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January 18, 2024

West Hartford OKs wetlands permit for piece of former UConn campus

Contributed A rendering of Heritage Park, formerly Oakwood Park, that is proposed for the former UConn campus in West Hartford.

A West Hartford commission has unanimously approved the first piece of the complicated puzzle that is the proposed redevelopment of the former University of Connecticut campus on Asylum Avenue.

During a special meeting held Wednesday evening, the Town Plan & Zoning Commission/Inland Wetlands and Watercourse Agency voted 5-0 to approve the wetlands permit for the part of the project located at 1700 Asylum Ave. The site contains a large parking lot and ballfields that border property owned by the University of Saint Joseph.

Chairman Kevin Ahern made it clear during the meeting that the members were sitting strictly as the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency and deliberating and voting only on the wetlands application for the 1700 Asylum Ave. parcel. The planning and zoning application will be considered at a later date, he said.

Town Planner Todd Dumais said Thursday that wetlands permit applications for each parcel, at 1700 and 1800 Asylum Ave. originally had been submitted at the same time but by different applicants. The 1700 Asylum Ave. application was submitted by WEHA Development Group East LLC, while the 1800 Asylum Ave. application was submitted by WEHA Development Group LLC.

The wetlands application for the 1800 Asylum Ave. parcel, however, was withdrawn in mid-December, Dumais said. 

“As they went through the review process, 1800 lagged behind due to its inability to address the questions raised” by town officials and residents, he said.

Both Dumais and a representative of the developers said they expect the wetlands permit application for 1800 Asylum Ave. to be resubmitted soon.

The combined 58-acre property, which is located on the east and west sides of Trout Brook Drive, was acquired in January 2022 for $2.75 million by West Hartford 1 LLC. It is still not clear who the principals of that development group are, but they appointed Domenic Carpionato, a senior vice president of Rhode Island-based real estate development company Carpionato Group, to manage the project.

While the wetlands permit for 1700 Asylum Ave. was approved, the commission included 17 conditions that must be met, including two that were added during the meeting. Those conditions related to preserving at least some of the large oak trees proposed to be removed during construction.

Commission member Gordon Binkhorst noted during comments on the motion to approve the permit that he had asked the developers to provide details on the number and location of the trees expected to be removed, but had not yet received that information. Providing that information was added as a condition of approval.

In addition, member Joshua Kaplan initially stated he could not support approving the permit, citing concerns about the effect of removing several large oak trees near the wetlands on the 1700 Asylum Ave. property. He said removing the trees could adversely affect water retention and runoff, especially during heavy rainfall.

After town staff and other commission members stated that the developer had made changes to the proposal to address those issues, Kaplan proposed adding a condition about potentially preserving at least three of the trees to the permit approval and the commission agreed.

In a statement emailed to the Hartford Business Journal, Carpionato said the developers were pleased to receive the wetlands permit approval. 

“With each step in the permitting process, we have worked with the town to improve our plans and minimize [the] impact on the site wetlands, and we look forward to continuing through the permitting for both parcels on 1700 and 1800 Asylum Ave.”

A representative of West Hartford 1 also noted that the developer has chosen a new name for the overall project, which as proposed will have a mix of uses. The 1800 parcel is proposed to include residential housing, as well as an organic grocer, a “premier” restaurant, a spa, and an assisted living facility. The 1700 parcel is proposed to include four four- to five-story residential buildings, a garage and a maintenance garage. The ballfields will also be retained.

Originally branded as Oakwood Park, the developers have chosen to rebrand the development as Heritage Park. Information about the proposed development, including links to the revised site plan, can be found at heritageparkwh.com. 

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