Tag Archives: Hiawatha Lane

BREAKING NEWS: Westport Gets Moratorium For 8-30g Housing

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.”

8-30g Affordable Housing: More Proposals On The Way

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.

[OPINION] Developer: In Wake Of Hiawatha Court Decision, We Plan 187 Units

In the wake of a Superior Court judge’s ruling that Westport grant conditional approval for a sewer line extension — the first step toward construction of a large housing complex on Hiawatha Lane, off Saugatuck Avenue next to I-95 Exit 17 — the developer in the lawsuit has issued a press release.

Summit Development says:

A 14-year effor to create a moderate-income housing community in the Town of Westport took a major step forward after a State Superior Court judge ordered the town to grant a conditional approval for a sewer line extension to serve proposed new development on Hiawatha Lane in the Saugatuck neighborhood.

In a ruling issued May 7, Judge Kenneth Shluger ordered the town to extend an existing municipal sewer line 1600 feet to serve the proposed development. The judge said the town’s Water Pollution Control Authority has abused its discretion by delaying the extension. The town’s 3-member governing Board of Selectmen serves as the commissioners of the Authority.

The town has maintained that it could not consider extending the sewer because a failing sewer line and related pumping station that would serve the site are inadequate to handle the additional sewage effluent the new housing would generate, and further said that an existing town policy precluded it from issuing conditional approvals.

The developer, Summit Saugatuck LLC of Southport has maintained since early 2016, when it negotiated a joint venture agreement with the Westport Housing Authority to build 155 units, that the town was not only authorized but obligated to issue a sewer extension approval conditioned upon the completion of the sewer and pump station upgrades.

In 2016, the Public Works Department set the schedule for the upgrades, which are now nearing completion. Summit’s property met all the criteria for receiving sewer service, including being within the Sewer District, and that the town’s sewage treatment plant having ample capacity.

Summit’s attorney, Timothy Hollister, said the judge’s decision supports Summit’s position that the town’s interests are fully protected by granting the extension conditioned on the upgrade being completed, and that the town produced no evidence that it has a long-standing policy against issuing conditional approvals. “There is no such policy,” he said.

Felix Charney, president of Summit Development, said: “The judge found that the town has been using the sewer system upgrade as a way of delaying creation of the moderate-income housing that is so desperately needed in Westport. In 2016, the town encouraged us to partner with the Westport Housing Authority and we came up with a great plan for 155 units including 70 moderate-income units. But when we presented the very plan the town had encouraged, the Town Board dropped its support and hid behind the sewer line issue as the way of blocking the development. Now, with the Housing Authority having lost its financing opportunity, we are proceeding on our own.”

Summit’s new proposal: 187 units.

Summit’s revised plan will feature 187 studio, 1- and 2-bedroom apartments with 30 percent for moderate income households having maximum rent and household income restrictions for 40 years. The 8-acre site is centrally located with access to local stores, restaurants and services.  The community will be a transit oriented development (TOD), as it is within easy walking distance of the Saugatuck train station.

Westport First Selectman Jim Marpe has been quoted saying that the court decision will have “very little practical impact on the proposed project’s timetable.”

Charney responds: “For years we have offered compromises, all of which have been rebuffed by the town. We have a great location near the train station, are in a neighborhood where there are other multi-family apartments and are using a classic New England-style architecture that fits beautifully within the community. The real question boils down to whether Westport wants to be an inclusive or an exclusive community?”

He said Summit had offered the town a series of smaller proposals including the one in partnership with the Westport Housing Authority, but the town chose to not commit.“They left us no alternative but to turn to the courts.”

Carol Martin, executive director of the Westport Housing Authority, said the authority supports the private sector developing housing in the town. “We have reached the point where we are no longer accepting additional applicants signing up with us. With approximately 1,000 names already on the list, there’s no point. We applaud private sector developers like Summit who are willing to step in and help to address the huge need we have in Westport.”

Judge Rules Against Town In Hiawatha Sewer Case

Development of multi-family housing in Saugatuck moved one step closer to reality yesterday.

Superior Court Judge Kenneth Schluger announced his ruling: The town should grant an application to extend the town sewer, to serve a proposed development on Hiawatha Lane.

Two years ago, Summit Development proposed building 155 rental units on 5.34 acres. Hiawatha Lane is currently a narrow road accessible by West Ferry Lane off Saugatuck Avenue, between I-95 exit 17 and the railroad station parking lot.

Hiawatha Lane includes many rental properties — and some of the lowest housing prices in Westport. The land was originally developed to house immigrant workers who built the railroad.

Housing would include 85 market-rate units, and 70 “affordable” units, as defined by Connecticut’s 8-30 g regulation.

A rendering of the proposed Hiawatha Lane development.

The court ruled that the extension request should be granted, subject to a condition that a construction permit not be issued until repair work to the force main under the Saugatuck River, and Pump Station #2, was complete. The Public Works Department anticipates construction will be done by late summer.

The Westport Board of Selectmen — acting in their capacity as the Westport Pollution Control Authority — had denied one request for the sewer extension because repair work had not yet begun, and a second request because construction was not yet finished.

The court said that the WPCA could in fact grant conditional approval, provided no work begins until the repair work is done.

Hiawatha Lane is a narrow street, filled with homes that are modest by Westport standards. It’s accessible only via West Ferry Lane off Saugatuck Avenue, next to the I-95 eastbound entrance/exit ramp.

1st Selectman Jim Marpe said, “I am disappointed by the decision. But even if the court had ruled in the town’s favor, the WPCA would have no discretion to deny Summit’s application after the improvements and repairs … were complete and certified. Ultimately, the court’s decision will have very little practical impact on the proposed project’s timetable.”

Selma Miriam: Don’t Sacrifice Hiawatha For Housing

Nearly 40 years ago, a group of women gathered at Selma Miriam’s 29 Hiawatha Lane home. Their idea of a vegetarian restaurant — and feminist collective — became Bloodroot. Today, it’s still around. Miriam’s still involved.

Hiawatha Lane is still around too, and Miriam still lives there — for now, anyway. But the neighborhood is in the crosshairs of a proposed housing development. Miriam sends these thoughts:

Developer Felix Charney is back trying to foist 155 multiple housing units onto a little dead-end street: Hiawatha Lane Extension.

This flawed project was rejected at least 3 times already by the Planning & Zoning Commission, as well as other town agencies.

A rendering of the proposed Hiawatha Lane development.

A rendering of the proposed Hiawatha Lane development.

While the practicality and cost of putting in sewer lines and fixing pump station #2 remains unresolved, and no one has yet  evaluated the assault on inland wetlands in this area of swamp land between I-95 and the railroad tracks, the biggest impact is that the warren of streets comprising Old Saugatuck (the only naturally formed working-class neighborhood of homeowners in Westport) would be destroyed by the increased traffic from 155 new units.

But besides the misery to us locals, imagine the effect at the intersection of Route 136 (Saugatuck Avenue), Exit 17 off I-95, Route 33 (Riverside Avenue) and other roads leading to the railroad station. A nightmare for anyone needing to travel these roads.

So how come this developer, turned down 3 times before, now has the support — worse, the encouragement — of the 1st and 2nd selectmen? Even more questionable is the support of the Westport Housing Authority, which is apparently eager to help finance Felix Charney’s previous financial mistakes by using public funds (taxpayer money) as a bailout. Is this greed or stupidity, or both?

Of course they may say they want to ward off the threat of the state’s infamous 8-30g law, which lets developers build any size housing development they want in defiance of local zoning ordinances, if the local board has rejected applications that include 30% of “affordable” units in the development proposal.  However, any prior existing affordable housing is not counted. So it becomes okay to destroy an historic, working-class neighborhood in order to build 155 units and call 70 units “affordable.”

Hiawatha Lane is a narrow street, filled with homes that are modest by Westport standards. It's accessible only via West Ferry Lane off Saugatuck Avenue, next to the I-95 eastbound entrance/exit ramp.

Hiawatha Lane is a narrow street, filled with homes that are modest by Westport standards. It’s accessible only via West Ferry Lane off Saugatuck Avenue, next to the I-95 eastbound entrance/exit ramp.

This is a numbers game that we — that is, Westport — can never win as long as developers continue building higher and ever higher-end housing. We can never catch up!

But it is incomprehensible that the Westport Housing Authority does not get it, and is willing to sacrifice a well-established, historic working class community and waste tax dollars to support this developer’s project.

And so, as a remedy, I offer a fantasy, a sort of (tongue-in-cheek) “modest proposal”.*

Let’s pretend the wetlands will not be disturbed while the area is over-built. Let’s pretend sewers can be provided (from where? paid for by whom?). Let’s pretend that the beginning of Hiawatha Lane Extension could be “walled off,”protecting Hiawatha Lane, Davenport Avenue, Dr. Gillette Circle, and most importantly, Saugatuck Avenue, Exit 17 and the train station access.

Hiawatha Lane extension is shown by an arrow, on this Google Map image. It's below I-95. The entrance is via West Ferry Lane, which is off Saugatuck Avenue (diagonal road on the right side of the image).

Hiawatha Lane extension is shown by an arrow, on this Google Map image. It’s below I-95. The entrance is via West Ferry Lane, which is off Saugatuck Avenue (diagonal road on the right side of the image).

Let’s pretend we could get Norwalk to change its mind and allow Charney’s development to exit through to Norwalk from Hiawatha Lane Extension through the old Norden property. Alternatively, the development could have its own exit onto I-95, since an access road already exists. Finally, let’s pretend that taxpayers would not be expected to reward Charney’s fiscal irresponsibilities.

Ridiculous? Yes! The best decision would be to turn down this project application again. Keep this kind of building on main roads that already have sewers, traffic controls, and no wetlands.

A big question remains: Why have Selectmen Marpe and Kaner invested their efforts in this project? And why is the Westport Housing Authority blind to the problems intrinsic to helping this particular developer?

Is it greed or stupidity or both?

*with apologies to Jonathan Swift

 

New Housing Proposed For Hiawatha Lane

Hiawatha Lane is back in the news.

Or it will be, after Thursday’s Planning & Zoning Commission meeting.

Just over a year after Summit Saugatuck withdrew its application for a sewer extension — postponing plans to build 186 housing units on the property abutting I-95 exit 17 — the P&Z will review a pre-application from Summit Development to construct 155 rental units.

Phase 1 would begin in early 2017, and consist of 85 market-rate units.

Phase 2 would begin in the summer of 2018. It would include 70 “affordable” units, as defined by Connecticut’s 8-30g regulation.

The site plan also includes an amenities building, and a swimming pool.

A rendering of the proposed Hiawatha Lane development.

A rendering of the proposed Hiawatha Lane development.

Summit would build a privately-owned force main, pump station, and sewer line, extending 1,600 feet from the existing gravity sewer on Davenport Avenue. It would serve the 2 multi-family rental apartment developments, and also connect to 8 existing homes abutting Hiawatha Lane and Extension.

Last year’s project was scuttled because the sewer pipe running underneath the Saugatuck River to the pump station on Underhill Road could not handle the increased load.

Hiawatha Lane is a narrow street, filled with homes that are modest by Westport standards. It's accessible only via West Ferry Lane off Saugatuck Avenue, next to the I-95 eastbound entrance/exit ramp.

Hiawatha Lane is a narrow street, with homes that are modest by Westport standards. Click on photo to enlarge.

Hiawatha Lane currently includes many rental properties — and some of the lowest housing prices in Westport. The land was originally developed to house immigrant workers who built the railroad.

It is accessible by West Ferry Lane off Saugatuck Avenue, between I-95 exit 17 and the railroad station eastbound parking lot.

Summit currently owns 5.34 acres on Hiawatha Lane. The company has options to purchase 5 additional parcels, totaling 2.87 acres.

(The pre-application will be heard at the Planning & Zoning Commission meeting on Thursday, April 7, 7 p.m. in the Town Hall auditorium. The meeting will be televised. The 1st agenda item could also be interesting: a discussion with public works director Steve Edwards on Compo Beach improvements.)

Hiawatha Lane extension is shown by an arrow, on this Google Map image. It's below I-95. The entrance is via West Ferry Lane, which is off Saugatuck Avenue (diagonal road on the right side of the image).

Hiawatha Lane extension is shown by an arrow, on this Google Map image. It’s below I-95. The entrance is via West Ferry Lane, which is off Saugatuck Avenue (diagonal road on the right side of the image). Click on photo to enlarge.