Building Proposal Raises Affordable Housing, Traffic Questions

It’s a long-neglected property. A developer hopes to tear down the tired old building, clean up the land and build a new office/retail/food store complex, as well as residential retail units.

There are 16 or so affordable units there now. They’d be gone. They don’t count toward Westport’s state-mandated 8-30g affordable housing number, however, because they were built (long) before 1990.

The new plan includes 14 units. Only 3 would be “affordable” — but they would apply toward our total number.

Those are some of the issues surrounding a proposal heard by Westport’s Planning and Zoning Commission recently for 785 Post Road East. It sits unobtrusively between Westport Wash & Wax and New Country Toyota — and it has for many years.

785 Post Road East, between Westport Wash & Wax and New Country Toyota.

785 Post Road East, between Westport Wash & Wax and New Country Toyota.

In recent years, the rear of the property has been used as a dumping ground. The house fronting the Post Road is not in dire shape, but it’s sure not distinguished either.

The new plan includes a 2-story building for office space, plus retail and that convenience or food store. The rental units would be part of 3 separate 2 1/2-story buildings. Ten would be 2-bedrooms; 4 would have 1 bedroom. There would be parking for 49 cars.

A “Notice of Intention to Demolish” sign already hangs on the existing building. Another one promises “Leasing Available.”

If the P&Z decides in an upcoming meeting to approve the project — or if they okay another development down the road — one thing is certain: Traffic on the Post Road will get even worse.

Right now mornings on that stretch — including the merge from Long Lots Road — are brutal. When there’s an accident on I-95, nothing moves.

So the next time you’re stuck there, take a look to your right. If you never noticed 785 Post Road East before, you will now.

A side view of 785 Post Road East.

A side view of 785 Post Road East.

10 responses to “Building Proposal Raises Affordable Housing, Traffic Questions

  1. Perhaps the loss of 13 affordable housing units, whether or not they “count” toward the mandated number for Westport, might be a more important issue to discuss with Town officials than whether or not this project might cause traffic delays.

  2. This is Exhibit #1 for why all of the “affordable housing” that Westport claims is not counted toward “affordable” goals isn’t, and shouldn’t, be counted. It turns out that without current restrictions requiring the units continue to be “affordable”, they can be sold/converted to non-“affordable” market rate housing if the owner feels so inclined. And inclined they seem to be since the properties are worth more that way.

    • Michael Calise

      Jerry,
      Westport has hundreds of apartments in homes and commercial buildings which are at or below affordable rental rates. The fact that they are not counted is more a function of the legislation itself than the uncertainty of their continued existence. Apartments are continually being built and eliminated in suburban communities such as Westport. One way to handle this would be to require communities to annually inventory their apartment stock and then be rewarded credit for a percentage of that stock. So if we had say 1200 units with an 80% credit we would have an additional and qualifying 960 units. We can argue the measurement system and the percentage credit but it would be a viable way to take a tremendous burden off our backs. By the way I am not sure of the number of units in the to be demolished structure but I believe it is less than half of the 13 cited.

      • Jerry MacDaid

        Michael

        What you say makes absolute sense. Annual, or even every 5 year inventory of affordable housing, would seem to be a reasonable solution. Not sure why the law wasn’t drafted that way other than stupidity or, perhaps, concerns along the lines I mentioned. Alternatively, maybe the legislature just wanted to “stick it” to certain towns in Fairfield County.

        Unfortunately, the current state legislature appears to have zero interest in changing the law for whatever reason.

  3. Bart Shuldman

    What is the difference between an affordable home built before 1990 and after 1990? What is the sign chance of this date other than it is dictated by Hartford.

    Maybe we should focus the efforts on changing Hartford and the use of 1990 as some
    Important date.

  4. Why doesn’t the town buy property like this and get a developer to build a whole block of affordable housing?

    The law is not going away, it’s been around for 20 years. And 80% of the state is fine with it.

    It’s basic math: none of these developments with a percentage of affordable housing add up to what’s needed. And the law clearly isn’t expecting them to. If you read the history of the law, it was designed as a penalty for non-compliance, not a remedy.

    “Kicking the can down the road” looking for a moratorium doesn’t solve the problem, which is not just the leverage that the law gives developers, but also the fact that our community is stronger when our teachers, coaches and police can live here. The town leaders should act before all the appropriate locations are taken. – Chris Woods

  5. FYI – there are 8 rooming house type units there now, rents were as high as $1400/month which exceeds the affordable limits, the only senior occupied unit was by a very smart woman who rented out her house for thousands more per month than she rented at 785 and sold hers for over $600,000 and bought in town for under $300,000.

    To count towards the moratorium the units must be deed restricted.
    There are several changes to the state statues or the interpretations of existing laws that would benefit Westport. Counting affordable units redeveloped by the Westport Housing Authority for starters.

    • Bart Shuldman

      Rick. The current rules of affordable housing is just wrong. While it might help your business, it clearly is unfair and causes a town like Westport to incite a lot of costs and unnecessary legal battles.

      First-why use an arbitrary date of 1990 to set the count towards affordable homes? Why allow a developer to break a towns P&Z rules which in many cases forces the town to fight off tall and very large structures.

      Rick-affordable housing should be something the public supports. But in so many cases, a developer uses the afforable act to line their pocket with money and at the end units do not get built.

      Fix the problem.

  6. Bart -here are responses:
    1.8-30 g is not wrong . Like many laws it is flawed but a necessary step since exclusionary zoning wads and is rampant in most of the 169 towns.
    2. It is unfair in many ways and needs to be revised. The problem is rather than fix the flaws the efforts are always to repeal . That prevents the fixes being
    Implemented.
    3. The reason for 1990 is the the legislation was bill 89-311 so the benchmark set was 1990. The law does not say large buildings or tall buildings. It was a bill aimed at leveling the playing field so bedroom communities had to provide their fair share of housing. Google the Mount Laurel decisions in nj and the Berensen decision in New York for background.
    4. You are incorrect that the affordables do not get built. The only way is if the town settles an 8-39g denial lawsuit with a plan that does not include affordables. 8-30 mandates the affordables.
    5. Happy to help fix the problems. Have been talking about fixing it for decades. Hard to find legislators that want to fix rather than gut. I was on the governors task force that helped create the moratoria system to reward towns that try to improve. Before that it was a perpetual nightmare.
    Westport has done a lot and should be in a moratorium now. Happy to discuss further.

    • Rick -here are my responses:
      Before I answer each item you raised, 8-30g issues in Westport have hurt many, but in my opinion, mostly senior citizens. As Westport fights off developers trying to take advantage of the law and their ability to go beyond the towns planning and zoning regulations, Westport uses tax dollars for the legal defense to stop the many projects. Spending the taxpayer’s money to fend off these big projects hurts seniors who are concerned about the increase in their property taxes. In addition, if these big projects were to move forward and subsequently add more than typical additional students to our schools, Westport education costs will rise. The population that suffers the most in Westport as property taxes would need to go up, are our seniors. Let’s never forget that.

      1.8-30 g is wrong—‘it is not correct in its action’—and we have to admit it needs to be fixed. As a planner you should best that allowing one class of developer to by-pass a towns planning and zoning rules and regulations can create havoc on that town. We have watched as developer after developer have tried in Westport to create huge structures that as an example, our fire department cannot serve. As they ‘threaten’ Westport with their projects, the town either fights the development in court or finds a way for someone else to purchase the property to stop the project (Westport Inn as an example). I do not see anyone benefitting from 8-30g other than the developer (clearly not someone looking for affordable home). The excuse you use of exclusionary zoning is neither right nor fair to a town like Westport that takes the landscape of our town seriously. It appears to me; your statement does not benefit Westport, and in fact, hurts our town.
      2. If you read my first reply, I stated 8-30g needs to be fixed. I never stated it needs to be stopped.
      3. You state the reason for using 1990 as the benchmark was the legislation was bill 89-311 in 1990. Your answer does not address the issue we face in Westport that already had affordable housing before 1990. You state the obvious without responding or addressing the unnecessary and costly impact to our wonderful town. The use of 1990 as a benchmark is just ridulous and you seem not to have an effective answer as to the why the state did not use all affordable homes before 1990. Westport could have over 20% affordable homes since the town already had housing built.
      4. In Westport affordable homes do not get built. Clearly your business benefits from trying to get Westport to implement affordable homes by breaking our planning and zoning laws, but almost all the projects that have been proposed have not been built. Thankfully, Westport has tried to stop either massive projects from moving forward, or other projects that would build a building on a very small lot. Just look at the last few projects Westport had to face.
      5. Hard to find legislators that want to fix rather than gut. I agree with you and have watched as our own state representative has voted to go against the residents of Westport. We need to only look at Steinberg’s vote to increase state income taxes and also raise the death and gift tax also. He could not go against his leadership in Westport regarding income taxes and he probably cannot do the same with 8-30g.

      Rick—your business benefits from fighting towns like Westport. What is interesting is the description on your website where you state your desire to preserve open space and historical preservation. 8-30g goes against all of that.

      From your website:
      He has successfully introduced Zoning Regulations specific to infill development, historic preservation, parking reduction, shared parking, preservation of open space, clustering, senior living, mixed use developments, affordable housing, transit-related developments, temporary community based uses, public amenity bonuses, and various special use zoning amendments