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August 22, 2019

Blue Back Square-style development coming to Newington? Maybe

Rendering This is a preliminary look at what a section of a Newington village might look like.


The Newington Planning and Zoning Commission has approved regulations  to allow for a Blue Back Square-type development near the site of a proposed train station on Cedar Street.

The commission Aug. 14 approved a zoning code for a Transit Village Design District that covers approximately 64 acres near the proposed train station at 565 Cedar St. The 70-plus page code would allow for a mixed-use development, including retail, offices, civic uses and apartments.

Any future developer would need to control development rights for one of two, or both, village district sites south and north of Cedar Street, which contain 44 acres and 20 acres, respectively.

The south and north zones would differ in character, with the south zone being primarily residential and the north zone, which would be adjacent to the rail station, being higher density to accommodate retail, offices, civic uses and apartments.

The code aims to create a walkable, bikeable, livable, community, so big box stores and larger office buildings wouldn’t be allowed, the plan said. 

Newington Economic Development Director Andrew Brecher said any future development would be similar to Blue Back Square but much larger with more of a village feel.

“The regulations make it possible to build a transformative development creating new neighborhoods and while being totally distinct and still be compatible with what we all know and love about Newington,” Brecher told P&Z officials during a July 10 meeting. “It offers developers great flexibility and design, but in exchange for a massive amount of regulation. I believe that trade-off will be no problem because there is a lot of money to be made. I project that over the next 20 years you could achieve full build out of all of the 64 acres, and the value of that would approach half-a-billion-dollars.”

One of the challenges of any future project is that the developer would also have to gain full control of the land in either development zone, which would require, in some cases, buying out existing businesses there, or convincing those businesses to join the development, Belcher said. 

However, he noted there are only a handful of companies that would be impacted, including Sousa Corp. and Beacon Industries, which are currently located on Cedar St. 

A developer would also have to demolish everything on-site.

Actual development of the area, however, would be years away as funding for new Hartford Line train stations in Newington and other towns remains uncertain. 

Currently, the Hartford Line, which debuted last year connecting passengers from New Haven to Springfield, has nine stations but four more are still planned in Newington, North Haven, West Hartford and Enfield. 

The issue is funding.  It would cost about $55 million to build a Newington station, Brecher said.

Department of Transportation spokesman Kevin Nursick said DOT is programming $42 million in fiscal year 2023 for the construction of a new Hartford Line station in Newington.  However, the availability of those funds, along with funding for other planned enhancements to the Hartford Line, is dependent on the details and approval of a transportation bond package, which has not yet been finalized. 

In addition to the rail station, DOT also needs to make additional improvements to the line including double tracking the line. 
The Newington project would also depend on some federal funding, Brecher said.

The last passenger rail station in Newington closed in 1959.

TOD dreams

Establishing the new village district regulations is a key step for Newington to be eligible for future train station funding, if it does eventually become available.

Towns are interested in having their own station to leverage transit-oriented development.

Among the towns that have benefited from the presence of a train station is Berlin. A development team there is proposing to  redevelop a four-acre parcel near the Berlin train station fronting Farmington Avenue into an $18 million mixed-use village, with 76 apartments and 19,000 square feet of medical office and commercial space.

Investments in new mixed-use developments around existing or proposed Hartford Line rail stations totaled approximately $430 million as of April, according to the state Department of Transportation.





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August 25, 2019

Could trains begin stopping in Newington without a complete station? Just platforms and some bus shelters would suffice. Would be great to be able to board there!

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