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    Monday, April 15, 2024

    Legislative plan launched to create communities centered on public transit, create housing

    A proposal to create communities centered on public transit was launched this week in West Hartford.

    The proposal, called ‘Work Live Ride,’ by Desegregate CT, would form a program where local municipalities could create zoning that includes affordable housing near bus lines and train stations, and receive state funding and guidance.

    Desegregate CT Director Pete Harrison said West Hartford is a prime example of how the legislation would work.

    ”Connecticut is one of the most economically and racially segregated states, and we think a big piece of the puzzle of changing that is changing our land use laws,” he said.

    Desegregate CT is a coalition of 80 neighborhood and nonprofit organizations that advocates for improving land use and building communities.

    “Transit-oriented communities is a popular, proven, and practical step for building more homes and more kinds of homes near the transit structure that our state’s been investing in,” Harrison said. “We hope that Work Live Ride will be that next step of the evolution of seeing Connecticut build more homes, more jobs, and more businesses around our transit infrastructure.”

    The program would work as an opt-in process for communities to take steps toward creating transit-based communities and get more affordable housing built. The aim is to have more state funding across more state agencies to ensure that all of the different projects that need to be built get built, Harrison said.

    “The process is pretty simple,” Harrison said. “The community that has either already passed a transit-oriented community district, such as West Hartford, would automatically be eligible for state resources.”

    Communities that wish to create TODs would be helped by the state’s Office of Responsible Growth to guide them through the process.

    The press conference was originally scheduled to be held at West Hartford’s Elmwood CTfasttrak bus station, and was moved to the GastroPark because of inclement weather, but the business was also an example of how building a community near mass transit can have many benefits.

    “I’m here not only representing one business, but a whole conglomeration of small businesses who support the efforts to make this neighborhood more walkable and the redevelopment effort that it’s currently undergoing,” said GastroPark owner Tate Norden, adding that the genesis of GastroPark was to be an incubator, of sorts, for other small businesses.

    “GastroPark was started with a mission of empowerment, to try and help local residents and small business open or expand their small business,” Norden said. “As we’re all well aware, the barriers to entry are quite steep, as is the same with this neighborhood. There are many barriers to developing this neighborhood. Some are self-inflicted, some not. There are certainly a number of environmental issues. The state needs to be doing everything it can to make developments of this area more accessible and more streamlined, so that CTfastrak and other initiatives to make this place a community are more achievable.”

    Eli Sabin, legislative director for CT Voices for Children, said Work Live Ride will help families, especially those with children.

    “Connecticut is at a really important moment. We’re at a state of innovation that has been founded on growth and welcoming new neighbors,” he said. “Because of our severe housing shortage, families - particularly low-and-middle-income families - are having a hard time building good lives here in our state,” Sabin said. “In 2022, 65% of families with children were struggling to pay their daily expenses. We’ve got to be doing everything we can to build more housing, especially in smart locations, near transit, where people can save money on gas, car insurance, and car payments.”

    West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor said focusing on making zoning more transit-oriented makes sense to reduce the number of cars and parking spaces needed for a business, and be more flexible in plans for housing. She cited two recent housing developments, 616 New Park and 540 New Park, which are 80% affordable housing.

    “We have more happening right around the corner,” Cantor said. “West Hartford is anticipating putting 1,000 units online, hopefully in the next couple of years, so this is really important.”

    State Rep. Kate Farrar said she’s looking forward to championing the legislation in the upcoming session.

    “There have been incredible bounds taken by our small business owners [and] by our Town of West Hartford, to really make investments and decisions that can make this a more livable and greener community,” Farrar said. “But, what we’ve also heard is that it is time for us, as a state, to do more. The beauty of this proposal, of Work Live Ride, is that it really takes the next step. It really connects our approach at the local and state level to ensure that, as towns, we’re getting the support that we need, and the funding to make sure that people can live right around the corner from GastroPark, can easily get to work, either right here in West Hartford or in Hartford, and to play on the weekends and enjoy everything this community offers.”

    Harrison said the Work Live Ride proposal is based on legislation that was proposed last year, but did not pass, and applying lessons learned from that effort.

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