TRUMBULL – Still lacking a state-mandated affordable housing plan, Planning and Zoning Commission members last Wednesday extended a local ban on large, multifamily rental developments for the fourth time, in what town officials say is an effort to promote affordable housing for the elderly and to gauge the impacts of recent development.
The commission first passed the townwide moratorium on multifamily rental housing in 2019 after approving three new market-rate developments – the 202-unit Trumbull Ten, the 199-unit Woodside Trumbull and the 260-unit Residences at Main.
But given that Residences at Main next to the Trumbull Mall will not open until early 2024, local officials say they have not yet had the opportunity to assess its impact on the town.
Commission member Tony D’Aquila questioned the delay.
“We need a plan. We don’t have a plan. I don’t know what’s taking us so long to come up with a plan for affordable housing, and I don’t understand why we don’t have a plan for elderly,” D’Aquila said.
But in a call with CT Examiner, Interim Zoning Enforcement Officer Rob Librandi said the town recently hired a consultant to help Trumbull create an affordable housing plan and would begin the public outreach process “very soon.”
According to Trumbull’s 2022 housing data profile by Partnership for Strong Communities, about 6 percent of town housing qualifies as affordable under state statute – short of the state’s goal of 10 percent qualifying housing.
Librandi said that although the town hasn’t met the state’s goal, Trumbull did recently increase its housing stock by allowing development of affordable accessory apartments.
“We’re one of the first in the state to allow accessory apartments to be used as affordable housing. So, we did boost our numbers up doing that and we’ve had a lot of municipalities using what we’ve done in the past,” Librandi said. “You’re required to meet the affordable requirement for those accessory apartments that you want to put in your house.”
Prior to the commission vote, Trumbull resident Thomas Broderick voiced his opposition to the moratorium, citing a need for continued economic growth.
“I think Trumbull shouldn’t be afraid of growing. I don’t think it should be afraid of iterative development, and I think the multifamily moratorium is bad for the economy,” Broderick said.
As a Trumbull homeowner himself, Broderick said, homeowners would benefit from nearby multifamily rental developments.
“I would argue that a growing population and a growing tax base is a huge boon for our local businesses, our beautiful parks and [our schools],” he explained.
Broderick also pointed out that Trumbull had yet to create an affordable housing plan required by the state. Under 8-30j, each Connecticut municipality was required to adopt an affordable housing plan no later than June 1, 2022.
Currently, Trumbull was one of the 35 municipalities without a plan.
“Obviously there’s no teeth to that state law, but Trumbull has not created a plan,” Broderick said. “Multifamily isn’t always affordable, but it fits people’s lives. It’s good for the economy.”
Responding to Broderick, Librandi said the Planning and Zoning Department was open to development but wanted to expand responsibly.
“We’re definitely open for business here. We just want to take our time and understand, [especially] with the surge of apartments that are going up in Shelton and all over the state,” Librandi said. “We’ve done our part for so many years by allowing close to 1,000 apartments, and we just want to make sure that we’re heading in the right direction.”
While the moratorium prohibits multifamily rental developments with more than 50 apartments, Librandi also said that even if the commission denied an affordable housing project, the developers could likely circumvent the ban through the courts under the state’s 8-30g appeals process, as long as it didn’t violate wetlands or traffic regulations.
“If there’s no issues with that, then the court would approve it – more than likely – and the town would lose.”
Librandi said that the moratorium also did not apply to affordable age-restricted housing – a growing need in Trumbull.
“We have a very large aging population in town and we need housing to support them and to keep them in,” he said.
Librandi said that he wanted affordable housing to support a natural progression in which the older population would move into smaller, manageable apartments, and new families would move into the homes to boost the economy and support the school system.
Librandi and commission Chair Fred Garrity said the moratorium originally began in 2019 because town officials anticipated an influx of new families from the three new apartment complexes, significantly impacting enrollment in the school district.
At the Wednesday meeting, Garrity said that previous analyses by Milone & MacBroom -– a consulting firm – commissioned by the Board of Education projected large increases in enrollment, but based on recent reports, the increases were not as significant as originally projected.
“They’ve met or been underneath the predictions,” Garrity said.
But while Garrity admitted that the current population increases have been manageable, he said town officials thought it would be advantageous to continue the moratorium for another year to determine the impacts from the Residences at Main development.
Garrity said the moratorium was not intended to keep “the doors locked” on new rental housing and “throw away the key,” but rather it was an opportunity to “take a deep breath” and assess.
Following discussions, the commission approved the extension in a 4 to 1 vote, with member Brandon Cousins opposed.