GUILFORD – Wary that asking for more sidewalks could leave the town fighting an appeal, the Guilford Planning and Zoning Commission is asking the developer of a proposed 100-unit affordable housing complex to compromise and construct limited sidewalks from the two apartment buildings to the road.
Amy Blume, the attorney representing James McMahon’s Connecticut Affordable Housing Initiative – the developer of the project, located on Hubbard Road just off of Interstate 95 – has pushed back on the commission’s requests at previous meetings that the developer install a sidewalk along the front of the property on the south side of Hubbard Road .
The project application is under the state statute 8-30g, which allows housing projects with at least 30 percent of the units restricted for affordable housing to bypass local zoning restrictions.
Guilford Town Counsel Charles Andres warned the commission that it would have to prove in court that the sidewalk was necessary if the developer decided to appeal.
“… The commission would have the burden of proof to establish that this condition is necessary to protect substantial interests in public health and safety, that those interests clearly outweigh the need for affordable housing, and that they cannot be addressed by reasonable conditions,” Andres said.
Commissioner Phil Johnson argued the sidewalks did protect an interest in public safety, especially if there were children living in the complex who needed to wait on the side of the road for a bus. But other commissioners, including Sean Cosgrove, said they didn’t want to open the town to the risk of an appeal because of the requested sidewalks, estimated to cost the developer about $30,000.
“I’d love [the developer] to be more community-minded, and just recognize that we’ve got a long-term strategic plan [to add sidewalks],” Cosgrove said. “But I would like to avoid any cost of litigation.”
The project, consisting of two, four-story apartment buildings with 50 one-bedroom units each, including 30 units designated for people who earn below the area median income, would be significantly larger than any multifamily housing currently in Guilford.
The developer has argued that the town’s own housing report shows a significant shortage of affordable options in town, and that the kind of housing he is proposing is needed in Guilford.
The town is in the process of building sidewalks on Route 77 up at to the intersection with Hubbard Road, and the town’s Safe Streets Task Force has recommended extending sidewalks down Hubbard Road.
Sam Gerritz, the chair of the Guilford Safe Streets Task Force, said at a public hearing on May 4 that the task force identified Hubbard Road as a priority for building sidewalks in areas north of I-95, with a goal of increasing walkable connections between residential properties and schools, public transportation and businesses.
The proposed project is less than a mile from Adams Middle School, and a sidewalk is currently under construction to connect the school to Hubbard Road, Gerritz said. It is also a little over a mile from the CT Transit bus stop at the intersection of Route 1 and State Street, and a little over two miles from the Guilford train station.
“Given that a portion of this development is dedicated to affordable housing, we believe access to public transportation is particularly germane,” Gerritz said.
At the May 4 meeting, Blume argued that adding a sidewalk on the south side of Hubbard Road, along the front of the property, didn’t make sense because a sidewalk already exists on the other side of the road and extends across the bridge above the West River.
A sidewalk on the same side as the property would end at a dangerous, blind curve before the bridge and could not travel further without reconstructing the bridge to add sidewalk space, Blume said.
She said it would make more sense to install a crosswalk so people could travel to the sidewalk on the north side of the street.
“Cost is not the factor here, it’s the safety,” Blume told the commission. “We do not believe there should be a sidewalk on our side of the street. We believe that the sidewalk on Hubbard Road should be on the north side of the street, where there already is a sidewalk, where that bridge is.”
On Wednesday night, Commission Chair Scott Edmond pushed back on the idea that the commission was asking the developer to build a “sidewalk to nowhere.” While the sidewalk wouldn’t connect to anything immediately, he said, it would eventually connect to sidewalks that are in the town’s plans.
But some commissioners, including Ted Sands, said it wasn’t fair to put the burden of building that sidewalk on the developer, without any assurance that the town would connect to it.
Commissioner Bill Freeman suggested a compromise: ask the developer to build a ramp along its driveway to the edge of the street, and an accessible pad at the corner for people to stand on to wait for the bus. He said that if the town continues building the sidewalk along the north side of Hubbard Road, there could be a provision for the developer to install a striped crosswalk.
Johnson said the idea addressed his safety concerns of people standing on the side of the road waiting for a bus, and Cosgrove said it seemed like a bridge to a compromise with the developer.
“It wouldn’t be as unpalatable as $30,000 [to build a longer sidewalk], and it might mitigate their desire to appeal if the appeal would cost more than the sidewalk,” Cosgrove said.
The commission voted to continue their discussion of the project to its next meeting on June 1, giving town officials time to discuss the compromise proposal with the developer.