Residents attack affordable housing plan: ‘A plan to change Ridgefield’

Looking north to the intersection with Route 102 on Route 7 in Branchville on Monday, July 20, 2020, in Ridgefield, Conn. Kick-starting plans for transit-oriented development in Branchville could add 15 to 20 deed-restricted units over the next five years.

Looking north to the intersection with Route 102 on Route 7 in Branchville on Monday, July 20, 2020, in Ridgefield, Conn. Kick-starting plans for transit-oriented development in Branchville could add 15 to 20 deed-restricted units over the next five years.

H John Voorhees III / Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

RIDGEFIELD — Residents gave the Board of Selectmen an earful of concerns and complaints about the proposed affordable housing plan during a public hearing this week.

Many did not want the properties earmarked for development in the plan to become affordable housing or for the town to change local zoning that they charged would affect the character and attributes that have brought many people to Ridgefield.

The 48-page affordable housing plan draft presented during the Wednesday public hearing lays out development and housing challenges for the town and how it could start moving toward having a higher percent of affordable homes in town.

The gap in Ridgefield to get to 10 percent affordable housing is 656 units, according to David Goldenberg, chairman of the Affordable Housing Commission, who presented the plan Wednesday. But the gap to show the state Ridgefield is making meaningful progress on affordable housing is only 60-70 units in a 100 percent affordable development.

Under state statute, every municipality must prepare and adopt an affordable housing plan by June, 1 and subsequently at least once every five years going forward. The plan must specify how the municipality intends to increase the number of affordable housing developments within the municipality.

Ridgefield won’t meet that deadline, but First Selectman Rudy Marconi said officials aren’t in a hurry. The Office of Policy and Management has allowed for an extension after Marconi reached out to OPM explaining their need.

“We're not under the gun to get this done or to rush it through,” Marconi told residents at the public hearing. “We will take our time to make sure it reflects the needs of Ridgefield.”

Most residents in attendance of the meeting were displeased with the plan before them. One resident said what was presented in the draft was not an affordable housing plan but “a plan to change Ridgefield.”

Several sites in town were identified already for potential affordable housing including undeveloped property at Ridgefield Housing Authority’s Ballard Green development on Gilbert Street and a town-owned property adjacent to the existing Housing Authority development on Prospect Ridge.

The Connecticut Department of Housing has already awarded Ridgefield a $50,000 grant to study the feasibility for affordable housing development there. A preliminary evaluation determined that approximately five acres of the site is suitable for development for up to 70 housing units, according to the plan.

The inclusion of these details concerned several residents wondering if the state would hold the town to these developments once this plan is submitted. Marconi assured residents that the state could not force the town to follow through on the development ideas laid out in the plan.

Any actual affordable housing developments the town undertakes would still need to go through local Planning and Zoning approvals, Inland and Wetlands approval, and any other relevant local authorities, he said.

“There’s nothing in the plan that’s binding regarding development,” Goldenberg said.

The plan also makes a number of recommendations on zoning changes, building permit fee and deed restrictions incentives, and transit oriented development.

Section 8-30g of the Connecticut General Statutes is meant to encourage towns with less than 10 percent of their housing stock considered “affordable” to develop some more.

Under this law, if a town wants to deny a development that would add affordable units, the developer can pursue a court appeal and the local Planning and Zoning Commission then needs to prove the denial is based on a substantial public health and safety concern that “clearly outweighs” the town’s need for more affordable housing.

Only about 18 percent of municipalities are meeting this threshold.

Ridgefield has dodged the influence of Section 8-30g by earning a four-year moratorium from the appeals process by demonstrating it earned enough housing unit equivalency points — a points-based formula used by the state to calculate its stock of accessible and affordable housing.

“The number of HUE points needed is a function of a town’s total housing inventory and the number of units that are affordable under 8-30g designation or deed restriction,” according to the affordable housing plan.

Ridgefield was awarded a four-year moratorium in 2014 and its expiration in 2018 was followed by a spate of applications under 8-30g that had been awaiting the moratorium’s expiration, according to the plan Goldenberg presented.

Not every resident fought against what was laid out in the affordable housing draft. Some welcomed the suggestions it was making.

“It’s not prescribing anything,” one resident said. “It’s providing options and let’s not be afraid of that and let’s certainly not be afraid of people who live in affordable housing because the people who live here already live here and want to stay.”

Goldenberg said affordable housing need already exists for the town given that 42 percent of renters are cost burdened and 19 percent are severely cost burdened, meaning people are paying more than 30 percent or 50 percent, respectively, on housing.

The Board of Selectmen will meet again June 1 to discuss the input they gathered from the public hearing and make any recommendations they see fit before approving the draft plan, Marconi said.