The Ridgefield Board of Selectmen is requesting the Planning & Zoning Commission's blessing of the creation of an affordable housing overlay zone in Redding, a small portion of which could fall just over the town line in Ridgefield, however several commission members said they weren't comfortable supporting the plan.
During Tuesday's P&Z Commission meeting at the Town Hall Annex, Town Planner Betty Brosius explained that the Town of Redding, following its recent adoption of a feasibility study, is now preparing to submit an application to the state's Office of Policy and Management for the development of an affordable housing overlay zone on multiple parcels in the central Georgetown area and on two state-owned parcels on Ethan Allen Highway (Route 7) at Old Redding Road (on the Redding-Ridgefield town line). The clusters of parcels are being referred to as "Incentive Housing Zones."
Redding's ambitious plan for affordable housing (see attached PDF), developed by planning consultant John Hayes in conjunction with department staff, is in response to pressure from the state, as the town currently has "virtually no affordable housing in place" to meet the requirements of the state's Affordable Housing Act, Brosius said.
"They have virtually nothing… because they don't have a commercial area with sewers, except for in Georgetown," Brosius said of Redding, adding that Ridgefield currently has about 2 percent affordable housing. "So, in order to meet their obligation… what they did was create this study, which identifies several parcels for potential development."
She said Redding is looking to buy the state-owned parcels on Route 7 and develop them for affordable housing under the HOMEConnecticut program, which offers incentives to qualifying housing projects of up to $2,000 per unit.
The program puts towns in control of the build-out of affordable housing, and promotes development near transportation hubs — as opposed to private developers, who can side-step local zoning laws and build dense developments under state statute 8-30g.
But 2.64 acres of the 11.9 acre Old Redding Road South parcel on Ethan Allen Highway is located in Ridgefield. As such, Redding is asking Ridgefield for permission to develop the 2.64 acres as part of the project.
"There are four parcels in the 2.64 acre section that's in Ridgefield — and all four spill over into Redding," Brosius explained. She added that the state is offering the parcels on a "first refusal basis to the communities where they lie."
The state reportedly acquired the parcels through eminent domain proceedings when it was planning the now-defunct "Super 7" project, which would have extended the Route 7 connector to Danbury.
The 2.64 acres in Ridgefield currently has several structures on it, part of an active lumber yard operation.
Brosius said if Ridgefield doesn't claim its 2.64 acres from the state, Redding can claim the land in conjunction with the project. She added that Redding has already started discussing conceptual plans with developers.
The proposed affordable housing project could also help facilitate the development of a "greenway," funded by a federal grant, that would wind through the Ethan Allen properties. The recreational trail, which is still being studied, could potentially span from Norwalk all the way to Danbury utilizing surplus state lands.
Citing the fact that Ridgefield has seen a deluge of controversial affordable housing developments in recent years and is seeking a moratorium from the state, several commission members said they wanted to be precise about the language used in connection with the Redding plan, so as to not send a false impression they are in support of it.
"I'm very concerned about the signal Ridgefield would send [if the commission said it was in support of this]," commission member Michael Autuori said. "I don't know if anyone here is comfortable with the density being proposed — what is it?"
"Up to 20 units per acre," Brosius replied, as Autuori shook his head. (However the feasibility plan adopted by Redding calls for six units per acre.)
"But if [Ridgefield] owns [the land] the density can be less," Brosius added.
"That's horrendously dense," Autuori said, noting that the proposed overlay zone is right on the town line, and that a dense project could have some impact on Ridgefield. "We're just getting besieged by more and more of this high density housing."
"I just don't like the idea of cramming all the housing together — whether it's close to us... or right in Branchville," Autuori added.
Commission member Phil Mische agreed, saying, "in a way, we're getting a high density development just by being on the fringe of their space."
Several commission members said they wanted the statement to reflect that they have "no objection" to the project, as opposed to being "in support" of it.
However Autori said he thought it would be best for the commission to take no action on the selectmen's request at all, which Brosius later confirmed was an option. She said the Town of Redding could approach the Board of Selectmen directly with the request, but added that the board was merely seeking the commission's input in its capacity as the official land use and planning agency.
Brosius said if the commission "could come up with some sort of a 'no objection' type of statement, we could forward that to the Board of Selectmen, just so that they knew you had looked at it and discussed it and that you thought from a planning standpoint that it was OK for Redding to apply for this."
But several commission members said they needed more time to decide how to best respond to the Board of Selectmen's request. It was agreed that they would individually walk the property at their leisure over the next two weeks before taking the matter up again at the meeting on July 24.
Interestingly, representatives from Redding met with the Ridgefield P&Z last year regarding the proposed affordable housing development, and, according to the recently-adopted feasibility study, they "achieved a sense of shared purpose."
The commission's next meeting is on July 17.