Residents living near the former UConn campus want to see as much of the 58-acre parcel preserved as green space as possible, and they want that space to be open to the public, according to comments made during community forums at Town Hall Wednesday.
The ideas shared during the three forums reflected the results of a two-week survey of nearly 2,700 conducted earlier this month and another conducted Wednesday.
Many of the people who attended the forums acknowledged the need to develop some of the property for tax revenue, but said they aren’t open to the idea of a hotel, retail or commercial development in the area of Trout Brook Drive and Asylum Avenue.
In December, the town council terminated a purchase and sale agreement for the property after spending $250,000 researching the site for nearly two years. The town’s research brought to light soil contamination at the property, including toxic PCBs, a notice of violation from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and some remediation work done while students and staff were still on campus.
David Silver said he has lived around the corner from the campus since he got his degree at UConn’s School of Social Work in 1996. Silver said he’d like to see a science center for children and an art museum on the site, as well as the preservation of open space by the pond.
Carole and Joe Mulready have lived in town for the past 43 years but recently moved to within a half-mile of the campus. Joe Mulready said he’s concerned about traffic with any development there, saying Trout Brook Drive is already a “highway at night.”
Both opposed the idea of commercial development, and Joe Mulready said a hotel wouldn’t make sense. He said the reason the Delamar West Hartford works for Blue Back Square is because there are things to do nearby.
Millennials Cole Turner, Mikayla Deardorff and Peter Gunderson, members of the non-denominational Cavalry Fellowship West Hartford church that meets at Conard High School, said they wanted to gauge residents’ interest in having a church on the eastern side of the UConn property, while preserving the existing ball fields. Results of the two-week survey indicated that residents feel there isn’t enough passive recreation and that there aren’t enough cultural centers in town.
Kim Parsons-Whitaker, who lives within a mile of the UConn campus, said the site is “complicated” due to the environmental concerns.
“I think we’re a really complete town; we have lots of parks and commercial development,” Parsons-Whitaker said. “And we’re increasing residential development. The campus presents an opportunity to be really creative. I don’t know if I have a firm opinion.”
Brenda Kurtz lives near Blue Back Square and worked at the former campus from 1999 until UConn built a new campus in Hartford, and now works there.
Kurtz said she thinks there should be some recreation on the east side, a parcel of roughly 24.5 acres, but balanced with development that would bring some tax revenue. She said housing options, if considered, should include low-income options.
Alicia Wise, who lives in the neighborhood, said she’s concerned about how development would affect traffic in the area, especially in an area where motorists speed. She said that she doesn’t think retail would be a good idea, especially with nearby Bishops Corner, but that the idea of an assisted living center “sounds nice.”
Wednesday’s forums, at 4, 6 and 8 p.m., included a 45-minute presentation and sessions for residents to discuss hypothetical development options, such as single-family homes, townhome or condominiums, multi-family apartments, an assisted-living facility, a hotel, office space, retail and other commercial operations, recreation or a town park.
Town Manager Matt Hart said that another meeting with members of the Bishops Corner Neighborhood Association will take place this month, and that a report will be sent to the ad hoc committee on economic development toward the end of March or early April.
Hart said UConn is marketing the site and is open to selling the property to “any buyer for any use.”