Ridgefield selectmen OK Affordable Housing Plan, despite last-minute introduction of alternative

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Town Hall

Town Hall

Macklin Reid photo / Hearst Connecticut Media

RIDGEFIELD — Many months of debate over the town's Affordable Housing Plan has come to an end, with selectmen narrowly approving the document — despite a last-ditch effort to introduce a new, shorter plan.  

First Selectman Rudy Marconi and Selectmen Barbara Manners and Sean Connelly voted on Wednesday night in favor of the plan, while Selectmen Maureen Kozlark and Bob Hebert, who proposed an alternative, voted against it.

The most recent draft of the plan, which was crafted by the town's Affordable Housing Committee and approved by the town’s Planning & Zoning Commission on July 26, can be viewed on the town's website by clicking on the Affordable Housing Committee and clicking on The Home Front 2022, on the left-hand side.

There was intense discussion and disagreement among selectmen, while many residents at the meeting also expressed mixed reaction to the plan. The vote had been delayed previously due to criticism and concerns about the plan.

The document calls for reviewing multi-family opportunities through zoning regulations, developing additional assisted affordable housing units, promoting adaptive reuse of old buildings, and embarking on transit-oriented development. 

The plan, which was due to the state Office of Policy and Management June 1, is part of meeting the requirements of state statutes that encourage towns with less than 10 percent of its housing stock considered “affordable” to develop more. Affordable housing is defined as costing less than 30 percent of the income of a household earning 80 percent or less of the area’s median income.

Alternate plan 

Two days before the meeting, an alternative affordable housing plan created by Hebert, a Republican running for state representative, was submitted to the other selectmen. It was also posted on a local social media page, just prior to Wednesday's meeting.

At the meeting, when presenting the alternative plan, which is nine pages as opposed to the 33 pages in the approved document, Hebert said he created a new plan because he was "unable to tweak" the one that was submitted by the Affordable Housing Committee. 

"It's not a document that I can support —  I'm not comfortable in putting my name on that plan."

He said when creating the plan, he listened to residents' comments at town meetings over the many months that it was discussed.

"There are still issues in there that are very problematic with me," he said.   

He said his plan is modeled after the WestCog Affordable Housing Plan and is consistent the town's Plan of Conservation and Development, which is also a state mandate and was approved in 2020.

"It's a fairly simple, straightforward plan. It doesn't offer any opinions or ideologies or anything else," he said. 

Manners said while she thought Hebert's plan was good, she prefers the plan that the Affordable Housing Committee created. 

"We appointed an Affordable Housing Committee to this. They put in many, many, many hours of work. Then we had the public hearings and they tweaked it and it came back to us," she said.  

She added after so many people put in so much work on the plan, "to throw away their plan ... is an insult, to them."

In response, Hebert said not listening to the public "is an insult to the residents."

Many residents clapped in support of that comment.

Connelly agreed with Manners, saying "the precedent of saying any one of us at any time can just go create something off on our own — It's just not consistent with the spirit of collaboration, of people working together. ... Personally, I just don't think it's appropriate (for someone to) just unilaterally trade something on their own."

Kozlark however, said she supports Hebert's  plan. 

"I don't feel that it's a slap in the face to anyone," said Kozlark, adding the plan was due in June and now it's over four months late. 

She said there are portions in the current plan that could be extrapolated and incorporated into Hebert's plan, which will require going back and reworking it.

Marconi said the public had the opportunity to comment on the plan and he didn't want to start the process over.

"I would like to get this voted on, move forward. It's five years (that the plan would be in effect until a new one is created). Five years is going to be here before you know it. ... We can address it again at that point. We can start on it the year before."

Tension

Dave Goldenberg, chairman of the town's Affordable Housing Committee, said he hadn't heard about Hebert's plan prior to the meeting.

"I was wondering when somebody was gonna let me know that there's a new plan," he said.

He added there have been "multiple opportunities" for both residents and selectmen to comment on the plan.

He addressed Hebert at the meeting, saying Hebert was asked twice to submit comments to the Affordable Housing Committee and did not provide them either time.

Hebert, then responded, "Don't you yell at me."

After a pause, Goldenberg said "I'm gonna step aside from what I feel is a personal insult because I learned not to take any of things people say, personally."

Next steps

The town's Affordable Housing Committee will meet to begin implementing the approved plan. Its next meeting is 7 p.m. Oct. 26 at Town Hall. 

In a phone call Thursday, Goldenberg said while he was "shocked and blindsided by this subterfuge," he's "extremely thrilled that the plan was approved and the Board of Selectmen members voted for it. I look forward to implementing the plan."

Marconi on Thursday said the town needs to look at a wide variety of housing types. 

"Middle housing, affordable housing — we don't have a good diversity of housing in southern Fairfield County. You go from one extreme to the other, and that in and of itself, creates boundary lines," he said. "That's what affordable housing does, it creates a stigma and ill defined boundary in our communities that shouldn't be there."

He added the town needs to move forward with transit oriented development, or TOD, which would encourage mixed-used development near a train station. 

"So you could have a building that has one or two affordable units in it, as well as maybe a luxury unit in it that people will live together, work together, commute together," he said. "That's what we're looking to achieve, not to create pockets of affordability because that's only going to further the issue of socio-economic diversity."