Zoning for Hartford: a new tool to promote the preservation of neighborhoods

278 274 Farmington Avenue south facadesFor the past one-and-a-half years the City of Hartford has worked to bring zoning codes into the 21st Century.  The concept known as form-based code recognizes that decades old zoning codes do little to reflect and promote urban development now required to sustain cities such as ours in attracting new residents.  Although a little stuffy, the Wikipedia definition works well to introduce what can be accomplished in adopting a new code in Hartford:

A Form-Based Code (FBC) is a means of regulating land development to achieve a specific urban form. Form-Based Codes foster predictable built results and a high-quality public realm by using physical form (rather than separation of uses) as the organizing principle, with a lesser focus on land use, through municipal regulations. A FBC is a regulation, not a mere guideline, adopted into city, town or county law and offers a powerful alternative to conventional zoning regulation.  (1)


Form-Based Codes are a new response to the modern challenges of urban sprawl, deterioration of historic neighborhoods, and neglect of pedestrian safety in new development. Tradition has declined as a guide to development patterns, and the widespread adoption by cities of single-use zoning regulations has discouraged compact, walkable urbanism. Form-Based codes are a tool to address these deficiencies, and to provide local governments the regulatory means to achieve development objectives with greater certainty.

In other words, the new code becomes a tool of supporting and sustaining the look and feel of a neighborhood or community.  Current the code is based on use without giving form to the impact, typically negative, which may be felt in new construction.  The form-based code is a powerful tool for historic preservation.  Hartford with an inventory of greater than 5,300 historic register listed buildings – and many, many more that are historic but not listed – can benefit tremendously through a code which considers a building’s form rather than its use.  The final draft of the proposed new code can be found on our website:  Yes it is 260 some pages long but if you take a moment to review the document you will find it quite readable and easy to reference.

The Preservation Alliance welcomes the new code as a profound public tool in preservation of the fabric of Hartford.  We talk often of the importance of the history found here and Hartford’s story lies in the bones of its buildings.  A new code brings direct help in preserving what is important to the City.

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Doing What We Can: Collaboration

390 Capitol Avenue street view

Quietly and without fanfare work has begun to re-purpose 390 Capitol Avenue (commonly known as the Hartford Office Supply Building) into apartments. This long abandoned block at the corner of Flower Street and Capitol Avenue sat sadly as a reminder of historic manufacturing buildings without a future.  Times have changed, thankfully, and the excitement of living in Hartford has caused an economic argument for creating housing, of a larger scale, to be developed.

Dakota Partners has tackled the project with gusto.  This developer has already completed many first class projects in New England and most recently 179 Allyn Street downtown.   As Roberto Arista comments, principal of Dakota Partners, “it’s all about the light”.  Historic manufacturing buildings are in fact all about the light. Take a look 390 Capitol Avenuewhen driving along Capitol and view the original window openings and you will see just what is to happen as new, appropriate windows are installed.

Our role has been subtle yet demonstrates how the Preservation Alliance can act strategically to encourage developers to tackle major projects which will contribute to preserving the fabric of Hartford.  Connecticut as well as Federal Historic Tax Credits are being utilized.  These tax credits could then be sold to investors, which results in equity for the project developer but also a tax bill on the credits.  In Connecticut legislation has been enacted which allows a transfer of the tax credits to a qualified not-for-profit such as the Preservation Alliance.  We then sell the tax credits and then lend the proceeds back to the project. (Clear as mud?)  The whole point is that more equity is contributed to the project making it more economically feasible.  It is a total win for development and re-purposing of old buildings.

As the Preservation Alliance moves forward in new strategic directions, the use of tax transference is only one of the innovative ways for us to be a catalyst in creative activities which makes preservation happen.  We want to make preservation easier for property owners.  Please take time to amble through our website to find other resources.  And by all means contact us with your questions or comments or if you need any assistance with your own historic project.

390 Capitol sign

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Not For The Faint of Heart

The Preservation Alliance is most fortunate to have a true friend and partner in the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving.  Over the past number of years we have benefited from grants for board development, strategic planning, and improve technology improvements.  Yours truly was recruited through a grant which hired Third Sector New England  to execute a leadership transition.

Yesterday I attended a seminar which reported on the state of the nonprofit sector in New England.  Earlier this year nonprofits throughout New England were asked to participate in a survey, – we were one such organization – and the results and findings were presented in this forum. There were some surprises, some “we knew that to be the case” and a really great set of conclusive challenges.  In a word  –  sustainability.

Meeting a challenge to work toward an organization’s ongoing future seems to be obvious, we want to carry on the mission. To be ongoing is the basis upon which the organization was founded.  However yesterday we explored definitions of activities in which we need to be engaged to meet that challenge of the organization’s future.  An example:  59% of leaders (executive directors) are over 55.  In the Hartford area that is 6% higher than New England overall.  Leadership of nonprofits in Hartford is aging.  How to create a succession plan one which addresses an effective transition becomes a topic, one of many which needs a robust discussion. 64% of leaders plan to leave in the next five years.  Marry this with the fact that 56% of nonprofits have budgets under $1 million, 51% have five or fewer staff.  There is little financial room to recruit, encourage and retain the next leader. We all share the anxiety of administrative cash flow. Operating capital is mostly what occupies our daily activities.  Unfortunately this then puts pressure on the staff to do more with less.

All thought-provoking points and fortunately the forum yesterday gave us the opportunity to reflect on challenges which nonprofits face.  Simply talking among those at my table allowed an opportunity to vent. All of us found that our worries are not singular.  Table discussions allowed us to share our common concerns and frustrations.  Yet we talked of building “leaderful” organizations through an evolutionary philosophy of sustainability.  In its many forms sustaining an organization is a far more strategic engagement than just a single dimension in planning for succession.  I have come away with a goal (one of many….) to explore how to invest in a sustainability plan for the Preservation Alliance.  Most fortunately our strategic plan has already created a map of milestones which should broaden our operating base and help to pave the way toward a more stable future.

So, as Buzz Lightyear of “Toy Story” exhorts:  “To infinity and beyond”.


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Task Force 1

Task force meeting Oct 20 2015Of late I have reported about the effort to create a Comprehensive Community Action Plan for a six-block stretch of Farmington Avenue between Sigourney and Woodland Streets. A situational analysis was presented September 21 to a diverse and dedicated group.  We asked that people interested in creating of action steps, a timeline and key goals would gather as a task force.  Happy to say that the first meeting was held yesterday at the Hartford Preservation Alliance.

The promise to those participating is a crisp set of meetings, one hour in length. Utilizing the Framework For Action as a road map, we plan to present research articles, information and other material to inform a discussion on what are to be the established priorities.  Throughout the conversations our number one priority will be to develop a capacity to carry on with the work.  In Indianapolis, where I have participated in profound community economic development, these activities typically fall to community development corporations.  These geographically specific organizations wake each day with community as the focus.  Due to the exceptional historic fabric of Farmington Avenue the Preservation Alliance will accept the responsibility to move the action plan forward.

We presented two items to provoke discussion. First was The Harwood Study, underwritten by The Hartford in 2013.  This study helps to outline what can and should be done to improve the Hill, along with understanding the perceptions and realities facing Asylum Hill.

Secondly, our CCSU intern Jake Fusco gave a presentation about the Greenbridge Project, a program initiated by the Brooklyn Botanical Garden that offers a fairly simple solution to “softening” an urban streetscape with vegetables, plants and flowers.  And as hoped, those gathered had questions and comments immediately (ex. if planning to green up the area, it requires a structured community commitment to the project by engaged building owners and residents).

As had been anticipated, yesterday’s gathering was lively.  It is exciting to get creative, thoughtful people together in a room and let the conversation unfold.

Going forward we will continue to broadcast our progress and the steps being taken in creating and executing an action plan for this section of Farmington Avenue.  Regular updates will be made to the FarmAve section of our website.  And we encourage you to sign up for our blog notifications below.

We always welcome your advice, comments and suggestions. Collaborating with the greatest number of people possible can only benefit this city that we live, work, play and worship in.
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Cap and Gown

IMG_0374On Monday, September 21, 2015, thirty-one civic, community and institutional leaders gathered to discuss the creation of a comprehensive community action plan for the Farmington Avenue Corridor with bookends of Sigourney and Woodland Streets. In pausing to think of the profound cultural and historic assets of these six blocks one wonders why it is not the embodiment of the current and highly prized movement toward “Placemaking”.  The ingredients seem so practical and exist before those of us who call Asylum Hill home.

Months ago in conversation with Mike Zaleski, now Executive Director of Riverfront Recapture  and then the Director of the Hartford Business Improvement District , we talked of the extraordinary potential of a dedicated focus on redevelopment of perhaps Hartford’s busiest corridor linking Downtown with town to the west.  Home to Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe houses and museums is one aspect to a question of why not have this neighborhood thrive.  For the Hartford Preservation Alliance the challenge is what is to be done with six vacant, abandoned and historic properties in what was one of earliest established historic districts. Our mission to “Revitalize, Connect, Collaborate” sees the link between historic preservation and community economic development as essential in Hartford.

In opening the forum I called the gathering a commencement.  Much hard work has been enabled through a “Preservation Of Place” grant from CT Main Street. These funds help organize a community in how to bring people together to look ahead.  With the strategic help of Francine Christiansen  a series of interviews was initiated to question what is the situation of the Farmington Avenue corridor and what might be its potential AND how do we take action to change.  We happen to be at a moment in time where incredible resources can be brought to bear on creating a fundamental renaissance.  In its truest sense, just as with any commencement, this represents a beginning filled with promise.

Over the next months we will establish a method to present ideas, concepts, and invitations to participate in community conversations as we establish steps to move forward.  Please feel free to comment, question and offer suggestions, perhaps to toss brickbats.  All during the initial process we have encouraged input and now we challenge you to add your voice.

To view the materials from the community forum as well as additional resources of interest, visit the Community Forum Materials page on our website.