Affordable housing will not be a required component of the unanimously-approved Arcadia Crossing project, but the West Hartford Town Council passed a resolution to review the issue and consider a change for future economic development.
By Ronni Newton
After approximately six hours of public hearings that followed extensive planning and outreach, the West Hartford Town Council Tuesday night unanimously approved the $100 million proposal for Arcadia Crossing, a 310-unit apartment complex planned for the 22-acre property at the corner of Park Road and Prospect Avenue that has been owned by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Chambery since 1898.
The project’s “west wing” will also include 36 bedroom units and other facilities for the Sisters of St. Joseph, who will continue to own that property and live there for as long as they like.
Prior to the Town Council vote, more than a dozen people spoke at a continuation of the public hearing that began Dec. 10, 2015.
Most speakers, many of them residents as well as members of the Park Road business community, were overwhelmingly in support of the project’s benefits and the vibrancy it will bring to the neighborhood.
“I cannot overstate how impactful we feel Arcadia Crossing would be on all of our businesses,” said Chuck Joseph, director of human resources for Joseph’s Family Market, owner of the ShopRite that is adjacent to the property.
Former Park Road Neighborhood Association President Angelo Faenza there hasn’t been much development in that part of town lately because there hasn’t been stability. “I think that this is the right time, the right place for that development and property. Park Road needs a shot in the arm,” Faenza said.
Effie’s Place Family Restaurant owner and current Park Road Neighborhood Association Co-President Johnny Paindiris agreed that it’s a great project that will benefit the area. “For years we’ve been saying what we can do to increase foot traffic in the neighborhood. This is the boost that we need.”
Several residents who addressed the Town Council at the first hearing had expressed a strong desire to see an affordable housing component included in the project, and several others spoke Tuesday night about the same topic.
Resident Carole Mulready, who is president of the League of Women Voters of Greater Hartford, said that the league is supportive of and encourages affordable housing. She said that while she realizes the project is complex, with 310 units “it makes sense to have number of units affordable” for seniors on fixed incomes as well as young professionals as who would have to earn roughly $24 per hour to be able to afford even a studio apartment in the complex at market rates.
Mulready also read the comments of resident Tracey Wilson, a retired West Hartford Public Schools teacher who also serves as town historian but was not able to be present for the public comment section of the public hearing. “Arcadia Crossing is a place where the West Hartford Town Council can lead … the easiest thing you can do is say it’s too late,” Wilson commented.
Sister Elizabeth Anderson, as a member of the leadership of the Sisters of St. Joseph, submitted a letter to Town Council members on Jan. 8, 2016, and also addressed the Council members at the hearing. She expressed support for the project on behalf of the Sisters and said that Center Development Corporation has already been sensitive to the issue of affordable housing by allowing them to remain living there.
Anderson said that when the Sisters realized that they needed to downsize for financial reasons, they issued an RFP “to solicit offers for the site that would also allow us to continue to reside on a portion of the property.” Although there were several proposals for developers, “We chose CDC because they were the only developer willing to provide housing for our sisters,” she said.
In the letter, Anderson said that the plan is to allow the Sisters to continue to reside in the west wing of property. “That wing will not be used for market rate housing, but will house 36 women who, with others, earned below market salaries during their working years while providing social services, serving as teachers and nurses, and operating soup kitchens, AIDS residences, and refugee support facilities within the Hartford community.”
“We are grateful to [Executive Vice President] John Scobie and CDC for a plan that provides housing for our sisters and enhances the beauty of the grounds,” said Anderson.
Resident Julie Krug, who as the president of the Junior League of Greater Hartford is involved with The Clothes Horse Thrift Shop on Park Road, said she highly supports the project as is. Regarding the Sisters of St. Joseph, she said, “Whatever they want is what they should have.” Anthony Sullo, a West Hartford resident and owner of Park Road business Joey’s Pizza Pie, echoed Krug’s comments.
Scobie told the Council that his company has a long history of providing affordable housing. “However our development experience has taught us that not every site is suited for affordable housing,” he said.
In this case of this project, numerous challenges greatly add to the cost of development. Those issues include creating underground parking rather than surface lots to preserve green space at a cost of $32,000 rather than $6,000 per parking space, special foundations required for the type of soil on the property, reducing the number of rentable units to retain the presence of the Sisters on the site, and preserving the the historical structures.
“Imposing an affordable component will make it unworkable for us,” Scobie said.
Since the issue of affordable housing was raised at the first public hearing, Corporation Counsel Joseph O’Brien had researched the issue of whether or not the Town Council could go back and make it a requirement.
According to O’Brien, it “would be problematic for the Council to impose affordable housing requirement for this project” because the Town has not already adopted affordable housing and zoning regulations.
Town Manager Ron Van Winkle said that West Hartford “is not a tony enclave of exclusive homeowners,” and already has more affordable housing than all but 20 communities in the state, and more affordable housing that is deed restricted than all but seven communities in Connecticut.
Mayor Scott Slifka said that while the issue needs attention from the Council, he was afraid that with all the focus on affordable housing, everyone was “burying the lead” and not paying enough attention to what the project means not only to the Park Road neighborhood but to the West Hartford and even to Hartford.
The Sisters of St. Joseph have been an integral part of the renaissance of Park Road and wanted to leave a legacy while also meeting their criteria, which included retaining their own space, preserving the historic building, preserving open space, and benefitting the neighborhood, said Slifka.
When this project was first proposed it was viewed with great excitement, Slifka said, and “what came forward was a $100 million project in an up-and-coming neighborhood.”
“This is a project that is transformative for the neighborhood,” he said, and also transformative for the City of Hartford just across Prospect Avenue. “It’s not subsidized and at the end of the day it has the Sisters staying,” said Slifka.
“This is one of those legacy sort of projects,” Slifka said, one that he was excited to vote to approve.
All of the Council members in turn echoed Slifka’s opinion.
“We didn’t talk enough about the merits of this project. Really it is a pivotal, pivotal project for Hartford and West Hartford,” Deputy Mayor Shari Cantor said.
“I think tonight is going to be a historic vote just based on the scope of the investment,” Leon Davidoff said. “It’s a vision about our future, it’s redevelopment, it’s opportunities. West Hartford is about our neighborhoods, and this project is in harmony with this neighborhood.”
Minority Leader Denise Hall said she is very thankful that the Sisters will be able to remain a part of the community. “I also want to point out that West Hartford is doing these things without any tax incentive whatsoever,” she said.
Chris Barnes said that Arcadia Crossing will be a “great addition to the neighborhood,” and appreciated the information that Van Winkle provided about level of affordable housing already in the community.
The lack of an affordable housing component for this project is not for any discriminatory reason, Barnes said. And after the three years Center Development Corporation has spent putting the project together, “You can’t run a race and then get to the finish line and then move the finish line at the last minute,” said Barnes.
The Arcadia Crossing proposal passed unanimously on a roll call vote, subject to several conditions that include requiring a 7 a.m. start time consistent with the Town’s noise ordinance, requesting that construction traffic use Prospect Avenue and minimally impact Park Road, addition of sidewalk pavers consistent with those already in place elsewhere along Park Road, and revised striping of traffic lanes at the Park Road and Prospect Avenue intersection.
In addition, although it will not impact Arcadia Crossing, the Council has committed to investigate the issue of affordable housing.
Members unanimously passed a resolution asking Van Winkle to provide a report by March 22, 2016, that will include an analysis of the current mix of housing as well as “additional ways that town planning and economic development can strategically include sustainable and affordable housing opportunities, especially home ownership.”
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