Clean Water and Affordable Housing — a Problem and a Fix

It’s not zoning, or angry crowds, it’s sewers that may put the kibosh on a plan for 67 units of affordable housing in Old Lyme – part of a 224-unit 11-building residential complex proposed for a 20-acre site on Hatchetts Hill Road.

The fact is, it’s nearly impossible to build dense housing of any sort without sewers.

You might recall, the proposed Hope Partnership development on Neck Road in Old Lyme would have provided just 37 units of affordable housing on septic and still required a loophole and a subdivide to get around Connecticut’s stringent environmental laws.

But here’s the rub. Old Lyme has sewers, or will soon enough. And the tie-in is just a stone’s throw away from the site on Hatchetts Hill. But the developer has been so far stymied by state and federal rules that discourage the use of Clean Water Funds to subsidize additional development. The idea of the state-federal program is to help ‘to fix what’s broken,’ not fund new environmental problems.

And because Clean Water Funds are expected to pay about 25 percent of the cost of installing sewers in Old Lyme, the local developer then might be out of luck if he can’t get East Lyme, Waterford and New London to approve some sort of workaround.

It’s a problem we haven’t heard about much in Connecticut, in part because Old Lyme may be the only town in Connecticut currently installing – rather than extending – sewers. That’s also part of the reason for the tug of war between the neighborhood of Sound View and the Town of Old Lyme, because there is no recent precedent for divvying the costs.

But that’s going to change, along the shoreline at least, with the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection beginning studies that micro-target pollution in the near-shore waters of the Long Island Sound. Old Lyme kind of jumped to the head of the line, even before there was a line.

But as the number of sewer projects grows – and the number of projects qualifying for Clean Water Funds likely increases – you have to wonder whether it makes sense for the state, on the one hand, to fund sewer infrastructure, and on the other, force affordable housing to be built someplace else and on septic.

To be clear, it’s unlikely that many sewers projects will be built in Connecticut over the next decades without Clean Water Funds.

A revision to the rules for Clean Water Funds wouldn’t encourage any development the state doesn’t already want built, and it’s exactly the kind of small-bore solution that might help get things accomplished in Connecticut, instead of crafting the perfect epithet for our collective failures, a better carrot or a bigger stick.

And perhaps it’s time for The Day, for Rev. Steven Jungkeit and other housing advocates in the area, who went to the mattresses for a 37-unit development, to show at least a modicum of support for 67 units of affordable housing on Hatchetts Hill or explain why not.

So far, after three attempts over the last weeks, Jungkeit has not yet returned our calls for comment on the project.

Latest from Gregory Stroud

The Sunday Puzzle 6-13-21

Download the puzzle here THE SUNDAY DIGESTAward-winning state and local newsInvalid email address We promise not

The Sunday Digest

Download the puzzle here THE SUNDAY DIGESTAward-winning state and local newsInvalid email address We promise not