Neighbors, developer plan for prolonged court battle following Westport affordable housing case loss
WESTPORT — A developer’s bid to bring an 81-unit apartment complex to town is headed for a prolonged court battle, leaving neighbors worried about the outcome.
In July, Hartford Superior Court Judge Andrew Roraback upheld the appeal of Cross Street LLC, whose proposed affordable housing application for the complex proposed for Lincoln and Cross Streets was unanimously denied by the Planning and Zoning Commission based on traffic and safety concerns in 2018.
The town has since filed a petition seeking to overturn the ruling.
But Russel Bernard, principal of Cross Street LLC, said he didn’t understand why the town was fighting the development when more affordable housing was needed.
“It’s not a negative, it’s a positive overall,” he said. “It’s just people are more fearful than I think they should be.”
Also opposing the complex is Westport Neighbors United LLC, formed by nearby residents in opposition to the application and citing safety concerns.
“The end goal is to have a complex that would fit in and not be a safety risk to the property,” said Tina Torraco, a Riverside Avenue resident and member of the group.
Torraco said her group also rejected the notion that their opposition was based on race or class.
“We really reject that. We are not opposed to affordable housing,” she said. “We just want it to be a safe environment for prospective tenants and for the existing community that is there.”
She said her community was a socioeconomically diverse area that took no issue with the affordable component. But neighbors did not agree with a developer using a statute to go around a town’s zoning regulations.
“Race has nothing to do with the fact that people should be safe, and people coming into affordable housing should be afforded safety,” Torraco said.
The ongoing case has put a spotlight on the 8-30g statute, where developers are able to circumvent local zoning regulations if a municipality does not have enough affordable housing in the eyes of the state. Westport received a four-year moratorium from the state on 8-30g applications in 2019, a year after the application was denied.
Bernard said the thought process behind the 8-30g statue was to prevent artificial barriers from being put up for the common good. He said it can be a tough balance to strike between towns and developers.
“You always want to preserve the character of the town, whatever that means, but you also need sustainable development to move towns forward, and economies forward, and to create broader opportunity for everybody,” he said.
But Bernard said he tried hard to strike a balance with his application.
“This is trying to appeal to seniors (and) younger people and has an affordability component as well,” he said. “It’s trying to balance all these things.”
If the town’s petition fails, there is still one step left for Cross Street LLC. The judge ruled the developer would still have to appear before the town’s Traffic Authority — which is the Board of Selectmen — to remove on-street parking spaces for the sight lines needed.
Torraco said with no redesign to the original application, Westport Neighbors United LLC would continue to push for change.
“We’re not giving up. We’re continuing to fight this developer until significant changes are made,” she said. “We want to see changes for safety embraced.”