City may buy North Street parcel to save it from development

The Planning and Zoning Board (P&Z) continues to grapple with the state’s 8-30g affordable housing law: It conducted an executive session at its April 19 meeting to discuss two proposals it rejected, only to see its vote overturned by Judge Marshall K. Berger Jr. of the Superior Court’s Land Use Litigation Docket.
Meanwhile, the board unanimously supported a proposal for the city to purchase a seven-acre parcel at 701 North Street, which would put an end to plans to create a 63-house community with an affordable component on the property.

The current owner is Stone Preserve LLC, of 500 Boston Post Road, Milford, of which Arnold Peck is the manager. Stone Preserve applied in August 2014 for a conventional five-lot subdivision on the seven-acre property, and then withdrew that application in October 2014.

In January 2015, Stone Preserve applied to the Inland-Wetlands Agency for a review of plans calling for a 63-house community with an affordable component under the 8-30g law, and then withdrew those plans in May 2015. While there are no wetlands on the property, there are wetlands on adjacent parcels, including the city-owned Orchards Golf Course.

The developer bought the land for $950,000 in July 2013. The current city assessment is $1.36 million. The city proposes to buy the property for $1.6 million.

By its unanimous vote in a procedural matter known as an 8-24 referral, the P&Z recommended the Board of Aldermen acquire the property for the city.

The P&Z also unanimously agreed to approve the use of $269,000 from its open space fund account toward the purchase price. The account is funded by a fee assessed to developers of subdivisions. The Board of Aldermen will discuss and possibly vote on the matter at its May 2 meeting at City Hall.

Steven Johnson, the city’s open space and natural resources manager, encouraged the board to support the measure, saying, “This parcel has been recognized as an important strategic acquisition by the Golf Course Commission and has been supported by the Mayor’s Open Space Advisory Committee.”

Johnson said the city’s 2012 Plan of Conservation and Development’s Action plan places a priority on purchasing land that is contiguous to other open space. In addition to sharing a border with the golf course, Johnson said the property has about 3.15 acres of orchards.
Bic Drive Appeal Discussed
The board started its April 19 meeting with a closed-door executive session lasting 45 minutes in which it discussed the judge’s decision on a proposed 257-unit apartment building with an affordable component at 460 Bic Drive, and a status report on a proposed multi-unit plan at 89 Pond Point Avenue that is currently being reviewed by the state’s Appellate Court.

The board is expected to vote on these two issues at its May 3 meeting. Board members declined to comment prior to that vote.

The board voted 8-2 at its April 7, 2015, meeting to deny the Bic Drive application, citing various safety concerns including low water pressure for domestic use and fire protection, one driveway entrance with no left turns permitted exiting the property, the lack of a second means of access for emergency vehicles, concerns of increased traffic, parking spaces fewer than required by regulations, and blasting that could endanger the Iroquois gas pipeline that crosses the site.

Citing case law, the 8-30g affordable housing statute, and testimony before the P&Z, Judge Marshall K. Berger Jr. of the Superior Court’s Land Use Litigation Docket, rejected all of those reasons, and overturned the P&Z decision, in his April 8, 2016 ruling.

Attorney Thomas Lynch, who represented Garden Homes Management of Stamford in the original presentation, commented on Berger’s decision, writing in an April 12 e-mail, “My client was very pleased with the result. The court held that the board had no basis, pursuant to the standards set in the affordable housing statute, to deny the application.”

Lynch said that unless the city or the neighboring property owners, who were intervening defendants in the case, succeed with an application to the Appellate Court to review the decision, Berger’s ruling would stand, and construction would start soon.

The city has 20 days from the date of Berger’s decision to file an appeal. That 20-day period expires prior to the board’s May 3 meeting, meaning that unless the board calls a special meeting, it will have to vote to accept Berger’s decision.

Meanwhile, MDC Milford Associates, owner of the adjacent property at 500 Bic Drive, is reviewing its options and has not yet made a decision on filing an appeal, as of April 23, according to Joseph Coci, managing director for MDC. MDC was working with Northeast Electronics, which is located across the street at 454 Bic Drive, to oppose the housing plan.

The H-shaped four-story building would have 194 one-bedroom apartments, and 63 studio apartments on a 7.4-acre parcel that is zoned as an Office District (OD). Thirty percent of those units would be rented at affordable rates. The building would have 322 parking spaces, averaging 1.25 spaces per unit, and Garden Homes could add 42 more parking spaces, if needed.
Pond Point Reviewed Again
With regard to the proposed 23-unit project at 86 Pond Point Avenue the board announced at its Dec. 15, 2015 meeting that the Appellate Court had granted the city’s Petition for Certification for the board’s appeal of Berger’s decision of June 29, 2015. That appeal is currently pending.

In his decision, Berger ruled that the P&Z’s reasons for its denial on Dec. 19, 2013 did not prove the project would create a risk to public health and safety that would outweigh the need for affordable housing. The board had cited concerns due to traffic and the loss of open space.

Property owner Colberg LLC, which lists Thomas Colucci of 305 West Main Street, Milford, as its manager, had offered the board a settlement in the form of a reduction from 23 units to 16 units on the 2.7-acre parcel. In the face of opposition from neighbors, the board rejected that settlement by a 6-4 vote at its Oct. 20, 2015 meeting.

At the board’s Oct. 20, 2015 meeting, city attorney Jonathan Berchem told the board that as of that date, Berger had issued 22 decisions on 8-30g applications and all have been in favor of the developer. He said two of the 22 cases were appealed to the Appellate Court and the court sided with the developer in both cases.

If the Appellate Court judge rules in favor of Collucci, the developer can proceed with the original plan for 23 units. However, such an appeal could potentially take years to be decided.