Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

August 29, 2022

Housing Boom: Backed by employer support, Farmington sees wave of multifamily development

HBJ PHOTO | STEVE LASCHEVER LuAnn Ballesteros, Jackson Laboratory’s vice president of external and government affairs, said many of her organization’s Farmington-based employees are looking for short-term rental lodging in town.
RENDERING | CONTRIBUTED The outdoor pool at UpHouse, a 225-unit apartment redevelopment at the former Hartford Marriott Farmington hotel, will feature a lounge area and cabanas.

With a plethora of stately homes and modest dwellings, both new and old, Farmington’s housing stock includes options for people at different stages of life, at various price points — as long as they’re willing to take out a mortgage.

The dearth of multifamily construction in this town where business is booming has made it difficult for people seeking to relocate without the means or inclination to buy property, developers say.

That’s about to change.

Until recently, the town hadn’t approved a multifamily development since 2013, which developers believe created pent-up demand. Now, there are at least six multifamily proposals underway.

“I think the main issue is that Farmington has been underserved,” said Jacob Reiner, chief operating officer of CSRE, a real estate acquisition and management company based in Lakewood, New Jersey. “There hasn’t really been any new construction. The supply really hasn’t kept up with the demand.”

CSRE is one of the first companies to take advantage of Farmington’s special innovation floating zone. Following an update to the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development in 2018, the Planning and Zoning Commission established the innovation zone to allow higher-density multifamily and retail/commercial development on the same parcel in the UConn Health neighborhood.

CSRE bought the former Hartford Marriott Farmington hotel last year and is converting it into 225 apartments. The first units in the high-end apartment complex, called UpHouse, are expected to open in October.

The 381-room hotel at 15 Farm Springs Road closed early in 2021. Each apartment will comprise about two hotel rooms.

The outdoor pool at UpHouse, a 225-unit apartment redevelopment at the former Hartford Marriott Farmington hotel, will feature a lounge area and cabanas.

The mixed-use development will include indoor and outdoor pools, yoga rooms, a fitness club along with other resort-style amenities. Non-residents will be able to purchase passes to the amenitized areas.

“There’s very strong demand for Class A-type housing in Farmington and in the Greater Hartford area as well,” Reiner said. “We’re looking to deliver a unicorn type of product that really doesn’t exist.”

Prime real estate along the Route 4 corridor, near UConn Health and Jackson Laboratory, was not available for mixed-use development until recent changes approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission, which eased residential zoning restrictions.

Zoning change

Farmington Economic Development Director Rose Ponte said the new zoning laws give developers more flexibility and promote the type of housing the town needs — while leaving legislative authority to the commission.

As of 2017, 30.4% of Farmington’s land uses consisted of single-family homes, compared to 4.1% multifamily, according to the Plan of Conservation and Development. Also, more than 72% of Farmington’s housing stock was composed of single-family homes on large lots.

“The lack of smaller, modern and high-quality rental units in Farmington will exacerbate the disproportionately high percentage of persons over 65 when compared to the rest of the state,” the 2018 conservation plan said.

The plan also noted that younger people were opting not to make the long-term commitment of homeownership, sometimes because they didn’t qualify for a mortgage due to poor credit, lacked the ability to make a downpayment or had too much student loan debt.

“(The) aging population coupled with a lack of attractive rental options will become a very significant issue in Farmington,” the conservation plan said. “This will transpire as younger residents move to more urban areas with more rental options.”

Desirable location

Even so, Farmington is a popular place for local employees to live. Ponte said the town is desirable for families and younger people starting their careers, with its relatively low taxes, top-notch schools and thriving economy.

“We have one of the lowest tax rates (29.32 mills) in all the towns that surround us,” Ponte said. “We’re known to be very fiscally responsible, but at the same time, delivering excellent town services. We have wonderful schools, we have safe communities, we’re steeped in history and preservation. We value our open space.”

Those might be some of the reasons Farmington — which has a population of a little more than 25,000 — averages about 32,000 employees who work in town.

“That, in itself, gives demand, because everybody, I think, would rather live closer to their job rather than further away,” Ponte said.

The largest employer, UConn Health, has 4,660 regular payroll employees, with 397 living in Farmington — the town with the second-most UConn Health employees after West Hartford, a spokesman said.

Meanwhile, Jackson Laboratory, a nonprofit biomedical research institution, employs more than 450 people at its Farmington office, most of whom also live in Farmington or West Hartford.

Employees are attracted to the area’s performing arts centers, museums, restaurants, parks and trails, according to LuAnn Ballesteros, Jackson Laboratory’s vice president of external and government affairs. Many are looking for short-term lodging.

“Currently, our most-pressing need in Connecticut is short-term, temporary housing to accommodate our postdoctoral associates, graduate students, visiting scientists, contract positions and other visitors to JAX,” Ballesteros said.

Jackson Laboratory has a globally competitive workforce and hires people from Connecticut, across the country and worldwide. Employees who relocate to the Farmington area are looking for proximity to the organization’s campus, along with “excellent schools, safe neighborhoods, and diverse, sustainable communities,” Ballesteros said.

As a whole, the town has more than 4 million square feet of office space, Ponte said. Along New Britain Avenue, there’s more than 2 million square feet of industrial space — with about zero vacancies, she noted. The manufacturers range from commercial laundry facilities to the German industrial machine manufacturer Trumpf to aerospace suppliers.

“We are very diversified, whether it’s manufacturing, whether it’s health care, we have financial advisers, we have bankers, we have all sorts of different industries,” Ponte said. “And then we also have very nice independent shop owners, and restaurant choices. So it’s really a nice mix.”

Multifamily projects

More developers are hoping to capitalize on Farmington’s development opportunities, and several multifamily projects are in the pipeline.

The town does not monetarily incentivize or abate any project, Ponte said. Instead, it focuses on keeping the tax rate low by adding to the grand list.

A rendering of the interior common area of UpHouse, a high-end apartment development.

In addition to CSRE’s plan to add 225 rental units, another developer has proposed 199 apartments and more than 54,000 square feet of commercial space in new and rehabilitated buildings at 1371 Farmington Ave.

Located at the midpoint between Unionville and Farmington center, it’s on a 25-acre parcel along the Farmington River. The developer, JRF Management LLC, is also proposing upgrades to the adjacent Farmington Heritage Canal Trail.

Sager Development is proposing 62 mixed-income units, with 80% designated as affordable housing, at 80 South Road. The principal of Sager Development, Geoffrey Sager, is also principal of Metro Realty Group, which has received town approvals to build 146 units on a property near UConn Health at 402 Farmington Ave. Rock blasting for the project has begun.

Meanwhile, Pond LLC has proposed nearly 200 new apartments adjacent to two office buildings near Batterson Park.

In the short term, rising interest rates and inflation have made the rental market even more attractive, Reiner said. The “price-per-pound” of renovating an existing hotel and converting it into apartments is less than new construction, he said, and the turnaround is faster.

UpHouse will target workers who are looking for “a lifestyle-type-of-environment, empty nesters looking for amenities they won’t typically have in another community and obviously millennials who are making amenities their priority,” Reiner explained.

Multifamily projects have not been without controversy. Some residents have complained that large, high-density buildings are incompatible with the town’s quaint and quiet character.

In 2021, residents of Tunxis Village voiced strong opposition to the development at 402 Farmington Ave., calling it “out of scale.”

But Ponte said these projects will help Farmington catch up with other towns like Simsbury and Hartford.

“We’re trying to create these 24-hour communities where young talent may want to relocate — and they can live, work and play all in one area,” she said.

Sign up for Enews


Order a PDF