FAIRFIELD — After a Superior Court judge ruled in favor of a developer’s 8-30g appeal to build a 40-unit, 5-story building at 131 Beach Road, neighbors filed litigation to reargue the case and the developer has filed an objection to that motion.
The proposed 40-unit apartment building would contain 16 1-bedroom units, 24 2-bedroom units and 55 parking spaces. Twelve, or 30 percent, of the units would be designated as affordable under 8-30g, with 6 units rented to those earning 80 percent of area median income — which was $140,308 in Fairfield in 2020 — and 6 to those earning 60 percent.
On Dec. Dec. 21, 2020, the developer, 131 Beach Road LLC, appealed the conditions of approval set forth by the Town Plan and Zoning Commission on Dec. 8, 2020, that included a reduction in height from 62 feet to 40 feet and the removal of six on-street parking spaces to improve sight lines from the driveway. In its decision, the commission also denied the developer’s application for a zoning text amendment that would create a new affordable housing use in a residential zone — known as an inclusionary zone.
According to court documents, Glen Tantangelo, managing partner for the developer, testified that reducing the height would reduce the number of units by half and would double the fixed costs from about $112,000 per unit to $225,000, making the proposal, he said, not financially viable.
On March 30, 2022, Judge Marshall Berger ruled that the commission “had not met its burden to prove that it properly considered the text amendment in light of (8-30g) or that the conditions of approval upon the site plan or certificate for zoning compliance were necessary to protect a substantial public interest outweighing the need for affordable housing.”
The judge’s decision also dismissed a second case from neighbors Alden and Patricia Stevens and John and Judith Kubica, whose properties abut or are within 100 feet of the 131 Beach Road, who claimed that the commission’s approval of plans was unlawful.
But on April 18, the neighbors filed a motion to reargue Berger’s March 30 decision, saying that the court’s decisions appear to be incomplete and are “based upon a misapprehension of facts and/or a misapplication of law.”
The neighbors’ motion stated that the court record contains substantial evidence that the affordable housing project “would have substantial negative impacts on the important public interest in the preservation of historic resources” and that those interests could be protected “by reasonable modifications” including reducing the building height from 60 feet to 40 feet — as approved by the Plan and Zoning Commission — which would “reduce or eliminate visual impacts.”
The court “substituted its own judgment for that of the commission,” stated the appeal. “[In an affordable housing appeal], the planning and zoning commission remains the finder of fact and any facts found are subject to the ‘sufficient evidence’ standard of judicial review.”
The neighbors asked the court to reconsider its decision – either to deny the appeal of the developer or remand to the commission to consider modifications — like height reduction and/or changes to roofline, windows and cladding — that would be more protective of the Old Post Road Historic District.
On April 22, 131 Beach Road LLC filed an objection to the motion to reargue the case, stating that the the property is not located within a historic district and that the Town Plan and Zoning Commission’s decision to eliminate one-half of the residential floors of the buildings results in a “substantial adverse impact” on the viability of the proposed affordable housing development.
Residents have expressed strong opposition to the project, packing a public hearing that stretched from July to October in 2020, and have demanded a reduction in the size of the project, gathering nearly 1,700 signatures on a petition. They cited traffic safety concerns — with an estimated 218 car trips per day — as well as the proximity of the .65-acre property to the historic district. A Masonic temple, built in 1950, now stands on the site and will be demolished if the project moves forward.
The 8-30g law allows developers to bypass local height, density, and setback regulations in towns that have less than 10 percent affordable housing stock. According to the Department of Housing, 2.47 percent of Fairfield’s housing stock qualified as affordable housing in 2020.