DARIEN — At an Architectural Review Board meeting last week, the developer of a three-story, 22-unit apartment building proposed on Sedgwick Ave. threatened to change the project to a larger 8-30g project with 40 units after disagreements with the board about setbacks, height, green space and usage of the first floor.
It’s not the first time a developer has proposed changing a project to 8-30g, a law that allows developers to bypass local zoning restrictions if at least 30 percent of the apartments are designated as affordable housing.
In Darien at the beginning of the month, a developer reapplied with an 8-30-g project after neighbors sued the Planning and Zoning Commission for approving a three-story, 60-unit building. The proposed 8-30g project would be bigger and taller with five stories and 90 units.
Housing advocacy groups like Partnership for Strong Communities say that law “builds housing opportunities in towns with less than 10 percent affordable housing stock and should remain unchanged.” And, DesegregateCT states that the law has “helped build thousands of affordable and modestly priced apartments and homes in communities across Connecticut.”
But one legislator has called for a halt to 8-30g — or even its repeal —saying it can remove the identity of a town by allowing the demolition of older, small buildings, replacing them with large apartment complexes.
At the meeting last week, Elizabeth Geiger, chair, said the developer did not address changes requested by the board in a 2019 letter, including adding retail to the first floor, changing the materials from stucco to clapboard and stone, reducing the height to two stories, increasing the setback from the road, and adding brickwork and street trees, among others.
Board members said the proposed building, situated on a half-acre lot, was out of scale with the neighborhood and that it did not provide space for pedestrian engagement.
Project architect Marc Andre said the building is in a flood zone and that the first level — designed as interior parking with 40 spaces — would have to be elevated four feet if it were to change to retail.
He said that the project could not be increased in height, which meant making a reduction in the volume of the building and number of units problematic.
Herve Hamon, zoning enforcement officer, asked Andre for the minimum number of units and parking spaces necessary to make the project financially viable.
“What’s your flexibility because right now, you’re maximizing every square inch that you can on this plot that you have… But obviously this is a dead end with this kind of shape and volume,” Hamon said.
After a number of exchanges, developer Harold Platz, principal of 7 Sedgwick Avenue LLC, said that if the board could not compromise, he would change the project to an 8-30g.
“What we propose is trying to work with the town. If you don’t want to work with me, I can do an 8-30g — if you’d like to do that, I will go that road, I’m not trying to do that road, but I’ll go that way for 40 units,” Platz said.
The original project would designate two one-bedroom apartments and two two-bedroom apartments as affordable, in compliance with inclusionary zoning regulations, a number that Platz said would increase with an 8-30g project.
“This is low income housing, we need it in this town. We need the low income, folks, we need a minority in this town and you don’t have it… With 8-30g, instead of giving them four units — to go back to your question — I’ll give up 12 units to minority people. So if we need to have Black Lives Matter come in, I’ll call up [Clarksburg] and have them come down and start protesting.”
Later in the meeting, Geiger said the board would give its recommendation to the Planning and Zoning Commission.
“We’d like to see you guys again, but it doesn’t sound like we might be in the near future,” Geiger said.
Andre said that his group would bring the project back to the board but did not promise major changes.
“We’ll take into account what we think is important to our project that you told us, but, as I told you early on, we have a certain scope of the program that we are trying to accomplish. And the site, as far as scale, you can give us a recommendation, but our hands are tied.”
Darien TV79 recording of the May 17 Architectural Review Board meeting is available here.