Ridgefield selectmen ‘uncomfortable’ with latest version of affordable housing plan

Looking north to the intersection with Route 102 on Route 7 in Branchville. Monday, July 20, 2020, in Ridgefield, Conn.

Looking north to the intersection with Route 102 on Route 7 in Branchville. Monday, July 20, 2020, in Ridgefield, Conn.

H John Voorhees III / Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

RIDGEFIELD — The town’s proposed affordable housing plan could face a fairly substantial re-write after discussion and criticism of the document by selectmen and residents.

Toward the end of a more than four-hour long Board of Selectman meeting Wednesday, board members decided the proposal was not yet ready for a vote, and may even need a lot more changes.

Each member of the board was asked to submit comments and suggested changes on the plan to First Selectman Rudy Marconi. He will gather them all together and then the plan will be further discussed at the town’s next Board of Selectman meeting on Sept. 7.

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.

Ridgefield’s plan was crafted by its Affordable Housing Committee and approved by the town’s Planning & Zoning Commission on July 26 by a vote of 7 to 1.

One of the changes selectmen requested at Wednesday’s meeting was to leave out from the plan the total number of housing units — 125 — the town said it could create in the next five years.

“It’s a big number and I wouldn’t want to be held to it,” Selectman Barbara Manners said.

She suggested the plan can include information about the individual units the town hopes to achieve, but not the total.

“I’m very uncomfortable with the conclusive total,” she said.

Affordable Housing Committee Chairman David Goldenberg said, when determining the 125 figure, committee members looked at everything they thought was “a reasonable estimate.”

“And we came up with a bunch of individual numbers. And then we added those numbers together to get 125 units over the next five years — of all types, not in one place, but lots of units,” he said.

Another criticism came from Manners, who said there is a lot of “narrative” in the plan.

“They weren't asking for all the background and all the demographics and stuff like that. I don't have a problem with it but I understand why a lot of people would prefer to see it out because the narrative isn't really part of the plan,” she said.

Selectman Bob Hebert agreed.

“There’s opinions in there,” he said. “We just need factual data.”

Goldenberg said Thursday the narrative contained in the plan was based on guidelines that came from the state.

“They wanted to see the demographic background. They wanted to see community vision statement. ... That's why that stuff is in there,” he said, adding there are people who are going to oppose the plan “no matter which way you do it."

More than half a dozen residents at the meeting voiced their disapproval of the plan, one of whom was Andrea Beebe, who said “Nobody I've talked is against affordable housing. But we're against this plan.”

She said she’s worried about the plan being implemented in the future, even if it initially goes untouched on a shelf.

“You can't put the genie back in the bottle,” she said. “So I would like to see a ‘no’ vote on this. Go back, streamline the plan and present it to a community that wants a good affordable housing plan.”

‘Thousands of hours’

On Thursday, Goldenberg said committee members have spent “thousands” of hours working on the plan in the nearly two years since the town began taking steps toward creating one.

“Two years ago now, we were hiring a consultant to get the process started. We started the process with some research and then Nov. 8 of '20, we had a public meeting,” he said.

Marconi said there are many factors that need to go into planning for affordable housing in a town.

“Right now, we have to be concerned about our land and what we're going to do here and I recognize there are a lot of people that are upset ... It has taken on somewhat of a political back and forth thing, which is unfortunate,” he said. “But I would like to see us as elected officials with the Affordable Housing Committee sit down and be able to come up with a plan that people of Ridgefield accept, and move it forward.”

While there is no monetary penalty to the town for not submitting a plan by the state’s deadline, Goldenberg the issue is more about the town's reputation.

"People at the state level and people all around, are looking at Ridgefield and saying, ‘Why can't they get their act together on this? So that's the only penalty — it's to our reputation,” he said.

‘Important not to rush the process’

Ridgefield is far from alone, however, of towns in the state that have not submitted their affordable housing plan. According to the state’s Municipal Housing Inventory, as of Aug. 15, nearly 60 towns and cities — of a total of 169 — did not yet submit plans.

A complete list of municipalities, along with the dates their plans were submitted, can be found on the state’s Office of Policy and Management website by clicking “Inventory of Municipal Affordable Housing Plans.” Additionally, the state website contains a link to the municipal websites where each plan can be found.

Jocelyn Ayer, director for the Center of Housing Opportunity in Litchfield County, said she knows many municipalities who were not able to make the June 1 deadline but are working “earnestly” toward adoption of a plan by no later than the end of the year.

“It is important not to rush the process of developing and adopting an affordable housing plan to allow plenty of time for public outreach and feedback prior to adoption,” Ayer said.

However long it takes the town of Ridgefield to approve its plan, Goldenberg said the affordable housing committee members plan to remain strongly involved in seeing it come to fruition.

“If we don't stick with this, nothing will get done,” he said. “So we're going to stick with this till the end.”

sandra.fox@hearstmediact.com 203-948-9802