our town’s already extremely strong walkability and improving biking infrastructure. We will have a string of major destinations requiring NO car, from Oakwood Park to Blue Back/WeHa Center to Elmwood/New Park, connecting to mass transit to New Britain which is also booming and full of interesting destinations. Very few towns in this COUNTRY can boast such strong amenities. I think even an Amtrak stop linking Elmwood to the Northeast Corridor train service would be achievable.

    We need more housing in Connecticut. Many other towns are stopping all development and not doing their share to meet housing demand. This is really bad for society, as it further worsens the existing cost of living crisis, especially for younger people. Yes, even market priced housing improves housing affordability. Housing doesn’t need to be capital-A Affordable (i.e. income-tested) to help relieve demand in the housing market and stabilize prices.

    I’m glad they’ve reduced the amount of parking. I would like to see parking to be reduced to the minimum necessary, and the remaining parking should be market-priced and not heavily subsidized. That will further encourage walking/biking, and reduce traffic.

    I’d also love to see a playground or other play space for kids! That’s one thing sorely missing from West Hartford Center and Blue Back.

  • Sure, lets develope every inch of land in West Harford. This means more teachers, possibly schools, possibly police and fire. Taxes are through the roof and will surely increase. Here in the town with nothing but organized sports for children to do. We have no Y, no youth center but plenty of housing.

  • Thanks for this feedback! I agree – I think traffic could be improved by better road design and making walking, transit, and biking more accessible. I don’t see taxes going up when the land use is made more efficient and allows for more people.

  • Thank you for writing this detailed response letter. I think West Hartford is seeing soaring demand for housing right now, causing many working families and young folks be unable to reside in a vibrant town and community. We must make room for these folks to live in.

    I see some comments decry the potential rise in taxes new folks could bring by requiring greater services, yet I think folks are missing that currently this property is drain on West Hartford’s taxes. This a large property close to the center of town that brings in no assessment and costs money to have some maintenance. Surely it can be agreed to that the taxes that could brought in by this would be better than the negative and opportunity costs.

    Finally, I think this letter continues to bring up one of the elephants in the room for West Hartford, the need to reduce the towns car dependency. I hope future plans for both this development and all developments in the future consider the alternative means of transportation from the automobile. In fact, given that this development will have some new commercial development this will encourage more individuals to have a car lite living in West Hartford.

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