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Letter: West Hartford Not at Risk of Over-Development

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To the Editor,

I saw Katy Klarnet’s letter to the editor about “over-development.” (We-Ha.com, Sept. 19, 2022) I’d like to write a rebuttal.

I don’t see any risk of us being “over-developed” at this time. I’m strongly in favor of thoughtful development, as much as the market will bear.  In fact I think it’s crucial for our town’s future.First of all, desirable places that have overly restricted development have seen home prices spiral out of control. I lived for many years in the Dartmouth area. Hanover, NH is bucolic but home prices there have spiraled so out of control that even doctors and professors can’t afford to live there anymore, because it’s a desirable area with little to no new construction. Or for a more extreme example, look at what has happened in Silicon Valley.

As a homeowner in West Hartford, house-hoarding might be favorable for my wealth but it wrecks the very character and vibrancy of a place that anti-development folks often are trying to preserve. If home building is stopped, home prices will climb out of reach for many. Our children will grow up and leave. We will stagnate and age.

There is also strong data that rising home prices increases homelessness which seems self explanatory.

We also need more residents to grow the tax base, especially if those residents live in higher density settings which require much less infrastructure such as roads (such as the Center or Elmwood). More residents would also simply make the town more vibrant. They bring children, ideas, jobs, and demand for businesses. More people would help us fill in dead spots in town.

I’d argue vigorously that our town is not over-developed. We have a lot of areas that are not well utilized. I think it’s a fantastic idea to develop the mostly dead zone between KO and the Shell station. How can anyone argue that area is “over-developed”?  It’s practically an empty lot.

Katy’s argument that we’ll become a “traffic-snarled over-built metropolis” needs a response. It’s become entirely clear that our 20th century car-dependent way of life is NOT sustainable for ourselves or the environment. And I am a total car nut! You can ask my wife! I think cars are great, but car DEPENDENCY makes us less healthy, lonelier, poorer, and kills tens of thousands of Americans every year. Pedestrian and driver fatalities are at record highs, and I think we can all see that risk in how some drivers behave around town, as well as the tragic death we had earlier this summer. I think anyone who wants to drive should and will always have that right. However, we need to build a beautiful place where those who wish to walk and bike to run errands or go to work can do so safely and in a pleasant environment.

I think if we add population thoughtfully and close to services, we can increase the vibrancy of our town without worsening traffic. By putting housing close to the Center, most sane people would be walking into town to go to Whole Foods, the library, town hall, Ace Hardware, restaurants, etc. They likely would not be contributing significant traffic congestion to the center of town, and if the apartment parking is priced fairly (i.e. not subsidized or free), some of these new residents may even decide to live car-light or car-free lifestyles.

Some of the worst traffic-choked areas do NOT have a lot of population. Try driving to Costco on a weekend. It’s a nightmare. That area is traffic-choked because it’s entirely designed for the car in a 20th century style of development, not because it has a dense population.

I don’t expect we’d ever reach NYC or even NYC suburb levels of density. But we will also never be a rural town in Vermont. Building sustainable housing for humans with walkability, bikability, and transit is the only way we can reclaim our lives back from the car, reconnect with each other, and save our planet. We need a sensible degree of density.

Electric cars are just another way to consume the planet’s resources and run each other over in a shiny expensive wrapper. Smart growth and development is how we adapt for the 21st century. If you develop a city with the needs of humans in mind, you get a more lively, lovely, human environment. If you build an environment with the needs of cars in mind, you get traffic, road-rage, crashes, and deaths.

In my mind, adding more people living in or near West Hartford Center is a wonderful idea and we should try to add more housing (as well as shops, parks, etc) and fill in underutilized space. As a side note, we should also continue to develop Elmwood/New Park to make that area less of a strip mall wasteland and more of a desirable place to live, especially with its link to CTfastrak. I’m all for smart sustainable growth in West Hartford.

Sijie Jason Wang, M.D.
West Hartford

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