Hiawatha Lane housing complex plans swamped by questions

WESTPORT — A “pre-application” proposal for two abutting housing complexes — one with 85 market-rate units, the other with 70 units designated “affordable” — triggered a barrage of questions from Planning and Zoning Commission members at Thursday’s meeting.

Summit Development wants permission to build the apartments at the end of the Hiawatha Lane Extension, which lies on the Westport/Norwalk border. Tim Hollister, the lawyer representing the developer, told the P&Z that Summit intends to build the project in two stages: phase one would start in early 2017 with 85 market-rate units; phase two would get underway in the summer of 2018 with 70 "affordable" units as defined under the state’s affordable housing statute, 8-30g.

Currently, Summit owns 5.34 acres of the Hiawatha Lane Extension property and has options to buy five more parcels for an additional 2.87 acres. The overall development would comprise six buildings with five residential buildings, another for amenities and a pool.

For the project to move forward, a sewer line 1,600 feet long would have to be installed, extending from Davenport Lane to Hiawatha Lane to support both the new development as well as with eight existing homes in the area.

"So it’s important you understand this is two separate side-by-side developments. The affordable units, the 8-30g units, are not the so-called set aside component of the overall 155-unit development," Hollister said.

"It’s 85 market-rate units, 70 8-30g units. They are going to be proposed together as a joint venture by Summit and the housing authority," he added.

When P&Z Commissioner Catherine Walsh asked Hollister for more information about the "sewer hookup," Chairman Chip Stephens interjected about the need to proceed deliberately in reviewing the proposal.

"Anything that happens has to wait until that sewer is fixed underneath the Saugatuck. It’s not the pumping station, it’s not the sewer itself — it’s the pipe that’s very fragile," Stephens said.

Hollister, who appeared before the P&Z over a year ago regarding the proposal, said, "Our understanding is that the issues that confounded us 15 months ago have been addressed to the satisfaction of the town."

But Stephens retorted, "No they have not. We’re at the point of an RFP for the process to accomplish that. It’s probably a way off still."

Although the market-rate buildings would have elevator access, the affordable-unit buildings would not. Commissioner Andra Vebell noted that because those buildings have second-floor apartments accessible only by stairs, it would be difficult for prospective senior citizen tenants to live in those units.

"The other 8-30g-type building would be younger people on the second floor, so you’re eliminating that from seniors. I’m assuming they’re not going to want to walk up to the second floor," Vebell said.

An anticipated change in the street’s layout was also a concern for Stephens.

"I hope the developer is thinking about how they’re going to address the street itself,” he said. “If you’re going to add this many units and this many people, the street is going to need widening, it’s going to need sidewalks, it’s going to need lights — there’s going to be a lot of things that are needed."

After the P&Z members’ comments, Matthew Mandell, a Representative Town Meeting member from District 1, who represents the neighborhood where the project is proposed, stood up and asked to speak, but Stephens refused and told Mandell he was “out of order.”

@chrismmarquette / cmarquette@bcnnew.com