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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Affordable Housing Redo Offers Westport ‘Breathing Room’

By James Lomuscio

The state’s affordable housing statute 8-30g has long been the bane of local municipalities because it allows developers to override zoning regulations if a municipality does not have 10 percent of its housing stock deemed affordable.

WestportNow.com Image
Developer Philip Craft of Easton shows off a redesign of his proposed four-story affordable housing complex at 1177 Post Road East, which he presented to the Representative Town Meeting last October. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

Westport is one of those towns, and 8-30g has been on the mouths and minds of local officials for years. The fear is that an unscrupulous developer could use it to ride roughshod over zoning regulations by providing just a small percentage of affordable units.

In the meantime, towns have been seeking four-year moratoriums to reach the state mandated housing stock goal by way of points based on affordable housing units in place.

On Monday, concerns over 8-30g lessened, with 138 of the state’s 169 municipalities not at the 10 percent goal catching a break.

Legislation making it easier for towns to reach moratoriums survived a veto by Gov. Dannell Malloy via a 101 to 47 vote in the House of Representatives and a 24 to 12 vote in the Senate. (See WestportNow July 24, 2017)

Under the new law, towns can have 33 percent fewer points and still qualify for a moratorium, reported the Connecticut Mirror.

“I’ve been working on this for seven years, and this year with a lot of work by Democrats and Republicans we got it passed in both chambers,” said state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, who represents Westport.

“It overcame the governor’s veto, and he lobbied actively, saying it would eviscerate 8-30g, which is ridiculous. He totally misrepresented it.”

Steinberg said he spent most of the weekend trying to sway colleagues “who were on the fence,” and said that some in Hartford credited him with achieving the 101 vote threshold in the House.

In Westport, First Selectman Jim Marpe lauded the legislation, saying it would allow the town time to reach its affordable housing objectives.

“I think overriding the governor’s veto has given Westport the opportunity to allow some projects already in the mix to go forward and presumably to allow us to accumulate moratorium points that include projects that have not been included,” Marpe said.

“We’re making sure we understand the details of the bill and what it means to Westport, and I appreciate the efforts by our legislative officials to help communities like Westport address affordable housing in a more complete and orderly manner,” he added, noting that the legislation allows for five-year moratoriums.

Marpe said the town several affordable housing initiatives in the offing, the largest being an approved four-story, 94-unit rental property with a 20 percent affordable unit requirement at 1177 Post Road East.

Catherine Walsh, chairwoman of the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z), was also pleased.

“We’re happy to see the override has occurred, and we’re taking another look at it to see how this will affect Westport and our calculation of moratorium points,” she said.

She said that due to her commission’s efforts to date, “I suspect there will be a minimal effect.”

“But I do believe it will give us breathing room to have all of the properties completed that have been approved to get us to the moratorium,” Walsh said.

She added that in November her commission will begin work on a five-year affordable housing plan.

Walsh added that the P&Z in 2010 launched an Affordable Housing Subcommittee, which was reworked in 2016 with a formal reporting system to have moratorium points at the ready.

Marpe said that Westport has a long history of providing affordable housing.

He cited the Westport Housing Authority developments of Canal Park, Hales Court and Sasco Creek. But those and other housing initiatives built before 1990 were not allowed to be counted under 8-30g toward the town’s affordable housing stock.

“I think we’ll know all of the details (of the legislation) shortly; we want to be careful to know what the new regulations do and don’t do,” Marpe said.

“We’re in the process of finalizing the town Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD), and we’re addressing affordable housing opportunities as part of that, so it remains an important element of our land use planning process.”

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Posted 07/25/17 at 08:30 PM  Permalink



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