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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:
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.