Controversial affordable housing approved for High Street
FAIRFIELD — A controversial affordable housing complex in one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in Fairfield has been greenlit by the town’s zoning commission under duress.
The commissioners said their moral objections were outweighed by legal obligations.
“Everyone in the room should understand that, on the basis of an 8-30g application, a developer does not have to comply with any of our regulations,” Commission Chair Mathew Wagner said. “Many of the things that we have identified here that we don’t like about the plan… courts look at that as convenience factors.”
The Fairfield Housing Corporation, a non-profit that falls under the Fairfield Housing Authority, cleared a hurtle in its ongoing process to get approval to build a five-building, 40-unit housing complex on a 2.5 acre lot at 980 High St.. Seventy percent of the complex would qualify as affordable housing.
The decision came at the conclusion of hearings, postponements and amendments to the plan, which the commission first started discussion on in the fall.
The application for the development fell under 8-30g, a state regulation which allows developers of affordable housing to ignore municipal laws and regulations in order to get affordable housing into communities that have less of that kind of housing than the state recommends.
In order for a town body to deny an application under 8-30g, it needs to prove that “the decision is necessary to protect substantial public interests in health, safety or other matters which the commission may legally consider.”
The body also needs to provide evidence that the factors are important enough that they outweigh the need for affordable housing and cannot be solved with reasonable changes to the plan.
The Inland Wetlands Agency, part of the town Conservation Commission, denied the FHC the inland wetlands permit, claiming the development would disrupt the neighborhood economically, environmentally and historically.
While the Housing Corporation appeals the decision in state court, the development cannot move forward.
During the TPZ meeting, every member of the commission spoke of their disapproval of the plan. Their concerns ranged from issues with drainage and traffic to its effect on the environment. Still, nearly all of them did not think they had enough evidence to hold up in court.
Commissioner Lenny Braman said while he agrees with the concerns about the plan, he thought that if the commission were to deny the application it would be “setting up the courts to overrule us.”
Kathryn Braun, the lone dissenter in the commission’s vote, said after hearings with experts brought in front of the commission by Joel Green, who represents neighbors opposing the plan, she felt they had enough evidence to deny the application.
“Do we care more about affordable housing, or could it be smaller scale?” Braun asked. “Why can’t we consider that and let the court decide?”
Meg Francis, secretary of the TPZ, said she agreed with Braun, adding that the property did not have the acreage for the number of units planned. A discussion about cutting the number of apartments from 40 to 20 did not get any traction.
Wagner said the courts look at the public records of the meetings the commission holds and judge cases by those comments. He said denying the application could result in the body losing credibility with the courts.
Wagner said he does believe there are valid issues with the wetlands component that are already being decided in the courts.
“If indeed those issues are as significant and as real … our courts will uphold that denial,” Wagner said. “In which case that application will not proceed.”