Affordable on North Street: Neighbors gear up for fight

A public hearing is Tuesday, Nov. 20, at 7:30 in the town hall annex off Prospect Street, by Yanity gym.

A drawing of the largest building, which would be three and a half stories high.

An 11-unit affordable housing project proposed for four-tenths of an acre off North Street goes to public hearing Tuesday night — with neighbors in active opposition.

“We don’t object to the affordable aspect,” a letter signed by 10 neighbors says. “But the density of 11 units in the neighborhood is beyond belief.”

Four of the 11 units are to qualify as affordable under state guidelines, so the proposal will be considered under the state affordable housing law 8-30g, exempting the plans from many of the zoning regulations which would otherwise apply — including density.

The area is zoned R-20, allowing houses on lots of 20,000 square feet, or a little under half an acre.

With 11 units on 0.41 acres, the proposed density is calculated at 26.8 units an acre.

The public hearing is Tuesday, Nov. 20, at 7:30 in the town hall annex off Prospect Street, by Yanity gym. The project is proposed by Ridgefield Modular Home Corp., owned by Anthony Guillaro of Bedford, N.Y.

Positioning of buildings on the lot, which is 0.4 acres in size.

The plans show the 11 units in four buildings on the site. Drawings show buildings of colonial style, with gabled roofs, three and a half stories high, finished most with a mix of siding and shingles.

Of the 11 units, four are one-bedroom and seven are described as two-bedroom.

The two-bedroom units are all townhouse style — two floors of living space, with an attic loft above and a basement garage below. Each has two and half bathrooms, including a full bath in the attic loft.

In her review of the plans the town’s engineering consultant, Nicole Burnham of Milone and MacBroom, notes: “Architectural plans for the two-bedroom units depict attic loft areas that may be suitable for use as a bedroom. The actual number of bedrooms needs to be clarified.”

One building, at the north-west corner of the triangular property, fronting onto North Street, would have three two-bedroom units.

Discuss this on The Ridgefield Forum.

Another building, on the north-facing sideline, would have four one-bedroom apartments — two on the first floor and two on the second floor. This building has an elevator.

Two other buildings, at the northeast and southwest corners of the triangle, would have two two-bedroom units each.

The state affordable housing law applies only to projects where at least 30% of the units are made affordable for at least 40 years, so four of the 11 would have to meet the state’s affordability guidelines.

“It has to be four units, because it must be ‘no less than 30%,’ ” said Town Planner Betty Brosius.

The house now on the site at 24 North Street.

She said the builder had not stated whether he would meet the requirement with below-market rentals, or with condominiums for sale. Both options are allowed under state law.

“He’s not committed to rental at this point. He may want to sell the units,” Ms. Brosius said.

The plan is for the project is to be served by the town’s sewer system,  and it had a tentative review  from the Water Pollution Control Authority.

“The WPCA said they could serve the development if it is approved,” Ms. Brosius said.

The project would also hook up to  Aquarion water lines, which serve the area.

The applicant’s engineer, Michael Mazzucco of Danbury, has submitted an Inland Wetlands Board application because the property drains toward a nearby wetland.

“There are no wetlands located on the site,” Mr. Mazzucco said in a letter accompanying the application, “however there was a wetland resource that was noted on an adjacent site.”

The project has attracted considerable scrutiny. Opponents have generally had little success in defeating 8-30g applications, with the state law putting developers in a strong position to overturn town denials. But the North Street neighbors appear to be gearing up for a fight.

“The neighbors have been very interested in the plans and what’s been going on,” Ms. Brosius said, “and have been generally negative in their remarks about the proposed density.”

There were three letters in the planning office file Tuesday, two to the Planning and Zoning Commission and one addressed to the Inland Wetlands Board.

“The proposed one- and two-bedroom units at 24 North Street are not in the spirit of the law put forth in Section 8-30g,” says a letter signed by 16 neighbors from North Street and Maple Shade Road. “Not only will an insignificant three or four affordable units come out of this irreparable damage to the character and property values of this stretch of North Street — a street full of hard-working families — but the proposal equates affordable housing with small housing with no yard. A major purpose of the law is to make more attractive housing available for lower income families.

“This proposal makes no attempt at following the Ridgefield community character strategies to protect and preserve the physical character of our great town,” the letter continues. “The lot will be razed with no sensitivity to existing vegetation or grade while the four buildings proposed show no interest in being compatible with neighboring structures and districts….”

The letter to the wetlands board, signed by six neighbors — some of them the same as signed letters to the planning and zoning — invites the board members to visit their property to view “the dangers” posed by the development.

“These dangers include runoff of storm water from 24 North Street into adjacent properties due to the inadequate rain water capacity of the proposed water detention galleries,” they write, “and the corresponding deterioration of already dying trees that may fall on neighboring homes.”

The letter by 10 neighbors to the Planning and Zoning Commission, calling the density “beyond belief,” also said:

“Our homes are our pride and joy. In many cases, they are our only investment. Ironically, some of us would probably fit the criteria for affordable units ourselves.”

The 10 neighbors add: “The abuse of the 8-30g law by builders for their own greed is diminishing the character and beauty of Ridgefield neighborhoods. Naturally, it will continue to devalue the homes in Ridgefield and put a strain on its sewers and traffic safety.”

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  • Kirk

    The Town has shown that it doesn’t not have the backbone to protect the neighbors or the Town from these projects … so these people better “man up” to do it themselves … that means a legal action directed at the Town and the developer.

  • George

    Kirk: I am not sure what the town can do, exactly, to stop this type of development. State law trumps local law, and the state law says that if 30% of the units are affordable, it is very difficult (this is the so called 8-30g law). The town essentially bears the onus of saying why the unit is not desirable — and this is limited to things like safety, wetlands, sewer capacity, and so on.

    There are instances where towns can receive waivers, I’m not sure how they work.

    • Kirk

      They can buy time while they get moratorium in place or state law changes … At the very least they can make it very expensive for a developer … They refuse to do any of this.

  • CMcQuilken

    Where is the moratorium on 8-30g projects? The suggestion was made in June of 2011 that the town could qualify for a moratorium. It shouldn’t be taking this long in my view.

    Darien received a moratorium in less than a year. In November of 2009, Darien’s new First Selectmen vowed to pursue a moratorium. The moratorium was granted in October of 2010. Eleven months.

    Where is Ridgefield’s moratorium? It has been 18 months SO FAR. And still to come, there is a one month notification period and three month review period by the State. That will make it 22 months OR MORE. At least twice as long as Darien.

    I think our Board of Selectmen does many good things. But I think they are going the wrong way when not pushing through this moratorium ASAP.

  • rdg-oldtimer

    CMc! Do you have the location where the average Joe/Jane might go to in order to find the latest progression in the moratorium process?

  • Town Planner, Ms Betty Brosius. Tel 431-2769

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