There are many apartments to rent in Derby, but they are not the kind recent college graduates nor aging baby boomers want to live in.
Offering modern rentals is one of the keys to breathing new life into the city’s long-stagnant downtown redevelopment zone.
That’s one of the conclusions of a preliminary report prepared by DPZ Partners, a firm hired with grant money to create a new plan for Derby’s downtown redevelopment zone.
The redevelopment zone is the 19-acre area stretching from the Derby-Shelton bridge to the former Lifetouch property along Derby’s Main Street (state Route 34).
DPZ worked with six other groups to create the 124-page preliminary report, which was recently posted to the City of Derby website.
The Williams Group, a consulting firm, authored the economic and market analysis section of the preliminary report.
The report notes the average rental property in Derby is often in old houses that have been converted into single-family properties. Those properties come with none of the extras favored by today’s renters, such as community spaces, pools, easy parking and fitness centers.
In addition, there’s a lot of government-subsidized housing in Derby’s rental market.
Meanwhile, neighboring Shelton has more than 1,100 new rentals with a low, 5 percent vacancy rate.
Derby should follow Shelton’s lead by offering modern, less expensive rentals with amenities in the redevelopment zone — and those units should have millennials and “empty nesters” in mind.
Baby boomers are hitting retirement age, so Derby’s senior population is growing rapidly.
Outside Derby, younger people are looking for an affordable place to live — and it’s not easy finding a cheap place in trendy New Haven or Stamford.
With new, “targeted housing,” Derby will increase its chances of getting the types of commercial growth it wants within the redevelopment zone, the preliminary report states.
Over the next decade, the redevelopment zone could sustain between 350 to 400 new multi-family residential units.
The report states — and the consultants stated during the public workshops — the millennials to be targeted often don’t have children, as they’re early into their careers.
The Williams Group contribution to the report is just one part of the “Downtown Now!” effort Mayor Anita Dugatto’s administration kicked off last April.
The consultants met with Derby community and business leaders twice in September, then hosted a series of public workshops on the downtown redevelopment zone in October and November.
Some members of the public told the consultants there’s a sense that downtown Derby is on the decline, as evidenced by empty storefronts and the multiple failed attempts at the redevelopment zone, where one of the vacant buildings had two fires in just three months.
Across Main Street in downtown Derby, the public also expressed safety concerns on Anson Street and the surrounding streets, and complained the city’s sewage treatment plant is in a terrible location — next to the city’s walking trail along the Housatonic River.
The preliminary report also said Derby’s crime rate is a deterrence to commercial and quality residential growth in the city. High taxes — and the large amount of money spent on Derby government — was also pegged as a negative.
Also, in terms of challenges, the report points out not enough Derby residents have the skills needed to get jobs in growth industries, such as technology and high-tech manufacturing. The report recommends teaming with area learning institutions to focus on that problem.
During the “Downtown Now!” public forums, the consultants polled audience members about the types of businesses they want in the redevelopment zone. Restaurants and independently owned business dominated the list.
Meanwhile, Derby government officials, its development team and others were scheduled to hold meetings this week to talk about the Main Street widening project, a multi-million dollar project scheduled to start in 2018.
DPZ Partners voiced concerns about the widening plan during one of the “Downtown Now!” public forums. DPZ is worried the expanded road will act too much like a highway, further isolating the south side of Main Street from the rest of downtown Derby.
DPZ advised Derby to convince the state Department of Transportation to tweak the planned widening, and Derby was to make its case to the DOT Wednesday morning in a meeting scheduled in Derby City Hall.