Thursday, January 21, 2016
By James Lomuscio
Westport’s Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) tonight heard details of a developer’s plan for a six-story, 48-unit multi-family housing project with 15 affordable units at the busy intersection of Wilton Road and Kings Highway North.
The plan brought immediate opposition from almost a score of residents who argued that they were not against affordable housing but that its placement would compromise the environment, safety and health of Westporters.
Introducing the plan, attorney John Fallon of Fairfield said the application—with a smaller three-story alternative—at 122 Wilton Road, would have 15 affordable units. And he said they would be marketed to minorities in Bridgeport and Norwalk, those least likely to apply.
This would meet the requirements of the controversial 8-30g affordable housing statute, under which the application was being made, he said. The statute allows developers to override local zoning laws if the town does not have 10 percent of its housing stock classified as affordable, which Westport does not.
“Let me make clear from the outset and make very clear for the record that this application is not about whether Westport has or has not taken the steps to encourage affordable housing,” Fallon said.
“It is not about whether Westport has or hasn’t a commitment to develop affordable housing … But what it is about, respectfully, is that those steps are not working and that commitment has not been fulfilled.”
He said only 1 percent of the rental units in Westport are found in buildings of 10 or more units. “According to Craig’s List, Apartments.com, and Zillow, there are currently eight apartments for rent in Westport,” Fallon said.
The developer, Stamford-based Garden Homes Management, has built affordable units in numerous locations, including Darien, Milford, Fairfield, and Stamford. Its 54-unit Fairfield project had attracted almost 33 percent minorities, Fallon said.
The plan presented to the P&Z calls for a six-story building, including garage below, of 45,796-square feet with 39 one-bedroom units and nine two-bedroom units. The alternative three-story building would have 41,680-square feet with 45 one-bedroom units and three two-bedroom units.
The proposal, recognizing the congested intersection of Kings Highway North and Wilton Road, also would include modifications to the roadways, which the developers said would actually improve the flow of traffic.
Fallon told the commission that in order to avoid protracted litigation, the developers would be willing to move forward with the smaller three-story alternative building. But he said should the P&Z reject the application, any appeals would be made for the larger building.
Following the developer presentation, the public weighed in.
“The statute never intended that public housing take precedence over the health and safety of residents,” said Celia Campbell-Mohn, who serves on the board of directors of the Aspetuck Land Trust.
She said effluent from the development near the Saugatuck River would end up in protected tidal wetlands.
“The salt marsh is of critical importance to the health and safety of residents,” Campbell-Mohn said.
The health of fish and shellfish and water are essential to human health.”
Resident Michael Love said there was a number of traffic and environmental issues to give pause for the project.
“I would like the developer to explain why; I’m still puzzled why he would pick this particular place,” he said. “I’d like to hear the justification for that.”
Tina Green, past president of the Connecticut Ornithological Association, cautioned about the development’s impact on wildlife, including birds such as snowy egrets and different herons currently on the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s (DEEP) protected list.
“This is very important to me, and aesthetically, it is a very bad location,” she said. ” ...I believe in affordable housing, but I do not believe it needs to be at this location.”
P&Z Director Laurence Bradley had invited Public Works Director Stephen Edwards to comment on the effect of the development on the town’s sewage pump station No. 5 in the area.
“This is not unusual of what we ask every applicant at this stage,” said Bradley.
Edwards said that the applicant would have to identify any increased flows “and make sure it does not put us in a risk situation” of system failure.
“The flow data has not been provided, so it is incomplete,” said Edwards, noting that it would be a liability for the town.
Resident Dick Stein was more concerned about parking overflow, saying that, “If you have 48 units, you could have 60 cars with visitors.”
State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg said that because of the proposed development’s proximity to a problem intersection and wetlands “it would still not be the right place” in any of the state’s municipalities.
“I have great sympathy for the applicant,” he said, adding that due to the property’s “steep grades and poor soils, the only way to make it work is 8-30g.”
Attorney Michael Bologna, representing a client who owns a home on Kings Highway North, gave a litany of traffic, fire safety and environmental concerns. He also promised an environmental notice of intervention, saying the affordable housing statute could not trump state environmental laws.
Matthew Mandell, a member of the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) agreed, “There is a state regulation equal to 8-30g that says you have to look at the environment.”
P&Z Chairman Chip Stephens scheduled the matter to be continued to the commission’s Thursday, Jan. 28, meeting.
Posted 01/21/16 at 11:25 PM Permalink