Paying Attention to Your Surroundings

When you’re looking at a property, how much time do you spend outside looking at the surroundings? What are the adjacent properties? How do they look? Are you near a major road? Are there commercial or other non-residential parcels near you? Is there a farm or undeveloped land abutting or near the property?

When we view homes with buyers we try to spend some time evaluating the adjoining and nearby spaces. This isn’t necessarily to figure out if they’re going to have good neighbors or not. It’s to understand if there is the potential for change to the landscape around them.

Orchard

For example, a few months ago I was showing some clients property that abutted a farm. The listing agent took care to advertise that it was adjacent to the farm and used this as a selling feature because it was peaceful and scenic. But what if some day the farm isn’t a farm anymore? What if someday the farm land is sold? What does it become? Most likely residential usage, but that’s not always guaranteed. I pointed out to the buyers that the house we were looking at used to be part of the farm too, but at some point some of the farm land was sold to build this development. That could happen in the future and there could then be additional development that’s in the currently tranquil backyard.

We’ve seen some examples recently of local homeowners contesting development to open land that abuts or is near their residential developments. In West Hartford, residents are speaking out against the proposed sale of 9 acres of land by the American School for the Deaf (ASD) to a home builder. In this instance, people bought houses that backed to a non-residential use property. That non-residential use property has decided to change the use of their land. They would like to sell it to a developer. But what would have happened if ASD simply expanded on their own campus? What if they grew their school and built more buildings, parking lots or playing fields on their undeveloped property? The neighboring properties would have been impacted by that as well.

With a changing real estate landscape, we see these development conflicts come up all of the time. The West End of Hartford faced a similar development challenge in 2012 when the University of Hartford wanted to sell part of its campus to CREC for a new elementary school to be developed, which backed to residential development. I would expect a lot of back and forth between the Town of West Hartford and the University of Connecticut when UConn divests of its West Hartford campus in the upcoming months. What will become of that property, which is located in a residential area? How will that change the landscape for current property owners near the campus?

The point I’m trying to make here, and that we make when we’re showing buyers homes, is that what you see near here today may not be the same down the line. Some properties face more opportunities of a changing landscape than others. The change in landscape around you may actually help your property values. They aren’t always a negative. Think of what Blue Back Square has done to help West Hartford Center- there was a positive impact on residential property values in the Center because of it. That being said, it’s important to be aware of the possibility of change because not all change will be viewed as positive. Don’t just focus on the interior of a property, spend some time thinking about the outside and its surroundings.

Building Stuff in Downtown Hartford

There has a been a noticeable increase in the discussion of new construction in Downtown Hartford over the past couple weeks. It started with the revelation that UConn would consider building a facility, and continued with word that the City of Hartford was thinking about building a new City Hall to consolidate office space.

Ken Gosselin has worked feverishly to ferret out as many of the thirteen of the proposals submitted to UConn as he can confirm (Travelers Education Building, One Talcott Plaza, Downtown North, Hartford Times Building, Broadcast House site). And Dennis House got the scoop from Mayor Segarra about the City’s thinking.

Hartford Skyline

All the talk is exciting. Putting up new buildings is sexy. But we need to be smart about it since there are not only a lot of empty lots available for construction, but also numerous existing structures that could be redeveloped. The discussion gives us an opportunity to share some of our thoughts about Downtown development.

Build office space near transportation hubs.

Office space attracts commuters, like it or not, so it makes sense to position those properties along the highway. Since we need those commuters to come into the City, let’s have them get off the interstate and quickly find their parking spot (ideally in an underground garage). This should not only make the commuters happier, but should also reduce the traffic burden on the City streets to the benefit of pedestrians and residents.

Build residential along Bushnell Park.

Bushnell Park is a terrific public space and makes a wonderful front yard for all of Downtown’s residents. Interestingly, many of the neighborhood’s residential buildings are within a block or two of the park already. If we continue to add residents, we’ll reach the critical mass needed to support the retail stores that just can’t make it right now.

Build retail between the office and residential.

Putting the retail between the office and residential buildings allows those entrepreneurs to tap into both the 9-to-5 office worker market and the nights-and-weekends residential consumers.

This is overly simplistic, of course. Retail is generally ground floor space in both office and residential buildings, so all three are mixed together to some degree. And having a good mix of office and residential helps keep the activity level of a block or street consistent 24-7 (versus “ghost town” after/during business hours).

So what about these two specific projects?

I like the idea of UConn in the Hartford Times building as the final piece of the Front Street development. The positives of this location are that the site is accessible via highway for commuting students and faculty, is in close proximity to entertainment, museums & City library, and is in a fully built out area. Hopefully that location would draw well from the surrounding communities.

If the City of Hartford decides to build a new City Hall, then they should put it on one of the vacant lots north of Interstate 84 near the new Public Safety Complex. Let’s use a public building like City Hall as an anchor to build critical mass in Downtown North. And let’s save the most valuable lots in other parts of Downtown for taxable development.

So we’re agreed? Great, let’s build some stuff!