Connecticut Focuses on Transit-Oriented Development Hubs

The concept of transit-oriented developments (TODs), where people can walk from their apartments to shopping, entertainment and transit hubs - has been gaining momentum in recent years.

by Dirk Perrefort, The News-Times (Danbury, Conn.) / November 8, 2016

(TNS) -- DANBURY -- Like many Connecticut municipalities, Danbury is looking to promote development close to its train station in hopes of attracting new residents and businesses and revitalize the city’s economy.

The concept of transit-oriented developments (TODs), where people can walk from their apartments to shopping, entertainment and transit hubs - has been gaining momentum in recent years, particularly as younger generations ditch their cars and shift from suburban living to urban centers that offer public transportation and a pedestrian-friendly lifestyle.

A TOD is a special zoning classification that typically that allows for a denser mix of residential and commercial uses in close proximity to transportation centers. In 2011, the state began awarding planning grants to towns considering TODs in an effort to encourage development close to mass transit.

“Finding smart, practical ways to connect housing and employment centers to transportation is a critical step in growing the state’s economy and making Connecticut a more vibrant place to work and live,” Governor Dannel P. Malloy said when announcing the first round of pilot funding in 2011.

Over the past five years, the state has funneled more than $16 million to more than 30 communities from Westport to Windsor Locks for planning studies as well as infrastructure improvements needed to make the ideas a reality.

Both Bethel and Danbury have received state grants to develop their own TODs.

In June, Danbury received $250,000 to study a potential TOD surrounding the downtown train station. On Thursday, the city received proposals from seven firms interested in conducting the study.

A major component of the study is to determine the feasibility of moving the HART bus transfer point and the Peter Pan terminal from Kennedy Avenue to the train station, said city planner Sharon Calitro. The study will also define the boundaries of the zone and what can be done to further enhance development within it.

“It will look at a variety of things, including whether its work on the zoning regulations, additional infrastructure or marketing that will help entice people to develop the area,” she said. “Urban areas throughout the country are looking to develop higher-density downtown development around modes of transit, particularly as populations shift back into the cities and people want to use more mass transit rather than owning a car.”

The recently opened Kennedy Flats project likely would fall within the TOD.

Danbury, Bethel and other towns are betting that demand for housing near public transportation will grow, and the evidence suggests that the idea is popular.

A study conducted this spring by HNTB Corp., a national planning firm, found that nearly three in four Americans would support zoning changes to encourage transit-oriented development in their own communities.

The study also found that 70 percent of the millennial generation, and 60 percent of Generation X, would be willing to pay a higher mortgage or rent to live where they can get to work without driving.

“The desire to more fully integrate lifestyle with mobility options is causing Americans to rethink their priorities about where they choose to live, and how they travel to work and play,” said Mike Sweeney, the senior vice president of HNTB. “The willingness of people to pay more to live in a particular area in exchange for an enhanced lifestyle and mobility options sends a clear message about the growing interest, value and importance of transit-oriented development.”

Mayor Mark Boughton noted that Danbury already has many of the elements in place needed for a successful transit-oriented district surrounding the train station.

“We have more work to do, but we are putting the bones in place to make it happen,” Boughton said. “We believe downtown Danbury can be a transportation hub for the surrounding region and the foundation is already in place.”

A review team will examine the proposals Danbury received this week before making a decision on a consultant for the project, sometime within the next few months. The study itself will likely take more than a year to complete.

And while the process may seem lengthy, planning officials say it’s well worth the effort. Officials in Bethel began planning their TOD nearly a decade ago, but are ready to put new zoning regulations into place in the coming months.

At least one housing development in the new zone along Grant Street has already been built in anticipation of the renewed interest officials hope the TOD will bring into the downtown area.

“We are also exploring funding opportunities for several public projects that will need to be done in relation to the development of the district including streetscape improvements,” said Town Planner Beth Cavagna. “We hope to have the new regulations in place by late winter.”

©2016 The News-Times (Danbury, Conn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.