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Ridgefield Revisits N. Salem Affordable Housing Project

The project approved earlier by the Planning and Zoning Commission (with modifications) entered the spotlight once again Tuesday evening.

A 16-unit affordable housing project would have been too much, the Planning and Zoning Commission agreed. A 12-unit project would have been too little, the applicant said. Is a 14-unit project the answer for N. Salem Rd.?

In what has become an extremely complex and detail-laden process for both the P&Z Commission and the Eppoliti Realty Co. applicant, is still mired in layers of complications regarding wetlands, drainage, setbacks, traffic and a heap of red tape.

The commission approved the project in November with the caveat that modifications be made to the application -- the originally proposed 16-unit project would need to be cut down to 12 units to account for issues several commissioners had with the density on the property.

But the Eppoliti Realty Co. stated officially that 12 units would not be economically viable for the project to go forward. Thus, the revised application calls for 14 units, 30 percent of which would still be affordable under the "8-30g" state affordable housing law.

Tuesday's discussion included much of the apprehension and jargon-induced questioning of past hearings, leading to another extension of the hearing until Feb. 28 -- the applicant has until then to clarify particular aspects of the project and the commission to catch up on the details.

One of the major points of contention has been the project's possible effect on nearby wetlands, as well as drainage from the proposed property to neighboring ones.

Although Eppoliti made changes to the detention system to set it back farther from the proposed building, questions about soil infiltration and runoff still give members of the commission some concern.

Part of the solution is to have more tests done, including a mounding study of groundwater.

"How can we come to a conclusion based on tests that haven't been done?" asked Commissioner Michael Autuori, who formally requested the additional study.

Although the applicant decreased the density of the project, there was in fact an increase in the amount of impervious surface in the plan due to changes in the parking lot -- the additional 500 square feet of impervious surface has the potential to impact water runoff, but soil scientists hired by Eppoliti have said there would be no adverse impact on nearby wetlands.

"One major reason for cutting the number of units was to decrease the amount of impervious surface," Commission Chair Becky Mucchetti said. "I'm not sure we understand the data we have -- it's incomplete as far as I'm concerned."

The Department of Transportation recently approved the encroachment permit for the project, allowing for minor changes to the road for improved sightlines. This was one of the conditions for approval of the project, according to November's conditional approval by the commission.

Under section 8-30g of the state statute, the burden is on the commission to prove that the project is detrimental to health or safety (including environmental impacts), and this plays a part in how the process moves forward in terms of the tests that are done and the precautions that are set in place.

"If we don't ask for something, we won't get it," Commissioner John Katz said. "And if we don't get it, we won't have a leg to stand on because we won't have asked for it."

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