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Thursday, November 8, 2012

WALLINGFORD - Officials plan to resume discussions about Incentive Housing Zone

As published in the Record Journal Sunday November 4, 2012

By Laurie Rich Salerno
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2235

WALLINGFORD - Though a November meeting on the topic was canceled, the Town Council and the Planning and Zoning Commission still plan to revisit the creation of an Incentive Housing Zone that could spur redevelopment in downtown Wallingford.

The Council announced at its Oct. 23 meeting that it had set a workshop with the Commission for Nov. 20, but it was canceled due to conflicts. The two groups are still working on a date, anticipating a meeting either late this year or just after the holidays.

Some town councilors are interested in discussing a plan, with some saying they were frustrated that the meeting was taking so long to put together.

Councilor John Sullivan, a Democrat, said he would like to discuss the plan quickly.

“I want what’s best for the town — that area right now probably needs a facelift,” Sullivan said. “I think we have a great opportunity here with the transportation systems already in place and with high speed rail coming in as well.”

Proposals for the Incentive Housing Zone have been around since early 2008, when former Town Planner Linda Bush presented the idea of creating an overlay zone for a 23.3-acre swath of downtown Wallingford that would allow the development of mixed-use commercial and high-density residential properties. Plans called for the zone to include Quinnipiac Street, North Cherry Street, Hall Avenue, Meadow Street, North Colony and Center streets.

The zone would fall under an Office of Policy and Management program called Home Connecticut, which was approved in 2007 by the state legislature and would require the area to be 20 percent comprised of affordable housing. The state would pay $2,000 for each potential housing unit — 361 in Wallingford — and then another $2,000 for each unit that eventually is constructed.

Though the plans were initially approved by the Town Council in 2009 and submitted to OPM four times between April 2009 and July 2010, according to Acting Town Planner Kacie Costello, OPM did not have funding available for the program until the fall of 2010 — after a new council had been elected. That new council needed to reapprove the plan for it to be submitted, but instead deadlocked 4-4, and the Planning and Zoning Commission took the plan back for revision.

Though it has taken two years, Costello and commission members say the plan has never been off the table, and that they’ve been working on the project.

James Fitzsimmons, a Planning and Zoning commissioner, is a proponent of the plan — anything that brings affordable housing to downtown,he said. Fitzsimmons said he thought the zone could have the same effect as the Yalesville Limited Business District, which the town created through zoning about 20 years ago.

“I would compare it to what happened in Yalesville … it allowed more residential development, higher density. In the Yalesville area, you’ve seen an explosion over the years of condominiums and development,” Fitzsimmons said.

Some town councilors were more tentative in their interest in the plan.

“I like the concept,” said Councilor Vincent Cervoni, a Republican, but he added that he didn’t think the amount of money offered to the town would make a vast difference. He’d also like to see the town have more control over what is put there. Rather than a zone in which people can build by just complying with set-down regulations, he’d like builders to come to the town with projects and ask for permits.

“I’d like to see an overlay by special exception — because I think we should retain a little bit of control down there,” Cervoni said. “I’d hate to see it go the wrong way.”

Costello said the plans they’ll be presenting include changes from the original in an effort to address some of the concerns that have been voiced, such as Cervoni’s interest in having town approval over projects.

Though the requirements of the Home Program say there cannot be such a permitting process, Costello said the staff has spent time closely examining regulations so that they can put regulations in place “in a way that pre-addresses those issues.” Plans now also reflect a change in the accepted height of buildings — from four stories to three. Costello said the department was looking at the North Main Street and Center Street intersection, where “there are a number of three or even four-story buildings. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish.”

She said that although the town has approved a different site for its new train station to be built — on Parker Street, north of the current site between Quinnipiac and Hall Avenues — the planned zone at this juncture will not move.

File photos courtesy of the Record-Journal

The lot at 63 N. Cherry St., top, and the site of the old T-Bonz Bar & Grill at 28 Quinnipiac St., bottom, are properties being eyed in a proposed Incentive Housing Zone to aid the development of downtown Wallingford. Both photographs were taken on Jan. 29, 2008.

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