Wallingford has a new town planner — and she's a familiar face. After serving as acting town planner since March, Kacie Costello became the new town planner on Dec. 20, having received notification of her selection the same day.
“It was a fairly seamless transition,” said Costello, who had served as assistant town planner for four years.
Costello arrives in her new position carrying a full plate. Most immediately, she is working on plans for a housing incentive zone that, she thinks, would work synergistically with the high-speed commuter rail line that the state, with a stop in Wallingford, plans to launch in 2016.
In addition, the town will begin to review its Plan of Conservation and Development, which is essentially a vision for land use, next year. By state law, Wallingford must complete it by 2015.
At this point, she said, two platform locations for the rail line have been chosen by the state and approved by the town. Each is slightly north of the old train station, with one the Cerrito property on North Cherry Street and the second land owned by Amtrak. Each, she said, ensures that emergency vehicles have fast and smooth access as they travel through the downtown, which the Old Train Station cannot provide.
She described the housing incentive zone as a project initiated by her predecessor Linda Bush that the town has considered since 2008. “What we’re looking at but also separately since 2008... is a mixed use development [zone] with affordable housing to improve and encourage development downtown.
One requirement for affordable housing is proximity to transit, which train service would provide.
She said a workshop open to the public will take place Jan. 7 at the
Senior Center as part of the process to see if the town wants to move forward with the overlay. The plan would require some zoning modifications at the local level, although she said the town does not intend to develop the zone. That, she said, would be the province of private developers.
In general, she said, Connecticut does not have sufficient affordable housing to accommodate such residents as young professionals, emergency responders or young teachers, and that a housing incentive zone would help that.
She described the downtown zone the town is considering as near the Old Train Station and of modest size, along Route 5. And although she said the zone would not reach North Main Street, she said that the three- or four-story buildings there provide a model for development in the zone, with commercial space on the first floor, office space on the second and
residential on the third.
“There has been relatively little new housing approved in the four years I’ve been here,” said Costello, who added that the “feet-on-the-street” from it would benefit the downtown.
She said one of the biggest challenges Wallingford faces — yet, one of its best qualities — is that it has a lot of elements of a smaller suburban town along with elements of a more developed town. She also praised its open and agricultural space. She said the Wallingford community must now determine what it wants its identity to be.
A native of West Hartford, Costello took her degree in urban studies at
Macalester College in Minnesota. She returned to Connecticut where she served as assistant town planner in Bristol for three years before assuming her position as assistant planner in Wallingford.
The incentive zone workshop on Jan. 7 will begin at the Senior Center at 7 p.m.