Fairfield commission ends affordable housing hearing, sets vote for Oct. 2
FAIRFIELD — The lengthy saga of 980 High St. continued last night as the Fairfield Housing Authority once again came before the Inland Wetlands Agency of the Conservation Commission.
The hearing finally concluded Wednesday night, with the Commission adjourning to vote on the item at their next meeting on Oct. 2.
This was the third public hearing in the Housing Authority’s attempt to secure an inland wetlands permit to build an affordable housing complex on High Street. Neighbors have disputed the proposed 40-unit complex on economical, environmental and historical grounds.
Commissioners were visibly frustrated with the proceedings, which they were compelled to delay both times due to the applicant’s presentation of additional evidence.
“You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” said Commission member Felicia Watson to the Authority’s Attorney Bryan LeClerc .
At previous hearings, LeClerc had presented hundreds of pages of evidence and multiple experts testifying to the fact that the proposed project will not harm the wetlands on the site.
This time, Conservation Administrator Annette Jacobson presented her staff report on the application, concluding with a recommendation for denial. She argued that the development would damage the wetlands on the site, which she characterized as a vernal pool attracting wildlife.
Attorney Joel Green also argued on behalf of interveners in the case, namely Oakwood Drive residents Barbara Pace and Catherine Allen, as well as a larger group of neighborhood residents in the organization Fairfield Neighbors United.
Green presented his own experts, who testified that the Housing Authority’s planned stormwater retention system would not work as intended. The system would either infiltrate too much or too little water, the witnesses claimed, resulting in one of two outcomes: overflowing the wetland or starving it.
Reached for comment Thursday, LeClerc maintained that the proposed project would not impact the site’s wetlands.
“We worked with the town engineer and utilized professional peer reviews of our own experts to ensure that both the wetland and upland review areas would be protected,” LeClerc said. “We may in fact be setting a new bar for protection of valuable wetlands and habitats alongside of development.”
Both Jacobson and Green emphasized at Wednesday’s hearing that they were not biased against the applicant and had no intention of making a statement about the need for affordable housing in Fairfield.
“At the end of the day, the opposition from my clients rises from the fact that it’s too intense a development on too small a site that results in adverse impact on the wetlands,” Green said.
Jacobson noted that a smaller development on the property would meet conservation standards by staying out of the wetland zone.
This led to a debate over whether a lesser development would meet the goals of the Authority, whose 40-unit, 80-percent affordable complex falls under 8-30g laws intended to bolster development in municipalities lacking affordable housing.
Commission Chair Kevin Gumpper argued that the proposed apartment complex is not the only option for the site.
“Build single-family housing, that’s a feasible and prudent alternative,” Gumpper said.
LeClerc objected to this statement, saying it undermined the intentions of 8-30g to provide multi-family housing.
“No it’s not,” LeClerc said. “Under the law, it absolutely is not.”
Attorney Green has not responded to a request for comment.
The Commission will vote on the Housing Authority’s inland wetlands permit application at their next meeting on Oct. 2.