The delivery of a petition signed by 300 residents of the Elmwood area forced the West Hartford Town Council to table a vote on the application of the West Hartford Housing Authority for a zoning change to build a 47-unit apartment building on Newington Road.
Corporation Counsel Joseph O’Brien said it will take until Dec. 11 for the names on the petition against the project to be verified as representing 20 percent of residents living within a 500-foot radius of the property.
If it is verified, the Town Council would require a supermajority (two-thirds) to approve the application. If it does not meet this threshold, then only a simple majority of the Town Council is needed for approval. The Town Council next meets on Dec. 13.
On Tuesday night, a standing-room only crowd packed the Town Council chambers for a second public hearing on the development. This was a continuation of a public forum which began on Nov. 13 in which Elmwood residents strongly opposed the building of The Goodwin, a three-story building of 47 units on 1.59 acres at 189 and 203 Newington Road. Thirty-two of the units would be offered at market rates and 15 would be reduced rent, “work-force housing.”
Residents have complained about the size and density of the apartment building and said work-force housing could change the character of the neighborhood.
Tuesday night’s public forum, which lasted for more than two hours, was an opportunity for Town Council members to question the project developer, the West Hartford Housing Authority.
Atty. Daniel Kleinman of the law firm Levy & Droney, who represents the West Hartford Housing Authority in this matter, addressed more than 20 concerns residents have expressed about the project.
Kleinman cited studies that demonstrate traffic will not increase as a result of the new complex and property values will not decrease. Engineers and architects have worked on drainage issues so there will be no increase in runoff in drainage in the area, he said.
In response to those who feel work-force housing should be constructed elsewhere in town, Kleinman said it is rare in West Hartford to find land for such a complex. He noted there are 40 similar housing units elsewhere in West Hartford.
“Elmwood is not a dumping ground for affordable housing,” said Kleinman.
Originally, the proposed development of The Goodwin was for 32 units instead of 47 units. The initial project was approved by the Town Plan and Zoning Commission and the Design Review Advisory Committee.
The West Hartford Housing Authority subsequently acquired an additional lot for surface parking and decided to expand the number of work-force housing units to make the project financially feasible, said George Howell, executive director.
Howell added it is the mission of the Housing Authority to provide affordable housing for families who wish to reside in West Hartford but cannot afford single-family housing.
Kleinman added, “As a society, we are judged by what we do for the less fortunate. That’s the Housing Authority's mission, vision and success.”
Building Now Smaller in Scale
In response to residents’ complaints, The Goodwin project has been revised and redesigned multiple times to make the building more “scale-friendly” than originally approved, said Howell. “The building is now actually more compact and more people-friendly,” added Howell.
Town Council member Claire Kindall remarked she was concerned about the size of the building for the lot size. Kleinman reminded that 32 units were approved in 2004 by the Town Plan and Zoning Commission. Now, the building is smaller in scale than what was originally for the lot – the site of the former Carbone Power Equipment Company.
Council member Leon Davidoff, citing the contentious public forums and large turnouts by Elmwood residents, said he was concerned about a lack of neighborhood outreach about the plans.
Kleinman replied that the developers expanded the radius of neighborhood outreach from the required 300 feet to include those residing 500 feet from the property and gave notice about four scheduled meetings.
“We weren’t trying to hide this project,” noted Kleinman.
Davidoff noted for the record that the Housing Authority, which would manage the apartment building, would pay property taxes to the town of $70,000.
Kleinman suggested that as new businesses move into the Elmwood area, they will benefit from patronage by new residents.
Deputy Mayor Shari Cantor also said this apartment complex would allow young professionals who may be earning low wages to “live in an exciting area,” with great restaurants and public transportation.
Howell also said that residents who wish to downsize may find the “high quality units” of two and three-bedrooms an alternative to living in a condominium.
Following the public forum, the Town Council held its scheduled meeting. The Council unanimously voted to schedule a public forum on Jan. 8, 2013, regarding the application to rezone part of the space now occupied by Puppy Center in the Elmwood Plaza to Pepe’s Pizza. The change from retail to restaurant use only affects parking requirements.
The Council also unanimously voted for a zone change for a portion of the premises of 2 Caya Avenue from a residential multi-family zoning district to a general business zoning district.