GUILFORD – An attorney representing the developer behind a proposed 100-unit apartment complex on Hubbard Road said the project is drawing unnecessary scrutiny from town wetlands officials because of the 30 proposed “affordable units.”
Amy Blume, a New Haven-based attorney representing Connecticut Affordable Housing Initiative, told the Planning and Zoning Commission on Wednesday night that heightened scrutiny from the Inland Wetlands Commission, and requests from the town engineer that the developer build sidewalks don’t line up with how other developers and businesses have been treated in Guilford.
Connecticut Affordable Housing Initiative, a company registered to James McMahon, is proposing to build two identical four-story apartment buildings with 50 one-bedroom units each on Hubbard Road, near Interstate 95 in Guilford.
The developer applied under 8-30g, a state statute that allows developers to largely bypass local zoning regulations if at least 30 percent of units qualify as affordable. The proposed apartments would be built in an industrial zone where residential development otherwise would not be allowed.
The Guilford Planning and Zoning Commission held the first session of its public hearing on the project on Wednesday night, and will continue the hearing at its next meeting on April 20. But the project still needs approval from the Inland Wetlands Commission, which meets on April 13, but may not reach a decision at that meeting.
Developer feels “discriminated against”
Blume said that the Inland Wetlands Commission’s decision to extend its oversight over the entire property, and hire a third-party consultant to review the application at the developer’s expense, have made the developer “feel a little bit discriminated against due to the affordability issue with this project.”
Blume said the Inland Wetlands Commission appeared to be targeting the project because of the affordable component. She said that another recently approved proposal for 25 two- and three-bedroom apartments on State Street was given Inland Wetlands approval without a public hearing, despite siting buildings and septic within the 100-foot review area.
For the Hubbard Road project, the Inland Wetland Commission decided to extend its oversight over the entire property, not just the parts within 100 feet of watercourses or wetlands, mainly the West River. Inland Wetland Commission Chair Kevin Clark said the commission can extend its review area for any activity it believes may harm a wetland.
“The applicant has paid over $21,000 for the town’s consultants with Inland Wetlands that just seem to be, not trying to work, but trying to be antagonistic mostly,” Blume said. “It’s been a very difficult and frustrating situation. As a matter of fact, when [Inland Wetlands] determined to hire the third-party consultant, one of the members said we definitely need to hire this consultant due to a controversial affordable housing project.”
Clark told Planning and Zoning commissioners that Inland Wetlands was giving the Hubbard Road development more scrutiny not because of the affordable units, but because the property runs along the West River, which Clark called an “iconic natural resource” in Guilford.
“That fact alone probably was going to garner a lot more attention from the wetlands commission than your average site,” Clark said.
The West River is also listed in the town’s natural resource inventory as a significant resource, which the inventory says should be given an extra layer of scrutiny to protect. So the commission was well within its right to request a third-party review, Clark said.
Blume said the Inland Wetlands Commission’s concerns were not with the impact the project would have on the West River, but the impact it would have on a pond on a neighboring property that is used for materials storage. Blume described it as a “silt pond.”
What is being proposed?
In one building, 15 apartments would be restricted for people or families earning 80 percent of the area median income or less, and another 15 would be restricted for people or families earning 60 percent or less of the median income, Blume said. In the other building, 30 units would be age-restricted, Blume said.
The units restricted for people making 80 percent of the area median income – about $56,000 – would be capped at a monthly housing cost of $1,395, according to the affordability plan for the project. To get the actual rent, the developers need to subtract tenant costs like electricity – so if the monthly costs were $100, the rent could be set at $1,295, Blume said.
For the units restricted to people making 60 percent or less of the area median income – about $42,000 – the maximum monthly housing cost would be $1,046, according to the plan.
Blume said it isn’t “financially feasible” to make more of the units “affordable” than the 30 percent required by the 8-30g.
Developer says it is meeting need in Guilford
Guilford has a total of 228 “assisted” housing units, and no deed-restricted affordable housing, according to the Connecticut Affordable Housing Appeals list. 2.38 percent of Guilford’s housing stock is considered “affordable housing” by the state, significantly short of the 10 percent threshold that exempts towns from 8-30g.
A report on Guilford’s housing stock that the town commissioned from RKG Associates found that 1,550 households in town earn less than 50 percent of the area median income – about $45,000 – and there is a shortage of affordable options for them to rent or buy in Guilford.
According to the report, there are 210 more households earning that amount or less than there are available rental units in an affordable range – $1,010 or less. At the same time, there are 309 more units available that would be affordable to renters earning between 50 and 100 percent of the area median income – between about $45,000 and $90,900 – than there are people earning that level of income.
According to the report, that indicates those units are being rented by households with lower incomes, who are likely spending more than they can afford on housing costs. The data also indicates that higher-income renters are renting units at a lower price than they could afford, the report said.
Citing the report, Blume said 52 percent of renter households are cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. As rents continue to rise in the region, existing residents may be challenged to keep up with the rising costs, Blume said.
“The challenge for a household spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs, is that it leaves significantly less money for spending on other necessities, such as food, transportation, education, healthcare and child care,” Blume said. “Finding ways to build more housing that is affordable to renters is one way of keeping cost burdens down.”
Asked why the units were all one-bedroom, instead of multi-bedroom units that would appeal more to families, Blume said one-bedrooms are the most financially feasible way to build the project, and that they are attractive to seniors, who have a great need for housing in Guilford.
“[Families are] not the target demographic, and four-story apartment-style buildings such as these are not really conducive to family units,” Blume said.
Developer says no to sidewalks
Town Engineer Janice Plaziak said in a memo to the commission that the developer should install sidewalks along Hubbard Road in the front of the property. Considering the area is an industrial zone with school bus traffic from the depot across the street and “heavy truck traffic” from other businesses, a sidewalk would provide a safe area for pedestrians, and for school children waiting for the bus, Plaziak wrote.
The town is in the process of extending sidewalks up Route 77 to Hubbard Road, and installing sidewalks along Hubbard Road is a recommendation of the Safe Streets Task force, Plaziak wrote.
Blume said the developers did not want to build a sidewalk. She disputed Plaziak’s characterization of “heavy truck traffic” on the road, saying she has never seen heavy traffic there. She said that, if there were any school children living in the development, there is plenty of flat space for them to stand on the property to wait for their bus.
The property is also near the middle of Hubbard Road, so the sidewalk would go just from one side of the property to the other – which is halfway across the West River –and wouldn’t connect to either Route 77 or Long Hill Road, Blume said.
“It hasn’t been asked of anybody else on Hubbard Road to put any sidewalks in,” Blume said. “And in fact, there is not any on the opposite side of the street.”