Will condominiums proposed for West Hartford Center ease the

WEST HARTFORD — Tucked behind a tree-lined road of high-end shops and trendy restaurants in West Hartford Center is the unexpected: a crumbling parking lot where a developer has plans that could ease the area’s housing crunch.

On that sprawling lot behind the west side of LaSalle Road, development partners see a 5-story building with 64 luxury condominiums rising — rivaling those of upscale Blue Back Square — with units tentatively priced at an average of $750,000.

With two condos on the market in and around the center as of last week and just one “coming soon,” the developers consider the market as ripe for the addition of more units.

Marc K. Lewis, principal managing member of Westport-based Lexham Realty and a partner in the proposal, said he expects at least half of the condos, which would be named “Center Park Place,” would be purchased by buyers who are downsizing.

“I think the demand would be really significant,” Lewis said. “Now they could have an in-town residence and not have to take care of a house and have all the benefits of being able to go out in town.”

Lewis said he also sees the condos as potential second homes for buyers who may spend part of year in Florida and elsewhere.

Lexham, which owns buildings and parking around where the development is proposed, is partnering with the Simons family, which owns the Town Center building on nearby South Main, and the Manafort family, which owns a Plainville-based construction company.

The privately-financed project, estimated to cost between $50 million and $80 million, also includes 300-plus parking spaces — the majority of those below the condos in a 3-level parking garage, two levels below ground.

A second, 4-story building also would be constructed on the more visible parking lot at the corner of LaSalle and Arapahoe for 21 rentals — four of them income-restricted “workforce” apartments — over storefront space.

The rents are projected to average in the mid-$2,000s for the studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments.

The proposed development is bounded closely on two sides by streets with single-family houses.

Neighbors on Arapahoe say they see the benefits of improving the tax base and getting rid of what one called a “junky parking lot.” They also say they have to balance the benefits of walkability to the center with living side-by-side with the area’s popularity.

But the developers may still have to sell neighbors on the idea, especially when it comes to increased traffic.

“We’re open to the idea of in-fill like that, so that’s good,” Todd Parker, a resident on the street, said. “The major concerns that we have is that, it’s really about traffic.”

Parker said traffic intensified when LaSalle was made one way to allow restaurants to expand outdoor dining options during the pandemic — pushing a lot of traffic up Arapahoe, Parker said.

Parker said he only sees that getting worse with the new development because the two driveways to the condos and its garage — one reserved just for residents — are off Arapahoe.

“For us, when you start adding all those other cars, and if they are all pulling out onto this street — you can imagine — it would be very challenging,” Parker said.

Both the town and the developers say they are continuing to study trends in traffic in the area.

The plans for the additional condos and apartments have been contemplated for a half-dozen years but this latest proposal is still in the earliest stages of town review.

The proposal also comes as vacancy for rentals and condos up for sale in and around the center are essentially at an all-time low, town officials say.

The high occupancy also is spurring other housing construction nearby.

The building of 48 upscale apartments on Farmington Avenue — “The Byline” — is now underway, with the demolition of one of two existing buildings on the site now nearly complete.

And the buyer of the Children’s Museum property diagonally across the street, is expected to propose apartments with more detailed plans expected later this month.

Kristen Gorski, West Hartford’s economic development coordinator, said the town routinely hears from local real estate brokers that condos sell even quicker than apartments rent.

Within a half-mile from ground zero of the Center, at Main Street and Farmington Avenue, there are at least 500 condominiums in a broad range of ages.

In the last 12 months, about 60 have sold, according to data from the Multiple Listing Service. But there are few on the market at any one time, and there has been little new construction in recent years.

In the epicenter of the downtown area, the largest condominium development was 59 units at Blue Back Square and that was built 15 years ago.

If approved by town, the tentative prices for the Center Park Place condos could push above the list price for the one 2-bedroom, 1,300-square foot unit at Blue Back that is now on the market for $699,999.

The first condos could come up for sale in two years and could meet a market that has turned a bit more picky after the frenzied buying of the pandemic.

Carl A. Lantz III, a real estate agent at Coldwell Banker in West Hartford who has sold both new and existing condos, said the location “right smack in the middle of the Center” is a plus, but there will have to be the “highest-end” finishes and amenities.

Amenities planned include an indoor courtyard, pool, rooftop deck, outdoor terraces, high ceilings, a fitness room and green spaces surrounding the new building, including a pocket park. Details of finishes in the units are still being determined.

The developers hope to capitalize on the privacy of the area, yet still being close to activity.

“If they feel it is a good value, I think the demand would be through the roof,” Lantz said.

The development faces construction challenges because the 6-story condominium building would be built in a very tight, enclosed area.

Construction will need to be even more choreographed than many development projects.

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Two former houses, now offices, would be demolished near the corner of LaSalle and Arapahoe, providing entry to the condo construction site.

Later, this area would be used to create the two entrances to the garage, one just for residents and the other for the general public at night and on the weekend. This area would also include a pocket park and surface parking for the apartments.

The parking garage needs to be completed first to replace the parking spaces lost to the condo construction. Parking fees have yet to be determined, the developer says.

Construction of the apartments would come in a later stage of the development.

An alleyway off LaSalle to the condominium site would be transformed into pedestrian way, with seating, greenspace and a brick walkway leading to new outdoor dining spaces and the condominiums.

Kenneth R. Gosselin can be reached at [email protected]

This story was updated at 3:41 p.m. on July 17, 2022 to reflect that the proposed condominium building will be 5 stories with two levels of parking underground.