SOUTHINGTON — The town approved a 15-unit age-restricted subdivision on South End Road on a former farm that had a hiding place for slaves traveling the Underground Railroad.
Local developer Mark Lovley is working with town historians to preserve the foundation of the barn and put up a marker at the location on the former Curtiss family farm, just south of Meriden-Waterbury Turnpike.
The Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously earlier this week in favor of a special permit and a site plan proposed by Lovley for the 55-and-over housing.
“This development I think is a case study or a great example of the type of development we should be having in town,” said commission member Robert Hammersley.
Earlier this year, the commission approved an age-restricted cluster housing zone. Lovley supported its creation and proposed one on South End Road. The zone allows greater density for homebuyers looking to downsize.
Paula Burton, a local real estate agent, said older buyers are often looking for smaller homes on one level. She spoke in favor of the development during a public hearing this week.
“The two floors just don’t work for people after a while,” she said.
The former Underground Railroad site was a pit underneath a barn where slaves were hidden while traveling to Canada.
Jennifer Clock, a PZC member who undertook a historical properties inventory update last year, said the Curtiss Farm is important for its connection to the Underground Railroad and is the former property of one of the town’s oldest families.
Tom Curtiss, who lives next to the property, has worked with Lovley on details of the development and preserving the former farm’s history.
According to town historians, in the mid 1800s Carlos Curtiss would return to his farm in his wagon with slaves hiding under the hay.
Once at the farm, Curtiss would hide the slaves in a large hole under a trap door in the barn, where they could count on safety and food. He used the wagon to hide the trap door and the next evening would set out for Farmington.
A portion of the land will be given to the town as open space and another area managed by a homeowners’ association.
“I’m very happy with this. We always worry about overdevelopment,” Hammersley said.