As West Hartford ushers 2021 in, here’s some of the town developments that local leadership expect to see updates on in the new year:
Affordable housing policy
Town manager Matt Hart said he plans to advise the town council to form a team that would help with creating a policy for affordable housing.
“We need to develop an affordable housing plan as required by state statute,” Hart said. “We need to have that in place for sometime in 2022, so we gotta work on it in ’21.”
Old UConn campus
The town’s eyeing the ball fields on the old UConn campus, aiming to “either obtain title or a long-term lease,” according to Hart.
“We’re focused on the ball fields because we think, we think there’s a good chance that the current owner is going to sell the property to a responsible developer,” Hart said. “I don’t know the name of that entity yet, but you know we’re cautiously optimistic that that will happen and ... we’ll work with the new owner to ensure that the property is remediated and redeveloped in a manner that’s consistent with our plan of conservation development.”
The town council voted to stall development that isn’t deemed “transit-oriented” in the New Park corridor in 2020. Right now, that moratorium is expected to conclude in August 2021.
“During this nine-month period, the staff is going to work with key stakeholders to develop proposed changes to our zoning regulations,” Hart said, which would then be presented to the Town Plan and Zoning Commission as well as the town council.
Road diet study
The town has been taking a look at North Main Street for the possibility of a “road diet,” which is “where you reduce your lane width in order to improve pedestrian and vehicular safety,” Hart said.
The outcome of that study is anticipated “sometime this spring,” Hart said.
Outdoor dining extensions to possibly return
Some businesses were able to use town space to extend their outdoor dining availability during the pandemic, an option that could continue moving forward.
“I think we want to definitely continue it next year, hopefully to allow restaurants to recover, and other retailers to recover some of their losses,” Hart said. “But we also want to make this permanent on a seasonal basis in some fashion.”
As the town looks into how stormwater affects the community, it wants to “complete phases one and two of the study and determine a model to finance the improvements we would need to make in order to reduce flooding and other impacts,” Hart said.
Pension obligation bonds
The town’s pension is “underfunded” and has been “one of our most significant cost drivers” in recent years, Hart said. It’s about 41 percent funded now, Hart said, while it was fully funded two decades ago.
“So in January, I’m going to be proposing a — I could loosely describe it as a refinancing option — for our underfunded pension liabilities, our past service costs,” Hart said, “and how can we finance those, refinance those with a method that would result in a lower annual contribution on behalf of the town.”
Diversity, equity and inclusion
Members of the town’s “executive team” have been going through a diversity, equity and inclusion-related program, and “a program for the larger workforce” is in the works, Hart said.
“We want to make DEI a critical component of our future decision-making, and integrate it in day-to-day operations,” he said.
The town hopes to extend its internet connection in other areas of West Hartford.
“We want to continue to work to enhance our internet connectivity of all our major town facilities and we want to expand the public Wi-Fi at town facilities,” Hart said. “Not just places like town hall and the library, but our major parks as well,” such as Fernridge Park.
Changes to town software
Town software could also see improvements coming up.
“The platform we have right now is somewhat dated, goes back to ’08, ’09,” Hart said. “I want to bring it to the most current platform, and that will enable residents and businesses to do a lot more online. And ... it’ll increase our efficiency and effectiveness at a staff level too.”
In an email, Hart wrote that the town plans to work with the police department to “develop and implement (an) initiative designed to address and reduce panhandling in a humane and holistic manner.”
Though they can forbid “aggressive panhandling,” panhandling itself isn’t illegal, he noted.
“We also, you know we’re concerned about the folks engaging in this activity,” he said. “You know, what are their needs? Why are they doing this?”
The town council has indicated interest in the formation of a youth council, Hart said, adding it would be made up of a yet-to-be determined number of local teenagers.
“The purpose of this youth council would be to help prepare future civic leaders for our community, and really to provide a direct connection between youth and town government,” he said.
Town cell service
West Hartford wants to improve its cell service, which “is something of an issue in town, particularly in neighborhoods on the mountain in the northwestern part of town,” Hart said.
“So we want to work with a third party to assess coverage and identify options to eliminate weak spots and improve coverage,” he said, as well as figuring out where they’d put additional towers if they were deemed necessary.
Civilian police review board
There’s been discussions about the creation of a civilian police review board, which is back on the public safety committee’s agenda this week.
“And if they’re good with it, I imagine they will present the proposed ordinance to the full town council in, sometime later in January,” Hart said. “The purpose of that really is to promote good community relations and public confidence in our department.”
Interval House, the local police department and the town are working together on a new position: An advocate for people affected by domestic violence that would work with West Hartford police.
On Dec. 29, Interval House President and CEO Mary-Jane Foster said she hoped the role would be in place “within the next week to 10 days.”