MADISON — A local group of developers is proposing to build six single family houses, each 1,000-square-feet in size, on a little over a half acre of land under a state statute that allows affordable housing developers to bypass local zoning approvals. The proposal has raised considerable concern among neighboring residents.
Nearly 50 Madison residents signed a letter urging the Planning and Zoning Commission to oppose the project over concerns with additional traffic and potential hazards of burying six septic systems on the .55-acre property. It’s the latest in a string of proposals for multifamily housing that have drawn neighborhood scrutiny in the shoreline town.
During the first part of a public hearing for the proposal held over Zoom on Thursday night, neighbors and members of the Planning and Zoning Commission questioned representatives of the developers — Leif Klein, Robert Cosentino and Henry Pratt of 92 Scotland LLC — regarding traffic issues, plans for septic and stormwater runoff in what some called a subdivision stuffed into a small property.
Gregg Fedus, the engineer on the project, said each building would have its own 1,000-gallon septic system and leaching field, and all of them would be buried under the courtyard between the houses. Fedus said the property had “excellent” soils for the septic system, with well-drained sand and gravel, and no signs of a [high] groundwater table or ledge.
Neighbors questioned how the property could support six septic systems, and worried how the project could impact the area if any of the systems failed. Commission Chair Ron Clark said the neighbors raised good questions about the septic systems, but he said the issue fell under the purview of the town health department.
“We really can’t give you an answer ourselves about septic,” Clark said. “We’re not experts about it and we don’t have the authority over it.”
In the hearing, neighbors of the proposed development said that Scotland Avenue already had traffic problems, especially from May to October when baseball games at the Jaycee Fields cause the parking lot right next to the proposed development to fill and visitors to park along the side of the 25-foot wide road.
A letter signed by dozens of neighbors raised the problem of parking, stating that allowing 12 cars on a single driveway was excessive, and would worsen traffic problems on Scotland Avenue. At the meeting, neighbors questioned what would happen if anyone in the complex had visitors, or if a household had more than three cars.
Fedus said Madison’s regulations only required two parking spaces per unit. They didn’t expect there would be 12 cars in the lot all the time, but if there was overflow, people would park on the street or somewhere else within walking distance, Fedus said.
“I lived in Madison for a while. When you have a couple games [at the Jaycee fields], you have parking issues on Scotland,” Fedus said. “But they’re existing parking issues, this is not going to exacerbate it.”
Ed Casella, the attorney representing the developers, said the parking also meets a new state zoning law passed in May, which said towns can’t require more than two parking spaces for any housing with two or more bedrooms – though towns can opt out of that provision.
Developers looking for community feeling
Under the proposal, the developers would demolish a single-family house on the property to build six, three-bedroom detached homes, arranged in a sort of semicircle with a courtyard in the middle.
Two of the units would be deed-restricted as “affordable,” as required by the 8-30g statute – including one set aside for those making 60 percent or less of the area median income, and one for those making 80 percent or less of area median income.
According to the affordability plan for the project, 60 percent of the $93,000 area median income for Madison is $58,000 – about what a Madison Public School teacher with a master’s degree and 6 years of experience would make under the district’s current salary schedule – and the maximum rent for that unit would be $1,105.80 a month.
For the 80 percent unit, the household would allow an income of $77,376 – about as much as two people working full time at $18.50 an hour – and the maximum rent would be $1,589 a month.
Leif Klein, a long-time Madison resident who recently moved to Clinton, and one of the principals of the 92 Scotland LLC, told CT Examiner that the rental price of the four unrestricted units would depend on what it ultimately cost to build the project.
Klein said that the group had seen similar, small “cottage communities” in places like North Carolina, and thought it would work well in Madison where there aren’t a lot of rentals available. Klein described the units as “tiny houses,” though some neighbors disagreed with that, since several other houses on Scotland Avenue also have around 1,000 square feet of living space.
Klein said the group purchased the property from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development after a previous owner defaulted on a HUD-backed mortgage. They thought it was a good location for a multifamily housing development because it is less than a mile from the train station close to Madison Center and less than a half-mile to Boston Post Road.
“There’s a shortage of rentals in Madison, and the town wanted rents with the affordability component,” Klein said. “We’re kind of hoping for a mix of everybody – I know there are some older folks that are looking for places to live after they sell their houses here.”
Casella told the commission that, while Madison does offer several options to incentivize affordable housing, those options like housing opportunity districts had minimum acreage requirements that this half-acre property didn’t meet.
Because none of the options Madison provided worked with the property, they decided to apply under the state statute 8-30g, which allows developers to bypass local zoning regulations like setbacks and density to build multifamily housing projects where at least 30 percent of the units are deed restricted for people with low incomes.
The statute allows developers to bypass local zoning regulations in a town where less than 10 percent of the housing is considered affordable by state law – and 1.69 percent of Madison’s housing is considered affordable.
Casella said the development would not meet the town’s density requirements, which call for a maximum of two three-bedroom units per buildable acre for multifamily housing developments in the Residential-2 zone where the property is located.
Madison Town Planner Erin Mannix said that, for the commission to reject an application under 8-30g, it would have to prove that the development would have an impact on “substantial public interests,” like sewage and fire safety concerns.
More affordable housing planned for Madison
Madison’s status as a shoreline town with predominantly single family homes and relatively high housing costs has made developing more affordable housing options an emphasis for the town.
The 2013 Plan of Conservation and Development emphasizes developing more diverse housing options for both the aging population and for younger people and families with modest incomes. The plan also emphasizes that being proactive with affordable and multifamily housing developments is key to avoiding proposals under 8-30g and ensuring the town has more of a say in guiding housing proposals.
The town has developed options meant to promote more affordable housing developments, including developing regulations for cluster housing that led to approval of a seven-unit residential complex at The Ledges on Boston Post Road, which was controversial because of the need for blasting to install septic and connect a water main to the project.
And the push toward more affordable housing has also become a flashpoint for wider concerns about how state intervention can bypass local control to allow developments that are a significant change for the community.
The town’s efforts have not pushed the needle on how much of Madison’s housing is considered affordable – and that proportion has actually declined since the POCD was written in 2013 – leaving the town subject to 8-30g applications.
The Planning and Zoning public hearing was extended to the commission’s next meeting on Dec. 16.
The Madison Inland Wetland Agency on Monday is holding a hearing on another application that Mannix said is being made under 8-30g – a proposal for an 18-unit apartment complex with two septic tanks at the corner of Cottage and Mill roads, next to a large pond.