Town Fights 8-30g — And Wins

A real estate developer buys suburban land. He announces plans to build a massive number of housing units on it. Citing Connecticut’s 8-30g statute, 30% will be “affordable,” according to state guidelines.

Townspeople — worried about the impact of such a massive development — rise up to oppose it.

Sound familiar? It happens all over — including Westport.

Here’s the unfamiliar part: The townspeople won.

The town is not Westport. But it’s nearby.

Easton residents and officials just got big news. A 5-year battle against a 99-unit, 31-building townhouse complex, on 124.7 acres of watershed bordered by Sport Hill, Westport, Silver Hill and Cedar Hill Roads, has come to an end. An appellate court declined to hear the developer’s appeal of a January decision by Hartford’s housing court, which upheld Easton’s Planning and Zoning Commission and Conservation Commission’s 2011 denial of that plan (and a previous one for 105 units).

Part of the Easton property proposed for a 99-unit 8-30g housing development.

Part of the Easton property proposed for a 99-unit 8-30g housing development. (Photo/Google Earth)

How did they do it?

Ira Bloom explains. He was legal counsel for the town commissions. He’s also Westport’s town attorney, so he knows something about 8-30g.

Unlike most zoning applications, Bloom says, if a town commission turns down an 8-30g application, the burden is on them — not on the developer — to prove they made the right decision.

There are a couple of ways to do that, Bloom says. One is to show there is “substantial public interest” in the denial. “Mere traffic congestion” does not work, Bloom notes. Traffic safety, however, may. “Substantial public interest” must clearly outweigh the need for affordable housing in that town.

Another way is to show that no possible modification of the proposal would satisfy the requirements.

Ira Bloom

Ira Bloom

“That’s a heavy burden of proof,” Bloom says. In fact, last year 9 8-30g cases were decided by Connecticut courts. 7 were won by developers. Towns prevailed in only 2 — including Easton.

Bloom argued that because the 99 units would be built on public watershed — serving most of the Easton — the town had a substantial public interest in denying the application. He cited Department of Energy and Environmental Protection guidelines that no more than 1 unit be built on every 2 acres of watershed.

In Westport, officials used the “substantial public interest” argument in denying a proposal for a large 8-30g complex on Wilton Road, near Kings Highway North. The fire chief testified there were severe safety concerns, about the ability of his department to access the proposed complex.

Westport is now writing briefs for that case. They’re due August 12. The developer — Garden Homes — then submits their own briefs.

Easton has very little affordable housing. Westport has more.

But when it comes to 8-30g, no town is out of the woods.

And, Bloom notes, the Easton developer still owns that property. A new proposal may be in the works.

4 responses to “Town Fights 8-30g — And Wins

  1. Our towns are lucky to have such a capable attorney like Ira Bloom protecting the public interest. We are hoping we can preserve 122 Wilton Rd which happens to be adjacent to Aspetuck Land Trust’s 3.2 acre Taylortown Salt Marsh property which we recently restored by removing invasive Phragmites.

  2. Bart Shuldman

    How horrible-a town takes taxpayer dollars to defend itself from a developer willing to build on land not allowed by regulations.

    Who is winning? The lawyers? Probably. I am sure Ira’s firm did just fine. Does the developer win? Eventually if the town tries to buy him out. Do the taxpayers win–no. Do the residents win-no. Do people who need low cost housing win–hell no.

  3. Sharon Paulsen

    Hey, I have those same glasses as Ira’s, but mine are in teal!

    Okay, sounding like a “tween fashionista” aside, but I really do have those specs … Very cool retro archeologist, JKF Sr., Indiana Jones, streetware IT pro … ugh, I’m stopping now. Gotta take my meds (snark).

    Very good news for Easton indeed!! Thanks for this info Dan.

    So, I lived on Sport Hill (lower Easton, maybe a mile from Merrit) in the early-mid aughts, and the open land all around that area is so lovely, seemingly untouched, rustic. More so farther inland.

    A “complex” would simply kill the charm, negatively affect watersheds and ecosystems, probably affect nearby property values (within several miles, at the least), and of course, the “traffic”. Even up in Easton/Monroe, those routes via 136 can get heavy at rush hours, just like it can in Westport at the PITA 136 & Main Street intersection. (I haven’t commuted those routes for years now, so …).

    But, it’s … just … dumb, anyway one looks at it. The continual assault on our living environment, (whether it be one or two “little” parcels, or hundreds of acres at a time) even with all we know about how we are killing our planet (or should know by now unless you’re living under rocks of denial), makes me sick.

    But, whatever … hey, dig it up (and then, fill it in with crap). What’s another bog or wetland or natural landscape … who needs it. Developers gotta make a buck, right?

    Pave paradise. Put up a parking lot.

    And then place cookie cutter, energy sucking micro houses on it, and then roll out the sod-grass to make it look all-suburbanite and neat. Then, spray Weed-Be-Gone all over it, just to make certain that nothing can inherently ever survive there. Done!

    Phew, I’m kinda angry today … sorry folks if I offend the lawn enthusiasts. I’m one too, but not via the pesticide route. Maybe it’s the RNC that’s pervading my calm.

    (P.S. – Ira Bloom sounds like a smart cool cat – gotta prop him up for intelligent design. Attorney’s who have a conscious somewhere along the way are always a plus).

  4. New Canaan has an interesting strategy for getting a 4 (or 8?) year moratorium http://newcanaanite.com/officials-millport-building-project-on-track-relief-from-developer-loophole-in-sight-36546 – Chris Woods