An inches-thick binder with several hundred pages and dozens of neon tabs sits on Town Planner Betty Brosius’s desk. It’s meant to make the case that the Ridgefield has enough affordable housing units to qualify for a rare, temporary exemption from state law that allows developers of below-market units to overstep local zoning.
The work is being reviewed by an attorney before being sent to Hartford, where the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD), will have 90 days to decide if Ridgefield earned the reprieve.
The state affordable housing law, 8-30g, allows developers to bypass most zoning regulations in towns with fewer than 10% of housing units deemed affordable. It’s been criticized by Ridgefield and other towns for the amount of control it gives developers.
In recent months the Planning and Zoning Commission has approved a number of projects at higher density than its regulations allow, and commissioners have often expressed frustration with the law they feel compels them to do so.
To get a four-year moratorium from accepting 8-30g applications, the town has to prove that 2% of its housing stock qualifies as affordable. Out of 9,420 units, according to the 2010 census, that translates to 189 “housing unit-equivalency points.” Points are used, since some units have different point values.
To be considered affordable, a unit has to be restricted and rented at below market rates defined by the state. It also has to have a certificate of occupancy after the affordable housing law took effect July 1, 1990, said Ms. Brosius.
Units don’t have to be built as part of an 8-30g application as long as they meet or exceed the income and deed restriction requirements. Other types of affordable housing, like Ballard Green and the congregate housing at Prospect Ridge, have different point values.
The application is subject to change after the lawyers look it over, but in the draft some 88.71 points come from units built as part of 8-30g applications, called “set aside” units. They include:
- The Meadows, 51 Prospect Street, Ridgefield Housing Authority: 20 affordable units, 31.5 points. That is based on 1.5 points for each of the 17 units rented to families making no more than 80% of the state median income and two points for each of the three units rented to families making no more than 60% of the state median income. All units are affordable, unlike most 8-30g developments.
- Beachtree Manor, 100 Danbury Road, Ridgefield Properties: 43 units, eight affordable, 25.21 points. This project includes market-rate units, which each count as a quarter of a point;
- Governor House, 76 Governor Street, 76 Governor Street LLC: 16 units, five affordable, 11.25 points;
- The Terraces at Ridgefield, 619 Danbury Road, Soul Train LLC: 50 units, 15 affordable, 13.75 points. That project has been half finished for years now, but work began this summer to complete the second building. The units that don’t have a certificate of occupancy are not counted.
- Kendall Court, 613 Main Street, 613 Main Street LLC: Nine units, three affordable, 7 points. The “non set-aside” units — all the other units — that Ms. Brosius is counting total 105.5 by her count.
“Those units are harder to quantify because they don’t meet the same definition of the 8-30g,” Ms. Brosius said. “So what we need to do is to prove that those units are as equally restricted as the set-aside units. Because we’re dealing with apples and oranges, those are the units that have been very difficult to quantify. That’s what the attorney is reviewing.”
- Halpin Court, 17 Halpin Lane, Halpin Court Partnership LLC: 25 affordable units, 50 points. This property has a 65-year restriction in the lease with the town requiring renting to tenants earning less than 60% of the state median income.
- Sunrise Cottage, 6 Sunset Lane, Ridgefield Sunrise Cottage, Inc.: Six-bedroom group home for developmentally disabled, 2.5 points.
- Congregate housing, 51 Prospect Ridge, Ridgefield Housing Authority: 34 congregate/elderly units, 17 points. This is based on elderly housing units earning half a point each.
- Family affordable units, 51 Prospect Ridge, Ridgefield Housing Authority: 20 units, 30 points. These are different from the 20 “set-aside” units built as part of the Meadows and the congregate housing at the same campus.
- Ballard Green, 25 Gilbert Street, 12 senior units, six points.
Together, the set-aside and non set-aside units gives the town a total 194.21 points.
There is some strategy involved in the number of units the town includes in its application. Once a unit is used to gain a moratorium, it can’t be used later to earn another moratorium later on. Applying with too many units might “waste” them, but applying without any wiggle room could cause the application to be rejected if some of the units are disputed.
In 2010 Darien became the third town to earn a moratorium, according to David Treadwell of the DECD.
A moratorium would only mean the Planning and Zoning Commission didn’t have to consider new applications under the state 8-30g statute. It would not affect any application submitted before the moratorium is granted, so any previous approvals, like three recently approved projects that would total 39 affordable and market rate units to the village, would still be valid.