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).
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.
“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.