Wilton Road ‘affordable’ apartment plan hits stiff opposition
A proposal to build a six-story, 48-unit affordable housing complex along the Saugatuck River generated strong opposition from town officials and the public when it was formally unveiled at Thursday’s Planning and Zoning Commission meeting.
Opponents of the application for 122 Wilton Road cited potentially irreversible environmental damage, fire hazards, sanitation issues and more traffic congestion among their arguments during the P&Z session, which lasted more than four hours.
The applicant, Garden Homes Management, Inc., represented by lawyer John Fallon, wants to build a 45,796-square-foot building with 39 one-bedroom apartments and nine two-bedroom units on a 1.16-acre lot at 122 Wilton Road at the Kings Highway North intersection. An alternate proposal calls for constructing a four-story, 41,680-square-foot structure with 45 one-bedroom units and three two-bedroom units.
Both proposals assign 30 percent, or 15 of the units, as “affordable” in compliance with state law.
The property is owned by Westport residents Simha and Jacob Levi.
Fallon said that Westport needs more affordable housing because its housing inventory falls well under the 10 percent goal set under the state 8-30g housing law. "According to Craigslist, Apartments.com and Zillow, there are currently eight apartments for rent in Westport,” Fallon told the P&Z hearing. "In 1995, Westport had 2 percent of its residential units being affordable, 20 years later in 2015, that number is 3 percent, so we’ve had an increase in 20 years of 112 affordable units. At that pace, it would take literally 140 years to reach the 10 percent statutory goal which 8-30g sets."
The apartment building would have a direct negative impact on nearby tidal wetlands, specifically the Taylortown Salt Marsh, said Jennifer O’Donnell, the principal coastal engineer and CEO of Coastal Ocean Analytics. "A high rate of impervious coverage can have a negative impact on the health of tidal wetlands. This particular site is proposing a 92.4 percent connected impervious coverage over the development area."
O’Donnell added that the site “in particular is going to have a high rate of pollution because of the impervious area and also the traffic, we’re going to have road sand and salt, motor oil, all sorts of high impact things will be going through this system."
Celia Cambell-Mohn, a board member of the Aspetuck Land Trust, said the sloping Wilton Road site would add to hazards affecting the salt marsh: “Pavement collects hazardous waste, such as petroleum products, heavy metals, vehicle fluids and bacteria. Snow plowing collects and concentrates those contaminates. Those contaminates run downhill. The water is going to run downhill. The effluent from this big a development is going to end up in the Taylor Salt Marsh — unavoidable."
In a letter submitted to the P&Z, Fire Chief Andrew Kingsbury outlined some of the Fire Department’s concerns about the proposal. "The project site is bound by two major commuter routes, CT Rte. 33 and CT Rte. 57. Both routes experience heavy traffic congestion during the morning and evening rush hours, as well as heavy noontime traffic. Due to congestion, accessibility to the project would be problematic for fire apparatus as traffic regularly backs up in all lanes past the proposed project."
Kingsbury also said the fire trucks would have trouble maneuvering in the limited confines of the site, and that its slope and gradient of the access route would provide additional obstacles.
Richard Stein expressed concern over the traffic congestion the apartment complex could potentially add to the already heavy volume near the site, "If you have 48 units, you could have 60, 70 cars, visitors, help coming in, you’ve got staff — there really is no place to go," he went on "and where are the construction workers going to be?"
Planning and Zoning Director Laurence Bradley said the influx of cars would pose problems, "There’s really no place to park in proximity to this building. If somebody has a party or visitors, there is nowhere for them to park."
As for sanitation issues, the town has requested sewer system flow data from Garden Homes, which has not yet been provided. Public Works Director Steve Edwards said "that flow data has not been provided, so our position was that it’s incomplete."
At the outset of the meeting, however, Fallon, the Garden Homes’ lawyer, said that he received input from Edwards that "at least as we read it, there was an indication that the town was looking for a far more extensive and unprecedented review of, really, the entire town sewer system as part of a proceeding."
Edwards, asked by Bradley to clarify the request, said it is not out of the ordinary to request such sewer information.
Earlier in the day, P&Z commissioners took a field trip to inspect the property at 122 Wilton Road, accompanied by a group of neighbors and other residents interested in the apartment building application.
“I think it’s a bad idea,” said Tina Green, who was among the group of about a dozen residents joining the P&Z members for the tour.
“I happen to be in favor of affordable housing, but I think they can choose another location,” Green said, adding there is enough “blight” in terms of large structures along the river. “I’m very much against it,” she said. “I’d like to see them look at a more suitable location.”
“Obviously, we’re concerned about this from a traffic point of view,” said neighbor Karen Hubrich. “Over the years I’ve seen the traffic increase dramatically. It’s even gotten worse now with the Y being moved. Some days I can’t even get out of my driveway.”
“My main concern is the traffic issue,” said Jim Lamb, who owns the house across the street on Wilton Road. “It’s a major state road. Trucks race through this area … I think it’s terrible, only because you have all the walkers that try to walk to town through here … It’ll be a disaster.”
“I’m just concerned about the impact on water quality on the river,” said Katherine Kamen.”
The P&Z will continue the public hearing on the application Jan. 28.