High Street neighbors may reach understanding with Fairfield affordable housing developer
FAIRFIELD — A compromise may be in the works for the proposed affordable housing development on High Street.
The Fairfield Housing Authority, which is proposing a 40-unit, 70-percent affordable housing complex at 980 High St., has been having what lawyers say are preliminary but productive conversations with the neighbors opposing the development.
The two parties have been at odds since the development was proposed earlier this year. While the Housing Authority has argued that this proposal would meet a massive demand for affordable housing in Fairfield, neighbors Barbara Pace and Cathie Allen have filed an intervention against it, claiming it would disrupt the neighborhood economically, environmentally and historically.
While no agreements have been reached, the interveners’ attorney Joel Green told the Town Plan and Zoning Commission Tuesday night that there is the possibility of an understanding.
“There have been some encouraging and meaningful discussions between the parties,” Green told the commission.
Pace and Allen declined to comment and directed questions to Attorney Green.
Reached Wednesday, Green declined to address the content of these conversations, though he said they are preliminary but worth pursuing.
“I think that it merits some discussion, but once again there have been no commitments of any kind made,” Green said.
Bryan LeClerc, the attorney for the Housing Authority, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
While these conversations continue, the Housing Authority is proceeding with its zoning application, which was continued after an initial hearing on Oct. 15 ran out the evening’s time limit.
At the same time, the Housing Authority is filing an appeal in Superior Court opposing the Conservation Commission’s denial of an inland wetlands permit to build on the site.
At Tuesday’s hearing, the Housing Authority presented additional witnesses, who testified to the zoning merits of the proposal.
Soil scientist Bill Kenny explained the landscaping plans for the site, including screening they plan to put around the perimeter to protect abutting neighbors’ views.
Jay Soltis, a licensed environmental professional, detailed his plan for dealing with historic pesticides and lead at the site. During construction, he said, they would get rid of any contaminated material and replace it with certified clean soil.
Traffic engineer Michael Galante testified that the development would not significantly impact traffic in the area, an important claim for neighbors that have cited increased congestion as a concern.
The Housing Authority also presented a letter of support from the town’s Affordable Housing Committee, written after the authority amended its proposal to be more in line with the committee’s affordability guidelines.
The Plan and Zoning Commission questioned Carol Martin, executive director of the Fairfield Housing Authority, about the relationship between that organization and its nonprofit partner, the Fairfield Housing Corporation.
Martin explained that the corporation is set up to purchase land on behalf of its sole member, the Fairfield Housing Authority. While the authority is limited to developing in Fairfield - and has two commissioners appointed by the first selectman - the Fairfield Housing Corporation is able to pursue projects in other parts of Fairfield County.
This was troubling to some members of the commission, who said an organization affiliated with Fairfield should work exclusively within the town.
“Why are our appointed commissioners doing that work in other towns?” asked Chairman Matthew Wagner. “As an elected official, my obligation is to the town of Fairfield.”
Martin emphasized that the Housing Corporation has not yet developed projects in other towns, but that it is interesting in expanding its reach to serve nearby communities in need of affordable housing, such as Easton and Weston.
The public was also given the chance to comment, with some expressing objection to a development of this scope in a residential neighborhood.
The interveners are scheduled to argue against the project on Jan. 14. The public will also be given an additional chance to comment then.