City learns how Incentive Housing Zone could help with affordable housing

The Milford Planning and Zoning Board (P&Z) recently got a lesson in Incentive Housing Zones and how one might help the city with its affordable housing woes.

At the board’s March 15 meeting, John P. Guszkwoski, director of planning services for CME Associates, gave the board an academic presentation about the Incentive Housing Zone and how it might be applied in Milford.

At the board’s Jan. 19 meeting, City Planner David B. Sulkis said the city received a $20,000 grant from the state Department of Housing (DOH) to hire CME Associates of Woodstock, Conn., as a consultant to study the idea of creating an Incentive Housing Zone near the train station.

Sulkis said the zone would potentially allow for more affordable housing within walking distance of the train station if such projects met the standards for the floating zone. Such housing might allow the city to earn enough points for a moratorium on future 8-30g affordable housing applications, he said.

At the March 15 meeting, Guszkwoski said the state grant could be used to explore how best to implement an Incentive Housing Zone in Milford if the board chose to pursue the idea.

Guszkwoski said the Incentive Housing Zone rules are “an attempt to create some middle ground” on the issue of affordable housing, commenting, “Connecticut is very much in need of affordable housing.”

He said the 8-30g law “does not necessarily result in the best project,” and creates an adverse relationship with neighbors and results in dense projects. In Milford, 8-30g projects have received intense opposition from neighbors concerned about increased density and traffic.

Guszkwoski said the Incentive Housing Zone requirements have incentives and options “to balance the benefits between communities and developers.” He said communities get more control over projects, and developers “get a more streamlined process that is less adversarial and involves less time in court.”

In describing the Incentive Housing Zone requirements, Guszkwoski said it is an overlay district that could apply to different areas in Milford designated for increased housing density. He said the underlying zone would dominate until a specific property is chosen.

Suggested areas for Milford would be properties north of Broad Street within a half-mile of the railroad station, or properties within one mile of the train station fronting the Boston Post Road and New Haven Avenue.

Guszkwoski said an Incentive Housing Zone would encourage development of properties in these areas, including retail or office uses on the first floor and apartments on the higher floor or floors. The Incentive Housing Zone would also encourage more multi-family properties.

The minimum amount of affordable units would be 20%, which he said would be “friendlier to the city” because it would decrease the density of affordable units, as compared to the 8-30g projects with a minimum of 30% affordable units. These units would be restricted for a minimum of 30 years for occupancy by people earning 80% or less of the area’s median income.

Guszkwoski said if developers propose a higher percentage of affordable units, they can make a project of higher density, but cannot build higher than five feet greater than existing height limits.

“It gives them a little more density, but does not throw the rulebook out the window,” said Guszkwoski.

To streamline the process, he said the Incentive Housing Zone project would have a site plan review, which does not involve a public hearing. Guszkwoski said the Incentive Housing Zone has “significant design standards” to protect communities.

“It addresses the concern of affordable housing without sacrificing the lovely character Milford has,” said Guszkwoski.

The Incentive Housing Zone encourages off-street parking, which might include a parking garage, Guszkwoski said. It also adds landscaping requirements that are not part of the Milford Center Design District.

“The goal is to dial back the intensity of density that would be allowed by an affordable housing appeal,” said Guszkwoski.

After the presentation by Guszkwoski, Sulkis said this is a draft idea that the board could choose to pursue.

“It’s just a proposal,” said Sulkis at the Jan. 19 meeting. “If you don’t like it, you don’t have to do it.”

More zone details
Details for this zone, which was created on July 1, 2007, may be read on the DOH website According to the DOH, an Incentive Housing Zone zone has minimum allowable density requirements, including six units per acre for single-family housing, 10 units per acre for duplex or townhouses, and 20 units per acre for multi-family housing.

The minimum density must increase the density allowed by the underlying zone by at least 25 %. The Department of Housing may waive the density requirements for projects developed by municipalities or non-profits in which 100% of the units are rented at affordable rates.

Municipalities may receive grants to pay for building permits, up to $2,000 per unit for each multi-family, duplex, or townhouse unit, or up to $5,000 for each single-family detached unit.

The town of Old Saybrook adopted an Incentive Housing Zone in 2009, and describes its rationale on its website