Monday, April 15, 2024

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Housing Proposal Raises Traffic, Safety Issues

By James Lomuscio

Saying that traffic, safety and environmental impact should not be sacrificed for affordable housing, a number of residents at tonight’s Westport Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) meeting spoke against a developer’s plan.

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Kermit Hua, a traffic engineering consultant working for the affordable housing developer, addresses tonight’s P&Z meeting. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

It calls 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.

Fairfield attorney John Fallon, representing the developer of the project, Garden Homes Management, put forth the application for the development at 122 Wilton Road.

He said the project would meet the requirements of the controversial 8-30g affordable housing statute, under which the application was being made. 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.

Tonight’s hearing was a continuation of last week’s public hearing, and it was continued to the P&Z’s Thursday, Feb. 4 meeting.

At the outset of the meeting, Fire Chief Andrew Kingsbury expressed concern about access of fire apparatus to the proposed building.

He also said he had no information about the type of construction planned or the fire protection systems to be installed.

“It would overtax the system,” Kingsbury said if a major fire occurred there. “We would definitely run out of manpower and resources in Westport and our neighbors would run out of resources.”

“Moveups” would have to come from New Haven and Westchester Counties, he said.

Karen Hubrich, who has lived on Kings Highway North for 27 years, said that while she is “100 percent behind affordable housing …my biggest concern is traffic and safety.”

She said that traffic is already so bad on her road that she sometimes has to wait for the traffic lights to change twice in order to cross Wilton Road.

She also said that current traffic poses dangers to pedestrians, and that if she wants to walk downtown, she has to head down the less traveled Edge Hill Road.

“We’re talking about 48 units,” she said about the proposed development’s potential to increase traffic.

Ed Brennan, who lives at 38 Kings Highway North, said that in the 1990s he lobbied to have speed humps and stop signs installed along the road, which is used as a cut through to Post Road West.

“Back then, there were 9,000 cars a day going on Kings Highway North,” he said. “…I believe it has gotten worse. Before any project of that size is considered for that intersection, a meaningful traffic study has to be done.”

Brennan also called the proposed development’s planned exit onto Kings Highway Norwalk “the height of insanity.”

Matthew Jokl of 116 Kings Highway North said he was concerned about emergency vehicles being able to access his home because of increased traffic caused by the planned development.

Don Bergmann also spoke against the project, saying that 8-30g was never intended to compromise public safety. He urged the P&Z to deny the application, “and I hope the applicant will not pursue litigation.”

Representative Town Meeting (RTM) member Jimmy Izzo, who was not present, submitted a letter read aloud by P&Z Chairman Chip Stephens. In it, Izzo made an appeal for environmental and public safety, as well as for the safety of the residents who would occupy planned housing next to the Saugatuck River.

“Common sense should not be lost,” he said.

Stephens and Vice Chairman Jack Whittle took issue with the timing of the developer’s traffic engineer’s study.

They said measuring the backup of cars at the intersection of Wilton Road and Kings Highway North at 4 p.m. was not representative of the evening rush hour and that 6 p.m. would be more accurate.

Throughout the evening, Fallon made his case, drawing support from residents of the Garden Homes development on Fairchild Avenue in Fairfield.

Barbara Damen, 78, said she was a very happy resident there.

It’s affordable,” she said. “It’s clean and it’s beautifully maintained. And it is safe.”

Sam Silverfarb, 35, also a resident of the Fairchild affordable housing development, said he was involved in the American Chamber Orchestra in Fairfield and also works part-time in a senior retirement home as a cook .

“I live in a very nice house….I am very happy to live there,” he said. “And I see no reason why it shouldn’t be positive to Westport as it is in Fairfield.”

E. L Smallwood, also a Fairchild resident, said he was aware of the “crisis” in affordable housing in the United States. He said it was “significantly worse” in Connecticut.

An Air Force veteran, he said he was employed as a census worker in 2010 and Westport was one of his areas. He said he trained workers in the Westport Town Hall auditorium.

“It’s a shame what is going on in America with affordable housing,” Smallwood said.

He added, “I am very pleased to have the opportunity … to find affordable housing. So I give my thumbs up … for the people who have made a commitment to do what they can to help the citizens of America to deal with this crisis in public housing.”

In response to new documents submitted by Fallon, Stephens said, “I’ve maintained control up until now. And I’ve got to say this publicly: You have put us in one hell of a position.”

Picking up a pile of the documents and dropping them on the table in front of him, Stephens added: “You just dropped all this on us, [tellling us] review it, and then you can ask our consultants five minutes of questions.

“You are not extending our time listening to this. I don’t know what the end game is here, but I am rather offended and I want that on the record … I don’t understand it, and I think it is wrong.”

Fallon, in response, said, “We have broken our tail, including during this winter snowstorm” to evaluate reports from the P&Z consultants received days before and on the day of the last P&Z hearing on this application a week ago.

He declined to say why his client would not agree to an extension of the 65-day review period for the application. The 8-30g legislation spells out the timing requirement and his client was simply following the law, he said.

Stephens also told Fallon no one on the P&Z has said there should not be affordable housing at 122 Wilton Road. Saying so was “inflammatory and wrong.”

Fallon replied that some speakers at the meeting had said “this is not a place for affordable housing.”

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