The Town of Fairfield recently embarked on a planning study to examine opportunities for transit-oriented development around two of its three commuter rail stations, but what does this mean for Fairfield and why is it important?

Transit-oriented development or “TOD” refers to a type of development which typically includes a mix of housing, office, retail and other uses that are integrated into a walkable neighborhood and located in close proximity to quality public transportation. TOD projects are designed at a scale and with features and amenities to encourage walking and to de-emphasize auto use.

To be sure, Fairfield has strong TOD roots. Fairfield Center developed organically along these lines, long before the phrase “TOD” entered the planner’s lexicon. More recently, concurrent with the opening of Fairfield Metro Center, the Town Plan & Zoning (TPZ) Commission revised its regulations to encourage transit-oriented, mixed use development around the new station. Those changes included an overlay designation that permitted residential uses as part of a mixed use development, allowing for greater density and height while relaxing parking requirements and mandating a ten percent affordable housing set-aside. Within the past year, the TPZ approved similar changes to its regulations to enable a residential development within walking distance of the downtown train station. The current effort builds on this foundation, examining development patterns that have since emerged to determine whether additional changes are warranted.

Earlier this year, the Town secured a $200,000 grant from the State of Connecticut and engaged Goody Clancy, a Boston-based planning consulting firm, to help undertake this work. While Fairfield is fortunate to have three stations on the Metro North line, the study will focus on the two full-service stations at Fairfield Metro and downtown, where development interest and opportunities appear greatest. The goal is to develop a consensus vision and strategy to advance transit-oriented development within a three-quarter mile radius of both stations in order to thoughtfully expand Fairfield’s commercial tax base.

The project team is expected to provide essential information to help inform this discussion. In particular, the consultant is tasked with developing: (a) an assessment of market demand for transit-supported uses surrounding the Fairfield Metro Center and downtown stations to include office, retail and residential uses; (b) an analysis of potential development sites within the study area based on existing land use regulations and market demand; and (c) an estimate of the potential costs and benefits to include the capacity of existing infrastructure to support future development. At the conclusion of the study, the consultant will work with the Commission and staff in developing land use policies and regulations to achieve the community’s vision and goals.

Throughout this process--expected to conclude by early 2019--the public will have an opportunity to weigh in and provide input. The Town held an initial kick-off meeting in late June, but additional workshops and meetings are planned for the next several months, beginning in late September. Public interest is high as evidenced by the turn-out at the initial meeting, and I hope that this level of civic engagement will continue.

Much attention has been focused recently on ways in which the Town can grow its commercial tax base. Many people are surprised to learn that only 4.5% of the Town’s land area is zoned for commercial uses. Nevertheless, these two station areas alone account for more than one quarter of the Town’s total tax revenue. The extent and specific manner in which these two areas are redeveloped will have tremendous implications for the Town’s ability to realize its other goals.

For more information related to the study, including a summary of the initial public meeting, please visit https://www.fairfieldct.org/tod or contact the Department of Community & Economic Development at (203) 256-3120.

Mark Barnhart is the Director of Community & Economic Development for the Town of Fairfield, and is the Treasurer of the Connecticut Economic Development Association (CEDAS).