Steps-from-work housing envisioned for a Connecticut suburb

Thousands of apartments, condominium units, cottages, and lofts are are likely to be built in what has long been a sprawling corporate office corridor in Windsor, Connecticut, north of Hartford, The New York Times reports.

The $1 billion development, called Great Pond Village, is the latest example of suburban employment centers trying to evolve into lively, pedestrian-oriented places where people will live and not just work. As planned by Urban Design Associates of Pittsburgh, the 653-acre site will contain 4,010 new housing units, about half of them rentals.

Winstanley Enterprises, a developer based in Concord, Massachusetts. is teaming up with the property owner, the Swiss-Swedish industrial concern ABB (Asea Brown Boveri), to build the mixed-use project on a brownfield site previously used for researching, testing, and producing nuclear fuel for Navy submarines and commercial power generation. 

Hartford Business reported in December 2010 that the housing would be "clustered more densely than Windsor zoning regulations presently allow." In addition to having Rob Robinson of the new urbanist firm UDA produce a plan for the site, David Winstanley of Winstanley Enterprises has also talked with Connecticut new urbanist architect-planner Patrick Pinnell about ideas that could be applied to this location.

WindsorPatch, an online news source, observed in May:

One way to attract big businesses and and a strong workforce to the area is to build a town customized to fit their needs — a town complete with residential units that range from classic, single-family homes to studio apartments for rent above retail shops, and eateries designed to attract patrons from near and far, located within walking distance of sprawling recreational facilities and open space.

Winstanley, ABB, and town officials are hoping the project will "allow the town to remain competitive as a potential home for employers and their employees," WindsorPatch reported. The idea of bringing housing and amenities into a three-mile-long, one-mile-wide corridor that currently attracts about 20,000 daily commuters from outside the town is consistent with the kinds of ideas that Rod Stevens, a Seattle area economic development consultant, has discussed on New Urban Network in the past two years.

According to The Times, Great Pond Village "is intended to give employees who now drive an average 35 minutes to work at the Day Hill Road office park the opportunity to ditch the commute altogether." Employers such as Hartford Life, ING, Cigna, Konica-Minolta, Alstom, and Westinghouse are now in the corridor. Commuters working there earn an average of $65,000 a year, according to Hartford Business.

Over the next 14 to 20 years, cleanup of site contamination would be completed, housing would be built, and 853,000 square feet of commercial space, including 85,000 square feet of neighborhood-style retail, would be developed. 

One of the major reasons for approving the project, Jim Burke, Windsor's economic development director, told WindsorPatch, is that there is a need "to attract the people businesses are looking to hire: young professionals. If we don't do something like this... It's more likely that we'll lose companies," Burke said.

"Workers who are coming out of college need a place to live," Burke told WindsorPatch. "Over 68 percent of housing in Windsor is owner occupied. We haven't built a rental project in Windsor in 35 years."

"To accommodate a development that exceeds its current zoning guidelines, Connecticut's oldest town has pending an application to designate ABB's Day Hill Road acreage as a 'traditional neighborhood development district,'" Town Planner Eric Barz told Hartford Business. Windsor, which has a population of about 28,500, received its first white settlers (from Plymouth, Massachusetts) in 1633.