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Wetlands Hearing to Continue Monday on Future of Former UConn West Hartford Campus

Rendering of Oakwood Park. Courtesy of West Hartford 1 LLC

West Hartford’s Town Plan & Zoning Commission, in its capacity as the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency, will resume the process of considering the wetlands application for proposed development of 1700 and 1800 Asylum Avenue, the site of the former UConn campus, on Monday, Dec. 11, 2023, beginning at 6 p.m.

By Ronni Newton

West Hartford’s Town Plan and Zoning Commission (TPZ) on Monday night will resume the wetlands hearing that began last week regarding plans by the development group West Hartford 1 LLC, through the entities WEHA Development Group LLC and WEHA Development Group East LLC, to create Oakwood Park on the site of the former UConn campus at 1700 and 1800 Asylum Avenue.

Town Council chambers were packed on Dec. 6 as the long-awaited hearing got underway, and with some attendees watching the proceedings from overflow space in the auditorium. The hearing lasted roughly four hours before being adjourned around 11 p.m. The Dec. 11 special TPZ meeting will start at 6 p.m. – an hour earlier – with the hope that it will be able to be completed.

TPZ Chair Kevin Ahern announced at the opening of the first hearing that it was going to take more than one session to complete the review because the application was so large and complex. In addition, a verified intervener petition by West Hartford residents Christine Feely, Jessica Rubin, and Gary Schulman was accepted last week, and that allows the intervenors to give their own presentation and also cross-examine the applicant’s witnesses.

Only a handful of community members spoke at the Dec. 6 hearing, which focused on the wetlands application for 1700 Asylum Avenue, but public comment will resume Monday night with many more expected to participate.

If the hearing not completed Monday, the hearing will likely be continued to Wednesday, Dec. 13. TPZ must close the hearing by Dec. 15 due to Connecticut statutory requirements related to wetlands applications and hearings, Town Planner Todd Dumais confirmed to We-Ha.com, or the entire process will need to start over again.

Since last week, there have been additional responses to staff comments by the developer, but some questions remain outstanding. The most recent documents can be found online through the agenda for the special TPZ meeting, and can be viewed directly through this link.

In addition, on Friday the development team for Oakwood Park sent a four-page mailer to abutters and property owners located within 500 feet of the 57-plus-acre property with some updates regarding the main topics raised last week.

Aerial rendering of Oakwood Park. Courtesy of West Hartford 1 LLC

That mailer, which has been provided to We-Ha.com, addresses some of the concerns raised during the hearing last week and provides some specific details regarding the number of trees planned for removal, replanting of trees, wetlands mitigation, and stormwater.

“The public review process for our proposed neighborhood village is underway before the Town’s Inland Wetland and Watercourses Agency. Through this ongoing public hearing process, we have had the opportunity to show how our plans to bring the abandoned former University of Connecticut campus back to life have evolved and improved over the past year,” the mailer states. “We appreciate the comments made by everyone at the first hearing and continue to make plan changes where we can. We are also heartened by the amazing level of support expressed by many West Hartford residents and business owners who spoke and wrote in favor of the project.”

The developer said they plan to spend more than $5.5 million on demolition of the remaining structures and remediation of environmental hazards on the site. They said even more will be invested to repair the landscape, which has been become overgrown during the past seven years since vacated by UConn. “Much of the campus land and wetland resources are unhealthy, and the eastern side, 1700 Asylum, is dominated by an empty, crumbling parking lot,” the developer stated.

The development team stated a tree survey indicates a total of 863 trees are currently located on the property. They noted that special attention will be given to maintaining the more-than-150-year-old Champion White Oak on the 1700 Asylum Avenue piece of the property.

According to the developer, at least 99 of the trees on the property are “dead or in poor condition,” and of those, they plan to remove 39 while leaving the remainder in their natural habitat.

To accommodate the development, a total of 357 trees will be removed according to the developer, but there will be a net gain as they plan to plant a total of 882 trees throughout the overall site. All trees will be “either native or naturalized to support wildlife and help the environment,” the developer said, and 540 of those will be planted “as part of the wetland, stream and buffer mitigation areas.”

The mailer states that the developer agrees “with those who long to see open, welcoming to the public, green spaces in the middle of this suburban neighborhood,” and they stated that their plan will “restore, enhance or create 435,150 square feet of high-functioning wetland resource areas – an astounding mitigation ratio of 116 to one.” That mitigation includes remediation of PCBs in wetlands and watercourses, creation of natural green spaces and buffers as well as walkways, and 10-years of monitoring.

The developer also stated that the stormwater collection and treatment system they have designed, which complies with state standards, “is a vast improvement over what exists today, a benefit for the community and the environment overall,” and in addition to treating the stormwater a number of direct drainage sources into Trout Brook and St. Joseph’s Brook are being removed.

“The system is designed to maintain the flood-holding capacity of 1700 and 1800 Asylum Ave. as it exists today, and to mitigate peak stormwater flows. Our hydraulic modeling shows it will not cause any increase in flood levels. We will also work with West Hartford on its project for culvert replacement in the neighborhood to help address historic flooding,” the mailer states.

Traffic reports are being completed and will be part of the next phase of the application process should the wetlands application receive approval, and planned roadway work must be cleared through the state’s Office of the State Traffic Administration, but the developer did address a recommendation by the town’s Design Review and Advisor Committee (DRAC) that they create a four-way intersection with Asylum Avenue, Fox Meadow Lane, and the main roadway through the 1800 Asylum Avenue property. The developer said they prefer staggering the roadways to allow for townhouses to soften the streetscape and shield the view of the assisted living facility, and also to prevent Fox Meadow from becoming a cut-through. Their rough draft of what a four-way intersection would look like can be viewed below.

Sketch of four-way intersection with Fox Meadow Lane. Courtesy of West Hartford 1 LLC

The overall proposed Oakwood Park development includes four residential buildings of four or five stories at 1700 Asylum Avenue, with a total of 322 units.

The proposal for 1800 Asylum, the western portion of the property, proposes 247 residential units, which includes 117 assisted living units, 24 townhomes, and 106 apartments in two mixed-use buildings above retail or restaurants. The plans also include a premier restaurant, a destination spa, and an organic grocery store.

Links to previous reporting by We-Ha.com on the former UConn campus property and its history can be found here.

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