The February 24 meeting of the Old Lyme Affordable Housing Committee (CT Examiner/Hewitt)

Old Lyme Affordable Housing Committee Elects Officers, Pushes Transparency

OLD LYME — The Affordable Housing Committee created three subcommittees Monday night. One will focus on the town’s current affordable housing inventory and available land sites, another on the Connecticut 8-30g statute and the third on experiences and best practices of other towns in developing affordable housing.

As a preliminary matter, the committee elected as chair Michael Fogliano, who suggested the three-part approach to achieving the committee’s charge.

“We’re on a nominal six-month to one year timeline so we are designed to sunset,” he said of the committee, which the Board of Selectmen appointed in January.

Karen Winters, who was elected vice chair, suggested a top priority for the town housing and land subcommittee was McCullough Farm, a 300-acre property on Flat Rock Road purchased by the town on Sept. 3 that includes two three-acre “building envelopes” designated for single-family affordable housing.

“The McCullough property has a timeline that we need to recognize and respect because we don’t want to give that up,” Winters said.

The town has a five-year deadline to build affordable housing on the two sites that will otherwise become open space. The two parcels, which amounted to about $100,000 of the $600,000 cost of the 300 acres, were paid for with Open Space Acquisition funds, approved unanimously by residents at the Annual Town Meeting on May 20, 2019.

A second subcommittee will research 8-30g, a state statute allowing developers to override local zoning regulations in towns where less than 10 percent the housing stock meets state standards for affordable housing.

“We don’t have any choice, if we don’t do this then developers come knocking,” Winters said. “We have to be proactive, we also should be taking care of the people in our town, it has to be done, no matter which way.”

Committee member Harold Thompson, who is chair of the town’s Planning Commission, said that part of the committee’s job will be to ensure that the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development conforms with state statutes on affordable housing.

“We have a charter to rewrite or update the Plan of Conservation and Development. It’s a 10-year effort. Right now we have until the end of December to have it done, and my plan is to start reviewing the sections at the beginning of March.”

A third “externally-focused” subcommittee will survey how other towns have approached the development of affordable housing under 8-30g, and compile case studies relevant to Old Lyme.

Winters suggested making audio recordings of committee meetings to increase transparency, especially in light of the recent rifts in the community that developed during hearings for the Hope Partnership plan to construct 37 units of housing at the I-95 Exit 70 off-ramp on Route 156.

“Based on the Hope project, we should be very cognizant that transparency is key and anybody who wants to hear what we’re doing, they should. Some people can’t come, or don’t want to come, but they should be able to know what is happening in our town,” she said.

She said her goal was not to have the audio transcribed, but to have it available should members of the public choose to listen.

“I think there is a whole lot to be obtained in listening to the dialogue, which is not caught in every written word,” she said.

Committee member Tammy Tinnerello, who was elected committee secretary, agreed. “Tone and transparency are important,” she said.

John Zaccaro, committee member, also suggested including a public comment period at each meeting, which the group decided will be held at the end of each meeting.

The committee meets on the third Monday of each month.