Accusations Fly Over Affordable Housing Project in Waterford

A map of the proposed affordable housing project on Clark Lane in Waterford. (CT Examiner)


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WATERFORD – A three-hour public hearing regarding an affordable housing project ended without a vote Tuesday after the developer’s attorney and neighbors accused each other of bigotry and greed.

With the contentious hearing wrapping up around 10 p.m., the Planning and Zoning Commission delayed its decision until later this month.

Norwich-based Kingstown Properties is planning to use a state affordable housing statute to build 47, three-bedroom, 1,350-square-foot homes on about 8 acres next to Clark Lane Middle School. 

The developer’s attorney, Mark Branse, said the houses could either be stick built or modular, depending on the cost of materials at the time of construction. They would be connected to public water and sewer.

But residents at the meeting expressed disbelief when the developer’s traffic engineer, Kermit Hua, said the project would have minimal impact on Clark Lane – a two-lane road that carries heavy traffic between Route 1 and Chester Street.

Hua’s study concluded that the development, which would have 94 parking spaces, would add only 14 cars onto busy Clark Lane during the morning rush hour, and just 27 cars returning during the evening peak. 

The study also showed cars would only take an average of 25 seconds to exit the development’s driveway, Hua said. 

“That’s bull,” one neighbor interjected from the audience. Several others said the study didn’t make sense based on their experience.

Clark Lane resident Robert Roselund said it can take him three to four minutes to exit his driveway due to the busy road, and even longer during morning rush hour or when the school day ends.

“My daughter almost got killed pulling out of our driveway last year,” he said. “There is no way there is a 24-second wait.”

Roselund said Kingstown was using the state’s 8-30g affordable housing statute to “bully” the town into allowing a building that doesn’t belong.

Neighbor Christine Haase said the proposal only gives neighbors setbacks of 28 feet, when zoning regulations would normally require 50- to 75-foot buffers. State statute allows housing developers to bypass most local zoning regulations if their project includes a portion of affordable units.

“We already live in a dense, modest neighborhood. We don’t deserve to live like that,” she said. “People don’t move to Waterford to look at high density. This is not what Waterford is about. If we’re changing Waterford to a city, expect people to move out.”

Both Haase and Roselund said they were concerned a proposed stormwater retention basin could be a breeding ground for mosquitoes, which have forced the middle school to cancel activities in recent years.

After hours of heated testimony, Branse said the neighbors were repeating common arguments made regarding affordable housing projects in Connecticut. 

He claimed traffic only becomes an issue when affordable housing is involved, despite traffic being a regular complaint by neighbors of all types of proposed commercial and residential developments.

Traffic is “never, ever, ever” a reason to deny an affordable housing application, he said. 

He also labeled other complaints from residents – such as who would live in the development and claims that the buildings would be poorly maintained and lower property values – as “dog whistles.”

“[The neighbors] said that I implied that they were being bigoted,” Branse said. “I would just ask you to think back at some of the things you heard tonight. Some of the things like we don’t want renters, we want homeowners … or we don’t really know who’s going to live there. What residential project have you reviewed where you knew who was going to live there?”

When asked whether the town would compensate neighbors for lost home value, Branse insisted that affordable housing doesn’t lower home values – and even if it did, that has nothing to do with zoning, the town or the developer.

“The town isn’t going to compensate anyone, and neither are we,” he said. “This is private property. It’s been for sale for years. Nobody bought it. Anyone along Clark Lane could have bought it at any time. They didn’t. We did. We own it. This is America. We have free enterprise, we have private property rights. This property is going to be developed because we’re going to buy it, and we need a return on that investment.”

‘It’s never the right place for affordable housing’

While raising concerns about traffic, density and mosquitos, even Waterford residents who acknowledged the town needs more housing questioned how the proposed development would help.

Nick Gauthier, who represents the First District of Waterford, where the proposed project would be located, on the Representative Town Meeting and ran for State House last year, said the town wants more affordable housing. But he said Kingstown’s proposal was the “definition of not fitting into the community.” He said the dense project is being “shoehorned” into a property next to wetlands.

The Conservation Commission approved a wetlands permit for the project in March, after opposition from residents who argued the density and small setbacks would harm the quality of wetlands on the property and nearby brooks.

Gauthier said Waterford needs affordable housing, but most of the Kingstown proposal isn’t affordable. Only 30 percent of the units would be designated affordable, and the rents for those are still more than what most people would consider affordable, he said.

“The rents that are being proposed even in the affordable units are way too high for most folks,” Gauthier said. “And none of these units would be available for purchase, only for rent, meaning that those who live there will not be building equity in their homes.” 

Maximum rents for the 15 affordable units proposed for the development are based on area median income and “fair market rent” in the Norwich-New London area. Based on 2022 data, the affordability plan from Kingstown Properties states the maximum rent for the three-bedroom units would be $1,814 for someone earning 80 percent of the state median income ($91,750 for a family of four), and $1,491 for someone earning 60 percent of the median income ($68,812 for a family of four).

Branse said they meet the definition of “affordable” set by state law, and that many public employees would qualify. 

If Waterford had wanted to avoid big housing developments, Branse argued, the town had 30 years to introduce more affordable options.

“I must have attended, in my life, several thousand zoning meetings,” he said. “It’s never the right place for affordable housing.… That’s why 8-30g exists, because people can be so very creative in coming up with all the reasons why this is the wrong place.”

Mark Asnes, a partner in Kingstown Properties and CEO of Freehold Real Estate, said the statute isn’t a “perfect tool,” but it allows them to “give those that want to live in a town as fantastic as Waterford a chance to do so.”

“We’re not going to build our way out of it by trying to build stick-built houses on one parcel. It just isn’t going to happen,” Asnes said. “There’s a real financial constraint that the housing crisis is causing today.”

Gauthier said Kingstown is using an “overly broad” state law to maximize their profits, adding that the town already has income- and age-restricted apartments on Clark Lane. He also suggested Waterford could look at ways to develop affordable housing on the 55 vacant town-owned lots.

“Why can’t we assess and address affordable housing options there, which start from the community out, rather than from private developers in?” he asked.

This story has been updated with comments by Gauthier and corrected numbers for eligibility under the state’s affordable housing laws