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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

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Bronson group hosts forum on town's affordable housing quandary

Updated 12:00 pm, Thursday, August 21, 2014
  • Attorney Kathy Braun addresses a public forum on the state's affordable housing statute Wednesday. Photo: Genevieve Reilly / Fairfield Citizen
    Attorney Kathy Braun addresses a public forum on the state's affordable housing statute Wednesday. Photo: Genevieve Reilly

 

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One of the town's newest neighborhood groups, the Lower Bronson Road Neighborhood Association, held a public forum Wednesday on the state's so-called "affordable housing" law that developers can use to build higher-density residential projects than allowed under standard zoning regulations.

The Bronson Road group won the first battle in a fight to stop Garden Homes Management from building a 95-unit "affordable" apartment complex on the street, between an Interstate 95 entrance ramp and Metro-North railroad tracks. The TPZ denied the application, but the Stamford-based developer has filed an appeal of that decision in Bridgeport Superior Court as well as a fair housing complaint with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Residents at Wednesday's meeting heard from lawyers, the first selectman, state legislators and the chairman of the town's Affordable Housing Committee.

Under the 8-30(g) statute, developers can increase the density of a residential development if 30 percent of the units are set aside as affordable under state guidelines. The burden of proof falls to the town should an application be denied.

Warner Hill Road resident David Sturges said the town needs to develop a plan for affordable housing in each of the town's neighborhoods that takes unique approaches tailored for each area.

"At the state level we have to have our delegation make clear that opposition to affordable housing, to borrow from Mark Twain, is greatly exaggerated," he said. "Size, fit and compatibility do matter locally."

Lois Lehman, a local real estate agent, said what she sees as a problem in town is a lack of senior housing. "We don't have any really nice senior housing," she said, and suggested that perhaps it could be easier to amend zoning regulations to allow for more housing for seniors "so they could take away that feeling that we don't care about low-income people. We do."

Until there are changes to the state affordable housing statute -- which the town's state delegation assured residents that they have and are working on -- the town needs to look at ways to earn enough housing points to allow it to qualify for a moratorium from the affordable-housing law.

To be free from the statute altogether, and not simply get a moratorium, the town would need to have 10 percent of the housing stock qualified as affordable.

At a forum on the town's issues with affordable housing in April, it was reported that Fairfield needs 433 housing unit points to qualify for a four-year moratorium from 8-30g. But it has only 121.5 points, or 311.5 short of that threshold. Points are allocated based on the type of housing and income-eligibility levels. The housing must also be deed-restricted as affordable.

"We're not here to challenge the need for affordable housing," attorney and Representative Town Meeting member Kathy Braun said, but added that she believes the town will never reach that 10 percent threshold. "You're not going to ever be able to build enough," she said. "I don't think we'll ever be exempt, so the question is can you get to a moratorium?"

The Affordable Housing Committee, which is updating its affordable housing plan, is looking at ways to include housing that would qualify as affordable but is not counted by the state.

The panel is planning a meeting to get public comment on its draft report, which is set for 7 p.m. Sept. 10 at the Board of Education offices, 501 Kings Highway. The draft report can be found at the town's website, http://bit.ly/1BFw4fg.