By Jesse Buchanan Record-Journal staff

SOUTHINGTON — Construction of nearly 100 houses at Hillcrest Village off Meriden-Waterbury Turnpike could begin in a few weeks, according to developers.

Development for the land between the turnpike and Interstate 84 has been in the works for more than a decade.

The property is owned by John Iannini, a West Hartford developer, and Elizabeth Verna, a Wallingford resident and an owner of Verna Builders. Verna said work’s been completed on two model homes and that they’ll be ready to sign contracts and begin work on houses in two weeks.

Houses range from 1,700 to 2,500 square feet in size. Prices start at $380,000 for the smaller homes and run up to $450,000 for the largest.
The homes include granite countertops, hardwood floors and outdoor living areas, “all the standard features the market is asking for,” Verna said. She’s designed the homes to appeal to a number of demographics including first-time home buyers, families and empty-nesters. Styles include ranches, two-story houses with master bedrooms on the first floor and traditional two-story houses.

The Hillcrest project has been through a number of iterations in the past decade ranging from 30 houses on large lots to more than 200 townhouses.

In 2006, the town approved developers’ plans for 30 houses of between 2,500 to 3,000 square feet. The approval came with stipulations that cut two houses from the plan but developers said the loss of two buildings would eliminate their profits. The homes were to be priced around $550,000.

Iannini proposed a radically different plan in 2007 that called for more than 200 townhouses on 32 acres. More than a quarter of those housing units would be affordable housing. Due to state law the inclusion of affordable housing in a development makes it very difficult for towns to deny the applications. Southington’s commission did deny the plan in 2007 and did so again that same year after developers modified the plan.
Iannini sued the town and won based on state law concerning developments with affordable housing. A court said in 2009 that the project could only be denied as a means to protect public health or safety or if the application poses a risk of harm greater than the need for affordable housing. It ordered the commission to approve Iannini’s plans, which it did that same year.

In 2014, the plan was again modified after discussions between the town and the developers and approved by the commission a year ago. The townhouses were scrapped in favor of 100 single-family homes on lots ranging from 0.15 to 0.33 acres. Ten of those homes will be affordable housing.

Town Attorney Mark Sciota said the new plan was agreed upon by the town, developers and the courts.
Town planners had objected to the proposal for townhouses since it would create a population density much higher than the surrounding area.
Building single family homes is a “much better plan,” Sciota said.

Townhouses were popular 10 years ago when the plan was first developed, Verna said, but since that time buyers have shifted to individual homes. The plan was changed to reflect that desire, as well as the town’s wishes for a lower-density project.
Townhouses were “not welcomed by the neighborhood,” Verna said.

“I think the neighbors are happier. I think the people of the town are happier. It’s a great product,” she said of the new plan.