A proposed apartment complex with an affordable component at 335 Meadowside Road received final approval with a 7 to 3 vote from the Planning and Zoning Board (P&Z) at its July 21 meeting, a meeting that at times was raucous with residents calling out from the audience and questioning the decisions of board members.
At its June 16 meeting, the board approved a modified version of the original proposal, decreasing the total number of two-bedroom townhouses from 18 to 15, and increasing the number of units designated as affordable from six to seven.
Field & Son Builders, which is owned by Christopher and Warren Field, owns the one-acre property under the name of 335 Meadowside LLC. The Fields filed the application under state's affordable housing statute, 8-30g, a law that overrides local zoning regulations. The property is zoned for single-family use.
In the revised application, the Fields received approval for five affordable units, which is the maximum of 30% required by the state law. The project will have a garage for each unit, plus an additional 32 surface parking spaces.
More revisions
The revised plans also incorporate a request from the board for a recreation area. At the rear of the property, the plans show a 15-foot by 15-foot patio area with grills, adjacent to a small lawn area that will be bordered with a solid fence. The plans also include a board-requested sidewalk from the rear of the property to Meadowside Road.
In his presentation, Attorney Thomas Lynch said his client agreed to a majority of the conditions imposed by the board, except for the increase in the number of affordable units, which he said affects the financial viability of the project.
Lynch said removing three units from the property reduces rental income by $50,000 per year. He said the Fields were willing to compromise to avoid the long delay and expense of a court appeal.
“We feel on an appeal we would prevail,” said Lynch. “There is nothing in the record for a court that this project would affect the public health, safety and welfare.”
When the board approved the modified plan at its June 16 meeting, City Planner David B. Sulkis warned the board by saying, “The city has never won an 8-30g appeal.”
Affordable units debated
Board member Jim Quish and Lynch had a debate that started when Quish asked what was the difference in rent between the market rate units and the affordable units.
Lynch said the market rate units would rent for $1,800 to $1,900, while the rental cost for people earning up to 80% of the area's median income would be $1,398.
Quish said the $500 monthly difference would calculate out to $6,000 per year, or $60,000 over a 10-year period.
“We have to consider the 8-30g statute and we are forced to accept things the board does not like. One of the carrots is to get our percentage closer to 10%,” said Quish. Also supporting the idea of having additional affordable units was board member Carl Moore. Both voted against the motion to approve the modified plan.
In response, Lynch said, “I could care less about that. It's not my client's problem. That has no relevance to this application. We could take this to court and prevail with 18 units.”
Quish responded by saying, “It is an awful position for the board to allow development the local community is not for.”
Lynch said, “Removing a building takes $50,000 out of my client's pocket.”
Quish said, “The actual development cost is not there for the lost unit.”
Lynch said residents did not talk about the affordability component as being a concern. Rather they wanted the density reduced, and “We reduced the density.”
Board Vice Chair Jeanne Cervin asked if a small toddler lot could be constructed in the green space, and Lynch said, “We would be open to that.”
Board member Thomas Nichol, who also voted against the plan, questioned the safety of the sidewalk, which is level with the road, saying, “I can see cars backing out of garages and over the sidewalk.”
In response, Warren Field said he has seen other sidewalks in Milford that are level with the road. He said there is not enough room in this townhouse development to have a raised sidewalk with curb cuts for vehicles, saying it would create a roller coaster effect on the sidewalk.
“People have to have common sense,” said Field.
Public opposition continues
The public hearing was attended by about 50 people, half of whom were there for the proposed affordable apartment complex on Wheelers Farms Road, which the board plans to vote on at its Aug. 4 meeting. Nine people spoke in opposition to the Meadowside Road plan, citing concerns about density and traffic.
Carol Maurutis of 24 Elgid Drive said two weeks ago when the Silver Sands State Park parking lot was full, people parked on Elgid Drive. Maurutis asked what would happen when there was overflow parking from the apartments.
Joseph Perkowski of 7 Elgid Drive said, “July 4 was a zoo. I was worried someone was going to park in front of my driveway. What will the city do if my property values go down? Will I be able to come to you if I get water in my driveway?”
John Pagliano of 325 Meadowside Road said he lives next door to the proposed townhouses, and said his wife Christine was hit by a car 10 months ago crossing Meadowside Road “by a driver trying to beat oncoming traffic.” He said the apartments would generate 30 more cars.
“We don't need more traffic, more affordable housing and more apartments. The traffic is unbelievable over there,” said Pagliano.
Commenting on her accident, Christine Pagliano said, “I was walking the dog. The dog made it, I didn't.” She said, “The traffic on Meadowside is terrible,” indicating she sometimes has to wait several minutes to cross the street.
Frank Ginise of 331 Meadowside Road, the property on the other side, spoke at length during the public comment period, and also shouted out from the audience after the hearing was closed.
Ginise said six weeks earlier he made a Freedom of Information request for how many 8-30g projects were denied by the Milford P&Z, a request he said was also made by State Sen. Gayle Slossberg and State Rep. Kim Rose.
“I have not received anything,” said Ginise. He said he spoke to Mayor Benjamin Blake regarding Sulkis' comment about the city never winning an 8-30g appeal.
Ginise questioned why the city fought against a proposed 22-unit affordable housing project at 86 Pond Point Ave., but said the board indicated it was not worth the taxpayer's money to fight the Meadowside Road project.
“Why are we not as important? Why don't we deserve the same treatment?” asked Ginise, saying five board members live in close proximity to Pond Point, but none live near Meadowside Road.
The P&Z denied the Pond Point Avenue project on Dec. 19, 2013. The project would have 23 units, including the existing house. The state's Land Use Litigation Docket overturned that denial on June 29, 2015. Blake indicated last week that the city would appeal that denial.
Of the existing board members, only Cervin, John Grant, Nichol, Edward Mead, and Benjamin Gettinger were on the board at the time that application was denied. Mead voted against denying it, while Gettinger was not present at the meeting.
Michael Apruzzese of 5 Great Meadow Drive said he lives across the street from this project. He said that Field's comment that the buildings are too close for raised sidewalks shows the property is too dense.
“You can't fight something unless you stand up and fight,” said Apruzzese.
Kathleen Apruzzese said the project is too dense. She said that she called Blake about Sulkis' comment. She said people park on Meadowside Road when the parking lot at Silver Sands if full.
“When is Milford going to stand up for the citizens of Milford?” asked Apruzzese.
Steven Fisher of 30 West Shore Drive pointed out the numerous apartment and senior citizen complexes in the area, also commenting that Silver Sands “has grown exponentially in the last few years.” Fisher said the board previously denied an application for two houses on the property.
“It's too dense an area to allow this much traffic,” said Fisher.
Rose said as a former board member she understood the challenge facing the P&Z, and urged its members not to reduce the number of affordable units, saying the city needed to reach the state-required number of affordable units.
Frustration of board members
Board member Anthony Sutton commended Lynch and the Fields for their “spirit of cooperation” and commended residents “by not demonizing the concept” of affordable housing.
“Your comments were very directed toward safety concerns, which is what a court looks toward on appeal,” said Sutton.
Quish said, “It puts the members of the board in a very difficult position. We are bound by the law,” noting that the P&Z lost the court appeal of the Pond Point project.
Quish advocated for having six units designated as affordable for the Meadowside Road project. He said if the board denied the project, the developer could get 18 units in a court decision. Lynch corrected Quish to say the board had requested seven units.
At that point in the meeting, Ginise called out from the audience, asking if the board could hold off on a vote until he received the information from the FOI request. In response, Gettinger asked Ginise to sit down and not interrupt the meeting.
Cervin said she saw no point in waiting, due to the restrictions of the 8-30g statute. “We have legal parameters to work with,” said Cervin.
Board member Thomas Panzella directly addressed the public when he said residents should not be attacking the board, but should be seeking to change the law in Hartford.
“If you can't get it changed, the board's hands are tied,” said Panzella. “If we deny, you are going to get 18 units. Our hearts are with you. I would vote it down in a heartbeat. It makes us feel terrible.”
Sutton said he was not on the board when the Pond Point application was denied. He said these applications have to be taken on a case-by-case basis, and the board has to make a determination based on health, safety and welfare.
“These are state mandated regulations,” said Sutton.
Mead said this is the first 8-30g application where the board had a public discussion with the applicant before going to court. He said the board denied the application for a project on New Haven Avenue, and the court sent back the plan to the P&Z for a final settlement.