Affordable housing: Great Hill Road subdivision gets approval
The Planning and Zoning Commission approved a three-lot subdivision on three acres of land at 28 Great Hill Road at its Dec. 18 meeting. The plan was submitted under the state’s 8-30g affordable housing law.
A 2,000-square-foot home will be built on each of the lots, one of which will be restricted to buyers earning 60% of the state median income.
Two of the parcels will be about a half-acre in size, and the third will be about three-quarters of an acre in size.
The remaining roughly one acre of land will be donated to the town as open space.
Richard Szentkuti of CV Building Concepts, the Ridgefield developer who submitted the application, told the commission the affordable house will be built at a loss.
Neighbors of the site, five of whom spoke during the hearing, voiced their disapproval of the project to the commission.
“We bought into two-acre zoning and we’re losing that,” said Pam Taylor of Great Hill Road. “So we’re having something taken away from us as opposed to having something given to us.”
Commissioner John Katz said that was the “fault of the state regulations,” not Szentkuti.
“I think 8-30g is an aberration, I think it’s dreadful, I wish we didn’t have it,” said Katz. “But we do have it, and eventually it will provide more affordable housing in the town of Ridgefield, which is a good thing.”
“Frankly, he could be building a hell of a lot more,” Katz added.
Szentkuti said the three houses would mimic the size and style of homes already there, and would not be “cookie cutter” developments that all look the same.
“I think it’s going to fit nicely within the character of the neighborhood,” he added.
Hold up the permit?
Donald Poland, an associate of Planimetrics who was hired to give peer review for the commission, pointed out the cost of maintaining an access road for the three homes should be factored into the calculations for the cost of the one affordable house.
Szentkuti said the cost of maintaining the road — including snow removal — will be split between the three homes, with the two market rate homes each assuming 40% of the cost, and the affordable home taking up the remaining 20%.
Poland also said the commission should ensure the affordable home gets built through staging the building permits for the market-rate homes — essentially with holding the permits until after the affordable home is built.
“We have seen circumstances where ultimately the market rate units were built first, and the affordable units… were never built,” said Poland.
Katz asked if that negative experience had ever occurred with a single-family development.
“I trust the developer to a degree, but at the end of the day under 8-30g we’re providing these allowances,” said Poland. “I think you as Ridgefield want to ensure that that unit gets built, that you don’t end up with just two market rate units and no affordable units.”
“The affordable house is built at a loss,” he said. “The intent is to build the one market home and then start the second one.”
“If you do it the other way, it’s going to strap the project and then it’s gonna fall apart,” he added.
Members of the commission also noted that the town needs someone to handle the administrative work of managing all of the affordable housing units in town. Under 8-30g, someone who wants to live in the affordable house in Szentkuti’s subdivision will have to show that they make less than 60% of the state median income — the amount is calculated to account for family size.
Poland said a future homeowner attempting to resell the property might have a motive to “falsely qualify” a buyer if they were left with the responsibility.
“The affordability plan will be filed and the property will be deed restricted,” said Szentkuti, “It should not be the burden of the homeowner to qualify someone.”
Chairwoman Rebecca Mucchetti said the commission is “still looking” for someone to manage the affordable housing units.
The commission later decided during deliberations on the application to ask the newly re-formed Affordable Housing Committee to consider taking on the job.
The commission voted unanimously to allow Szentkuti to build the subdivision, effective Dec. 28.
Since an acre of land will be given to the town as open space, the commission included a condition that part of a rubble wall currently on the property be moved to create a boundary line between the subdivision and the new open space — a suggestion raised by Alan Pilch of the Conservation Commission.
The project will also need additional peer review for stormwater management and the plan for the affordable house.
The commission also agreed that Szentkuti will have to complete a substantial part of the framing of the affordable house before a certificate of occupancy — a document that permits a building to be lived in — should be issued on the second market-rate house
Commissioner George Hanlon suggested he was confident that Szentkuti would build all three houses without the condition.
“The fellow has a history here — two generations going back almost 60 years — of completing what he started,” said Hanlon.
Katz said he didn’t think there was “chance in hell he’d try to sneak by” with only building the market-rate homes.
Mucchetti suggested a foundation might be enough, but Fossi wasn’t so sure.
“He could walk away from a foundation on a losing project,” Fossi said.