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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

RTM Committee Rejects Overturning Affordable Housing Regs

By James Lomuscio

A Representative Town Meeting (RTM) committee voted 4 to 3 Monday night against overturning a Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) affordable housing amendment that some property owners say will cause them financial hardship.WestportNow.com Image
Matthew Mandell, chair of the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) Planning and Zoning Committee, addresses Monday night’s meeting. At left is member Diane Cady. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) James Lomuscio for WestportNow.com

In recommending that the RTM not overturn Amendment No. 618—which requires 20 percent affordable housing in all new multi-family housing districts along the Post Road—the RTM Planning and Zoning Committee unanimously agreed that 618 should be rewritten to require affordable units only in General Business Districts (GBDs).

Matthew Mandell, who chairs the committee, said he would initiate action through the committee to draft a revised text amendment to that effect for submission to the P&Z.

At the same time the committee unanimously voted to take no action on Amendment No. 619 since members agreed it placed no burden on property owners in GBDs. In fact, they said, it would give GBD property owners the opportunity to establish multi-family housing, an option not previously available. The full RTM will take up the items at its Dec. 7 meeting.

Michael Calise, who owns property at 215 Post Road West in the Business Preservation District (BPD), spearheaded the campaign to have 618 and 619 overturned. He got more than 20 signatures needed to place the item on an RTM agenda.

Stressing that he is not against affordable housing, Calise said the regulations should have been confined to GBDs instead of “a one size fits all” that places the same 20 percent affordable unit requirement in BPDs, Retail, Office and Residential Districts (RORDs) and Design Development Districts.

He called the amendment especially burdensome for condominium developers, since it would cost $400,000 to build each unit, “and now you would be forced to sell it for $175,000.”

Prior to the committee’s vote, Calise said he would accept nothing short of a recommendation to overturn 618.

“If I lose here I am going to go to court,” he said. “I’m not going to go to the P&Z with a text amendment.Why should the ordinary citizen have to ask the P&Z for an amendment to something they shouldn’t have done in the first place?

“I have children and grandchildren to think about,” he added. 

Mandell voted against recommending to overturn because he felt there was no guarantee that the full RTM would follow suit.

“Mr. Calise did not just make a cogent argument but a compelling argument,” Mandell said. “If we vote to overturn here and don’t achieve that on the full RTM, Mr. Calise is being hung out to dry.”

Instead he said the committee “should take the lead with a text amendment for the P&Z.”

Committee member Rob Galan agreed, saying, “You get more flies with honey than vinegar.”

“You have other options than overturning it,” he said.

Galan said he favored asking for a P&Z text amendment limiting affordable housing to GBDs. He said he was confident such an amendment would be amenable to the P&Z after hearing P&Z Chairman Ronald Corwin speak.

Corwin was among a dozen residents present at the meeting held in Room 309 at Town Hall.

“This commission’s history has been one of reasonable accommodation in listening to individuals who are looking for something to work,” said Corwin.

Committee members Joyce Colburn, Judith Starr and Lois Schine remained firm that the amendment should be overturned.

“It’s burdensome, and it’s detrimental to property owners,” Colburn said. “I don’t like to overturn, but that’s what I’m going to vote for.”

The majority said that overturning the amendment would only delay Westport’s determination to increase affordable housing which is below the state goal of 10 percent of the housing stock.

“We think they (P&Z) made a mistake,” Mandell said, “but, we don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater.”

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Posted 11/30/10 at 06:30 AM  Permalink



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The irony of #618 could well be that because of the added costs it imposes on property owners who might want to build housing in the non-GBD (General Business District) zones, it appears unlikely #618 would even achieve what it sets out to do.  This is one problem the amendment presents with. 

Another is the simultaneous decrease in values of property owners in the non-GBD districts affected.  Property owners in non-GBD districts already have the right to build housing on their properties, but the requirements of #618 make it more costly to do so, in that way diminishing the value of their property.  Property owners in GBD do not yet have the right to build housing there, but #618 grants them that ability.  It is, for them, a plus, a true incentive, an added value to their properties, a carrot for affordable housing. 

Finally, the goals of the Commission in passing 618 (and with it 619) are quite likely to be realized anyway with only the inclusion of the GBD—thus achieving the desired result without causing any harm to property owners in the other included zones.

The main divergence of opinion among committee members during the discussions was on how to encourage or achieve a change in #618 to make it “GBD-only”.  All members present expressed the desirability of doing so.

Posted by Judy Starr on November 30, 2010 at 04:03 PM | #
 

I would like to post a correction:

At no time did I state that I felt, after hearing Mr. Corwin speak, that the P&Z;Commission would be amenable to a text amendment.  As a matter of fact, I clearly stated that there was no guarantee that the commission would go along with a text amendment.  I did say that I felt it was a better way to proceed than to overturn the P&Z;.

Bob Galan

Posted by bob galan on November 30, 2010 at 11:07 PM | #
 

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