West Hartford Blue Black Square under fire

from group seeking answers

By Tom Evers

January 08, 2004

First let me say to everyone:  Happy New Year!  In place of my usual column on happenings, I want to start off 2004 with informing folks about an interesting debate that's about to happen in West Hartford.

For some time, the West Hartford Town Council has been involved in planning a fairly large development project that will reportedly double the size of West Hartford Center.  A three-dimensional model of the plan is on public display at West Hartford Town Hall in Room 327.  The plan calls for tearing down existing structures and removing part of the town green, and in its place building a mall, two parking garages, a 1500-seat theatre, 100 condos, significant office space, and all kinds of new structures. 

I haven't formulated an opinion on this topic yet but it's interesting to note that a group of concerned West Hartford citizens have been distributing a pamphlet door to door, entitled "An Urgent Message to All West Hartford Residents".  The group warns that residents should at least be informed about what is being proposed, and the raises general questions about the impact the development plan would have on the town.  Fair enough, I say.  It's good to know what kinds of million dollar projects that our Town Council is embarking on; it's good to know what specifically is being planned.

The group plans an informational session scheduled for Thursday, January 8, 2004, from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the West Hartford Public Library in Webster Hall.

Some of the issues the group has raised appear quite legitimate.  Here are a few issues that I've heard about that should to be addressed by West Hartford town officials: 

What is the cost to taxpayers and what new taxation that may be associated with the project?

What will be done about the increased motor vehicle traffic levels (in an already congested part of town)?

What kind of parking issues will be created? How will pedestrian traffic be impacted/addressed?

What is the overall anticipated impact to town services, i.e. public works and police?   What will become of the existing town structures?

How will town employee parking be affected?

What will the cost impact if the plan fails and what is the impact to taxes if the plan fails?

What are the safety concerns for families, children, elderly, etc?  Will additional security be required?

Will our AAA Bond rating be affected by this plan?

How will this plan impact existing Center businesses?

Where will "Celebrate West Hartford" be relocated to since the land that the event is usually held on will be used to build six story condos?

I want to be clear that I'm not passing any pro or con judgment on the plan, but it seems strange to me that such an enormous project which may impact significant taxpayer dollars is going to be undertaken without formal approval by West Hartford residents - in the form of a town wide referendum.  It's hard to imagine that our Town Council members would attempt to make such a huge, town-transforming decision on their own without citizen approval (particularly considering the lack of business know-how on the Council; such decisions should be left to folks who are business qualified).  But perhaps all of this is being considered and town officials plan on including taxpayers in the decision-making process.  We'll soon find out.

I would urge West Hartford town residents to attend the meeting and become informed on the matter.  I know the trend in West Hartford is to love high taxes and increased spending so this may be right up some folks' alley.   Then again, maybe this idea is the greatest thing since sliced bread and there's no cause for concern?

All we can do as West Hartford citizens is to become engaged and not allow such large-scale initiatives to be voted on in private, or hidden from public view, or made through some obscure backroom deal.  If the plan is to be legitimate, let's have a public debate and a referendum - at least then we can all share in part in the credit or failure for such an important town-wide project.   Let's make sure that if the project goes forward that there's a public oversight committee established to keep the project on the up and up.

That's the view from here!

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