Fairfield approves 94-unit apartment project by the Merritt

Photo of Katrina Koerting
An artist rendering of the apartment project approved for 4185 Black Rock Turnpike in Fairfield.

An artist rendering of the apartment project approved for 4185 Black Rock Turnpike in Fairfield.

Contributed photo / Primrose Companies

FAIRFIELD — An affordable housing project bringing 94 apartments near the Merritt Parkway was approved this week, though several officials said they disapproved of the project’s size.

“We can achieve the goals of (the affordable housing statue) and the need to expand affordable housing in town without building the absolutely largest building on the land,” said Matthew Wagner, the Town Plan and Zoning Commission chairman.

The Merritt 44 project at 4185 Black Rock Turnpike would include 65 market-rate apartments and 29 units considered affordable housing. It would be a mix of 26 one-bedroom units and 68 two-bedroom units.

Developers said the project meets a need for workforce housing in town.

Residents and the Merritt Parkway Conservancy raised concerns about the project at previous public hearings, with criticisms focusing on drainage, traffic, parking and its impact on the historic and natural nature of the Merritt Parkway.

The Town Plan and Zoning Commission approved the project on Tuesday 5-1, with commissioner Meg Francis opposing.

“I just find it an overwhelming project,” Francis said.

The project is about six stories, or 70 feet, tall.

While they approved the project, commission members unanimously rejected the zoning change proposed alongside the development.

“It doesn’t meet any of the standards we would use to approve,” said Commissioner Thomas Noonan, adding it wasn’t needed since the developer had state statute 8-30g to fall back on.

Under 8-30g, affordable housing projects can be built in towns that don’t have enough affordable housing without having to adhere to local zoning laws as long as there isn’t a health or safety risk.

The statute was the main reason the commission approved the project, not necessarily because they supported the actual plan, members said. Several commissioners said there weren’t enough health or safety risks associated with the project to reject it, especially since medical offices were approved for the same site several years ago that also would have increased traffic.

The town’s engineer also said the developer sufficiently addressed drainage concerns raised by the public and said the town would continue to monitor drainage there.

The commission had considered approving the project with the condition of reducing it by a level but did not vote on such a modification. None of the Merritt Parkway Conservancy’s alternative plans proposed shrinking the project. All of its suggestions kept the number of units but reconfigured where they would be on the site to minimize the impact on the view from the highway.

The developers had said none of the conservancy’s suggestions were doable.

Commissioners said they thought the impact on the section of the Merritt Parkway at the site of the proposal would be the best argument to deny the project, but ultimately felt even that fell short.

kkoerting@newstimes.com