Dumb Growth

If you listen to the Planning & Zoning Commission or the town Planner, Jen Rodriguez, you’ll hear a lot about “smart growth.” The problem? Very little they talk about is smart. You’ll also hear the buzz phrase, “Transit Oriented Development” quite frequently. The problem? Much of their development is actually the opposite.

It is true that housing needs are changing. Most importantly, demographics dictate that our aging baby boomer population will need more appropriate accommodations if they are to stay independent. These retirees will need low-maintenance homes in convenient locations, in relatively tight-knit communities. There is also a general sense that millenials prefer a simpler housing situation than their parents, often opting for townhouse-type setups. I am millenial-adjacent and I can understand the allure of not being tied to a place forever and having somebody else take care of yardwork and such. However, the unspoken truth is that millenials also choose these simpler arrangements because they don’t have as much money as their parents did.

It is also true that our current dependence on automobiles hasn’t scaled well. I love cars, as a hobby, but the requirement to drive my car everywhere negatively impacts my quality of life. I would love to have an alternate means to get to work and I would love to have amenities in a walk-able distance. We would all be better off if we had a rich ecosystem of transportation options.

The developers in town, Merrigan & LeFebvre (M&L) in particular, have convinced the commission that any increase in density is “smart growth.” However, over-developing areas that are exclusively served by cars is actually dumb. Let’s take, for example, the recently approved development of 22 townhouses on a three-acre lot at 64 South Elm Street, in the middle of a quiet single-family neighborhood. There is absolutely zero public transportation on South Elm Street. To even catch a bus, I believe you would need to drive 5-10 minutes in a car first. The developer, M&L, says that these people will be able to walk to the high school or to church, or maybe even to a tiny convenience store down the street. But the reality is that the vast majority of Americans lead much richer lives than this. These new residents will be driving almost everywhere. It doesn’t matter that Windsor Locks is about to have a nice new train station in town, or that we are home to an airport, building density in this particular location is about the money, and nothing more. Instead of smart growth, which should capitalize on transportation infrastructure, this development will exacerbate existing traffic problems and lower the quality of life for all of us.

Gary Merrigan thinks that opposition to his developments are due to ignorant townies who don’t know what’s going on in the world.

I wish people would educate themselves as to what is happening today outside of their little world instead of degrading me personally on Social media and Public Hearings because I want something Great and Innovative for the Town I live in and Love!

-Gary Merrigan

This sentiment couldn’t be farther from the truth. I have lived in a few European apartments, situated in dense downtown areas. The reason these arrangements worked well is that I had easy access to transportation infrastructure. I rarely drove in Europe, as my day-to-day livelihood didn’t depend on it. If a developer wanted to build density somewhere here in Windsor Locks within walking distance of the new train station, for instance, I would probably be in support. I would probably be in support even if it were “in my backyard” so to speak, because I believe in smart transit-oriented growth. I do not support dumb growth, and it seems this has put me at odds with the bozos who run this town.