Zoning Amendments 618 and 619 must be overturned
Published 8:14 pm, Thursday, December 2, 2010
Amendments 618 and 619 are designed to increase affordable housing in Westport, which is, without argument, a laudable goal.
Over the course of the past few years, our Planning and Zoning Commission has instituted a number of zoning changes with that very goal in mind. The current Gault development in Saugatuck is an example of such zone changes, most of which are specific to an area or property.
In Westport, we have a regulation known as 32-12, which allows multiple-family developments at a density of 20 bedrooms to the acre in a number of zones. Essentially, these are properties that have older small-scale buildings, with a residential feeling. The goal of the commission was to create low-density, mixed-use projects that broadened our base of housing stock.
We all know about state-mandated 8-30G, which has encouraged the development of affordable housing by offering developers many incentives, including the overriding of all local zoning regulations to allow projects that have a 30 percent affordable housing component to be built where local zoning laws do not allow them.
To ward off the threat of 8-30G applications, the P&Z has approved a number of zoning changes that allow multiple-family developments with a 20 percent affordability component in zones that formerly prohibited them.
Amendments 618 and 619 represent such changes. However, in making these changes, which benefit one large zone -- General Business District -- the P&Z has seriously devalued the properties in seven smaller zones (RPOD, RORD, BPD, RBD, BCD, BCD/H, and DDD #2).
Applying this zone change to the GBD, which is most of the Post Road, provides a real bonus to a zoning district where only commercial is allowed and has the potential of providing some affordable units, as property owners in this district now will be allowed to build 20 bedrooms to the acre in return for making 20 percent affordable.
Applying the zone change to the seven other districts is a penalty and a "taking" since these districts already have a right to construct 20 bedrooms per acre, without the burden of the 20 percent affordability requirement.
This is how it works: Those multiple-family units are usually about 1,200-square-feet each and, in this current market, at an estimated $368 per square foot, each unit will cost the property owner $442,000 to build.
Under affordable housing guidelines, the unit would have to be sold for $225,000, a $217,000 loss per unit. Think about this: one day you can build a unit and sell it for market value; the next, you are required to sell it for hundreds of thousands less. I call that a taking and about as un-American as we can get.
From the very beginning, the worthwhile concept of encouraging affordable housing has revolved around the concept of giving generous development bonuses in return for a few affordable units. This can work as has been demonstrated in Saugatuck.
We have approximately 170 properties in the GBD, totaling approximately 175 acres. Applying this new zone change to the GBD, where it would offer a real development bonus and possibly encourage a project or two, is a viable idea.
Applying this new zone to the seven other districts, which already have this development right but are now burdened by the 20 percent affordability requirement, is absolutely unfair. One of the main responsibilities of planning and zoning commissions is to maintain property values, not diminish them.
The great abundance of properties in the GBD completely eliminates the need to invade these other low-density zones, which have existed in harmony with the growth of our town for more than 30 years.
Further imposing these restrictions on these zones will ensure that mid-market range units, which serve young professionals and downsizing families, will no longer be built.
Our recent Town Plan of Conservation and Development speaks to broadening our range of housing opportunities, not restricting it to one particular income range or another.
I believe that we should apply the newly created zone to the General Business District only, as an undeniably fair solution that would have the potential of achieving every goal the P&Z has embraced.
Editor's note: Michael Calise is the lead petitioner in asking a Westport Representative Town Meeting committee to review recently approved zoning amendments 618 and 619.
The RTM is our public forum of appeal for those who feel they have been aggrieved by the planning and zoning process. That is why I will appear before the commission and ask it to overturn amendments 618 and 619.
Michael Calise noted that he is taking his appeal to the Planning & Zoning Commission as a private citizen and property owner.
His involvement in town affairs as a public servant over the years has included being a member of the Representative Town Meeting in District 5 for four terms and a member of the Architectural Review Board for five terms, four years as its chairman.
While on the RTM, he was appointed to a housing study committee and participated in the writing of the accessory apartment regulation that was adopted by the P&Z and still is in effect.