Fairfield considering a 94-unit affordable housing project

Artist rendering of the proposed apartment project at 4185 Black Rock Turnpike in Fairfield.

Artist rendering of the proposed apartment project at 4185 Black Rock Turnpike in Fairfield.

Contributed photo / Primrose Companies

FAIRFIELD — Officials are considering an affordable housing project near the Merritt Parkway and Hotel Hi-Ho that has residents concerned about factors like parking and the Merritt Parkway Conservancy raising issue with the potential loss of that section of the roadway’s scenic nature.

The project, at 4185 Black Rock Turnpike, would include 94 units, with 65 at market rate and 29 considered affordable units. It would be a mix of 26 one-bedroom units and 68 two-bedroom units.

“It’s designed to address a dire need in town for market and workforce housing,” said Paul Richter, the developer for the Merritt 44 project.

The project application is submitted under the state 8-30g statute, which is in place to increase affordable housing but is controversial because it allows developers to circumvent local zoning regulations unless there is a health or safety risk.

Residents raised concerns about the project at previous hours-long town plan and zoning commission public hearings on the project. The hearings are expected to wrap up at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

Concerns center on potentially increased traffic, especially in the morning and evenings as people go to and from work. People also worried there wasn’t enough parking for the building, especially for overflow parking for guests and deliveries.

Other concerns were raised about drainage and the risk of exacerbating the threat of flooding already there.

“Our challenge with this particular development is not the inclusion of affordable housing, it is the development itself — the size, scale and the numerous issues that that brings,” Steve Ronan, who lives across the street from the proposed apartment building, said at one of the hearings.

The Merritt Parkway Conservancy also raised a number of concerns with the project, echoing many raised by the residents. They also said it would impact the historical scenic nature of the Merritt, since one of the best preserved sections of the parkway is in Fairfield.

The project includes one building with four floors of residential housing and a parking deck. About 54 percent of the 2.35 acres will be developed, leaving the remaining acreage as landscape, according to the submitted plans.

Richter said this doesn’t include the four acres or so adjacent to the site protected by a conservation easement they got several years ago.

There is currently nothing on the site, but that wasn’t always the case. It was once home to a nursery there for decades. Richter said they removed the dilapidated buildings several years ago and cleaned up some of the wetlands when they took it over.

Richter has been involved with the site for about a decade. He originally proposed a medical building, which was approved in 2015, but then went to the courts. Residents challenged the inland wetlands decision that said a prior application was still in force for the site and a new permit wasn’t needed.

By the time the case was resolved in favor of the project, Richter said the tenant was no longer interested because of then Gov. Dannel Malloy’s hospital tax.

He said they tried to find another medical tenant but were unsuccessful and instead decided to submit a housing proposal instead to meet a need in town.

“There’s lots of young professionals and seniors who have very few options in town right now,” he said.

Richter also addressed the concerns raised at the hearings.

“We have plenty of parking for the apartment complex that’s there,” he said, adding there are 136 spaces proposed.

He said the traffic consultant shows there will be less of a traffic impact for the apartment complex than the medical building. There would also be less runoff under the proposal than the current situation because of the detention system it would add, he said.

“We’ve taken great care to minimize the impact to the viewshed from the Merritt,” Richter said.

The project would take about nine to 12 months to build.

“Assuming it’s approved and there’s no further appeals, we would want to start right away,” Richter said.

kkoerting@newstimes.com