High Street affordable housing proposal brings questions, scrutiny

FAIRFIELD — A 40-unit affordable housing proposal for 980 High Street doesn’t go to the town’s Conservation Commission until July 10, but its already been the subject of two public meetings this week.

Town officials hosted a public meeting Monday evening to inform residents about the process and other concerns, and the Affordable Housing Committee heard from the developer and their plans on Wednesday.

It what was a standing room only space in the humid cafeteria of Holland Hill, residents peppered town officials with questions regarding traffic, street safety and other concerns in a meeting that, at times, became heated.

“People are very concerned. We bought into this neighborhood for a reason, our children play on the street,” Heather Dubrosky, who helped coordinate the Monday event, said.

According to property records, the Fairfield Housing Corporation bought the 980 High Street property for $2.1 million Dec. 14 of last year and representatives have met with neighbors as of the beginning of the year.

The Fairfield Housing Corporation has submitted plans to the Conservation Commission but has yet to do so for the Planning and Zoning Commission, an application that will be open to the public.

Schematics and designs are still being drafted, according to Carol Martin, executive director of the Fairfield Housing Authority, but plans call for 40 units spread throughout five units on the property.

These would have 6 three-bedroom units, 16 two-bedroom units and 18 one-bedroom units.

The 1895 house on the Judd homestead that faces High Street is expected to be fitted for future office space, according to the developer.

According to Martin, 32 of the 40 units would be affordable units — rented at certain percentage brackets of the town’s median income — while the other eight would be leased at market rate.

The Fairfield Housing Authority and the Fairfield Housing Corporation are separate from the town and are not funded by taxpayer dollars, according to First Selectman Mike Tetreau.

According to the town’s website, the first selectman appoints five members to the Housing Authority Board of Commissioners and at least one must be a resident.

Residents also asked about state statutes regarding affordable housing.

An 8-30g application that is brought before a zoning board can skirt local laws and regulations — in towns where there is less than 10 percent of affordable housing stock — and be denied only on traffic, safety or environmental grounds.

The state 8-30g statute allows private developers to bypass town zoning laws and regulations if they pledge to establish a certain percent of units for affordable housing in their projects.

Towns can apply for an affordable housing moratorium period of four years when they show that they’re taking the steps toward the state-mandated minimum of affordable housing units.

“In the case of Fairfield ... we can only count units that have been placed in service,” Office of Community and Economic Development Director Mark Barnhart said Monday evening, noting that around 433 units or points would be necessary to apply for a moratorium.

“We’re currently at 334 points,” Barnhart added.

Towns like Westport and New Canaan have recently obtained moratoriums as they have increased their affordable housing units.

Several residents expressed concern about traffic flow and parking on High Street, something that, neighbors said, was already burdened and would be exacerbated by the development.

“How will the town address an increased number of parked cars on residential streets affecting walkers to school, children playing and overall residential street safety including plowing during winter?,” a question read.

Police Chief Chris Lyddy said that police traditionally create “no parking and timed parking zones” as a mechanism to prevent spillover but residents pushed back, saying not enough was being done.

“We expect no overflow parking, the people we rent to do not own cars,” Martin said at the Wednesday meeting, adding that parking had not been an issue at the nearby Pine Street affordable housing complex.

The town’s Affordable Housing Committee — which has no regulatory power, nor approval or veto power over the project — advises other town bodies about the proposal and heard from the developer Wednesday.

The committee released an affordable housing plan back in November 2014.

“If things move forward ... we expect to have a shovel in the ground by this time next year,” Martin said. “The soonest we would have that would be by spring of 2020 and we expect a 12- to 14-month construction period.”

Residents at both the Monday and Wednesday meeting said that information was helpful but that there were still lingering questions and they would continue to attend public hearing, for now scheduled for July 10 before the Conservation Commision.