Planners talk housing concepts at public Town Hall workshop
By Tom Phelan - Staff Writer
East Windsor - posted Fri., Jan. 28, 2011
EAST WINDSOR - What was described as “a good turnout” of interested residents and property owners assembled in Town Hall on Jan. 26 to hear about Incentive Housing Zones from the Planning and Zoning Commission and its consultants, and to offer feedback on the concepts they saw.
Last October, East Windsor voters finally approved the extension of sewer lines along North Road, and the project is planned for implementation in 2011. That upgrade to the town’s infrastructure raises the potential for new zoning that would enable development of property along the 1.7-mile stretch. At the same time, East Windsor is considering what zoning changes in other areas of the town might bring some prosperity to the tax base.
Up for presentation and discussion at the PZC workshop was a study of the feasibility for implementing an Incentive Housing Zone (IHZ) under the Connecticut Housing for Economic Growth program. The study was funded by a grant from the Connecticut Office of Policy and Management to the Town of East Windsor. The intent of the program was to promote affordable and market-rate housing in certain locations.
Rebecca Auger and Michael Looney, senior planners from the engineering consulting firm Milone and MacBroom, were involved in the study, and brought with them maps and conceptual drawings designed to stimulate ideas among the PZC audience.
Auger explained that the program has become a victim of the state’s budget problems, and further funding was very unlikely. While some towns were able to take almost full advantage of it, the program has most likely gone with the outgoing administration.
According to Town Planner Laurie Whitten, initially the grant was distributed with $50,000 to towns for a study. That was reduced to $20,000. Last fiscal year, then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell put a hold on all the funds, and shut off the opportunity to apply. Some towns were already granted their money, but East Windsor was not one of them. Last September was the last opportunity for those towns that were ready to adopt IHZ regulations and collect their incentive money. East Windsor had only just started to work on the study phase.
Although the ability to get state incentives seems to have evaporated with the current budget woes, East Windsor planners think using the mixed-use – residential and commercial – housing zones that were the keys to the incentive program are still good concepts to follow, so the presentation and the meeting went on as planned.
“Even if we don’t meet the [program] standards,” said Whitten, “we can utilize the consultants to help us create regulations, bulk and area standards, etc. for the concept of higher-density housing with a mixed-use component.”
The map the consultants supplied included 30 parcels of land that Looney said “have some potential.” He added, “They’re probably not all suitable… but these are the ones we want to look at.” He said they reduced the number to just a few on the south end of Warehouse Point and the corridor north of Route 140 and east of Route 5. He tried to emphasize that they were working at the “concept plan level.” That is what they hoped to bring to the workshop.
Still, many of the people in the workshop audience were somewhat alarmed by the site of “concept plans” overlaying existing properties in the areas under discussion, and they made their feelings known.
“We got a lot of comments, some positive and some not so positive,” Whitten said the day after the meeting. “That’s what planning is all about. That’s why we have a workshop.”