Rules to allow more Westport affordable housing advance
Two affordable housing-friendly amendments proposed by the Planning and Zoning Commission appeared to take another step forward Thursday night after the public again voiced support for the proposals.
The hearing continued a public debate of Text Amendments 618 and 619 that started at a Sept. 30 hearing. Under 618, the town would allow a greater variety of housing options in certain zones, including the General Business District, which encompasses much of the Post Road. Under 619, the town would also permit development of multi-family units in lots where there is a split of residential and non-residential properties, provided that 20 percent of the rented or owned units be classified as affordable in conformance with state guidelines.
This latest initiative by Town Hall to encourage more affordable housing grew out of the recommendations of a P&Z subcommittee formed in 2007, whose goal was to help the town adopt more affordable housing-friendly regulations. Connecticut law stipulates that a four-person family qualifies for affordable housing if its income is less than 80 percent of the state median income, which is about $86,000, according to 2010 numbers from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Several land-use consultants and real estate agents from Fairfield County spoke in support of the amendments. While they offered the P&Z suggestions on possible alterations to sections of the amendments that relate to building height, building setbacks, and parking, they generally backed the idea of allowing more affordable housing in Westport.
"Westport should seek to lead in adopting and promoting new kinds of housing to complement it many single-family homes," said Ken Camarro, a realty agent from Fairfield.
Unlike the previous week's public hearing for the proposed changes, turnout was much lighter at Thursday's meeting. Again, public concern emerged about the influence of state statute 8-30g.
"It's unfortunate that the state of Connecticut is telling us as a community what we should be doing," Michael Calise said of the state regulation.
This law allows a developer denied an opportunity by a town to develop affordable housing to legally challenge that decision if less than 10 percent of a town's housing units are affordable under state criteria.
A town, however, can circumvent these regulations by gaining enough points to achieve a four-year moratorium on 8-30g. Many points can be earned in particular for new residential development that includes affordable housing. The P&Z Department estimates Westport has 27.25 points; the town would need a total of 201 to qualify for a moratorium.
P&Z Commissioner Nora Jinishian said that affordable housing would be on the P&Z agenda regardless of whether state law mandated action on the issue.
The chance for the public to comment on the proposed amendments has now concluded, and there will be no further public hearings on the proposed changes. The P&Z will now consider the amendments at future work sessions. Because the P&Z also introduced the amendments, state law allows the commission to set its own timetable for debating and voting on the proposals.