Fairfield Selectmen postpone Quincy Street purchase vote

The Fairfield Old Town Hall at 611 Old Post Rd.

The Fairfield Old Town Hall at 611 Old Post Rd.

/ Josh LaBella

FAIRFIELD — A vote to approve buying a home on Quincy Street was pushed to next week after Selectman Tom Flynn said he wanted more time to view the property.

At question was the Board of Selectman’s decision on whether to purchase the house at 350 Quincy St. for $295,000 as part of an effort to turn the home and others nearby into affordable housing.

The initial resolution to buy the home was recommended by the Affordable Housing Committee.

According to Director of Community and Economic Development Mark Barnhart, the property was once part of a U.S. Navy site purchased by the town and subdivided into individual building lots. When the town sold the property, he said, it mandated that any buildings on the property be affordable housing. The mandate included a right of first refusal to repurchase if the owner was looking to sell.

Barnhart said the town wants to purchase the property, and possibly surrounding lots that also used to be part of the site, to maintain and redevelop the units there and ensure their long-term use as affordable housing. He said the town may also want to add additional units on the property.

“There’s an opportunity to, perhaps, create additional housing units here through a redevelopment plan,” he said. “So, this would be the initial step. The idea, the intent, would be to purchase additional properties contiguous to this lot, working with willing sellers, aggregate those parcels and redevelop the site.”

Barnhart said the goal in the larger project would be to demolish the existing units and build ones that are more energy efficient and flood resistant. He said the town worked with a collection of homeowners and non-profit developers in a similar process a few years ago, but was not able to secure financing for the project.

After that, the town created a housing trust fund, Barnhart said.

“One of the thoughts at that time was that we might potentially use that to at least start the process of acquiring lots here and doing redevelopment of the site,” he said.

If redeveloping the area wasn’t possible, Barnhart said, the exit strategy would be to sell it for the purchasing price while keeping the affordable housing covenant in place.

Fairfield does not meet the state threshold for percentage of affordable housing, which makes it subject to 8-30g, a regulation that allows developers to ignore zoning restrictions if their application has an affordable component.

First Selectwoman Brenda Kupchick said the purchase could help the town make an aggressive push for more affordable housing in town.

“Mark thought this was a good opportunity to get that ball rolling, and we have met many times discussing this issue on various levels,” Kupchick said. “So, this is part of that overall vision.”

Flynn asked why the town would not allow the home to be sold to a private buyer if the property is already mandated to be affordable. He also questioned the plan for redevelopment.

“What does that commit the town to do?” Flynn asked. “I’m just trying to get the overall plan here, because it sounds like this $295,000 is a down payment, and there could be a lot more parcels around there that you want to buy.”

Barnhart said there are significant risks associated with the property, including flooding, that undermine the long-term affordability of the site. He also said the town can increase the number of affordable units in the area.

“We would have to come back to you for acquisition of additional parcels and to actually show you a financing plan for the overall site and redevelopment should it come to that,” he said. “But I think initially, we thought this was an opportunity to at least preserve our options and flexibility going forward.”

Flynn said he was concerned that nobody wants to buy and develop the property because of the cost associated with it.

“So, the town is going to buy it, and then we’re going to try and strap together other parcels — and what? Then have a developer come in and try and redevelop for affordable housing for that same area?” Flynn said.

Barnhart said the main concern he and the Affordable Housing Committee had was that rising flood insurance premiums could harm the properties’ affordability.

“I think we have to correct some of the structural issues here as relates to the flooding,” Barnhart said. “That means elevating units. There’s no financial incentive. Nor can these individuals finance that themselves.”

Flynn said he wanted to be able to visit the property so he could better understand the situation, and then vote on it at the board’s next meeting.

Selectwoman Nancy Leftkowits said she supported the goal of the project, but did not want Flynn’s inspection to delay the sale of the property.

With the board’s next meeting on Sept. 21, town attorney James Baldwin said the postponement would not interrupt the purchase if approved then. Flynn and Lefkowitz voted to postpone the vote; Kupchick voted against, saying the town had worked a long time on the project and there was no reason to delay a vote.