November 15, 2017

West Hartford OK's rule to incentivize business zone growth

HBJ Photo | John Stearns
HBJ Photo | John Stearns
West Hartford Town Manager Matthew Hart

The West Hartford Town Council unanimously approved an incentive-based zoning ordinance Tuesday that permits higher-density developments in West Hartford Center, if projects include key components such as affordable housing or private parking garages.

The ordinance focuses on West Hartford Center, the municipality's central business zone, but does not include Blue Back Square, Community Development Director Mark McGovern said.

The ordinance allows developers applying through the town's Special Development District process to seek additional incentives that would enable them to achieve greater density while still complying with local zoning law, McGovern said.

Town Councilor Ben Wenograd, who chairs the council committee that recommended the zoning ordinance, said it gives developers direction as to the "types of things we value."

"I think we do need to have reasonable growth in the center and what this does is give us a chance to retain complete control over development but gives developers an opportunity to go bigger and revitalize parts of the center that aren't being utilized well currently, primarily surface parking lots," Wenograd said.

According to the regulations, developers can seek an increase in density if they are providing one of six amenities: affordable housing, historic preservation, infill development, public space, private parking garages or public art. How much additional density can be achieved varies with each approach, McGovern said.

The ordinance is meant to incentivize development in the central business zone that could lead to future grand list growth, according to Town Manager Matt Hart.

"We've had this challenge with some of our density requirements that prevented the redevelopment of a number of properties within the center," said McGovern. "We're hopeful this ordinance will create more opportunities for incremental growth within the center."

Council approval followed a public hearing in which six people had mixed reactions to the proposal, he said.

Meantime, West Hartford also approved a zoning-ordinance change that would allow food, alcohol and arcade-style entertainment under one roof, Wenograd said.

That could entice retail operators, such as Dave & Buster's, the Texas arcade-sports bar chain whose sole Connecticut store is in Mancheter's Shoppes At Buckland Hills mall.

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