Many Westporters have no idea what goes on at 900 Post Road East. The lot next to Walgreens, across from the Sherwood Diner, is filled with trucks and mounds of sand.
In fact, it’s a maintenance lot for the Connecticut Department of Transportation.
At least, it is now.
Sometime in the future though, it could be the site of new townhouses. Eighty or 90% could be “affordable” — under state 8-30g standards — while the rest would sell or rent at market rates.
As first reported by the Westport News, town officials — including 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and the Planning & Zoning Commission — are in very preliminary discussions with the state. The complex would be built on 4 of the 10.73 acres, along West Parish Road.
900 Post Road East
Early indications are that some nearby residents favor the move. They prefer townhouses to trucks in their back yards.
Others, however, oppose more development in the Greens Farms/Post Road area. New housing — some affordable, others for seniors, most at market rate — has gone up recently near Greens Farms Elementary School, and the foot of Long Lots Road.
Affordable housing is mandated by the state. It is not optional. In Westport, that translates to people earning just under $80,000 a year, says P&Z chair Danielle Dobin. That includes teachers, firefighters, police officers, other town employees, young people and seniors.
The P&Z’s Affordable Housing sub-committee meets today (Friday, January 10, 12 noon, Westport Town Hall Room 201). It’s the first of many meetings about this proposal.
One of Westport’s most controversial housing issues has apparently been settled.
With far less fanfare than it originally generated.
An email from Green’s Farms United says that last month, the developer and town negotiated a settlement about 20-26 Morningside Drive South. The property — directly opposite Greens Farms Elementary School, formerly owned by artists Walter and Naiad Einsel — was the site of a proposed 8-30g (affordable housing regulation) development.
The previously proposed development at 26 South Morningside Drive.
Green’s Farms United representatives — including an attorney, engineer and “GFU intervenors” — were then invited to meet with the town attorney and other officials to review the proposal. The GFU group provided input regarding the engineering and conservation easement landscape elements prior to the final agreement.
On May 23, GFU says, the settlement was approved by a judge. The 8-30g application was withdrawn the same day. (Click here for the full document.)
The Einsels’ house at 26 Morningside Drive South.
Key points from the settlement include:
The studio will be moved from 20 Morningside Drive South to the same lot as the historic home, which will remain where it currently is. Both buildings will be renovated, sold as one lot and considered the “new” historic district. GFU says the newly created historic district has greater legal protections under the settlement stipulation than the previous Einsel Historic District.
26 Morningside Drive South will be subdivided into 3 lots. One is the Historic Home Studio; the 2 additional lots will have new homes.
The 2 center driveways will be next to each other in the location of the current driveway. They will be designed to look like one, giving the appearance of only 3 driveways on the property.
The 20 Morningside Drive South lot will have 1 new home.
The “Doll House” barn/shed located in the wetlands area will be removed.
Extensive planting will be done, with particular focus on the riparian buffer/wetlands areas abutting Muddy Brook
The developer is legally bound to adhere to the terms of the settlement stipulation, which will be enforced by the town and the court should any variance occur.
Green’s Farms United thanked supporters for their help during the long process.
ProPublica — the non-profit investigative news outlet — has published an in-depth look at the interrelated issues of affordable housing and zoning laws in Connecticut.
Much of the piece — produced in collaboration with the Connecticut Mirror, and headlined “How Some of America’s Richest Towns Fight Affordable Housing” — focuses on Westport.
It does not paint a pretty picture.
The story begins with the example of the new houses being built on the former Daybreak property, near Merritt Parkway Exit 42:
A dirt field overgrown with weeds is the incongruous entrance to one of America’s wealthiest towns, a short walk to a Rodeo Drive-like stretch replete with upscale stores such as Tiffany & Co.
But this sad patch of land is also the physical manifestation of a broader turf war over what type of housing — and ultimately what type of people — to allow within Westport’s borders.
After a lengthy description of the zoning battles that followed — without mentioning traffic and related issues — the piece notes:
Welcome to Connecticut, a state with more separate — and unequal — housing than nearly everywhere else in the country.
This separation is by design.
In fact, the Daybreak project was never about affordable housing. It was planned as 55-and-over housing.
Construction fence at the Daybreak development.
It talks about Westport’s “affordable housing” stock (as defined by state regulation 8-30g), without mentioning that the statute does not include dwellings built before 1990.
In Westport — where gated residences overlook the Long Island Sound and voters solidly backed Democrats in the most recent state and presidential elections — private developers have been allowed to open just 65 affordable housing units over the last three decades. Public housing rentals operated by the local housing authority have also grown at a snail’s pace, with 71 new units opening in this charming small town of 10,400 homes.
The story implies several times that racism is a factor in local housing decisions.
“I think the vestiges of our racial past are far from over,” said former Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who left office in early 2019 after eight years and regularly butted heads with General Assembly members who wanted local officials to have even more authority over housing decisions. For minority residents striving for safe and affordable housing, the state has “denied the opportunity that we allowed white middle-class aspirants to access,” Malloy said.
It includes quotes from Planning & Zoning commissioners and 1st Selectman Jim Marpe — though not always with context.
There are descriptions of zoning battles over developments like 1177 Post Road East (which is already built and occupied) and the Hiawatha Lane project (which has been battled over for years).
An artist’s rendering of the 4-story rental property at 1177 Post Road East.
Particularly striking: A photo of the Community Gardens, next to Long Lots Elementary School. The caption implies that the town bought the land and turned it into gardens simply to prevent construction of “multifamily housing for low-income residents in (that) heavily residential single-family section of Westport.”
There’s much more. It’s a long piece — and it will get people talking.
For years, Westport has grappled with the intent and consequences of Connecticut’s Affordable Housing Law.
Known as 8-30g, the regulation mandates that 10% of a town’s housing stock be “affordable.” It compels local planning and zoning boards to justify any denial of an “affordable housing” application.
The intent of 8-30g is for every community in the state to provide diverse housing stock.
However, for the purpose of calculating 8-30g, only units constructed after 1990, and those that are deed-restricted for 40 years, are considered. Most Westport units serving lower-income groups do not fall into either category.
Canal Park offers affordable housing for seniors, near downtown. However, because it was built before 1990, it does not count toward 8-30g compliance.
Developers began using 8-30g as a weapon. They proposed large developments all around town — Hiawatha Lane, Lincoln Street, Weston Road, Post Road East — with some units designated as 8-30g.
Opponents cited concerns like traffic, fire safety, and environmental encroachment. But because the regulation is written so definitively, fighting an 8-30g proposal is time-consuming, expensive and hard.
And because proposals often included only a few 8-30g units, each development meant that it could be harder — not easier — for Westport to reach the 10% threshold.
One of the most controversial housing proposals with an 8-30g component — 187 units on Hiawatha Lane, off Saugatuck Avenue by I-95 Exit 17 — will be heard tomorrow by the Planning & Zoning Commission (Thursday, 7 p.m., Town Hall). Because it was filed before today, it is unaffected by the moratorium.
However, an end — if only temporary — is at hand.
This afternoon, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe announced that Westport has received a “Certificate of Affordable Housing Completion” from the state Department of Housing. The result is a 4-year moratorium on 8-30g.
The moratorium was granted “based upon the significant progress Westport has made in supplying affordable housing,” Marpe said.
He praised members of the Planning and Zoning Commission, Planning and Zoning Department staffers, and attorney Nicholas Bamonte for helping create affordable housing opportunities, and seeing the moratorium application through to completion.
Planning and Zoning director Mary Young said that Westport joins Brookfield, Darien, Farmington, New Canaan, Ridgefield and Wilton as towns that have been granted moratoriums. Milford has an application pending.
P&Z chair Paul Lebowitz said that the moratorium “will allow the Commission to continue their efforts to create affordable housing opportunities that are in scale with and can be integrated with the community. The 4-year moratorium will not stifle our efforts to provide affordable housing in Westport.”
For Westport, this has been a winter without much snow.
But a blizzard of 8-30g proposals continues to swirl all over town.
8-30g is the official name of Connecticut’s affordable housing statute. It mandates that municipalities make 10 percent of their housing stock “affordable” (according to a state formula). Though Westport has a variety of such units, many were built before 1990 — the date upon which the standards are based.
Which means that developers now eye all kinds of property. Incorporating 8-30g housing helps ease the legal path toward approval.
This week, a plan was submitted for 5 residential buildings on the Roger’s Septic Tank site at 1480 Post Road East. It includes 18 1-bedroom apartments, 14 more with 2 bedrooms — and would be 30% affordable housing, as defined by 8-30g. (Click here for the complete application.)
Roger’s Septic Tanks, Post Road East
The property — between the Rio Bravo/Julian’s Pizza strip mall, and a gas station — is a throwback to the days before the Post Road was greened and cleaned. Roger’s was there for decades; before that, it was Bob’s Welding.
Several years ago, a private agreement was reached between the owner of the commercial site and homeowners on Cottage Lane — which runs behind — stipulating that no housing could be built on the property. The agreement did not involve the town. A legal battle is sure to ensue.
Meanwhile, a couple of hundred yards east, there’s talk that several properties are being gathered together for at least one 8-30g proposal. These includes Redi-Cut Carpet, Innovation Luggage and Pane e Bene restaurant; houses behind it on George Street; the now-shuttered Sono Baking Company and adjacent A&J’s Farm Market, and the Westport Tennis Club behind it.
Those properties are not all contiguous, so there could be more than one proposal. No applications have yet been filed.
The former A&J Farm Market.
Next month, another proposal — much more concrete, in the works for far longer, and at the opposite end of Westport — comes (again) before the Planning & Zoning Commission.
Felix Charney will be back with yet another plan to construct 187 units on Hiawatha Lane. The narrow road is accessible by West Ferry Lane off Saugatuck Avenue, between I-95 exit 17 and the railroad station parking lot. The developer hopes to create a “medium density housing opportunity zone” there.
The P&Z is up to its eyeballs in 8-30g issues. Still on the docket: 20-26 South Morningside Drive (where discussions continue about the historic Walter and Naiad Einsel property), and on-again, off-again 81-unit Lincoln Street/Cross Street/Post Road West development (it’s back on).
The fate of 20-26 Morningside Drive South — on Walter and Naiad Einsel’s former property — remains in doubt. (Photo/Anna DeVito)
But wait! There’s more!
This week, a legal challenge was filed after the commission turned down an application for 122 Wilton Road. That’s the 1.16-acre parcel at 122 Wilton Road — at the Kings Highway North intersection, adjacent to the Taylortown Salt Marsh and wetlands. A developer wants to build a 19-unit, 3-story, 20,078-square foot rental complex there.
“Complex” is the right word, for all these proposals.
Though it’s easy to see why developers look at the 8-30g statute, and see a cash register.
And why they’re filing a blizzard of applications and lawsuits now. As of April — thanks to recent construction like 1177 Post Road East, opposite Greens Farms Elementary School — Westport may qualify for a 4-year moratorium on affordable housing proposals.
Like shoppers stocking up on bread and milk before a snowstorm, developers race to beat the clock.
Hot on the heels of the Planning & Zoning Commission’s denial of an application for construction of a 6-story, 81-unit apartment complex between Lincoln and Cross Streets, off Post Road West, comes news of a new plan, on the other side of town.
This one is smaller: just 19 units. As with other applications — Post Road West, Wilton Road and Hiawatha Lane, for example — this one includes an 8-30(g) element. That’s shorthand for the state statute that encourages “affordable” housing — and makes it harder for town officials to deny the request.
Then again, the site is smaller.
It’s 20 and 26 Morningside Drive South.
If the address sounds familiar, that’s because the property was in the news earlier this year.
Those are the sites of an 1853 house, and nearby studio and shed, formerly owned and used by noted artists Walter and Naiad Einsel.
Walter and Naiad Einsel’s South Morningside Drive house.
The plan — submitted by “Morningside Drive Homes, LLC” — consists of 19 3-bedroom townhouses, in 5 buildings. Six of those 19 units would be “income restricted,” in accordance with 8-30(g).
The studio and shed would remain. The 1853 farmhouse would be demolished.
A horseshoe-shaped private road off Morningside Drive South would serve the units. The exit would be directly across from the entrance to Greens Farms Elementary School. The entrance would be 150 feet south.
20 Morningside Drive South — on Walter and Naiad Einsel’s former property — is a candidate for 8-30(g) development. (Photo/Anna DeVito)
As reported on “06880,” a long battle pitted a developer — who wanted to subdivide the property, while retaining the older structures — against preservationists.
The Historic District Commission — with only advisory powers — voted unanimously against recommending approval of the subdivision application.
They sent their comments to the Planning and Zoning Commission. With only 1 abstention, the P&Z voted down the request to subdivide.
With this new 8-30(g) application, odds are good the P&Z is not finished with South Morningside.
Rich Bailey, chair of Westport Neighbors United, sent this email late last night:
At tonight’s Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, the commissioners formally rejected the application by Cross Street LLC to construct a 6-story, 81-unit apartment complex between Lincoln and Cross Streets, off Post Road West, by a 7-0 vote.
This rejection represents a significant setback for Cross Street LLC and a big victory for Westport Neighbors United and those who supported our efforts to protect and preserve this neighborhood from egregious over-development.
The formal opinion by the commissioners in rejecting this application will be available in a couple of days and will be sent out to WNU supporters.
In the meantime, we want to say a very sincere “thank you” to those who have attended various P&Z meetings, contributed to our funding requests, sent in photos and emails to P&Z staff citing your concerns, and taking other supportive actions. The commissioners listened to you. and in our opinion took an appropriate action.
In turning down the application, the P&Z cited fire, traffic and other safety concerns.
Earlier today, I ended my story on the move of Dragone Classic Motorcars from Post Road West to Orange by suggesting the 11,000-square foot property might be the site of a medical marijuana dispensary.
Some readers took me seriously.
I was kidding! It’s directly opposite Kings Highway Elementary School. You’d have to be smoking some heavy stuff to believe that would fly in this town.
But here’s something to consider.
Word around town — from reliable sources — is that a developer has closed on the former classic car showroom. He’s got his eye on the property next door too — where Villa del Sol planned to move.
Why? He wants to build 8-30(g) affordable housing there.
As in, 150 or more 2-bedroom apartments.
The former Dragone property and its neighbor, on Post Road West.
There’s already a plan in the works for the other side of Post Road West — the former “blighted homes” site on the crest of the hill heading downtown. That’s on the Planning and Zoning Commission agenda, for 81 8-30(g) units.
For a while, most Westport zoning battles have been waged on the other side of the river.
It seemed like welcome news last month, when the General Assembly overrode Governor Malloy’s veto of a bill that would loosen restrictions of 8-30g. Part of the state’s affordable housing standards, 8-30g incentivizes municipalities to make 10 percent of their housing stock “affordable.”
Officials in Westport — which has more affordable housing than counts under narrow 8-30g regulations — thought the override meant they’d qualify for a moratorium.
But the devil may be in the details.
According to Partnership for Strong Communities — a statewide policy and advocacy organization “dedicated to ending homelessness, expanding the creation of affordable housing, and building strong communities in Connecticut” — Westport will not qualify for “eligibility relief.”
Hales Court is affordable Westport housing — though it was built before 8-30g regulations came in effect in 1990, and does not count for “points.”
The reasons are complex. The organization says:
Through September 30, 2022 a town is eligible for a moratorium from the provisions of Section 8-30g if it shows that it has added affordable housing units equal to the greater of 2 percent of the housing stock, or 50 Housing Unit Equivalent (HUE) points. Previously, the minimum number of HUE points required was 75. This change makes it easier for the state’s 64 smallest towns to achieve a moratorium.
But Westport is not among those “smallest towns.”
For towns with 20,000 or more housing units, the requirements for achieving a 2nd and subsequent moratorium have been eased by reducing the number of HUE points needed from 2% of a town’s housing units to 1.5%. The term of a 2nd or subsequent moratorium is extended from 4 to 5 years for 6 towns: Fairfield, Greenwich, Hamden, Milford, Stratford and West Hartford.
In other words — according to PSC — Westport is not helped by having 10,000 housing units less than the 20,000.
Canal Park offers affordable housing for seniors, near downtown. It too was built before 1990.
The organization continues:
Through September 30, 2022, restricted family units with at least 3 bedrooms, or in an Incentive Housing Zone (IHZ), receive a 1/4-point bonus. Restricted elderly units receive a 1/2-point bonus, if at least 60% of the restricted units counted toward the moratorium are family units.
However, no 3-bedroom units have been offered in any 8-30g in Westport.
What comes next? Perhaps more “affordable housing” proposals.
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