Affordable units proposed on Turner Road, planners won’t rezone

A nine-unit affordable housing project is planned for a 1.2-acre plot of land on Turner Road, but the Planning and Zoning Commission won’t rezone the lot from the Corporate Development District (CDD) to residential use.

Attorney Bob Jewell told the commission at its Dec. 18 meeting that the farm road, which is on the Danbury line north of Turner Road, is technically on the books as a town road.

GRC Property Investment and Development LLC, a group of the parcel’s original owners, wants to build a multi-family housing development on the parcel under the state 8-30g affordable housing law, Jewell said.

Under 8-30g, builders can get around local zoning laws, so long as they agree to set aside 30% of the new housing units built as affordable housing.

Jewell said Assessor Al Garzi raised the prospect of an affordable housing development to Jewell’s client, who wanted to reduce the property’s tax liability.

“After that meeting with the tax assessor, he asked me what the chances were of doing an affordable project, and I think he had like nine units in mind for that,” said Jewell.

The project would be on Danbury water and sewer systems, and Jewell said the applicant will have to restore Turner Road — part of which is dirt — to get it up to town standards.

“Essentially this is a leftover parcel,” that was not purchased as part of the Turner Hill development, and therefore not rezoned, Jewell explained.

Reason to rezone

Jewell said the lot was essentially left unusable by rezoning for the Turner Hill project.

“The interesting thing is the minimum lot size in the CDD zone is 20 acres, and the setbacks in the CDD zone are 100 feet. So you basically left a property that was un-developable,” he said.

But Jewell believes that because the parcel is not zoned for industrial use a developer could successfully build under the state’s 8-30g affordable housing law as the lot stands today.

Under the law, 8-30g developments cannot be built in industrial zones where residential housing is not allowed.

Jewell sent a letter with that line of argument to Tom Beecher, the commission’s legal counsel,

“Counsel would not admit that I was right, we had a nice conversation,” said Jewell. “He felt that the appropriate way to deal with this, rather than filing an 8-30g in the CDD zone and having the town admit that the CDD can actually submit an 8-30g project, that the appropriate way to do this is to file to rezone this lot from CDD to [two-acre residential]”

That would make the lot match the surrounding residential zone, Jewell argued.

One hiccup — rezoning to two-acre residential would mean the roughly 1.2-acre lot would be out of compliance with the town zoning regulations.

Planning and Zoning Director Richard Baldelli pointed out the lot is already out of compliance as part of the corporate development district, which is supposed to be at least 20 acres in size.

Rezoning to two-acre lots, as Beecher advised, would at least bring the small parcel closer to the town regulations.  

Commissioner John Katz argued that leaving the zone as it stands could mean “8-30g wouldn’t apply.”

Jewell said the burden of proof would be on the commission.

“The burden on proving that it’s an industrial zone where residential uses are not permitted is on the commission, just like everything else under 8-30g,” said Jewell.

He suggested that because colleges are technically allowed in the CDD zone, it would be impossible to argue that a residential use couldn’t be considered in the zone — students need dorms, after all.

“We didn’t want to push that issue and advertise to the world that CDDs can support 8-30g,” said Jewell.

Not so fast

But the commission didn’t seem to have an appetite for rezoning.

“I find changing a zone more objectionable — the end result might be the same but I don’t see why we should change the zone to accommodate,” said Katz.

Jewell suggested he might also be able to get the project built under a variance he received to put a residential home on the lot.

Baldelli said that if the project goes to an appeal, the litigation might be “longer and more complex” because of the CDD zone.
“What guidance are we giving, come in with an application?” asked Chairwoman Rebecca Mucchetti.

The commissioners signaled they agreed

“All right Mr. Jewell … you’ve got your answer,” Mucchetti said.