COVID-19 impacts transit-oriented development in Wallingford, Meriden

COVID-19 impacts transit-oriented development in Wallingford, Meriden

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WALLINGFORD — At the Parker Place apartment complex, hundreds of residents pay $1,300 or more per month to live in brand new apartments close to the new train station and with access to a community clubhouse.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we work and recreate, and many who were once enticed by living close to mass transit and a clubhouse full of amenities find they aren’t living their anticipated lifestyle.

The Parker Place clubhouse closed in March due to concerns over COVID-19. It reopened Tuesday, with restrictions, after 75 people signed an online petition protesting its continued closure, started by longtime resident Dianna Pele.

Several signers did not include their name and not all are confirmed Parker Place residents.

Dozens of people did identify themselves as residents in comments on the petition. Some said that to restrict access was unfair after the state allowed similar commercial facilities to reopen, especially since they were led to believe by rental agents and property managers that clubhouse amenities are a justification for the high rent.

One-bedrooms range from $1,425 for about 775 square feet to $1,475 for about 800 square feet.

Calls over three days to JFA Management, the Branford-based development company that owns and manages the 9.12-acre property, were not returned.

Within the clubhouse, there’s a lounge area with a kitchen, fireplace, pool table and television, a gym, wellness garden, movie theater, pet spa, as well as the manager’s office. Outside, a patio area has an outdoor TV, fire pits, gas-fired pizza oven, grills, picnic area and a fenced-in dog park.

There’s a total of 313 units on the property. A 57-unit, four-story addition was completed in September 2018 and added to the original building of 63 apartments. Construction wrapped up at the end of last year on 193 new apartments across three, four-story residential buildings.

Parker Place was one of many high profile, transit-oriented development projects with a lot of private investment launched in the greater Wallingford area in recent years.

Town and state leaders have incentivized residential developers to build near railroad stations, hoping the proximity to commuter rail service, the CTrail Hartford Line, would entice people to move into large apartment complexes, like Parker Place in Wallingford or Meriden Commons I and II.

The Hartford Line, running between New Haven and Springfield, Massachusetts, launched in June 2018.

Gov. Ned Lamont visited Berlin this week for a groundbreaking ceremony for Steele Center, a new residential and commercial development that would overhaul a brownfield site near Berlin’s train station.

According to the Hartford Line’s one-year report published in June 2019, “the Hartford Line has spurred $430 million in transit-oriented development in Wallingford, Meriden, Berlin, Windsor, and Windsor Locks.”

Before the pandemic, the draw of a transit-oriented development was easy to see. Developing housing near mass transit would allow people to commute to work more easily. Now, more people are working from home, which means less commuting and rising interest in homeownership rather than renting.

Sagging ridership

Kevin Nursick, DOT spokesman, said Friday that ridership on the Hartford Line is down 80 percent of what it was before the COVID-19 pandemic. In its first year of service, the Hartford Line averaged nearly 51,000 passengers per month.

Despite sagging ridership numbers, there is anecdotal evidence for interest in future transit-oriented development, and the state believes it will be important for developing cities and towns.

Alexandra Daum, state Department of Economic and Community Development deputy commissioner, said Friday that the focus on transit-oriented development is going to continue throughout Lamont’s administration.

“It continues to be a top priority for DECD,” Daum said, “and continues to be a way, we believe, we can support Connecticut cities and to spur economic growth.”

She said the developers she talks to are planning for the next two to five years, creating designs for communities that won’t come to market right away, but have a hope and belief that preferences for urban living will still be there when they’re completed.

LTakores@record-journal.com203-317-2212Twitter: @LCTakores

A CTrail train leaves Wallingford for New Haven in Wallingford in June 2018.
The reopening rules posted at the Parker Place clubhouse on Wednesday. Courtesy of Dianna Pele
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