Switch to Affordable Housing Trumps All in East Haddam

To the Editor:

Last night I attended the East Haddam P&Z meeting as the commission continued to hear the Lofts at Black Birch-Banner Community Center (Anthony Longhitano) application. As you may be aware, this is the proverbial double-dipping of applications. A preliminary vote by the P&Z commission in February, 2020, for this very project was unanimously assured a 9-0 denial. However, the Land Use officer Jim Ventres, suggested an official vote be delayed while the town lawyer ‘reviewed’ the consequences to the town from such a denial. What did the applicant do? He withdrew the application and then reappeared this past July with exactly the same application only with the added booster that he would include Affordable Housing in his project. By amending his application by designating 6 of the 20 units as Affordable Housing, just like that he now had a state statute behind the application. With this new designation, the East Haddam P&Z committee were now stripped of any authority to deny the very same application presented to them last year, and no public opinions by the residents in East Haddam would be entered into any record.

Message received. By invoking the Affordable Housing stature, the applicant very smartly was able to tie the hands of East Haddam’s P&Z, to disregard the potentiality of a judgement against the conversion of the said Banner Community Center as a result of the pending lawsuit brought by condo unit owners, and virtually silenced all residents in the town of East Haddam with any opinion regarding the arrival of affordable housing. Affordable Housing has trumped us all.

Surely then, the town of East Haddam is set up for handling the administration that comes along with having Affordable Housing in town. I mean, the applicant doesn’t get to invoke Affordable Housing to get his application rammed through and then not be monitored by the town to ensure that those designated 6 units that got the application passed be available/rented to people that qualify for the discounted rent, right? Last night, when the P&Z commission asked the applicant’s lawyers who would be in charge of ensuring that the building stayed in compliance with the statute, they were surprised to hear their lawyer assert that according to state statutes, Jim Ventres would be responsible for handling the policing of that compliance. Apparently, East Haddam’s Land Use officer will now play landlord for The Lofts at Black Birch/Anthony Longhitano. I wonder what our candidates for First Selectman think of this? This situation continues to fascinate.

At least the Banner unit owners are not the only ones stuck with this developer. Fasten your seatbelts, East Haddam! We’re in for a bumpy ride.

Catherine Ematrudo
Moodus, CT

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