The new housing zone for older residents recently approved by the Southington Planning and Zoning Commission is a forward-looking concept that shows promise.
The zone will allow 55-plus housing to be built at higher densities than previously and is aimed mainly at empty-nesters who want less outdoor upkeep but don’t want to move into a condominium or an apartment. At the same time, it would set aside a portion of each development as open space, to be held either by the town or by a homeowners’ association.
The zone might make it possible for some seniors to move into retirement homes without leaving a town where they’ve lived for years but where affordable housing is not widely available, while adding property to the tax rolls that will not put an undue strain on town services. Developments, to be considered under the new zone, must be on existing main roads already served by utilities, and naturally would not add to the school population.
The PZC vote was far from unanimous (4-2), reflecting at least one commission member’s doubt that there’s sufficient demand for age-restricted housing in Southington. Therefore, it’s good that each proposed development under the new zone has to be approved by the commission on a case-by-case basis.
In Southington as in so many Connecticut towns, fields and orchards have been converted into residential streets and commercial strips have sprung up to serve all those single-family houses. This is called suburban sprawl and, while no doubt it was inevitable, many now see it as a distinctly mixed blessing. There is only so much land left.
If this new 55-plus zone can help curb sprawl, even a little bit — while adding to the tax base and providing a bit of open space, without straining existing services — then it could be a very good thing for the town.