New Ridgefield plan doesn't aim for 125 affordable units over 5 years — but 'meat' of draft remains

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox

RIDGEFIELD —  A fourth version of the the town's Affordable Housing Plan is ready and will be presented for a vote by the selectmen at a meeting at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. 

The latest version of the long-delayed plan comes after a four-and-a-half-hour workshop session with the town's Board of Selectmen and Affordable Housing Committee.

"I think it was a very productive work session," said David Goldenberg, chairman of the town's Affordable Housing Committee. "We went line by line through the edits that they had. We discussed them, some of them at length and we reached agreement at the end."  

The Affordable Housing Plan in its entirety can be found on the town's website, at ridgefieldct.org.

Ridgefield’s affordable housing plan's original draft was released in April. The plan recommends that Ridgefield should pursue transit-oriented development, revise its zoning regulations to encourage multi-family housing and promote the “adaptive reuse” of existing buildings into affordable housing, among other suggestions.

Ridgefield is one of about half of Connecticut municipalities that didn’t submitted affordable housing plans to the state by the June 1 deadline. The plans had to specify how they “intend to increase the number of affordable housing developments,” according to the Western Connecticut Council of Governments’ affordable housing plan website.

The state does not penalize municipalities that did not submit plans by the deadline. The state’s Office of Policy and Management will review the plans, which will be done every five years.

When discussing the plan, Goldenberg said the actual recommendations, "the real meat of the plan," remained mostly intact from prior versions.  

He added, however, concerns were raised regarding how much obligation would be required by the town to stick to the plan — word for word.

"They wanted to make it very clear that the town is not required by this plan to do anything," he said.

One of the recommendations was that the town follow what Wilton has done — in regard to analyzing the different pieces of property that the town owns.

"The town owns hundreds and hundreds of pieces of property. Wilton has set up a commission to look at properties that the town owns and put them in buckets — These need to be protected as open space. These are buildable lots that the town may have use for in the future. And this bucket could be disposed of or be sold," he said. "That was an original recommendation of our plan because that would help us in our work to identify places that might be suitable for affordable housing."

The town's Conservation Commission requested to dedicate all town-owned property as open space.

"We just wanted to make sure that before the town does that — and we certainly want to have plenty of open space and meet our open space goals — that we're not taking things off the table that could be useful to the town in the future," he said. 

As an example, he referred to property at Prospect Ridge, which, he said, is counted as open space but not deeded as open space.

"This is the property that is adjacent to current affordable housing on Propect Ridge — below playing fields, adjacent to the dog park," he said. 

"It's what we're studying for suitability for additional affordable housing. Originally, that was on the list of properties that the Conservation Commission understandably wanted to designate permanently as open space," he added. "No decision on that will be made until after the study is done.

He said, however, the Board of Selectmen decided not to go ahead with that change and deleted it from the plan.

Goldenberg said he disappointed that goals were removed from the plan.

"To me, a plan isn't a plan unless it has goals because how then do you know if you've achieved them," he said.

Many residents were uncomfortable with having an affordable housing plan in general. At prior town meetings, many residents spoke out strongly against such a plan for Ridgefield.

He said under 8-30g, the state statute on affordable housing, the town needs an additional 656 units of affordable housing. That would mean 10 percent of the town's housing stock would be designated as affordable. It now has 3 percent of units as affordable housing.

"We can't just like snap our fingers and then in five years have that choice. What can we reasonably expect to accomplish?" he said. "We said, based on historical experience, we would expect to see about 17 additional deed restricted units in the next five years." 

However, he said the selectmen didn't want to include that goal in the plan — as well as other goals.

"The selectmen wanted those numbers out," he said. "We said, 'what if we make some zoning and infrastructure changes?' We had done some rough calculations and saw that we could create 15 to 20 units over theate next five years."  

The committee had felt that, if the town were proactive, Ridgefield could add an additional 80 to 85 units.

"They didn't want those numbers in," he said, referring to Selectmen

Then, "we said we believe it's reasonable to target the addition of 125 units over the next five years." 
"They wanted that out," he added.

He said, if there is no goal, how would the town know if it has succeeded?

"We wanted to put at least a range in their targets, but the selectmen felt that that was too much of a commitment by the town. They were adamant about taking it out," he said.

There is movement in the town's planning and zoning department to create an inclusionary zoning regulation, which is when towns are allowed to establish regulations that are specially designed to create affordable housing, Goldenberg said.

When reviewing the plan, Goldenberg said he's hopeful it passes. "Selectmen had multiple chances to participate in the process and to have their concerns addressed," he said. 

"So, I'm pretty confident that at this point, all concerns are addressed," he added.