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Wallingford planners consider options to spur housing development downtown

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WALLINGFORD — The Planning and Zoning Commission is considering overhauling the Incentive Housing Zone to allow for higher residential density in the area around North Cherry Street and the Railroad Green.

During a workshop on density the commission held on Thursday, members discussed how to encourage more residential development in the lower downtown area, particularly with an eye towards affordable housing, to create more activity in the region.

"One of the things that creates a viable town center is to have people there and certainly in this area we indicated or felt some time ago that this was one of the key areas to look for some development or redevelopment in that area," said Commission Chair Jim Seichter.

Town Planner Kevin Pagini will be drawing up alternative draft maps of the Incentive Housing Zone with a set of sub districts with differing permitted densities. He said that commissioners are currently looking at increasing the permitted density to 50 units an acre for a stretch of North Cherry Street to the north of Hall Avenue. They are also considering increasing the density for the rest of the Incentive Housing Zone, clustered around the historic railroad station, above the current 26 units an acre, however the undetermined figure would be lower than North Cherry Street.

Commission member Jim Fitzsimmons said the state’s encouragement of higher density residential development around train stations and public transit hubs has led to redevelopment in other towns, particularly along the shoreline.

"The changes that you see along the Metro North line ... but specifically Milford, Milford has really converted their factories during the pandemic into residential housing," he said. " … Eventually people are going to want to go back to the office and or they'll take the rail because gas is more expensive, parking, I mean all of those issues.”

No developments have used the Incentive Housing Zone since its inception in 2014, though an application from Vigliotti Construction sought to construct a four-story mixed-use development at 28 N. Colony Rd. that would have had over 40 units. The PZC denied that application on March 14, 2022 due to the increase in density, along with several other changes to the town’s zoning regulations that would have been needed, though commissioners said that discussions on increasing density could allow such projects in the future.

Economic Development Specialist Tim Ryan said that Vigliotti is a developer with a proven track record in town who presented a strong application, however the town needs to finish its conversation on density before such a project can continue. The Branford based firm is headed by Alex Vigliotti, according to state records.

"Mr. Viglioti, at 50 units an acre, he's got the vision, he's got the energy, he's got the capital. He's a successful developer, he's a buy and hold developer like he did with Parker Place,” Ryan said. “ ... So I think we've got the right developer, we just have to find out what the right mix is to make his project work.”

Ryan said he believes the issue that has prevented development in the Incentive Housing Zone lies in the current housing market, rather than density, and the cost for developers to purchase some of the particular parcels within the zone.

"I don't want anybody to think it's not happening because the regulations are too strict. The marketplace is always going to be more powerful than any regulatory body can be and the marketplace right now, the property owners are saying, 'We're not willing to assemble, we're not willing to sell at a reasonable price,’” he said.

Ryan said developers have also pointed to the affordable housing requirement as an impediment to making projects financially viable, owing to tight margins that make it difficult to include units that are deed restricted to have a lower rent that can be charged.

"In our conversations over time with developers, the affordable component has been a stumbling block for many of them, because what it does is it drives deed restrictions on the property that makes the property somewhat difficult to manage," he said.

Deed restrictions are a requirement the state has for affordable housing to be considered as part of a municipality’s inventory of affordable units. If less than 10 percent of the housing in a municipality is not considered affordable, local zoning commissions have reduced authority to deny applications with an affordable component under state law.

Reporter Devin Leith-Yessian can be reached at dleithyessian@record-journal.com.


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