Letter: P&Z must take lead on affordable housing
Published 10:47 am, Friday, March 13, 2015
State municipalities are required to "promote housing choice and economic diversity in housing, including housing for both low and moderate income households." By state law, at least 10 percent of each town's housing must be "affordable." Westport's affordable stock is plus or minus 2.8 percent.
Without the required 10 percent, developers can bring afforable-housing applications under a statute called 8-30g Such applications override local regulations on building height, density and other factors. In an 8-30G application, a developer may disregard local zoning regulations. The reasons foe which local P&Zs may deny 8-30g applications are extremely limited -- health, safety and welfare.
8-30g applications can be submitted for any neighborhood.
For Westport to maintain orderly control over affordable housing development, the P&Z must encourage affordable housing, demonstrate commitment, and make reasonable progress toward the 10 percent goal.
If Westport does this, we could receive a four-year moratorium on 8-30g applications. A moratorium may be achieved by building a certain number of affordable units within a specified period of time, some for sale, some for rent and some for seniors.
Sixty-seven percent of Westporters in a survey said they want to comply with the state requirement. If we show clear progress, we most likely will not be subject to 8-30g applications for oversized buildings in inappropriate areas.
The P&Z needs to protect neighborhoods by allowing some affordable residential construction so people with a variety of incomes can live in Westport.
The current P&Z has no defensible record on affordable housing. No serious effort has been made and our neighborhoods are at risk. Even in the highly unusual circumstance that the P&Z has denied an application because too little affordable housing was included, the commission has made no effort to find a way to work with the applicant and increase the amount of affordable housing.
The P&Z should encourage applications with affordable components and signal its willingness to entertain such applications. It has the power and authority to discuss acceptable percentages of affordable housing instead of simply denying an opportunity, as it did with the Baron's South text amendment. New commission-sponsored applications encouraging apartments above commercial properties on the Post Road, and near other commercial areas should be welcomed. Instead the P&Z seems to always find a "good" reason why such applications are denied.
If the current P&Z continues to do nothing, it places every Westport neighborhood at risk and vulnerable to development under state statute 8-30g. For Westport to achieve a moratorium the current P&Z must take proactive steps to add to Westport's stock of affordable housing.
A sensible plan will enrich the community with a healthy mix of residents and help Westport achieve an 8-30g moratorium, which will protect the town and neighborhoods.
Howard B. Lathrop, treasurer
Jo Ann Davidson, secretary
Coalition for Westport