Planning Commission rejects Lincoln St. affordable housing proposal
WESTPORT — An affordable housing proposal Westport residents raised $50,000 to fight has been officially rejected by the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission.
“The need for public safety outweighed, in the end, the small gains we would realize with this project in affordable housing units,” Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) Chairman Paul Lebowtiz said of the commission’s unanimous vote on Oct. 11 to reject the proposed 81-unit housing on Lincoln Street near the Saugatuck River and downtown Westport.
The development application, brought by Cross Street LLC, proposed a 137,000 square-foot building on 3.15 property on Lincoln Street and planned to include 27 one-bedroom and 54 two-bedroom units, 25 of which would be deemed affordable.
Because the application met the 30 percent affordable benchmark, the project qualified under the 8-30g statute of the Connecticut General Statutes. In towns like Westport that don’t have enough affordable housing in the eyes of the state, any 8-30g application brought before the town’s zoning board can skirt local building regulations and only be denied on traffic or safety grounds.
At a zoning hearing on the development on Oct. 6, former Westport Fire Chief Andrew Kingsbury, who was working for the town as a consultant on this project, said a single point of access to the southernmost point of the development on Lincoln Street is inadequate for fire trucks to enter in case of a fire at the building.
If the a fire occurred at the proposed complex during the summer, the fire department can not guarantee it has enough water to fight it because town’s water infrastructure have not kept pace with the construction of large buildings in town, current Fire Chief Robert Yost said at the same meeting.
“The risk to the public safety with fire and traffic safety outweighed the potential gain of those 25 units. They could easily accomplish the goal of adding affordable housing on that site utilizing a different configuration of the building. One that fits within our existing zoning regulations without having to result to an 8-30g structure,” Lebowitz said.
A neighborhood group, Westport Neighbors United LLC, formed to lobby against the Lincoln Street development proposal and over the past months, the group raised $50,000 to battle the development and amassed a following of about 300 people, Tina Torraco, one of the group’s leaders, said.
The developers were less please with the decision. “We’re disappointed, but we’re going to file an appeal pursuant to the statute and the appeal will ultimately go through the process and be adjudicated in court,” John Fallon, attorney for Cross Street, said.
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