What Are They Thinking?

(a case for Form-Based Zoning)

This has been a remarkable week due to two proposed developments to be located in seriously high-profile locations.  McDonald’s is in pursuit of building a new restaurant along Farmington Avenue, next door to the existing Burger King, in the West End. The owners of the gas station located on the corner of Broad Street and Capital Avenue are seeking a variance and historic district approval to replace the current gas station with a new facility (read proposal here).

26 395 Capitol Ave proposed gas station Dec 9 2015

My reaction is not one of surprise but who is to protect the comprehensive design guidelines made part of cities everywhere with aspirations to becoming livable, sustainable and attractive places where people live, work and visit?  My friends are tired of listening to a treatise which asks why we in Hartford talk about the rich historic fabric of the city yet ignore the potential of such amazing assets when it comes to self-interest.  Attend one Hartford Historic Commission hearing and listen to petitioners do their best to circumvent or “game” the City’s preservation guidelines.

Climbing off my soap box I offer some really good news containing an exceptionally exciting tool with which Hartford can control, plan and implement development to contribute to our historic heritage:  Form-Based Code .  This effort to modernize building codes around the country is in fact being studied and will be presented to the City in 2015. It is a powerful preservation tool.  Basically local communities would determine how they want their neighborhood to look and how they want to encourage smart growth.  The gas station might be required to give better consideration to its location as a site which is part of the Capitol Campus.  The store could be built to the sidewalk, contributing to a streetscape such as that to the west along Capitol Avenue.  The pumps would be repositioned behind the store making them less obtrusive.  The community would guide how it wants to see growth and development become a movement to improve the neighborhood.

Form-based code was introduced to Hartford through a series of community meetings held last spring and summer.  Community input was solicited during public forum.  From those focus groups the consultants have begun to organize zoning code changes informed by national best practice.  An Advisory Committee has been given the task of working with the Development Department to make sure that as many constituents as possible are included in the discussion.  I happen to be one of the members of that committee and am impressed at both the education involved and the thoughtfulness and process of deliberations in creating a new development tool for Hartford.  A draft document will be published by the third quarter of 2015.  Please take the time to learn about and support this effort to revamp our zoning code. A unique opportunity to help preserve and protect our historic city which we all care about so deeply is what Form-Based Code proposes.

The Preservation Alliance is firmly opposed to mindless and inappropriate development of the two sites mentioned.  We ask that you join the West End Civic Association, Frog Hollow NRZ and us in demanding better for Hartford.  We always welcome your comments on this so please do so.