Our neighbors 10 minutes to the south in Berlin are witnessing a pitched battle between conservationists and developers over two major residential construction proposals. The Berlin Inland Wetlands Commission has been the forum for the question of whether or not to add 435 housing units to the town.The denser development, Broadview, seeks to build 374 condominium units on 65 acres of forest off the Berlin Turnpike. The more suburban plan, Pistol Creek, proposes to throw up 61 single homes on 97 acres that used to be a golf course.
Inlands Wetlands, on Tuesday, Dec. 5, according to the Hartford Courant, postponed the decision on Pistol Creek until Dec. 13. If approved, Pistol Creek then must pass Planning and Zoning. Broadview hasn’t reached the approval phase at Inlands Wetlands. I hope neither project ever earn any go-aheads. This is the sprawl that Gov. Jodi Rell swears we have to address. This is the perpetuation of car culture. This is the destruction of open space.This is what 1,000 Friends of Connecticut talked about in its Spring 2006 briefing book: “In the last 30 years, we’ve developed land 850 percent faster than we’ve gained population.“Those 435 combined units will probably house 850 people and gobble 162 acres of open space. Figure that a square mile is 640 acres. I guess the two projects might have a population density of 3,000 people per square mile, about four times Berlin’s current average of 739. In Hartford, population density hovers around 7,200 per square mile. The capital city could handle that influx of people without a blip. Infrastructure for plumbing, water, gas, and transit already exists. But the educational infrastructure, in a word, stinks. Berlin’s infrastructure would be stretched thin by these two developments, according to what Mayor Adam Salina told the Hartford Courant back on April 4, 2006. He said his town’s school system could not handle any more kids in Hubbard School, which is the neighborhood facility that would serve Pistol Creek. Even if the sub-division is built, Berlin’s schools would not devolve to “stinks,” thus the demand for housing.Pistol Creek Developers want a state subsidy to install sewers and water. For the state’s part, the Office of Policy and Management has refused to grant Pistol Creek the permits that would make it eligible for tax money.Back in August, Gov. Jodi Rell created an Office of Responsible Growth to handle the pressing matter of balanced development and stopping sprawl. “We must actively steer the continued growth and development of our state to prevent sprawling development patterns from forever changing the character of our communities,” reads the proclamation Gov. Rell issued at the Windsor train station October 6.Executive Order 15 mandated The Office of Responsible Growth to work with municipalities to place development in areas where it belongs, like, say, densely populated urban areas with pre-existing infrastructure.Last week, I described such a project: a five-story, 85-unit condo complex that Providian Builders wants to build where the 106-year-old Butt-Ugly Building now sits at 1161 Main Street in Hartford. I wondered if the city gave Providian a $200,000 discount on a sliver of a parking lot that Providian needs for the project, but I didn’t pass judgment (as if my opinion matters). I wanted to learn the opinion of the Hartford Preservation Alliance, (disclosure: I recently sent HPA my $50 membership renewal). Well, HPA president Lynn Ferrari told me she sees no problem in razing the Butt-Ugly Building.“As much as we would like to see any older building saved, there is nothing significant about it,” Ferrari said. “It is not in a historic district, and it is not terribly well perceived by anyone in the city.“Nor is sprawl well perceived. Absent any questions of corruption out of Hartford’s Planning Department, I think it was smart that the city gave Providian a subsidy. Shoot, the state should give Providian a subsidy. The state already subsidizes sprawl, and here we have an opportunity to prevent more before it is built. So, Gov. Rell, now is the time to step up to the plate: get the developers who want to gobble up golf courses and rivers and streams to bring their projects to Hartford and help fix Hartford’s schools to help insure success for those developers in Hartford. Hartford has dozens of parking lots waiting for green apartment buildings and quality schools. This is how we stop the sprawl.