High Street affordable housing proposal seeks Fairfield zoning approval
FAIRFIELD — The Housing Authority is pushing on in its fight to establish an affordable housing complex on High Street.
Despite losing a Conservation Commission vote to secure an inland wetlands permit, the Fairfield Housing Authority went in front of Town Plan and Zoning Wednesday night. The Commission heard from half the Authority’s witnesses, but continued the rest of the public hearing to Nov. 12 due to time constraints.
The controversial project seeks to establish a 40-unit, 70-percent affordable complex at 980 High St. While the Housing Authority argues that this proposal would meet a massive demand for affordable housing in Fairfield, neighbors have fought the proposal, claiming it would disrupt the neighborhood economically, environmentally and historically.
Housing Authority Attorney Bryan LeClerc said they decided to move forward with the zoning application process while pursuing a parallel appeal with the Superior Court for an inland wetlands permit.
The Housing Authority submitted a zoning compliance application pursuant to section 8-30g of the state statutes. According to 8-30g laws, a zoning board can only deny an affordable housing proposal on traffic, safety or environmental grounds - not local zoning laws and regulations.
8-30g applies to towns that have less than 10 percent affordable housing stock. Towns can apply for a four-year moratorium on the statute if they show they’re taking steps towards meeting the minimum.
LeClerc argued that approving the High Street complex is in the best interest of the town, as it would put Fairfield substantially closer towards meeting that minimum.
“Given the number units with construction pending, plus these units, this will put you over the 10 percent number where we can apply as a community for that moratorium,” LeClerc said.
Housing Authority Executive Director Carol Martin testified to the substantial need for these units in Fairfield, saying integral members of the Fairfield community such as seniors, teachers and public safety officers cannot afford market-rate homes in Fairfield.
“We’re missing affordable rental housing and accessible rental housing,” Martin said. “Our diversity is limited, and it’s harming the town.”
Paul Bailey, the project’s lead architect, presented his plans, which he said are designed to fit within the neighborhood.
Bailey noted that the designs include an eclectic mix of different styles of buildings to give the development the character of a village, rather than a uniform apartment complex.
The proposed units would include one, two and three-bedroom townhouses, in three styles that Bailey described as “Victorian, classical and farmhouse-style.”
Bailey also noted that the buildings are oriented inwards with front doors only, creating a sense of community and ensuring that abutting neighbors, whose homes are close to the back-side of the proposed units, are not disturbed.
The proposal also seeks to maintain the neighborhood feel by restoring the property’s historic farmhouse, with the added benefit that the house would block the view of the development’s parking lot from High Street.
Soil scientist Bryan Baker also testified to the project’s storm water drainage plan, concluding that despite the Conservation Commission’s 4-3 denial, their experts do in fact have sufficient data to prove that the project will not harm the wetlands on site.
It was at this point that the Plan and Zoning Commission adjourned, due to its 11 p.m. curfew, with plans to continue the hearing at its Nov. 12 meeting.
On that date, LeClerc will put forth three more witnesses on behalf of the applicant, and attorney Joel Green will present an intervention on behalf of High Street neighbors Barbara Pace and Catherine Allen.
The Commission will also hear public comment then, an opportunity clearly anticipated by the crowd of neighbors that packed the room Wednesday and did not get a chance to speak.