Connecting the Dots... to Transit-Oriented Development

 

Kimberley Parsons-Whitaker, Associate Director, Connecticut Main Street Center

We all talk about it. We all bemoan the fact that far too often the dots aren’t connected; that there are too many silos, sometimes resulting in pervasive duplication of efforts. That if we would just partner-up we could get a whole lot more done. And with a topic as massive and complex as transit systems in a predominantly auto-oriented state, connecting the dots can easily be assumed to be a topic that leaves us not knowing where to start.

Perhaps it begins by recognizing that Main Streets of all sizes thrive with a mix of uses, a mix of businesses, a mix of incomes, a mix of cultures. Connecting people to housing, retail & dining, jobs, community resources, and transportation choices is critical if our Main Streets are to be vibrant and sustainable. Offering a range of housing options located near transit and within a walkable distance of life's necessities like grocery stores, pharmacies, doctor's offices and more can only help to attract anyone who desires to live in a vibrant neighborhood. 

The CT Main Street Center (CMSC) network is comprised of over 75 members across the state. This translates to over half of the state’s population living within our member towns. Realizing one out of two residents is directly affected by Connecticut Main Street revitalization efforts makes what we do all the more vital. After all, having a strong downtown core is the foundation of a healthy community, increasing economic resiliency, enabling social interaction, and enlivening public spaces.

Transit Oriented Development (TOD), which connects people to housing, retail & dining, jobs, community resources, and transportation choices, is part and parcel of vibrant Main Streets. A critical component of TOD must be the redevelopment of underutilized buildings into housing above commercial space. 

  • The award-winning Come Home to Downtown program aims to bring more housing downtown by assisting the owners of small properties to redevelop their underutilized buildings into housing above commercial space. Engaging an expert team of consultants, CMSC provides select communities and property owners with customized technical assistance, working with them to develop viable redevelopment options. But what is glaringly apparent is that we need solutions to address the financial gap. 
  • This program would not exist without the Community Investment Act which helps further the goals of protecting and preserving the beauty and unique character of Connecticut for future generations. Established 10 years ago, the law has directed more than $133 million toward preserving and reusing historic buildings and sites, saving hundreds of farms and supporting agriculture programs, saving fields and forests from development, and building much-needed affordable housing. These programs have leveraged private investment and created jobs in virtually every community in the state.
  • A greatly improved tool for our Main Streets is Tax Increment Financing (TIF), a public financing method that is used to incentivize and catalyze development, infrastructure, and other projects. In short, TIF allows property tax benefits from a project to be used to help finance that project. This improved enabling legislation permits municipalities to form TIF Districts that include both the project itself and other properties that will experience property value increases as a result of the project. 

CT Main Street Center is working to connect the dots by partnering with Partnership for Strong Communities and the Connecticut Chapter of the American Planning Association to bring critical information to a statewide audience at the upcoming IForum, “Connecting the Dots…to a better Connecticut Transit System”. This session will address how we must connect our transit systems to well-planned development that allows for full utilization of these resources: housing, jobs, education, healthcare, and recreation. Please join us at this IForum on February 23rd.

 
 

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