Want to Live at the Mall? It Could Happen – in Trumbull

The Westfield Trumbull mall’s unusual request for a zoning change that would allow it to build 290 apartments on its 76-acre site may be the harbinger of things to come for suburban malls.  The plan was the subject last month of a Trumbull Planning & Zoning Commission hearing; a final decision is pending. The 290 units are planned to be one or two-bedroom apartments, with the opportunity to rent a garage and/or a storage space. The buildings will be on slabs, four stories high, with elevator access. Developers are hoping for a clubhouse, with a gym and common meeting room, and a pool.

The units would be marketed to professionals, young couples and older couples looking to stay in Trumbull, but not in a single-family home.  The plan is a trimmed down version of a proposal floated in the spring that would have developed 580 units.

Mall housing?  Nina Fuhrman, head of retail strategy at global design company IDEO, noted that “As we see the lines blurring between where you work and where you play and where you live, we’re going to see more residences and office spaces attached to malls.”

Trumbull may provide a glimpse into a trend gaining traction.  In a feature article last May in Business of Fashion, Westfield’s development of mall-adjacent residential properties was described as “a no-brainer because doing so will not only create a revenue stream from rent, but will also increase foot traffic to stores.” Already, Chief Operating Officer Bill Hecht told the publication, “the residential buildings in close proximity to our malls can charge slightly above market rent, because they have access to all our amenities close by.”

Trumbull First Selectman Vicki Tesoro has expressed reservations, encouraged public comment, and kept an open mind. In a public statement, she “expressed an understanding that malls throughout the country are reinventing themselves out of necessity. We, as a town, should work with them to the extent possible in that process. The mall is our largest taxpayer, and its success is a shared goal.”

In Bethesda, Maryland, Westfield plans to close a Sears store at the Westfield Montgomery Mall within the next year and is looking to launch a major mixed-use development on its piece of the property. The first phase, according to a report published by Bisnow, is expected to be completed by 2022, and would create 170K SF of new retail space with 350 to 360 apartments above, plus a health club. After that, Westfield would build an additional 300 units and 130K SF of retail and hotel space.

Jim Agliata, Westfield’s vice president of development, told Bethesda magazine earlier this year that the project represents the next phase of Westfield Montgomery’s emergence as a “lifestyle destination.”