There are a number of ways to define “suburban sprawl,” which generally refers to the spread of housing developments and shopping centers into formerly rural areas, such as tract housing that springs up where there used to be a farm. One academic definition includes terms like “low-density” and “automobile-dependent,” and notes that this has been a common form of development since World War II.
Sprawl has certainly been the prevailing mode in many Connecticut towns, but Southington has recently taken a couple of small steps toward a different kind of development, and that’s an encouraging sign.
Much postwar growth, in many towns, took place with little or no planning, and many people would say they know suburban sprawl when they see it. All these years later, many towns, including Southington, have been buying up or accepting donations of open-space tracts in an effort to preserve some of the rustic charm of yesteryear that’s been lost.
The Planning and Zoning Commission has unanimously approved a special permit and a site plan proposed by local developer Mark Lovley for a 15-unit, 55-and-over subdivision on South End Road. And earlier this year the commission approved an age-restricted cluster housing zone.
There is room for a pattern of development other than the array of single-family houses on large lots that we so often see. A cluster zone allows greater density for homebuyers looking to downsize. It uses less land per housing unit and also encourages retirees and empty-nesters to stay in town – while adding nothing to the town’s burden of providing schools for more growing families.
The South End Road 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.
The site, on the former Curtiss farm, is also important in that Lovley’s plan would preserve the foundation of a barn that is believed to have been a site on the Underground Railroad, which transported people escaping slavery in the South to the North and on to Canada.
According to local historians, before the Civil War Carlos Curtiss would hide slaves in the barn before they were moved on to Farmington.
This is a win-win: A unique piece of local history will be preserved, and less undeveloped land will be lost.