Southington Isn’t Suffering As Much As Other Towns, As New Home Construction Continues
Copyright © 2009, The Hartford Courant
On a residential street called Whispering Pines in Southington, you’ll find something as rare in recession-era Connecticut as a crowded restaurant: New homes under construction.
Three or four years ago, the sight of bulldozers leveling a new front lawn barely raised an eyebrow, but in an economy wrecked in large measure by a housing bust, the construction of new homes in the state is something to talk about.
Numbers from the state Department of Economic and Community Development tell the story. Statewide, 8,073 housing permits were issued in 2006. In 2007, that number dropped to 6,619, and in 2008, it fell to 4,910. This year, only 1,434 permits have been issued in the first six months of the year, an anemic number even compared to a slow year like 2008.
A few towns, however, have managed to keep building, and Southington is one of them. According to the state, Southington issued 90 permits in 2006, 108 in 2007, 99 in 2008 and 36 in the first six months of 2009. Two large projects are also in development, including 263 condos and a 44-home subdivision.
Jim Butler, the town’s building official, says Southington’s big advantage is access to I-84 and I-691, which makes it a perfect location for commuters. I-84 cuts diagonally through the town, which sits southwest of Hartford, east of Waterbury and northwest of Meriden and Middletown. Additional draws are nearby “ESPN, from an employment aspect, and Lake Compounce, from an entertainment aspect,” Butler says, as well as the school system, the relatively affordable housing, a rails-to-trails system and a newly revitalized downtown.
So who’s building new homes in Southington as residential construction dries up across the rest of the state? One developer is Tony Denorfia, whose company, Denorfia Building and Development, has constructed 10 houses in Southington in the last year.
Denorfia, who also lives in Southington, says the town’s central location and highway access can’t be overestimated.
In a seller’s market, he says, people are more willing to commute long distances to get the house they want. In a buyer’s market, convenience is a lot more important.
“In a down economy, you have to cater your market to people who have to move,” Denorfia says, including growing families who need more space and older couples retiring and wanting less space. “You need a good basic town, solid tax base, good services” and a great location, Denorfia says, and Southington provides all that and more.
“Southington is a great target for people who have young children, because it’s fairly affordable,” he says, and the single-family homes he’s built in the last year all have sold.
The Game Plan
Louis Perillo III, the town’s economic development coordinator, notes that Target and Lowe’s recently added stores to Southington, which has about 40,000 residents. But the key to continued development, he says, has been the health of the town’s small businesses and manufacturers.
“The jobs are still here,” Perillo says. “We feel the effects of the recession, but in Southington, we’re very fortunate that we’re not affected as much as some other towns.“
The town is working to build on the strength of its small businesses and manufacturers by revitalizing its downtown. In the center of town, a small, well-maintained green off Main Street holds a war memorial and a white gazebo where concerts are held throughout the summer. On the surrounding streets of the business district, large flowerpots brighten the sidewalks and some restaurants have installed outdoor dining areas.
Just outside the downtown, a new condominium complex called Renaissance Commons caters to residents 55 and older.
“They’re putting up the last set” of condos, Perillo says. “It’s selling pretty well.”
The next area slated for redevelopment is Plantsville, a section of town where some buildings are run down and sidewalks are narrow. State grants will help that effort along, Perillo says.
An even bigger boost from the state came this summer with legislative approval of a special taxing district for a large new housing and retail development called Greenway Commons, Perillo says, which will build on the downtown revitalization.
Meridian Development Partners of New York plans to clean up the abandoned Ideal Forge site and build 263 condominiums on a 14-acre tract. Included in the plan is 22,500 square feet of retail development.
“It will make for a nice community area,” Perillo says. “A couple might need only one car.” Another big project in development is a 44-home subdivision from Lovely Development Inc.
The company’s 10 homes on Whispering Pines off Prospect Street — where the bulldozers are at work — all have been sold.
Kelly McBride, who just had twins, moved to Southington this summer. She and her husband bought a new home built by Denorfia’s company.
McBride says she chose Southington partly because she has family there, but also because it’s convenient to her job in Meriden and offers a good public school system.
“I looked at a lot of existing homes, and for the price, it made sense to build,” McBride says. She paid about $375,000 for a home with 1,800 square feet on a cul-de-sac with three other new homes.
McBride said her family could have found a new home for less in another town, perhaps with a longer commute. But she had other reasons for choosing Southington.
“I like the people, too,” she says. “It’s a really friendly place.”
Joanne Cyr is one of those friendly people. Cyr is a caretaker for the Barnes Museum on Main Street, a historic home built in 1836 and left to the town by its last owner, Bradley Barnes. A longtime resident, Cyr isn’t surprised that Southington is attracting home builders and buyers.
She ticks off some of the town’s positive traits, including new ethnic restaurants downtown and events like the annual Apple Harvest Festival.
“We have the rails to trails, the ski area [Mount Southington], Lake Compounce,” she says. “There’s a lot to do.“
And while the highways provide easy access to cities across the state, there’s something to be said for staying close to home.
“I can’t go anywhere without knowing somebody,” she says. “So it feels like a small town.“
By SUSAN SCHOENBERGER
Special to The Courant
Copyright © 2009, The Hartford Courant
October 18, 2009