Business Government Letters to the Editor Reader Contributed

Letter: West Hartford Center Business Association Opposes Large-Scale Infrastructure Changes

Looking east on Farmington Avenue from the intersection with LaSalle Road in West Hartford Center. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

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To the Editor:

In November of 2023 the town presented an infrastructure plan that was a full-scale renovation of West Hartford Center. The building and business owners in the Center were opposed to this massive construction project. We supported a simpler plan including renovating the sidewalks, replacing trees, and upgrading lighting.

The West Hartford Center Business Association wrote to the Town Council in December of 2023. The letter was signed by 61 business owners & property owners. The town then hosted public meetings, heard input, and conducted surveys.

On April 8, 2024, the town presented a revised Infrastructure Plan. This was a compromise between the large-scale project the town originally presented in November and what the local business and building owners wanted. The West Hartford Center Business Association did not see this as the best solution for business owners, but it was considered a compromise among the competing needs of commerce, infrastructure, and the community.

We have recently found out the Town Council does not support this hybrid plan. They want to revert to a plan like the original one (known as Plan A). This plan will have a very long construction timeline and result in much narrower roads with greatly reduced on-street parking for our clients.

The West Hartford Center Business Association opposes this large scope construction project for various reasons:

  • The Center is a regional success in its current form. Making large changes to it is unnecessary and irresponsible.
  • Lengthy construction periods will kill businesses, especially local ones. The Center is special because it has so many local businesses. Our local economy just survived COVID, but only because federal funds were available to cushion the blow. The Center does not need an even worse disruption. We depend on daily foot and car traffic to stay in business, pay our employees, rent, and taxes.
  • Angled parking is easier for more people to use than parallel parking. Angled parking is safer and brings more customers.  Changing all parking to parallel will greatly reduce the number of on-street parking spots. Many people do not know how to parallel park. You do not need to have this skill to obtain a CT driver’s license.
  • The Center is a regional treasure because people come here from long distances. They correctly believe that they can obtain convenient parking. Making parking and automobile usage inconvenient will shrink the Center’s customer base.
  • Narrowing travel lanes will cause DoorDash and restaurant delivery trucks who currently double park on Farmington and LaSalle to entirely block vehicular traffic through the Center as cars will have no room to get around them.
  • Shrinking travel lanes will threaten public safety by making it more difficult for fire and other emergency services to reach mid-block locations during busy traffic periods.
  • Older people and people with mobility challenges enjoy the Center in its current form because there is ample on-street parking. Eliminating parking will keep these people out of the Center and unfairly privilege those who are better able to walk or ride a bike. This is discriminatory and wrong.
  • Convenient parking allows people to buy large or heavy things. Eliminating parking will shrink the Center’s retail economy to things that can be carried by hand or on a bike.
  • It is not appropriate for the town to threaten the health of the Center by making a point about whether people should use cars. The plan to punish cars in West Hartford goes far beyond public opinion in Connecticut, as shown by the rejection of the electric car measure in the General Assembly.

The Center is thriving currently. People drive here from all over the region to dine and shop with us. The West Hartford Center Business Association supports a plan that targets repaired sidewalks, new lighting, and new trees. West Hartford Center does not need a large construction project that will surely hurt our businesses in the short term and likely in the long term as well.

As business owners, we encourage the tax paying community to contact the West Hartford Town Council via Town Clerk ([email protected]) to share their concerns about the decision-making process. Please also let the Town Council know if you more frequently drive to the Center or ride your bike there. We believe you drive, and we believe your needs should be met.

Thank you for your time,
Kimberly Moster
President of the West Hartford Center Business Association

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  • Waaaaaaait a sec, are you saying that construction disruption (which everyone agrees needs to be minimized and well-managed) will create a greater impact on West Hartford Center than COVID-19, when 1 in 300 people in this country DIED? I was a hospitalist throughout the pandemic. I watched people die of respiratory failure and of blood clots on a near-daily basis. I literally had a giant stack of death certificates. I had people hooked up to high flow oxygen or BiPAP for weeks, even months, before eventually being hauled off to nursing homes and probably were disabled for life if they survived. Please don’t compare renovating West Hartford Center to COVID.

  • This letter is an invitation to participate in a useless and unproductive culture war pitting people who drive against people who ride bicycles. My family do both, so I’m going to say no thank you to choosing up sides here. We need a safe, welcoming Town Center for everyone. Better tree wells and wider sidewalks support restaurants by making successful Covid-era outdoor dining permanent. Parallel parking gives us 10 more feet of additional space in our Town’s most productive and valuable public area. If driving to a business and parking in front of it was the best business model for retail, the author has tons of suburban strip malls next to dangerous multi-lane roads to choose from in Connecticut. Walkable, people-centered Town Center design that welcomes people on foot, drivers, bus riders and bicyclists to arrive safely and patronize many places are the most valuable spots to do business. We can make West Hartford Town Center even better by making better use of existing excess parking capacity and adding more space for people – no matter
    how they choose to get there. Thank you to Town Council members who understand this and are willing to lead with good ideas, instead of retreat to this author’s drumbeat of unfounded fears.

  • It’s discriminatory to create a public space that requires access to a car to get to safely. I’m not at all against car ownership but I am all for transportation equity. This article reads as though Option A is removing all on-street parking. Option A in itself was a compromise. LaSalle and Farmington would remain open to two-way traffic and a majority of on-street parking would remain.

    I think there are two issues business owners are conflating – the disruption from the construction and the removal of a small number of on-street parking spaces. I agree it’s important to plan the project so disruption is minimized. The parking space argument, however, I can’t take seriously. There are over 5,000 parking spaces around West Hartford Center. Parking in the Brace Rd surface lot gives direct access to the businesses on the north side of Farmington. The surface lot behind businesses on LaSalle and Farmington give direct access to the businesses on the south side of Farmington Ave. The Town Center Parking Garage (historically very underutilized), now more accessible via the Memorial Rd Connector is also a very close option. For businesses on the west side of LaSalle, the surface lot south of Arapahoe Drive is also close. And, in addition to all these lots, a majority of the on-street parking would be maintained under the Option A discussed in this article.

    I urge the Town to make a plan that minimizes disruption, yes, but also can be forward-looking and more equitable to all forms of transportation.

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