South Windsor, Connecticut
A beautiful and vibrant community
Business View Magazine interviews representatives from South Windsor, CT, as part of our focus on best practices of American cities.
South Windsor, Connecticut, a suburb of the state’s capitol city, Hartford, comprises nearly 29 square miles within Hartford County on the east bank of the Connecticut River. In 1659, Thomas Burnham purchased the tract of land now covered by the towns of South Windsor and East Hartford from Tantinomo, chief sachem of the Podunk Indians. Famous theologian, Jonathan Edwards, was born in what is now South Windsor, incorporated in 1845. With fertile land and abundant resources, tobacco was a major crop since its founding. Today, 26,000 residents call the beautiful and vibrant town of South Windsor home, offering a blend of gracious residential living, a thriving commercial community, and an expanding high-tech industrial base.
A leader in sustainability practices, South Windsor recently received the Bronze Award from the Sustainable CT Initiative program offered through the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities. Director of Planning for South Windsor, Michele R. Lipe, describes the program covering eight areas of sustainability in which a town demonstrates, through regulations, policies, or practices, the community’s efforts in ongoing, sustainable programs. Environment related areas South Windsor highlighted include: open space planning, agricultural zoning regulations, and a transfer of development rights program. South Windsor is one of only seventeen communities in Connecticut to receive the Bronze award in November and indicated they were on track to apply for Silver this year.
“We are an old farming community that’s grown up over the last 50 years,” Lipe explains, “so farming and keeping our agricultural roots present in our community is still very important to us. We are also, however, a progressive town, taking on new initiatives in recycling and complete streets planning with a big initiative for more sidewalks and bikeways – something our public has demanded and we have taken seriously over the last 10 years. In other areas related to energy and energy efficiencies, we are able to demonstrate what we’re doing in some of our Town buildings, as well as our net metering projects, and new energy-efficient street lighting.”
People may be leaving the state of Connecticut, but as a whole, South Windsor is growing. According to Town Manager Matthew Galligan, “We have a very strong school system, very strong economy, and housing for everyone from high end to low. South Windsor has an ambiance and people just want to be here for those reasons.” The town has continued to add new housing over the last 10 years, in the form of apartments and single-family housing, which could add another one or two thousand people to the population by the 2020 census.
There are new school projects in the works, due to a growing school population, which is a rarity in Connecticut.
“Our schools were built in the 60s,” notes Galligan. “We did the first school, Orchard Hill that got approved. It’s up and running and built, and now in its second year. We have two schools going in brand new: P.R. Smith Elementary and Eli Terry Elementary. The last one, Pleasant Valley Elementary, will come in two or three years. All the schools will have the latest technology and assets so that we can enhance the education of the kids in South Windsor. We use the schools for many community events; our recreation programs, and our basketball, baseball, and soccer programs. Community support is very strong. They voted very heavily in a referendum – 70 percent or better – to approve all this, because they realize that it’s important for the town to make sure it has a good school system and good facilities.”
The tax base has been moving from an 85 percent, largely residential tax base, to 67 percent residential. Commercial businesses and industrial sectors are growing. Two 200,000 square foot distribution centers were built in 2015 for Hyundai Mobis and Vistar of New England Foods. Eighty-eight manufacturing companies in South Windsor have gotten breaks from the state on their M&E (machinery and equipment) taxes. “We’ve tried to be very diverse; not to throw all our eggs in one basket,” notes Galligan. “Just recently, Coca-Cola was looking to leave Connecticut and South Windsor was able to convince them to stay and build a 300,000-sq.-ft. distribution sales center in town. Now we’re looking at a Fortune 100 company to come in to build a distribution center in our area, and there’s probably a third one after that.” Though Gerber Scientific has curtailed some of its operations over the years, some of the buildings they had were taken over by other companies, including Ticket Network, that have been very positive in providing jobs for the town’s workforce.
“We have a tax incentive program we call a ‘tax fixing agreement’ for new companies who can come in,” says Galligan. “Usually they come to us, first, and we give them the incentives, then they go to the state for whatever they can get, after that. So, we’ve been a very, very business-friendly town, here. But if anybody wants to expand their company, we do try and knock on the doors, locally, to find out whether existing businesses are looking to relocate, and to see if there’s anything we can do to help them expand their business or offer incentives to them to do those expansions here. Our boards and commissions are business-friendly and very focused as a group, and make it very easy to bring in development and get these projects through at a reasonable pace.”
South Windsor has a capital project every year and continues to make sure its sewers are kept up-to-date, having just updated the sewer plant eight years ago for about $36 million. Significant sidewalk work from Evergreen Walk in the Buckland Gateway zone to the Town Center area is being completed for connectivity to get people to walk from place to place, versus taking the car.
A major focus on building a downtown core revolves around the Evergreen Walk Lifestyle Center. In addition, there’s a 200-apartment complex that is fully occupied, and room for another series of apartments that the town would like to see built. A 130-unit independent living facility is under construction, and a 111-unit assisted living facility will be under construction soon. “Evergreen Walk has really turned into a lifestyle center, with all sorts of amenities,” notes Lipe. “We have office buildings in a very walkable environment in the southern part of town going up to the Town Center area. We have put zoning in place in the core center of the town to make a commercial area with plenty of room to redevelop and to include the kind of apartments that Millennials or down-sizing Baby Boomers may be looking for.”
Lipe adds, “A big asset to South Windsor is the park system, recreation programs, and a significant amount of open-space land. Residents have really been dedicated to passing several referendums to purchase open-space land. The Town has strategically tried to purchase parcels of land to get the biggest bang for the buck in terms of location and visibility. We have a very nice trail network that people take advantage of; it offers a little bit for anybody that wants to get outside. The quality of life is what you hear the most from people here in town. They like the services, the community, and what it has to offer them.”
Galligan adds, “We have a strong and growing senior population and offer many senior programs in which to be involved. I think that has bridged the gap between the youth and our seniors. It’s nice to see the people who have built this community stay here and continue to evolve and help us through some of these times. Their knowledge is very valuable. It’s nice to have that information sticking around, and when you need to talk to somebody and say ‘Hey, what went on here 40 years ago?’ they can give you the answer.”
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AT A GLANCE
WHO: South Windsor, Connecticut
WHAT: A town of 26,000
WHERE: In Hartford County on the east bank of the Connecticut River.