Friday, March 01, 2024

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At P&Z, Minor Tweaks for Summit Saugatuck

By James Lomuscio

For the seventh time since 2002, Summit Saugatuck was back before Westport’s Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) tonight, this time with a site plan and amendments for a five-building, 187-unit, affordable housing, rental complex on Hiawatha Lane.

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Attorney Timothy Hollister explains the Summit applications. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo

And compared to past skirmishes and denials, tonight’s hearing seemed noticeably amicable as Tim Hollister, attorney for Fairfield developer — and one-time Westport P&Z commissioner — Felix Charney, spoke.

He presented a site-specific text amendment, a map amendment, a site plan and a coastal area management (CAM) site plan for the 8.8 acre Saugatuck property near Exit 17 of I-95.

Even Westport’s former Fire Chief Andrew Kingsbury, whose fire access, safety concerns have derailed other affordable housing projects, called Summit’s new designs “generally adequate” with some adjustments.

Charney is pursuing the project under the state’s affordable housing statute 8-30g, which allows a developer to override local zoning laws if a town does not have 10 percent of its housing stock deemed affordable. Westport has about 4 percent.

According to Hollister, 57 units of rental studio, one- and two-bedroom units would be for those making between $40,000 and $70,000 a year, and the Westport Housing Authority, which has a waiting list of clients in need of housing, “would serve as the administrator of affordability.”

He called the plan “transit-oriented development” since the property, 3.7 acres of which would remain open space, sits between I-95 and is a half-mile from the Saugatuck train station.

“No doubt we need pedestrian improvements,” he said about the need for sidewalks.

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A rendering of the Hiawatha Lane project. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo

The proposed text amendment aims to create a Saugatuck Village District that would have four three-story and one four-story building surrounding a central village green. Hollister said the complex also would have underground parking in fire safe garages.

“Why this location?” asked Hollister, answering his question with the area’s access to public water, sewers “and it’s close to the train station.”

He added that the property is close the high-density Avalon rental complex in Norwalk, making the site “appropriate for high density.”

Summit architect David Ball of Norwalk said that after conversations with fire officials, “All of the buildings will be constructed of noncombustible materials,&##8221; including cement siding.

He said that all will have fire protection systems, such as sprinklers and fire alarms, and that the courtyard would be accessible to fire trucks.

Kingsbury pointed out that the overhead wires near the entrance should be put underground to allow access for firetruck aerial access.

He also said the developer should confer with the water company Aquarion to make sure there is a greater water supply on site, and that the underground garages have adequate ventilation systems since smoke can build up quickly underground.

P&Z Commissioner Cathy Walsh asked about emergency fire access from Norwalk via a gravel road from the Avalon complex.

Fire Marshal Nate Gibbons agreed the complex would need an “adequate second fire road,” and that he would advise against approving the project without one.

After conferring with Hollister, the commission agreed to keep the matter open until its Thursday, March 7 meeting.

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