The plans being submitted for the former Ashley Home Furniture Outlet/former Puritan Furniture property are the first to use West Hartford’s Transit-Oriented Development zone ordinance.
By Ronni Newton
The first project to be considered in the Transit-Oriented Development District zone the West Hartford Town Council established last June took a big step forward this week with the Design Review Advisory Committee (DRAC)’s review Thursday of plans for re-development of 1051-1061 New Britain Avenue – formerly the Ashley Home Furniture Outlet and for many years before that a Puritan Furniture store.
The project is being developed Ashley Homestores President Sami Abunasra – who purchased the 2.97-acre property that was formerly Puritan Furniture for $1.1 million in 2020. He converted Puritan to an Ashley HomeStore Outlet soon thereafter without doing any renovations to the property, with the goal of redeveloping it in the future. The store officially liquidated remaining inventory and closed last fall.
The existing buildings, constructed in the 1950s and 1960s, will be demolished and the new development will include 150 residential units and five retail spaces, two of which will be restaurants.
“Excited – that’s an understatement,” Abunasra told We-Ha.com on Friday. “I want this to go up yesterday.”
The plans – which will soon be finalized and officially submitted – call for a five-story 205,262-square foot building with 15 studio apartments, 84 one-bedroom units, 47 two-bedroom units, and four units with three bedrooms. The square footage of each unit ranges from an average size of 517 square feet for the studios to 1,319 for the three-bedroom units according to preliminary plans on the town’s website.
A total of 209 parking spaces are planned, 128 of which are below grade, and 69 of which are intended for retail use.
“DRAC liked what they saw. They had positive feedback,” West Hartford Town Planner Todd Dumais said Friday.
Thursday’s meeting with DRAC was still part of the informal process, and was the third study session. The first was in June 2022, and there was another study session held in October 2022.
Dumais said he anticipates receiving the official application to begin the process of staff review within the next 60 days.
“I’m personally excited and I think the town is generally excited that this is going to be the first project using the new TOD ordinance,” Dumais said. The project, which supports the goals of the town’s 2020-2030 Plan of Conservation and Development, will further the Town Council’s vision for expansion in the TOD zone, he said, which encompasses properties within a quarter-mile or less of the CTfastrak stations – as well as what local officials hope will ultimately also be a CTrail Hartford Line train station that is planned for across the tracks from the Flatbush Avenue CTfastrak station.
Dumais said the 1051-1061 New Britain Avenue plans for a mixed-use development close to a transit hub that’s a rehabilitation of an underutilized parcel appears to tick all of the boxes. “The ordinance is designed to be an administrative site plan approval,” he said, meaning it does not have to go through Town Plan and Zoning or Town Council approval, and if it meets all of the requirements of the ordinance it must be approved within 65 days.
The Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) zone addresses land use composition and is intended to allow denser development, including buildings that are one story higher than in any other zone (five stories, as long as the top floor is set back), as well reduced vehicle parking requirements. It also addresses streetscape design and urban form, and will require new construction to have street-facing entrances. The ordinance includes a variety of built-in incentives for developers to encourage affordable housing, fewer curb cuts, the creation of public space, and sustainability.
The New Britain Avenue proposal will utilize some of the available incentives, including rooftop solar arrays and the inclusion of affordable housing component.
Abunasra said Friday that 20% of the units will be “affordable,” and reserved for residents with incomes at 80% of the area median income (AMI). More specific details of the affordability plan are still being finalized, he said.
In January 2022, the town received a $953,646 Municipal Brownfield Grant from the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) Office of Brownfield Remediation and Development for the property at 1051-1061 New Britain Avenue. Abunasra said the remediation work will be undertaken as part of the overall development. He said he is still in the process of finalizing the remainder of his financing, and will enter the design phase as soon as the site application is approved.
According to Abunasra, construction documents will likely be completed for the work to begin in the next five months.
The retail space has not yet been leased. “We have a lot of interest, but it’s all word of mouth,” Abunasra said. He’s not planning to market it until the application has been approved, but said some existing restaurant owners in town have expressed excitement about the spaces – one of which will have a rooftop deck, and the other of which will have a covered patio.
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