A controversial plan for a 95-unit apartment building on lower Bronson Road was unanimously denied Tuesday by the Town Plan and Zoning Commission.
The 7-0 vote, which followed 16 hours of public hearings from July 8 to Wednesday, was based on a report written and read into the record by Assistant Town Planner James Wendt. The report outlined what Wendt said would be "substantial risks to public interests in health and safety" from the proposed development, which was filed by Garden Homes Management of Stamford under 8-30(g), the state's affordable housing statute.
"It's been a hard year fighting this," Krista Grant, a Bronson Road resident, said after the vote. "The commission did what's right and what's right for public safety."
Joel Z. Green, the lawyer for opponents, said, "We're obviously pleased and thought that the decision was correct and recognized the many health and safety issues presented by the application."
Green said the 2.7-acre property at 92-140 Bronson Road, which borders an entrance ramp to Interstate 95 and Metro-North Railroad tracks, is "totally inadequate" for the proposed development and "really created so many public health and safety issues."
Ellen Jacob, a District 9 member of the Representative Town Meeting, said, "I think our Town Plan and Zoning is heroic because right now, we feel defenseless on a local, state and national level" in regard to affordable housing laws, which Jacob said constituted "a loss on our right to self rule."
Jacob said the state's affordable housing law "was poorly written" and "wasn't intended for this purpose."
Under 8-30(g), developers can exceed density limits set by local zoning regulations if they set aside 30 percent of proposed dwelling units in compliance with the state's "affordable" criteria. If a local zoning commission denies an affordable housing application, it must cite public health and safety issues that outweigh the need for affordable housing and that cannot be overcome by conditions of approval.
Matthew Wagner, the TPZ chairman, said he did not believe the commission could create conditions of approval that would satisfy the public health and safety issues presented by Garden Homes Management's application. He said he also found the opponents' traffic consultant more credible than the applicant's traffic consultant.
"One primary example is the number of anticipated vehicle trips per day on the site," Wagner said. "Initially, he was advocating there would be no more than 400, but, at the end of the day, he acknowledged more properly that the number was 640 vehicle trips per day."
"I am faced with wondering what else might not exactly be correct," Wagner said. He added that none of the data presented by the opponents' traffic consultant "was challenged in any way."
Wagner said John Fallon, the lawyer for Garden Homes Management, in his rebuttal offered conditions under which the TPZ could approve the apartments, which included a turnaround and more handicapped-accessible parking spaces. But Wagner said those suggested conditions of approval "didn't go far enough" and hadn't been reviewed by engineers and other consultants.
"I do agree there are no reasonable conditions of approval we can impose for this application," Wagner said. "There is not evidence in the record which would provide the basis to propose any reasonable conditions of approval."
"I also agree the risk to the public's health, safety and welfare outweighs the need for affordable housing at this site," Wagner said.
Seth Baratz, the commission's secretary, said, "We do have a need for affordable housing, but there are so many issues here ... We have no choice but to deny this application."
Fallon left immediately after the TPZ's roughly 30-minute discussion and wasn't available to say if he might file a revised application or appeal the commission's decision in Bridgeport Superior Court.
The report read by Wendt stated, among other things:
- The 20-foot width of a driveway into the proposed apartment building was insufficient for 95 units, as well as for the length of the only driveway into the property.
- The first 130 feet of the proposed 300-foot-long driveway is within a town right-of-way and the "optimal standard" for improvements within a public right-of-way calls for a 30-foot width, with a minimum width of 24 feet.
- The National Fire Protection Association's code calls for more than one access driveway if access by a single driveway could be impaired by vehicle congestion, terrain conditions, climatic conditions or other factors that could limit access.
- Referring to testimony by Fire Chief Richard Felner, Wendt said that it would be "nearly impossible" for a ladder truck to enter the site due to the limited "access swing" from Bronson Road; firefighters' access to the side or rear of the proposed apartment building would be inadequate; the 20-foot width would not be sufficient to safely deploy the Fire Department's emergency apparatus or allow other vehicles, such as an ambulance, to get by the apparatus, a condition that would be worsened after heavy snow; a fire truck could not turn around on the site and would have to back up 300 feet onto Bronson Road to leave; the ability to respond to an emergency in a timely fashion would be compromised, and the site constraints warrant a second entrance.
- The 113 parking spaces planned for the development, or 1.2 spaces per apartment unit, "could reasonably be a source of congestion." Baratz later said there wasn't a safe alternative for motorists who couldn't park on the site.
- The proposed parking aisle width of 22 feet instead of the required 24 feet under local zoning regulations "will create the need for additional vehicle maneuvering."
Wendt said it would not be possible to create a second driveway into the site, and noted that even the applicant's engineer testified that the 20-foot driveway could not be widened.
"This leaves the commission in an untenable position," Wendt said. "The record evidence indicates the need for a paved roadway greater than 20 feet in width in order to protect substantial public health and safety interests, while at the same time the applicant has demonstrated that the required roadway widening cannot be achieved."
Wendt suggested that the commission determine that sufficient evidence exists to support a finding that the proposed development "would pose substantial risks to public interests in health and safety" and that those interests "clearly outweigh the need for affordable housing." He also suggested the commission determine that no reasonable conditions of approval can be made to protect those public interests.
After Wendt read his report, Gerald Alessi, the commission's vice chairman, made a motion to adopt the report and its findings and conclusions as a "commission statement" and, on that basis, deny the application. Baratz seconded the motion.