The first phase of the former University of Connecticut’s West Hartford campus will include 322 housing units in a rezoning plan approved this month. Image courtesy of West Hartford 1 LLC

After years of false starts and delays, the future of University of Connecticut’s former West Hartford campus is coming into sharp focus.

A development team received approval this month to build 322 multifamily housing units in the first phase of the project at 1700 Asylum Ave., and submitted plans this week for a mixed-use development at 1800 Asylum Ave.

The inclusion of a major housing component at the former UConn campus is the latest in a series of developments that could create approximately 2,000 units in this town of 64,000, which has been a suburban outlier in its pro-housing production policies.

“West Hartford is one of the leading local communities that is really thinking at the scale that everybody needs to think about in terms of housing production,” said Peter Harrison, director of Desegregate CT. The group is lobbying local communities and state officials to accelerate higher-density housing development.

A rezoning plan approved 8-1 by the West Hartford Planning and Zoning Commission is the final local approval for the eastern side of the campus at 1700 Asylum Ave. The 322 housing units will be built on a 15-acre section of the property containing parking lots. The development team agreed to keep public playing fields on the remainder of the property.

The vote followed nearly a year of public outreach by developers and a local debate that failed to win support from some residents of nearby neighborhoods, who spoke out in opposition to additional traffic and the height of the 5-story residential buildings.

But the small segment of residents who participated in public meetings doesn’t reflect the community’s broader support for higher-density housing, West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor said. As a former streetcar suburb once connected to downtown Hartford by a trolley line on Farmington Avenue, West Hartford’s development patterns have long included a variety of housing types.

“When you go along Farmington Avenue, you’ll see 4- and 5-story buildings alongside single-family homes,” Cantor said. “And the quality of life and education haven’t been affected detrimentally in any way.”

The development team submitted plans this week for the mixed-use phase of the project, located on the remaining section of the campus at 1800 Asylum Ave., which will undergo a separate review and proposed rezoning.

Housing and Retail Replaces Tech Campus Plan

Options for redeveloping the 58-acre campus following UConn’s relocation to downtown Hartford in 2017 included ambitious plans by tech company Ideanomics for a $283 million New Economy campus for its own headquarters and emerging industry sectors.

Ideanomics bought the property from the town for $5.2 million in 2018 and started demolition before running into financial difficulties, pausing the project and hiring a broker to market the property. An investor group including developer Domenic Carpionato and New Jersey-based Garden Homes acquired the property in 2023 for $2.75 million in 2021.

As part of their proposal, developers agreed to demolish four of the remaining five buildings and to complete an environmental cleanup.

The second phase would include a mix of retailers, multifamily housing, medical offices and parks, according to preliminary plans released by developers.

Beyond approval of multifamily development projects, town officials have thrown support behind housing production directly through financial contributions and land agreements to projects that include an income-restricted component.

The Town Council awarded $3 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to developer Louis Brown of West Hartford-based Honeycomb Real Estate Partners to help complete the financing package for his firm’s redevelopment of a commercial property as 44 affordable housing units. The project broke ground in December at 900 Farmington Ave.

And in January, the Town Council approved a 99-year lease with West Hartford Fellowship Housing which plans to add 95 affordable units of housing on a municipal property on Starkel Road.

West Hartford does not have an inclusionary zoning policy, which requires a minimum percentage of income-restricted units in projects above a certain size. Cantor said such policies can make financing more difficult for developers, and restrict overall housing production. Many of the market-rate projects approved in recent years have an affordable component, however, including some as high as 20 percent.

“Inclusionary zoning can be challenging and we don’t want to limit development, because we know a part of affordability is creating housing stock and competition,” Cantor said. “Every time you add a housing unit, it adds some competition.”