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Mixed-Income Housing Reinvigorates a Historic Downtown

Meriden Commons

neighborhood plan, urban design
Scale
99,557 SF
Total Units
75
Location
Meriden, CT

The transformation of Downtown Meriden is a story about social and environmental resilience planned by a perseverant community as it envisions a sustainable future for the next generation.

Over two decades of incremental yet diligent investments made by the City and its stakeholders have paid off. As a result of a HUD Choice Neighborhoods Transformation Plan led by WRT, a vacant downtown once prone to persistent flooding and resultant disinvestment is today a verdant park, surrounded by 14 acres of new mixed-income, green residential developments and a newly constructed intermodal transit station which will be an express stop on the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield Rail Line. 

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Developer Acumen
WRT was retained by the city and housing authority to develop a downtown master plan. WRT’s housing plan, informed by meaningful community engagement, called for the development of over 600 mixed-income units in the city center. During the planning process, WRT successfully mediated two opposing forces in this community. One group of citizens pushed for deeply subsidized units in the downtown to serve the urgent need for quality affordable housing. The other group envisioned a downtown populated by higher income residents. WRT reconciled both parties by demonstrating a mixed-income scenario, with proven models and understanding of housing finance and strategy.

Ultimately, the housing plan’s primary goal was to incrementally increase the income levels of downtown residents without displacing the existing population. To accomplish this, WRT recommended the initial four phases to be funded by the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program administered by the Connecticut Housing Finance Agency. Once the market was “primed,” WRT recommended developing market-rate units to be privately financed. To date, all LIHTC phases have been fully funded. In addition to planning services, WRT also served as architects of both affordable and market-rate phases.

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Meriden Commons Phase One
Meriden Commons, the first housing phase, is a 75-unit mixed-income, mixed-use project, located on the corner of State and Mill Streets next to the newly implemented Meriden Green. The transit-oriented project provides needed housing density within the downtown and 5,000 square feet of ground-floor retail along a major commercial corridor. It is walkable to the nearby Amtrak station and local bus routes and was designed to overlook the new Meriden Green.

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Design Considerations
The exterior design is conceived as a contemporary interpretation of the traditional 19th century mixed-use downtown building elements common to Meriden, with a strong corner feature to anchor the State and Mill Street intersection. The language of repeating brick and metal panel bays along State Street breaks down the 175’ building length into smaller modules similar to the scale of traditional 19th century commercial structures.

Two tones of metal panel are used on the corner tower to create a transition from traditional architectural forms on State Street, and establish a contemporary architectural expression that overlooks Meriden Green.

The building’s raised terrace provides retailers and customers with beautiful elevated views of Meriden Green.

The building is designed to meet a Hers 52 index (well above energy code), Enterprise Green Community Certification, and Energy Star for New Homes for the residential units. Additional exterior insulation was provided to reduce the HVAC mechanical load for the building. LED lighting has been provided to minimize electrical load. The PV solar array offsets the building’s electrical load and site lighting.

The storm water management system was designed to retain the first 1.0 inch of rainfall so that no storm water will be discharged to drains/inlets. Water-conserving fixtures were installed in all units and common facilities. The creation of Meriden Green reduces the flood plain and provides stormwater runoff mitigation.

The transit-oriented development has been situated within close proximity to the nearby Amtrak train station and local bus routes. Situated on Meriden Green, residents will have direct access to the new park with bike trails, amphitheater featuring musical programming, farmer’s markets featuring sustainable produce, and more. The development also features a new playground. The walk score is 81.

Today, 14 acres of concrete and asphalt have been transformed into a placemaking open green space, public housing has been redeveloped into a mixed-income community, and a new train station with enhanced train service will usher in a transit-oriented tomorrow.

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Meriden Commons Phase Two
Meriden Commons Phase Two, is designed to meet Passive House standards, one of the most rigorous energy-based standards in the design and construction industry. To accomplish this aggressive standard the building is designed with an insulated envelope and airtight construction including thermal-bridge free detailing. The building design also provides high performance glazing and an energy recovery ventilation system. This holistic approach results in a huge reduction in building energy consumption, while providing the occupants with the best indoor air quality and thermal comfort. All three buildings will obtain Passive House certification. The individual units in the low-rise buildings will also meet Energy Star for homes certification, achieving a HERS index in the range of 35 to 40, performing significantly better due to the Passive House design. The photovoltaic array provides for 33% of site electric requirements.

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