Planners approve age-restricted affordable units on Governor Street, Prospect Ridge
More development is coming to Ridgefield, courtesy of the state’s 8-30g affordable housing law.
The Planning and Zoning Commission approved two age-restricted, 16-unit apartment buildings at 84 Governor Street and 62 Prospect Ridge Tuesday, Dec. 4.
Developer Steve Zemo, who also serves on the Board of Selectmen, submitted both affordable housing proposals. The 8-30 rule allows housing developers to circumvent some local zoning laws, in exchange for setting aside 30% of the available units as income-restricted housing.
The new buildings will be located near the corner of Governor Street and Prospect Ridge — the intersection behind the police station, and will be on the town sewer system.
The development at 62 Prospect Ridge was originally designed to have 20 apartments, but Zemo said the plan was downsized to 16 units because “the smaller footprint pulled the building away from the wetlands.”
The smaller plan guarantees a parking space for every unit, Zemo said.
The two projects will join two other age-restricted apartment buildings Zemo has built in the area. Governor House, a 16-unit building, went up at 76 Governor Street in 2009. A 20-unit building was added at 86 Governor Street in 2015.
Both those projects were also submitted under 8-30g, before the town negotiated a four-year moratorium on projects submitted under the plan, which expired in October.
The 84 Governor Street project will be located between those two existing apartment buildings. The new build at 62 Prospect Ridge will go up across from the town dog park.
Two residents who spoke during the public hearing for 84 Governor Street offered high praise for Zemo’s project.
“The projects are beautiful,” said Coco Barron. “He’s a very responsible landlord.”
West Mountain Estates resident Cathy Nelson said she moved her elderly mother into an apartment at 86 Governor Street.
“When you voted for 86 Governor Street, you voted for a safe home for her,” Nelson told the commission, with amenities like “high toilet seats and grab bars.”
Nelson added that when her mother needed an ambulance in July, first responders were a block away for her mother to call.
“Sounds like we’re in real trouble if we don’t vote for it,” said Commissioner John Katz
Glenn Chalder of Planimetrics, a peer review expert retained by the commission, said he was concerned that neither project designated which five apartments in each of the buildings will be set aside as affordable units.
Attorney Robert Jewell, who is representing Zemo, said they wanted to avoid setting aside specific housing units because under the state law they would be forced to evict someone within 60 days if their income were to go over the maximum allowed by the state. Keeping the affordable units “floating,” would allow them to designate another apartment as affordable, Jewell explained.
“I think it would be unfortunate if over time, the affordable units all morphed to the least desirable units,” Chalder countered. He said that the decision to switch one affordable apartment to another should at least involve a phone call to the commission.
All of the 32 apartment units will be rented, at least initially, Zemo told The Press.
Of the 10 affordable apartments included under the 8-30g plan, six will be rented to tenants who earn 60% of the state median income, and four will be rented to tenants making 80% of the state median income.
“We’re obviously very happy with the results, and we’re happy that we had the support we did that night,’ said Zemo.
Both buildings will be built near wetlands.
Ed Pawlak, a peer review expert hired by the commission, said the wetlands that would be affected at 84 Governor Street are currently someone’s lawn.
“It technically is a wetland, but it is very low functioning,” he told the commission, adding that there was an “opportunity to improve a very degraded wetland.”
He recommended that the commission extend monitoring of the wetlands from two years past the date of construction to five, and asked that any plants added be native species as opposed to exotics.
Susan Baker, a member of the Conservation Commission who was in the audience, said she was concerned about the impact on a meadow that abuts the rear of 62 Prospect Ridge.
“The wetlands that it abuts in the back are nice and clean right now … deserving of the best protection we can give them,” she said.
Jewell noted that the drainage structures added to the properties would be maintained in perpetuity.
“But in regards to plantings or invasive species removal …” after five years “that’s just nature taking its course,” he added.
Both projects won approval in draft form after little discussion from the commission. The draft allows the commissioners to revise their conditions of approval before a final vote.
Cathy Savoca, who joined the commission Dec. 1 to fill the vacant seat left by Tim Dunphy, abstained from voting.
“This is an appropriate location for this application,” said Jewell in his closing remarks for 62 Prospect Ridge, “and there is a need for affordable housing — age-restricted affordable housing — in Ridgefield.”