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West Hartford TPZ Hearing on Wetlands Application for Former UConn Campus Delayed

Screenshot of renderings of Oakwood Park that appear on oakwoodparkwh.com website

The West Hartford Town Plan & Zoning Commission was scheduled to hold a hearing during a special meeting on Oct. 23 on the wetlands application submitted by the developers of Oakwood Park on the UConn campus, but that hearing will instead take place on Nov. 6, 2023.

By Ronni Newton

West Hartford’s Town Plan & Zoning Commission (TPZ) had set a special meeting for Oct. 23, 2023, with the intent of holding pubic hearing on the wetlands applications for 1700 and 1800 Asylum Avenue, but Town Planner Todd Dumais confirmed Thursday that the hearings will be delayed, and are now scheduled for TPZ’s regular meeting on Nov. 6, 2023, at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.

The special meeting on Oct. 23 has already been advertised, but according to Dumais the hearings on the applications for both parcels will be opened and immediately continued to Nov. 6. There will not be any opportunity for public testimony on Oct. 23.

“The delays in conducting the public hearings associated with these applications are related to the complexity, size, and scope of the proposals for both 1700 and 1800 Asylum Avenue,” Dumais told We-Ha.com.

Dumais said the development team from West Hartford 1 LLC, which is looking to build Oakwood Park on the former UConn campus, “has been working diligently to address staff technical comments in an effort to reduce the proposals’ impacts to wetland and watercourse resources.”

Town staff has been carefully engaged in review of submitted plans and the responses to staff comments, and has also hired SLR International Corporation as a professional consultant for technical review assistance due to the complexity of the project and the potential impact on the environment. Megan Raymond, MS, PWS, CFM of SLR has been working on the town’s behalf in review of the developer’s submissions.

The most recent application, including comments and requests for additional information made by town staff and Raymond, and information received in response from the developer, can all be found on the town’s website, and was up-to-date as of Oct. 18.

Dumais said additional information was expected to be received by Friday, and will be uploaded to the town’s website for public access and review. It is critical that enough time be available for thorough review, which necessitated the delay in the public hearing.

According to Dumais, all abutting property owners received notice – including via hand delivery – on Thursday, Oct. 19 of the plans to delay the hearing.

A significant portion of the roughly 58-acre parcel, which spans both sides of Trout Brook Drive just north of Asylum Avenue, is either wetlands or within the 150-foot upland review area where it would have direct wetlands and watercourses impact. TPZ, in addition to considering zoning applications, is also the town’s Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency (IWWA).

Example of the detailed plans that have been submitted for review by TPZ/IWWA. Town of West Hartford website

While the developer has submitted multiple iterations and renderings to West Hartford’s Design Review Advisory Commission (DRAC), the reviews have been informal study sessions. Only the wetlands applications have been officially submitted at this point.

The current plans call for a total of four buildings at 1700 Asylum (east portion of the property) and 14 buildings at 1800 Asylum, with overall an estimated 620 residential units. The plans contemplate four apartments buildings of four or five stories on the east side of the property and residential units in two mixed-use buildings above retail or restaurants on the west side, 34 townhomes, and a 158-unit assisted living facility that is proposed in lieu of a medical building that was on the first set of plans. The proposal also includes a premier restaurant (the developer is under discussion with a possible tenant), a destination spa, and an organic grocery store.

The developer has created a website for Oakwood Park that provides a description and renderings of their current plans.

On Sept. 26, the developer presented their plans to neighbors and any other interested parties at the University of Saint Joseph – during what ended up as a standing-room-only meeting where more than 30 speakers asked questions and shared their opinions of the project. Many passionately voiced their significant concerns about the plans.

A petition was launched on change.org on Sept. 19 in opposition to the development plans. An online petition does not have any official weight in the consideration of the proposal – which is still only in the official stage of a wetlands application – but it has garnered significant engagement and as of Oct. 20 there were 1,048 signatures on the petition.

Members of the community have also set up the Facebook page “West Hartford New Developments” where they are posting updates related to this project as well as other information related to development in town and environmental issues, and there are also lawn signs in opposition for the development being sold.

Discussions about the future of the former UConn campus have been underway for more than a decade, since UConn announced in 2012 that it would be eventually be relocating from the West Hartford campus. Below is a summary of that history, which We-Ha.com has been covering since the beginning. Included are links to many of the previous articles that have been written about the issue.

Property history

It’s closing in on two years since West Hartford 1 LLC finalized the purchase of the former UConn campus property, on an “as is” basis, from then-owner Ideanomics, for $2.75 million, on Dec. 29, 2021. With the exception of the Little League and Miracle League fields and playground on the southeast corner – which the developer has committed to preserving, along with the Champion White Oak tree – and roughly a year when St. Francis Hospital was given permission to use the roughly 1,100-space parking area for employee parkingon an emergency basis because of a structural failure of their Collins Street garage – the property has been largely unoccupied since UConn relocated to its brand new campus in Hartford in August 2017.

The developer will be paying for the cost of remediation of environmental hazards on the site – which include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and asbestos. One of the five buildings on the former campus was demolished by Ideanomics’ contractor in 2019 as part of the remediation process, and some additional clean-up has also taken place. Demolition of all of the remaining buildings is contemplated in the plan, along with any required environmental remediation before construction can begin.

In November 2015, UConn officially decided it would sell the property, and in 2017 opened the Hartford campus. After the town opted not to buy the property, it was purchased by Ideanomics for $5.2 million in 2018 for the purpose of creating the Fintech Village global technology center – plans for which were unveiled with great fanfare in July 2019.

For information and additional background about West Hartford’s previous history with the campus, click here.

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