West Hartford City Council’s ad hoc sub-committee on economic development received a draft of the community engagement report on Thursday.
By Ronni Newton
The City of West Hartford recently led a community engagement process focused on the former UConn campus, and a vision statement has now been drafted for city council to consider at an upcoming meeting.
This draft vision statement, which is part of the community engagement report prepared by the city’s Department of Community Development and consultant Milone & MacBroom, was reviewed Thursday evening by the city council’s ad hoc subcommittee on economic development.
The vision statement will serve as a guideline – and represent what residents think is important in the redevelopment of the 58-acre campus – while city council serves as West Hartford’s land use authority with responsibility for everything. zoning change that may ultimately be necessary.
The city does not own the property, but the reason for developing a vision statement is to help UConn market the property to potential developers who will then have an understanding of what types of projects the city would be. more likely to approve.
âWe have set a strategy and we believe we have executed it in accordance with the wishes of the board,â Community Services Director Mark McGovern told the ad hoc subcommittee Thursday evening.
protecting environmentally sensitive areas. The playground, sports facilities and support parking in the south-eastern part of the site are an integral part of the city and should be preserved for community use. Innovative ways such as creating public-private partnerships to maximize areas for community use on campus, such as an extension of the Trout Brook Trail, are strongly encouraged.The draft vision statement reads: âFuture development or redevelopment of the UConn West Hartford campus should strike a balance between growing the big list, protecting natural resources and preserving areas for use. community. The campus should retain its open appearance and unique blend of green spaces, woodlands, wetlands and developed areas. Future development must be of high quality, attractive, and at a scale and intensity that is contextually sensitive to the surrounding neighborhood. Through creative and thoughtful site design, future development should be set back from surrounding residential areas and should preserve the open look and feel of the campus while
While developing the vision statement, city planner Todd Dumais told the ad hoc subcommittee that the city and the consultant were trying to capture what the community highlighted as important during the engagement process. , namely “the growth of the big list, the preservation of natural resources” and the maintenance of some of the property for community use. The vision statement was deepened, Dumais said, to emphasize the importance of neighborhood-appropriate architecture, preserving setbacks, keeping spaces open and being responsive to the residential neighborhood around campus.
Over 2,700 people responded to an online survey in January and February, while just over 250 participated in community engagement forums. The results of the online survey and the comments during the forums were consistent.
The general consensus, said Dumais, is that the campus offers an opportunity to expand the city’s tax base. However, the most popular choices when developing are “uses that do not increase the tax base – which is not unusual,” Dumais said. There is always a need for balance, as with the city’s conservation and development plan.
There was no clear mandate for a specific desired development on the plot, and the vision statement was created based on a series of guiding principles that were developed as a result of the engagement process. âObviously, we haven’t heard of any preferred use,â Dumais said Thursday.
There were a few general themes, however, and recreational, cultural and educational establishments received the highest level of support in the online survey. The potential uses that garnered the least support were multi-family residential development and medical or other office use, Dumais said.
A hotel was the least favorable choice for development, and the majority of respondents indicated a preference to develop the east and west sides of the plot separately.
Preserving existing sports facilities, the Little League field, and the accessible Miracle League of Connecticut field, was cited as something very important to the majority of those who participated in the process, Dumais said, and a An important consideration could ultimately involve innovative ways of maximizing a public-private partnership for community use.
Dumais said he didn’t think there would be any surprises about the main concerns surrounding development – traffic, open spaces and the impact of development intensity on those who live in the region. Concerns about the fiscal impact were also taken into account.
The most popular votes were for a dog park (185 votes) and the children’s museum (66 votes).
The guiding principles used by the Department of Community Development and Milone & MacBroom to develop the vision statement included that the campus âpresents an opportunity for some big list growth in a contextual mannerâ; a mixed use approach of development or redevelopment should be used to improve the fiscal welfare of the city; the intensity of development should not interfere with the existing open appearance of the campus, and green buffer zones and âmeaningful areas of functional open spaceâ for the public should be maintained; uses strongly supported by the community – cultural, educational and recreational – should be seen as opportunities; environmentally sensitive areas should be protected; and âstrong community engagement must continueâ as land use decisions are taken into account.
City manager Matt Hart said UConn had the property in the market and could sell it at any time. The vision statement, however, “will inform any potential buyer of the community’s interest” and “serve as a resource for city council when and if you consider future land use”.
UConn is in talks with a couple of interested parties, Hart said. While there is not yet a signed buy and sell contract for the property, he said it was possible that terms between UConn and a buyer would be agreed in April.
If UConn cannot find a buyer, the vision statement and guiding principles could also be used to formulate the city’s request to seek a partner to perhaps form a public-private partnership to develop the property.
More than 90 percent of those involved in the engagement process were residents of West Hartford, and the majority have lived in the city for more than 10 years. About two-thirds were between 35 and 65, which is a good representation of the city’s population, Dumais said. Almost half live within a mile of the UConn campus.
Annexes to the Community Engagement Report and Draft Vision Statement are attached below in PDF format. The report itself is still being finalized and will be posted on the site. project page of the city’s website Monday. Documents still need to be added, including a petition from the Children’s Museum with more than 600 signatures supporting moving the facility to the UConn plot, and a summary of community feedback.
The chairman of the ad hoc subcommittee, Dallas Dodge, asked McGovern what he thought West Hartford was missing, and McGovern replied that what the city really needs is commercial office space, which residents did not see the property as a favorable use. Small retail is also something the city could use, McGovern said, as are large condominium complexes which can be difficult to finance.
âWhat we don’t have are a lot of cultural facilities or places,â said Dumais. However, Hartford does. West Hartford needs a dog park, said Dumais, “but we really have a lot of everything.”
Subcommittee member Ben Wenograd noted that the sports community is pushing for an indoor sports facility, like a “bubble”. McGovern said a developer should think about how it could be profitable.
âI don’t think a potential buyer needs to feel locked into one of the best performing uses,â Hart said. What is most important is to adhere to the guiding principles.
“It’s a suggestion, really,” Minority Leader Chris Barnes said. He was concerned it might be used to fend off a potential buyer, but McGovern said it was more of a proactive tool to manage expectations, as well as existing zoning codes and restrictions on wetlands.
Barnes also asked if there was a risk of contaminants spreading to the site if the property was left idle for a long time. McGovern said he understands the problems won’t spread, but it is important to keep people away from the site.
The vision statement is a âpretty solid and current snapshot of what the community thinks is important,â said Dumais, and because the economy doesn’t work for single-family residential development, for which the property is zoned, the Council will likely need to approve a special development area for the plot once a developer is found.
City council will consider the vision statement at an upcoming meeting, Dodge said.
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