EAST LYME – Zoning officials rejected an affordable housing plan Thursday, saying the application was incomplete and that the proposed location lacks proper infrastructure to support the dense development.
Kristen Clarke, of New Hampshire, asked to build 19 houses and 24 townhouses on a 13-acre Holmes Road property owned by South Carolina-based Duval Partners LLC, with eight townhouse units and six houses designated as “affordable.”
Clarke applied under the state’s 8-30g statute, which allows developers to bypass most local zoning regulations to build housing with some affordable units set aside, unless the town can prove substantial risks to public health or safety.
The commission unanimously voted to reject the plan, saying it was missing information about sewage disposal, water supply, stormwater management and traffic.
The plan also faced opposition during public hearings in May and June, with several residents arguing Holmes Road is too rural to support such dense housing.
“While I acknowledge that affordable housing is needed in East Lyme, this application leaves too many questions unanswered in areas of public health and safety,” Commissioner Denise Markovitz said.
Commissioner Terry Granatek said the Holmes Road property is the wrong place for this type of development. Affordable housing should have access to town water and sewer, fire departments, public transportation and adequate roads, he added.
“We are anticipating a large impact on a pristine area in town that’s largely undisturbed by development,” Granatek said. “And there really isn’t enough here in the application to really study that environmental impact and what it may do to the watershed.”
Commissioner Debbie Jett-Harris cited a letter from Montville Town Planner Liz Burdick expressing concerns that the nearby roads are substandard and don’t have the capacity to handle a new development. Traffic reports from the application don’t address those concerns, she said.
Commissioner David Schmitt, who has experience as a firefighter, EMT and ambulance driver, said he’s seriously concerned about how emergency services could access the roads.
“If there is ever bad weather and snow, people are going to be stuck up there without the ability of an ambulance or fire apparatus to get in there,” he said.
Duval Partners and Clarke could not be reached for comment on Friday.
Candidates weigh in
Democratic Selectman Dan Cunningham and Republican Selectman Anne Santoro, who are each running for first selectman this fall, have acknowledged that affordable housing is an issue for many communities.
But Santoro, who attended the Thursday zoning meeting, said it was apparent the developer had some homework to do regarding its application.
“I’m not sure where that’s going to go, whether there will be an appeal taken or not,” she said.
Cunningham said he didn’t want to comment on the application, but noted developers have a right to build on their land if they follow the laws, rules and regulations of town zoning.
“It’s up to having zoning and planning enact regulations that are palatable and won’t trigger litigation, that are really fair to both citizens and developers in a way that shapes these developments to be consistent with the way we hope the town looks,” Cunningham said.
Santoro said East Lyme does a reasonably good job with affordable housing, but there’s always room for improvement. The state considers 6.74 percent of the housing stock in town “affordable.” Towns that exceed 10 percent are exempt from the 8-30g statute.
“With the crunch of inflation and interest rates skyrocketing, it’s becoming less possible for so many people across many economic spheres to be able to cope with the housing issue – statewide, nationally, locally in every town,” Santoro said. “But I’m happy that we’re sitting in a better position in East Lyme. I think we’ve made efforts throughout the years, and we’re continuing to make efforts.”
Santoro added that East Lyme needs to balance new development with the ability to provide basic services, especially schools and public safety.
Cunningham said many times “affordable” housing projects charge rents that he wouldn’t consider affordable to a lot of people. He suggested the town revisit a rejected initiative to allow more accessory dwelling units, which he said could create additional affordable housing opportunities.
“I think we should think about that and maybe look at our culture a little bit. Maybe that isn’t such a bad idea,” Cunningham said. “I think people were afraid of it, but with the proper controls, I think it can really solve a lot of the affordable housing problem.”