Do over: Court orders zoners to reconsider denial of Bronson apartments
Published 7:22 am, Wednesday, September 16, 2015
A state Superior Court judge in Hartford has reversed the Town Plan and Zoning Commission’s rejection of a controversial proposal to build a 95-unit affordable housing development on lower Bronson Road.
The zoning denial was appealed by the applicant, Garden Homes Management, in July 2014. The 2.7-acre property at 92-140 Bronson Road borders an entrance ramp to Interstate 95 and Metro-North Railroad tracks.
“I’m gratified by the judge’s decision and looking forward to constructing the project,” said Richard Freeman, the head of Garden Homes. “The decision should serve as an admonition to the town that they need to take meaningful steps to address the severe lack of affordable housing in Fairfield beyond studying the problem.”
According to the judge’s ruling, some of the issues cited by the TPZ in denying the application did not outweigh the need for more affordable housing in town. The application was remanded back to the TPZ for further consideration of possible revisions to the application.
Issues cited by the TPZ in denying the application included the 20-foot access road, and the fact there was only one access road, insufficient parking spaces and the lack of approval from the Water Pollution Control Authority. Another concern cited by the commission in its denial was the lack of sidewalks for the driveway.
The original proposal was for an apartment building with 95 units, 29 of which would be rented to income-eligible families. The TPZ had four nights of hearings on the application, before voting to deny the application.
The court considered whether in light of those concerns, the commission’s denial “is necessary to protect the identified interests, whether the interests being protected outweigh the need for affordable housing, and whether the interests can be protected by other reasonable changes to the plan.” It reversed the TPZ decision regarding the access road.
While a 20-foot-wide access road can present “substantive” health and safety issues, the court said, it did not find the commission’s desire for a 24-foot wide access outweighed the affordable housing need. In fact, the ruling states that while a wider road is desirable, it is “not legally required under any applicable town road ordinance or regulation.”
Regarding the sidewalk issue, the court — which conducted a publicly noticed visit to the site — noted there are no sidewalks on the east side of Bronson Road, and said it could not find “given the character of the area and location of the apartments, that the absence of a sidewalk constitutes a concern that outweighs the need for affordable housing.”
The judge noted that the applicant, at the end of the hearings, submitted a sketch that eliminated four parking spaces and three units in order to allow large vehicles, such as fire trucks, sufficient space to access the building and turn around on the property.
The commission members, however, did not consider the alternative, and said they could not consider it a condition of approval.
“Given this court’s holding that the 20-foot-wide access way is acceptable, the court will remand the issue of the most recent redesign of the access way and apartment building … as proposed by the applicant for due consideration by the commission,” the court decision states.
The commission was also urged to consider a plan submitted by the applicant to install a 2-foot-wide reinforced shoulder of stones under the grass along the access way to give large trucks additional driving space.
The court also ordered that the TPZ make WPCA approval a condition of its approval.