P&Z in ‘hell of a bind’ as deadline looms on Wilton Road housing plan
Developers proposing to construct a six-story apartment building with affordable units surprised the Planning and Zoning Commission with lengthy, new arguments to support the controversial Wilton Road plan at Thursday night’s hearing.
The apartment complex, proposed by Garden Homes Management at 122 Wilton Road, corner of Kings Highway North and abutting the Saugatuck River, would include 48 units in a 45,796-square-foot building. Under the proposal, 30 percent, or 15 of the units, would be rented as “affordable” in compliance with the state’s 8-30g law.
The applicant’s late submission of new materials, which caught P&Z members off-guard, provoked criticism from the panel, which had begun its public review of the proposal a week earlier.
John Fallon, the lawyer representing Garden Homes, was given a tongue lashing by P&Z Chairman Chip Stephens. "You put us in a hell of a position. You dumped a half a foot of information on us,” Stephens said. “We’re going to do the best we can and, be as fair as we can, but you put us in a hell of a bind."
"We didn’t want to dump anything on you tonight,” Fallon said, “but we had five business days to respond to a great deal of material that was, and I wouldn’t characterize the word dumped, but given to us, some of it on the night of the last hearing so within the parameters of the statute … we’re trying to be constructive."
The 8-30g “affordable housing” statute Fallon cited requires the commission to rule within 65 days of receiving an application, which means the P&Z to decide by the Feb. 4 hearing, barring an extension granted by the applicant.
According to Fallon, his client, Richard Freedman, president of Garden Homes, is not willing to grant an extension to that 65-day requirement. Fallon, who represented Freedman in earlier affordable housing projected filed under the 8-30g statute in other communities, was asked by P&Z member Carolanne Curry, "Your client has never given an extension in any of the affordable housing projects you’ve done?" to which Fallon replied, "Not those that I’ve represented him on."
Member Alan Hodge asked Fallon, "Why have we not been granted any extensions given the high volumes that you’ve just admitted?" Fallon responded, "My client is doing nothing more or less, saying we would like to abide by that (statute)." Hodge countered, “You’re in no different position than any other applicant that comes before us — they all have statutory time limits. This commission has asked you for an extension and you have consistently refused."
Fire Chief Andrew Kingsbury outlined concerns about the proposed structure from a fire-safety standpoint. Speaking about the challenge of deploying the Fire Department’s aerial outrigger to the 1.16-acre site, he said, "The total spread of the aerial is closer to 20 feet to set that apparatus up, it does weigh 62,000 pounds … there is a tremendous point blow where that meets the ground, we have extensive training on where we can and cannot set up this aerial. It has to be set up on an engineered surface, concrete, asphalt, those things. The last thing you want to do is tip this truck over."
Member Jack Whittle asked Kingsbury, "Would you agree that this proposal in its two forms proposes a serious safety hazard?" Kingsbury responded that his job is to, "save lives, protect property and conserve the environment. No, we could not do all those things; I would be very, very concerned."
Kermit Hua, a transportation engineer representing the applicant, said queuing traffic should not be a concern at the nearby Kings Highway North and Canal Street intersection during peak hours. "I and the civil engineer, Mr. Trinkaus, took a look at those queue lengths during weekday afternoon and weekday morning peak hours and the longest queues we observed was about 100 foot — in other words, six vehicles — so the queuing is not a concern."
Whittle then asked Hua, "When you’re investigating an allegation of excessive queues during peak traffic periods, why on God’s earth world would you investigate this condition at 4 p.m. in the afternoon?" Hua replied, "Peak is usually 4 to 6."
Whittle then explained how, as a Westport resident, he has found that 4 p.m. is not when peak traffic hits that intersection, "You don’t know this town, I do, it’s OK. But I operate there twice a day, 4 p.m., I don’t know what town in this country has peak traffic at 4 p.m., but this intersection at 6 p.m. has the excessive queues."
Steve Trinkaus, an engineer for the applicant, told the P&Z the "site will have absolutely no impact on the tidal wetland. It will not fail with proper maintenance."
Michael Klein, a wetland scientist for the applicant, said Jennifer O’Donnell, a coastal engineer who spoke for the town, was incorrect in saying the proposed site "is proposing a 92.4 percent connected impervious coverage over the development area." Klein contended the percentage would be closer to 30 percent.
Because new documentation of the applicant’s contentions were presented at the hearing, the town’s consultants did not have time to review or rebut the claims.
During public comment portion of the meeting, three residents from another Garden Homes affordable complex on Fairchild Avenue in Fairfield lauded the developer and the recently completed apartments. Barbara Damon, one of the residents, said, "It’s affordable, it’s clean, it’s beautifully maintained and it’s safe."
However, Karen Hubrich, who lives on Kings Highway North, voiced concerns about the traffic she fears the Wilton Road apartments would generate. "I am 100 percent behind affordable housing, I think it is definitely lacking in Westport, but I do not think this is the right location for this particular development … coming back in the afternoons I can’t get into my driveway ...
“There’s a development going on down the road sometime in the near future where Save the Children is. I gather it could be apartments that’s going to create more traffic, more cars,” she added.
The hearing on the Wilton Road project was continued to next Thursday.