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NIMBYism on display in Newington

BY Greg Bordonaro

9/3/2018
Greg Bordonaro Editor
"No."

It's a common refrain you hear from town or city residents whenever a new development is proposed.

Whether it's fear of change or concerns about environmental, social, tax or other impacts, Connecticut is well-known for its "Not in my backyard," or NIMBY attitude, which is a major turn off to developers and businesses.

The mindset adds to the state's anti-business climate and must change if Connecticut is going to grow its way out of its economic malaise.

While not all developments are right for a particular community, Connecticut must be more willing to work with developers or businesses looking to invest capital.

The most recent high-profile NIMBY example is in Newington, where Massachusett-based developer Dakota Partners Inc. is eyeing a multimillion dollar affordable housing development on a long-vacant lot on Cedar Street.

The plan, which includes erecting three buildings that will house 108 units with rents ranging from $410 to $1,046 for one bedroom and $486 to $1,240 for two-bedroom units, has been aired at several well-attended town meetings where residents, according to a town official and media reports, have overwhelmingly opposed the project.

Concerns about traffic, tax impact, and the addition of affordable rental units in town were all voiced, painting the development in a negative light before developers could even think about putting a shovel near the ground.

First, let me say there are legitimate concerns the developer must address with this project, but the initial overwhelming negative reaction was overblown.

The site Dakota Partners wants to redevelop has been vacant for nearly two decades and is contaminated with petroleum left by former occupant Crest Motors. The opportunity to clean up the site and put a private property on the tax rolls should be something town residents are willing to work with.

Craig Minor, Newington's town planner, said the town has been trying to redevelop the property at 550 Cedar St. for years and has considered everything from an indoor training soccer facility to an elderly housing project, but nothing has panned out.

Personally, he thinks retail or office space would be a better use of the land, but he won't dismiss Dakota Partners' affordable housing project.

Several concerns, however, must be addressed, he said. The site must be remediated before construction could begin and pedestrian access between the development site and the CTfastrak Cedar Street station, which sits nearby, should be improved so residents can safely walk to the bus line.

Minor said the apartment project will add to traffic on Cedar Street, which admittedly is already log-jammed during rush hour, but not enough to call the project completely out of bounds. (Dakota Partners did submit a traffic study with its proposal that said the project would add 60 or so cars during peak traffic hours.)

"That is some additional traffic," Minor said. "Will it make it slightly worse, yes."

Overall, however, Minor takes a reasonable approach to the project, not dismissing it out of hand but wanting to ensure basic public safety concerns are addressed before he throws his weight behind it.

It's the type of common-sense approach more residents ought to take when dealing with new developments. Few Connecticut towns or cities are in a position to thumb their noses at economic development opportunities.

There's an added reason Newington may have to approve the project. Only about 8 percent of its housing stock is considered affordable, less than the 10 percent mandated by state law. That will make it harder for the town's planning and zoning commission to reject the project, which aims to provide shelter for lower-income residents including EMTs and young teachers.

Dakota Partners, which has successfully developed an office-to-apartment project in Hartford and has several other Connecticut projects in the pipeline, deserves a chance to address local concerns. If it does, its project ought to get a fair shake.