Infill paces Greater Hartford's surging development projects

BY Gregory Seay

PHOTO | Steve Laschever
PHOTO | Steve Laschever
Builder-developer Steven Temkin, of T&M Building Co. Inc., on the former Gledhill Nursery site off Mountain Road in West Hartford, which he is transforming into 25 luxury townhomes.

What is infill development?

Infill development is new development sited on underutilized or undeveloped land within an existing community, according to the Capitol Region Council of Governments (CRCOG). Infill development can take several forms.

In suburban areas, it might take the form of redevelopment of shopping malls or commercial strip centers. In urban areas it might be building single-family homes or apartments on vacant lots or larger-scale redevelopment on abandoned commercial/industrial sites, according to CRCOG.

Successful infill development can:

• Support mass transit

• Help reduce greenhouse gas emissions

• Stabilize and revitalize existing neighborhoods and commercial centers

• Utilize existing infrastructure

Want a sure sign the real estate market in your neighborhood is healthy and ripe for expansion?

Notice how fast — or slowly — the vacant or underdeveloped lots or blighted buildings in a community are transformed into houses, apartments/townhomes, or office-retail space, says Alan Mallach, a New Jersey urban planner, author and adviser to municipalities on creating better living environments and other "infill'' development.

"Infill thrives,'' Mallach said, "where you have a strong [real estate] market environment.''

In Greater Hartford, a raft of infill developments are underway or seeking approval, some of it driven by the emergence of central Connecticut's busway/rail corridors, experts say. Others are taking place in more in-demand realty markets. Among them:

• In West Hartford, a Torrington builder wants to erect 25 homes priced from the high $600,000s to $700,000s, on 1.3 acres of West Hartford's former Gledhill Nursery site, off Mountain Road. Across town, there is a proposal to convert the former Patrissi Nursery site, off Park Road, into five buildings containing 25 units of attached luxury dwellings — The Townhomes at Ringgold Estates.

At 243 Steele Road, where six luxury apartment buildings with 160 units of the Residences at Steele Road bowed within the last two years, Farmington developer Metro Realty Group recently was granted permission to add a seventh building, with 30 more units.

• In Glastonbury, the same Torrington builder has applied to erect 18 houses on a cul-de-sac abutting Holy Cross Cemetery. Also contributing to the town's infill expansion is the 145-unit One Glastonbury Place apartments, rising off Hebron Avenue, and an $18 million redevelopment and expansion to 72 units from 34 of the town's Center Village seniors housing complex, at the corner of Salmon Brook and New London Turnpike.

• In Southington, Groton developer Hunter Build LLC is proposing a $3 million, 40 unit age-restricted multifamily project. That would follow on Hunter's first development of an adjacent 19-lot, single-family subdivision.

• In Windsor Locks, work has begun to convert a vacant mill site into the 160-unit Montgomery Mills. One of the latest examples of transit-oriented development, it will be adjacent to a downtown train station planned for the upcoming Hartford Line.

• In Hartford, the city is soliciting fresh proposals to redevelop its four parcels of approximately 20 acres of primarily commuter-event parking fronting Main Street in the Downtown North (DoNo) quadrant, encompassing the ballpark, into housing and commercial spaces.

Those projects are just the latest wave of infill development sweeping central Connecticut in the wake of the state's huge transportation investments in the CTfastrak busway and Hartford rail line, which debuts in May, observers say. New Britain, Newington, Meriden, West Hartford, Windsor Locks are among communities with private development underway or planned for apartments and retail space close to planned busway and railway stations.

The Capitol Region Council of Governments (CRCOG), a Hartford nonprofit advisor to municipalities on public policy and economic development, says there are more than 150 tracts in Greater Hartford suitable for infill development close to busway and rail stops.

"There's a lot of potential out there," said Mary Ellen Kowaleski, director of policy and planning at CRCOG.

Connected neighborhoods

Infill has been a development phenomenon since builders began erecting houses and commercial buildings, initially in densely packed urban areas, moving later to suburban markets as populations spread there, planning and land-development experts say.

For cities and towns, infill development offers a route to restoring vacant, blighted or underused tracts to productive reuse, including lifting municipalities' revenue streams by collecting permitting and building fees, and, ultimately, as improvements boost the properties' value, greater property-tax collections.

Infill offers other benefits. Roads and electricity, water, sewer and natural-gas lines already in place save developers money when building new or repurposing a property, said Emily Hultquist, principal planner and policy analyst at CRCOG.

It also "can help create a more connected neighborhood,'' Hultquist said. "And those are the types of neighborhoods that Millennials and the senior population are interested in.''

Hartford Planning and Economic Development Director Jamie Bratt said the city's revised plan of conservation and development and new zoning rules "gives us a really good tool'' for encouraging and reviewing infill development.

"Our zoning along the CTfastrak corridor," Bratt said, "essentially mirrors the achievable density of downtown.''

According to Michael Piscetelli, New Haven's deputy economic development administrator, infill development generally refers to the redevelopment of vacant sites in a settled area. For example, back during urban renewal, buildings would be cleared to remove blight, expand parcel size or any number of other reasons.

In New Haven, a number of those sites are being acquired and developed for mixed-use and multifamily rental housing, Piscetelli said. One is from Spinnaker Development, at the downtown corner of State and Audubon streets, that for years was surface parking for former Southern New England Telephone, and later for Frontier Communications.

Infill embraced, rejected

Over ensuing years, once overlooked vacant tracts, coupled with blighted or underused properties, have become enticing development targets, experts say. Parcels in more desirable neighborhoods or communities are especially prized for redevelopment.

Sparse undeveloped acreage was the reason Torrington builder Steven Temkin agreed to buy and redevelop the 9-acre Gledhill Nursery tract in West Hartford into luxury homes.

"There's not that much vacant land in West Hartford," said Temkin, CEO of T&M Building Co. Inc., adding he briefly competed with a local church for the Gledhill tract.

In Rocky Hill, T&M is underway with infill construction on 14 half-acre lots on 11 acres, near the Wethersfield border. Those dwellings bear many of the design features as those planned for Gledhill, Temkin said.

Many of today's homebuyers, he said, want dwellings packed with lots of features and comforts missing from older units that require costly and time-consuming remodeling to attain. Also, smaller lot sizes appeal to those eager to downsize after raising families and weary of mowing and clearing snow.

Not all infill development, however, is welcomed. In Hartford's historic Asylum Hill section in the West End, a redevelopment plan by nonprofit Chrysalis Center Inc. to convert several buildings there into low-income housing has raised residents' concerns about the impact on neighborhood property values and quality of life.

In Avon, neighbors oppose a proposed affordable-housing subdivision in their neighborhood. That has prompted the town to weigh a moratorium on such development.

However, Avon town planner Hiram Peck said the town recently changed its land-use regulations, allowing owners of existing commercial buildings to expand their footprints, if they meet certain town guidelines.

It was this change, Peck said, that has cleared the way for furniture retail Raymour & Flanigan to acquire and work on enlarging the former Nassau Furniture/Broyles Furniture showroom, at the corner of Albany Turnpike/Routes 44 and 10. Also pending, he said, is an application from The Shops at Nod Brook, 315 W. Main St./Route 44, for a 16,000-square-foot building addition.

"The regulation was a perfect fit for them,'' Peck said.