Residents speak against Seaside Avenue housing plan (UPDATED)

UPDATE: A parade of residents spoke in opposition to a plan for an 8-30g affordable housing project at 214-224 Seaside Ave., mostly raising concerns about the area’s existing traffic conditions, with some also saying the project’s density was out of character with the surrounding single-family neighborhood.

About 100 people attended the March 1 Planning and Zoning Board (P&Z) public hearing at City Hall, although about half left when the board voted to deny a plan from Grillo Services for a proposed landscaping products operation at 553 West Ave. Part of the Seaside Avenue hearing was filmed by Fox61 News.

The board held open the public hearing, pending the results of two traffic studies, one resident-funded, and the other by a consultant to be hired by the city at the applicant’s expense.

Eugenia Debowski of Acworth, Georgia, owns the two adjacent lots with existing single-family homes on Seaside Avenue, just north of Meadowside Road. The properties are zoned R-12.5, requiring lot sizes to be at least 12,500 sq. ft. for one-single family home.

The 0.46-acre property at 214 Seaside Ave. has a 2,100 sq. ft. home constructed in 1947, while the 0.72-acre lot at 224 Seaside Ave. has an 1,800 sq. ft. home constructed in 1900. The two properties total 1.18 acres.

The plan has been filed under the state’s 8-30g affordable housing law, which supersedes local zoning regulations. Should the P&Z deny the project, it would have to prove the project poses a hazard to public health, safety or welfare, a threat that outweighs the need for affordable housing.

Attorney Christopher Cody said Debowski had a stroke in 2014 that left her incapacitated. Cody said this plan would “create a stream of rental income to care for her long-term needs.”

Jeffrey Gordon, landscape architect, site planner, and president of Codespoti & Associates, presented copies of flyers that he said were “illegally posted on utility poles,” flyers that said this proposal was coming from corporate developers seeking to line their pockets.

Gordon said Debowski’s relatives “are not big time developers, but are trying to care for one of their own.” He said the project “will in no way impair the safety on Seaside Avenue.” He said that Debowski “invested in her property like people save in a 401k.”

Gordon presented a plan for adding seven two-bedroom cottages to the rear of the existing properties at 214-224 Seaside Ave. He said each would be about 1,200 sq. ft. and built around a center courtyard. The cottages would have sprinklers.

The project would include 10 garage parking spaces and 12 surface parking spaces. The property would have a driveway and parking lot between the two existing houses.

Gordon said this plan, with 16.7 bedrooms per acre, is similar to the density of nearby areas, characterizing the property as “a pocket of R-12 surrounded by R-7.5, R-5, and RMF-16.” He said in an R-12 zone there may be 14 bedrooms per acre; in an R-7.5 zone, 20.3 bedrooms per acre; in an R-5 zone, 26.1 bedrooms per acre, and in an RMF-16 zone, 16 bedrooms per acre.

An advantage to this plan is having only two driveways, as compared to a single-family zone, which may have up to 10 driveways on an acre of land, said Gordon.

“It is the right location. It is a modest scale,” said Gordon. “It helps you meet your goal [for affordable housing] without putting 200 units in one place.”

Cody said two of the cottages would be designated for rent at affordable rates to people making up to 60% of the median income and would have a rent of $1,031 per month. He said the existing four-bedroom house would rent to someone earning up to 80% of the median income with a rent of $1,604 per month.

Project engineer Robert Wheway said stormwater would drain to an underground detention system under the central courtyard, which would reduce peak flow in a 25 year storm by 11% and in a 100 year storm by 12.5%. The system would include filters to isolate oils from pavement and motor vehicles.

Traffic engineer David Spear said he reviewed existing data, and also did traffic counts in August 2015 along Seaside Avenue at various intersections from Meadowside Road to Seaside Court. He said there were 199 morning trips and 293 afternoon trips during the peak hour at Meadowside Road. At Seaside Court, there were 399 morning peak hour trips and 627 afternoon peak hour trips.

From 2012-14, the state Department of Transportation reported three accidents and Milford police reported an additional seven accidents, said Spear. He said the data does not show any accident trend.

He said the posted speed limit is 25 miles per hour and he recorded speeds of 29 miles per hour. With a 320 foot sightline to the north and 620 feet to the south, “We have more than adequate distance for the posted speed limit,” said Spear.

Spear said the project would generate 16 morning trips and 12 afternoon trips. He said there is a B level of service at the intersections in the area he studied, a level that will not change with the construction of this project.

“There is no significant impact on traffic and safety from this project,” said Spear.
Traffic Concerns Voiced
When it came time for the public hearing on the Seaside Avenue plan, 15 people lined up at the podium to speak in opposition, and when the line dwindled in size, others stood to speak with 22 people in all asking the board to deny the project. No one from the public spoke in favor of the plans.

State Sen. Gayle Slossberg (D-14), and State Rep. Kim Rose (D-118) attended the hearing. Slossberg has introduced a bill in the General Assembly to modify the law, including banning 8-30g plans on properties of less than one acre.

Tracey Casey of 4 Amber Lane, which is a private road across the street from this property, said a group of 19 area residents joined together to oppose the project, and said they retained their own traffic engineer, Kermit Hua, and asked the board to hold open the public hearing until March 15 so Hua would have time to submit his report. Casey said that people do not drive 25 m.p.h. on Seaside Avenue.

Tara Rizzo of 208 Seaside Ave. said she lives at the corner of Meadowside Road, and applied to the state in 2006 for a permit to install a driveway on Seaside Avenue, which is a state road. Rizzo said the state traffic engineer told her “it was unsafe” to put the driveway on Seaside Avenue, due to the speed at which people were driving, and sight line concerns, and instead told her to keep it on Meadowside Road.

Rizzo told a dramatic story of a police chase with a motorist who drove through the front yard of her property and the property at 214-224 Seaside Ave., damaging a retaining wall in the process.

“I have lost track of how many accidents there have been by Meadowside Road and Amber Lane,” said Rizzo.

Michael Perkins of 198 Seaside Ave. said it can take him 10 minutes to exit his driveway with a line of 10 cars at the stop sign by his driveway. Perkins said there have been multiple police stops in front of his house.

Walter Ortoleva of 244 Seaside Ave. presented two photos showing dramatic accidents on Seaside Avenue in past years. Ortoleva said one was a double fatality that happened “100 feet from the proposed development a number of years ago.” Another photo showed an upside down car that Ortoleva said failed to negotiate the curve on Seaside Avenue, took down a telephone pole, and landed at the edge of 214 Seaside Ave.

“There is a trend of accidents at this location,” said Ortoleva. “You cannot see how the road curves when you head north on Seaside Avenue.”

Shally Leslie of 234 Seaside Ave. said she thought the sightlines were inadequate at the driveways for 214-224 Seaside Ave. due to the nearby curves. Leslie cited a police report in which a driver misjudged the curve and knocked down most of a fence. She ended her remarks by saying, “Eugenia had a paying tenant at 224 Seaside Ave. for 14 years who was abruptly evicted when she had her stroke. The house has been empty since then and 14 months of rent has been forfeited.”

Edward Rawls of 231 Seaside Ave. identified himself as the pastor of First Congregational Church of Stratford, and said he works with homeless and poor people and favors affordable housing. Rawls described this proposal as “a poor plan that does not take into account traffic.” He said what Gordon is calling a driveway would generate more traffic than Amber Lane.

Fatima Lugo of 11 Amber Lane, said her biggest concern was parking, saying there is no parking on Seaside Ave. “Where are we going to put all those guests,” said Lugo.

Martin Casey of 4 Amber Lane said the project poses a threat to public health due to the negative effect on the emotional and mental health of neighbors.
In his rebuttal, Gordon commented on the long-time resident who was evicted by simply saying, “The eviction took place under a court order and by cause. I don’t want to say what the cause was.”