Housing Authority Attorney Seeks to “Seize the Moment”

With Permission The Housing Authority is hoping to “seize the moment” and have a public hearing for the new Parkside Village 1 affordable housing project before the November 1 deadline to apply for federal funding.

The Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission agreed last night to set the hearing Oct. 19 — but the issue is whether the the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) will have time to comment before then. Since the 5.7 acre housing site is in the coastal boundary area,  the DEEP has to be notified 35 days ahead in case they want to comment. The applications were referred to DEEP Sept 27.

Diana Stricker Photo Attorney Danielle M. Bercury (pictured), a senior associate at Brenner, Saltzman & Wallman, the town’s law firm, wrote a memorandum on the issue and summarized it at the P&Z meeting. She concluded that the 35-day time period should be adhered to, unless the DEEP waives the time requirement, or issues comments before Oct. 19.

The DEEP declined to comment last year when a previous proposal was made to redevelop Parkside.

Attorney Tim Hollister, a partner at Shipman & Goodwin in Hartford, asked that the hearing be set for Oct. 19 in case the DEEP responds by then, or waives the timeframe. He sat next to Doug Denes, the chair of the Housing Authority.

Time Crunch

Diana Stricker Photo Hollister, who represents the Housing Authority and its development team,  Beacon Communities LLC of Boston, said they need approval for the project prior to the Nov. 1 deadline to apply for funding.

“One of the concerns I have is that this is a big application,” said Chuck Andres, who chairs the P&Z.  Public hearings often continue more than one session, depending on the complexity of the proposal.

Andres said the development team knew about the Nov. 1 deadline. Hollister said they were waiting for town boards to vote on a property line adjustment.  “We really could not move forward until it was approved by the RTM, which it was Sept. 13,” Hollister said.

Hollister said if they miss this funding deadline, it will be another year until they can apply again.

“The money is there now,” Hollister said, adding that it could dry up in another year. “There is no doubt this application would qualify for funding,” he said.  “We have to seize the moment.”

Diana Stricker Photo The P&Z commissioners (pictured) agreed to schedule the Oct. 19 hearing, if they hear from DEEP by that time. P&Z meetings and hearings are held at the community room at Branford Fire Headquarters.

Affordable Housing Needed

For several years, Branford’s Housing Authority has been hoping to rebuild the outdated complex that houses low-income seniors and people with disabilities.  The housing complex, built in the mid-1970’s, is not compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The Beacon development team filed last year for a Planned Development District and Master Plan.  Public hearings were held by P&Z at that time, but the project was withdrawn when it became apparent they could not conclude before the November funding deadline. Last year’s plans were stalled by neighbors’ concerns and design issues.

The revised applications this year include a request for a zoning change, a site plan and a coastal site plan. The applications were submitted under the state’s 8-30g Affordable Housing statute.

The Housing Authority and Beacon are requesting a new zoning designation for the site, which would be called “Parkside Assisted Housing District.” The site is currently zoned Residential 3. 

The Eagle asked Dara Kovel, president of Beacon Communities, why the 8-30g designation was chosen. She said the rationale was included in the zoning change application, which states that “no other Branford zoning regulation fits the proposed development plan’s dimensions and standards, and no regulation encompasses “assisted housing” as defined in 8-30g (that is, existing regulations allow so-called “set aside” affordable housing but not governmentally-assisted, per se).  The site-specific regulation is legally permissible because court cases interpreting 8-30g have held that 8-30g proposals may include site-specific regulations.”

The Plans

With Permission The new plans call for an L-shaped building with 67 apartments, including 33 one-bedroom units, and 34 two-bedroom units. The proposed building would provide affordable housing for low-income people of any age, not just seniors and people with disabilities. However, Kovel said all the current tenants would be moved to the new building.

Parkside Village 1 currently includes three two-story buildings that were constructed in 1974. The buildings, which include 50 small units, are deteriorating and are not compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

A second complex on adjacent property, Parkside 2, which has 40 units, was built in 1985, and has been updated with state grants.

A traffic study was completed by engineer Stephen Ulman of Alfred Benesch & Company.  The report concluded that the project “will not impede or adversely affect traffic operations on the adjacent roadway network.”

The developers will apply for funding through a federal program which uses federal low-income tax credits, and is administered by the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority (CHFA).  Beacon would apply for federal tax credits and then sell those credits to big institutions to raise the equity needed to finance the project.

Sliney Field Boundary Change

With Permission The RTM’s boundary change makes improved Parkside design plans possible, including moving the building further from the street and allowing for more preservation of trees and hillside, two areas of concern. It also makes legal the baseball field’s second base. 

At its meeting last month, the RTM approved a land boundary exchange so that the entire Sliney baseball field will be owned by the town and not shared with the Housing Authority.  The Housing Authority gained a small portion of land in the exchange. The P&Z had recommended the RTM act to correct an inaccuracy on the town’s land records that gave the Housing Authority ownership of the area around second base.

Town attorney Bill Aniskovich explained to the RTM that during the process of examining different proposals to rebuild Parkside, “there was a review of land records which revealed that for some time those playing ball on the field were not on town land but on Housing Authority land. So for whatever reason this situation had not been uncovered until this time. So we felt we should correct that,” he said.

Aniskovich observed that “It does put a legal cloud over that ballfield in the event that someone were to be injured” at or near second base, prior to the property line adjustment. In addition, he observed that as Rep. Peter Jackson (D-3rd) said, “historically there has been a significant parking problem on those grassy areas. And this will also permit us to rectify that in the future.”

The motion to fix the land boundaries passed overwhelmingly.

Kovel told the Eagle that the Housing Authority gained about 0.19 or an acre at the back of the property and the net gain to the Town was about 1/3 of an acre.

“The adjustment to the property line changes the set back, helps make the improved design plans possible, including moving the building further from the street and allowing for more preservation of trees and hillside,” Kovel said. “With the adjustment to the lot, we also can avoid major retaining walls at the back of the property which would not be visually appealing from the baseball fields.”

Changes to Affordable Housing Statue

State Rep Lonnie Reed (D-Branford) was one of the co-sponsors of legislation to revise the state’s 8-30g statute during the past year. The legislature voted overwhelmingly in favor of the changes, but Gov. Dannel P. Malloy vetoed the bill. The legislature then voted to override his veto, allowing the bill to become law. 

The revisions helps reduce opportunities for unscrupulous developers to exploit the statute; and expands the types of housing that qualify as affordable. A municipality that has 10 percent or more affordable housing, according to state definitions, can be exempt from some of the statute’s requirements.

Reed said the changes to the statute are supportive of affordable housing. She recently told the Eagle: “We are not now and have never been a community opposed to affordable housing. On the contrary, we have always welcomed families who are working hard to make their way. The new Affordable Housing law I co-sponsored and helped pass last session was designed to prevent 8-30g from being hijacked and abused by unscrupulous developers and to protect environmentally vulnerable, unbuildable lots from being rezoned under false pretenses. It was not crafted to stop the building of thoughtful, well designed projects.”

In regard to the upcoming hearings on the Parkside proposal, Reed said “I hope that the public hearings will provide substantial transparency and that residents who live in Parkside 1 will have an opportunity to speak and to ask questions in a respectful setting. I also hope that concerns expressed by people from the surrounding community will be listened to and addressed.”

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