There was good news for Branford’s Housing Authority Tuesday when the Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission voted unanimously not to appeal a Superior Court judge’s recent decision that favored the proposed Parkside Village affordable housing project.
Neighbors who opposed the housing project said they were “very disappointed” after hearing the commission’s decision.
The vote came during a special meeting Tuesday after a closed executive session attended by the commissioners and Town Attorney Bill Aniskovich. The executive session Tuesday lasted about 35 minutes.
“We had a thorough discussion of the pros and cons and merits and strategy,” said Chuck Andres, who chairs the P&Z commission. “What we’re going to do is simply vote on the motion as presented.”
All five commissioners who attended the special meeting voted against filing an appeal – Andres, John Lust, Joe Vaiuso, Paul Higgins Jr., and David Dyer. Higgins and Dyer are both alternates. Commissioners Marci Palluzzi and Joe Chadwick were absent. Chadwick has recused himself from voting since he was previously a member of the Housing Authority. It was announced that Fred Russo, who is an alternate, was absent due to illness.
“We are not going to appeal the decision,” Andres announced after the vote.
The commissioners did not discuss the issues during the public session, nor did they comment after the meeting.
The executive session and vote were slated to occur at the Nov. 15 regular P&Z meeting, but the vote was postponed since some of the commissioners were absent due to the snow storm.
Judge: Protest Petitions Don’t Apply
The P&Z’s decision was in response to a judge’s October ruling after the Housing Authority and its developer, Beacon Communities LLC of Boston, appealed the commission’s denial of the Parkside project. A complex situation arose in January when the P&Z voted in favor of the housing project by a 3-2 vote, but denied the project because the zoning change did not receive a 4-1 supermajority.
In January, commissioners Andres, Lust, and Vaiuso voted in favor of the project; and Palluzzi and Russo voted against it.
The issue of the initial appeal was whether a 1925 state zoning regulation known as 8-3b applies to affordable housing applications filed under state statute 8-30g, which was enacted in 1990.
Superior Court Judge Marshall Berger, who presides over the land use court in Hartford, issued a 13-page decision Oct. 24 stating: “For a number of reasons, this court holds that 8-3b does not apply to affordable housing applications under 8-30g.”
Neighbors who opposed the project had signed protest petitions that supposedly triggered state statute 8-3b. That meant a zoning change would need to be approved by a two-thirds supermajority vote, which would have been 4-1 instead of 3-2.
The 1925 statute states that a supermajority vote is required if a protest petition is signed by the owners of 20 percent of the lots within 500 feet in all directions of the property included in the proposed zoning change.
Attorneys for the Housing Authority argued that the Affordable Housing statute enacted in 1990 superseded the 1925 statute, and served to correct some of the deficiencies that would prohibit affordable housing. The Housing Authority is represented by Attorney Tim Hollister, a partner at Shipman & Goodwin in Hartford, and Attorney Anika Singh Lemar and her Yale law clinic.
According to 8-30g, affordable housing proposals can only be denied if there are substantial health and safety concerns based on evidence presented in the record of the public hearings.
Neighbors “Very Disappointed”
Several neighbors who opposed the project attended Tuesday’s meeting. “I was very disappointed,” said Carolyn Sires, one of the organizers of the neighborhood protests.
She said she didn’t understand why neighbors don’t have a right to petition the government when it comes to 8-30g affordable housing. “The Connecticut legislature should really consider eliminating state statute 8-30g for every town not just Branford,” Sires told the Eagle.
Parkside Village Keeps Trying
Legal issues were not the only hurdles facing the project. There are still unresolved issues about funding and about the construction of an emergency access road.
The Housing Authority has spent several years attempting to replace the dilapidated complex, which includes 50 small units that house low-income elderly and people with disabilities.
The Parkside Village 1 affordable housing complex at 115 S. Montowese St. was constructed in the early 1970s on a 5.7-acre site that the Housing Authority owns. The three buildings are deteriorating and are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Plans call for construction of an L-shaped building with 67 apartments, including 33 one-bedroom units, and 34 two-bedroom units. The units would house low-income people of any age, not just seniors, which the developer claims would increase the possibility of securing federal funding.