Parkside Village Approval Could Be Complicated

Beacon CommunitiesThe Parkside Village I proposal could be approved by the Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission next week or in early February. However, a simple majority vote may not be enough to approve one of the three applications involved in the project.

At a special meeting Monday night, a majority of the commissioners directed the town planner to draw up resolutions in favor of the Parkside affordable housing project.

In a separate matter, the commissioners set a hearing date of Jan. 18 for their request to make changes to zoning regulations for Planned Development Districts (PDDs).

In other business, there was a unanimous vote to approve site plans for the Tidal Lodge boutique hotel proposed by the owners of the nearby Stony Creek Brewery.

Parkside Dilemma

The public hearings for Parkside began in October and ended in December. Branford’s Housing Authority and its developer — Beacon Communities LLC of Boston — are seeking a zoning change to allow construction of a new building to replace the dilapidated complex at 115 S. Montowese St., which houses low-income elderly and people with disabilities. They are applying under the state statute 8-30g affordable housing act.

Deliberations began at Monday’s special session, which was scheduled after the regular meeting Jan. 4 was canceled due to snow.

The commissioners took a straw poll Monday which indicated three were in favor of the project and two were not. Those in favor included Chuck Andres, who chairs the P&Z; John Lust and Joe Vaiuso. Those not in favor were Marci Palluzzi; and Fred Russo, who is an alternate to the five-member commission. During the hearings,  Russo was openly critical of the affordable housing project, but was apparently next in rotation to participate if a regular member was absent or unable to vote.  Commissioner Joe Chadwick recused himself since he had been a member of the Housing Authority. Paul Higgins, a second alternate, was also present Monday, but he was not chosen to participate.

Town Planner Harry Smith was directed to draw up three separate resolutions — one for each of the three applications involved in the project — a zoning regulation change; and zoning map change; and a site plan/coastal site plan.

During the course of the hearings, neighbors opposing the project signed a protest petition which could require a “super majority” of the commissioners to vote. That would be a 4-1 vote instead of a simple majority of 3-2.  However, the super majority rule only applies to the zoning map amendment, not the other two applications.

Smith said the zoning regulation amendment and the site plans could be approved by a simple majority of 3-2.

At the Dec. 7 public hearing,  Attorney Tim Hollister, a partner in the Shipman & Goodwin law firm in Hartford, who represents the developers, said in his opinion the super majority statute doesn’t apply because this is an 8-30g affordable housing project. He also said if two of the applications are approved and the third is not, it would create a “very strange situation.”

In addition, Hollister said the applicant can technically proceed without a zone change because it is an 8-30g application. He said if there is a majority but not a supermajority vote on the zone change, “We will ask the court to order that part of the application to be approved.”

Danielle Bercury, a senior associate at Brenner, Saltzman & Wallman, the New Haven law firm that represents the town along with Attorney Bill Aniskovich, also addressed the supermajority issue at the Dec.  7 meeting.  Bercury said a court case cited by Hollister didn’t specifically address protest petitions. She also said she had not seen any case law that said protest petitions don’t apply to an 8-30g application. In her view, Bercury said without case law she couldn’t say that the petitions don’t apply.

In the end, it could be up to the courts to determine if a super majority applies to affordable housing applications or not.

Smith said the deadline for voting is Feb. 10. The town attorneys are working with Smith on drafting the resolutions. Smith told the Eagle he can’t guarantee that the resolutions will be ready to vote by the Jan. 18 meeting; or that the commissioners will end their deliberations at that time.

“It seemed like there was essentially a 3-2 split of the board in the straw poll … That may maintain itself throughout the vote or not. I don’t know,” Smith said.

The state statute 8-30g affordable housing law operates under different rules than other zoning proposals. If the commission denies the project and an appeal is filed in New Haven Superior Court, the commission has the burden of proof to show why it was denied.  They must show that the decision was supported by evidence on the public record and that it was based on substantial public health or safety issues, and that those issues outweigh the need for affordable housing.

The current Parkside Village 1 buildings, which were built in the 1970’s, include 50 units and do not meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements. The new building would have 67 apartments with 33 one-bedroom units and 34 two-bedroom units. The units would be open to people of all ages, since developers say that will increase the probability of getting funding through a federal tax-credit program.

PDD Questions

A public hearing will be held at the Jan 18 regular meeting to consider an application presented by the P&Z Commission which involves Planned Development Districts (PDDs)

There are several PDDs in the community, including Anchor Reef, the proposed Atlantic Wharf, Sterling Ridge, and the proposed Exit 56 PDD which once included Costco.

The changes proposed by the commission refer to section 5.4G which currently creates a one year time limit for completion of common facilities that are subject to financial guarantee. The second is section 5.4H which currently includes a five year development period for completing the entire development.

Smith told the Eagle that those two regulations are not the same as changes to PDD regulations proposed by major property owners at Exit 56. A public hearing on that request was originally set for Jan. 4 but was postponed until Feb. 15.

The proposal to extend time limitations for site plan approval was made by the 595 Corporate Circle corporation, which is owned by developers Charles Weber and Al Secondino.  They spearheaded the effort to bring Costco and seven other retail businesses to Exit 56. The time frame for the PDD would have expired at the end of July, but the commission voted to extend it, even though that option was not in the regulations. Costco had already pulled out of the project in February. There was no legal appeal from outside groups on the Commission’s time extension. 

Riverfront Hotel Unanimously Approved

The commissioners gave the thumbs up Monday night for a riverfront hotel known as Tidal Lodge to be built at 4-6 Indian Neck Ave., across the street from the Stony Creek Brewery. The Crowley family, who own the brewery, purchased the former Paul’s Wire property for $600,000 in September 2016.

During the public hearing Dec. 21, Ed Crowley told the commissioners that the location is perfect for a boutique hotel.  Plans call for 33 rooms, all with riverfront balconies. “The views on that particular site are incredible and the tidal changes are incredible,” he said.

The commissioners also unanimously approved Crowley’s request to modify the original Anchor Reef PDD by creating a new entity to be named the Branford River PDD, which would be for commercial uses. This new PDD will remove the brewery and the proposed hotel from the Anchor Reef PDD and place them in the new one.

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