Meadowside housing plan will head to court

Another proposed affordable housing project is headed to court, following a divided Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Board vote at its Feb. 6 meeting.

The board had voted 7-1 on Dec. 19, 2017, to approve with conditions a nine-unit apartment complex at 328 Meadowside Road, which was filed under the state’s affordable housing law, 8-30(g). The original proposal was for 12 units.

Attorney Thomas Lynch, representing Beachland LLC, owner of the 0.53-acre property located in the R-12.5 zone, resubmitted the project to the board to return to the original 12 units, while also proposing a fence and additional drainage, to address concerns raised by neighbors at the public hearing, and a walkway to respond to board concerns.

The board voted 5-5 at the Feb. 6 meeting to approve the revised application. Since the tie motion failed, the original approval from 2017 remains in effect.

In a Feb. 7 email, Lynch wrote that his clients plan to appeal the decision to Superior Court. Lynch wrote that the motion to approve the revised project would have passed, but for the vote “by a board member who has a clear conflict of interest regarding this application. She is the owner of the property directly across the street from the site, so she is an aggrieved party to any applications pertaining to the property by state statute.”

Lynch was referring to the vote against the motion to approve the 12 units with revisions by board member Denise Doucette-Ginise, who lives at 331 Meadowside Road.

Lynch also wrote that the city of Milford Code of Ethics “precludes any board member from participating in a vote in which the member has even the potential of a conflict of interest.” He wrote that he would see if anything short of a court appeal could be done.

At the Feb. 7 hearing, Lynch said the state statute allows an applicant to resubmit a project that is approved with conditions that affect the financial viability of the project.

Lynch said the revised plans address three of the four concerns raised at the original public hearing, but cannot meet the fourth condition, which involved a reduction of three units.

“Removal of the last building reduces rental income on the property by 25 percent,” said Lynch. “Clearly that has an adverse impact on the property.”

Project Engineer Washington Cabezas said the revised plans include a minimum four-foot wide walkway with pavers from the road to the building entrances, a six-foot high privacy fence along the east and west property borders, and a curtain drain around the building foundations.

These were all conditions required by the board in the December approval. The board also said in December that the developer should use the space at the rear where the building would have been located to create a cul-de-sac to allow vehicles to turn around on the property.

Four residents spoke against the project with three asking the board not to approve the 12 units. One suggested having three buildings with four units to reduce the number of buildings.

Board Chairman Jim Quish said with nine units, there would also be lower construction costs. Quish advocated keeping the nine-unit project, and voted that way. He said he did not think the issue of the turn around radius for delivery trucks was not adequately addressed in the revised application.

“We came up with what we thought was a viable solution,” said Quish.

Board member John Grant made a motion to approve the 12-unit project, but with six affordable units, instead of the four proposed. The motion failed due to the lack of a second.

Lynch and City Planner David B. Sulkis said the board does not have a right to compel the applicant to provide more than the minimum number of affordable units required by the state law. The law requires 30% of the units to be affordable.

Board member C. Robert Satti made a motion to reaffirm the Dec. 19, 2017 vote. That motion failed by a 4 to 6 vote.

When Ginise voted against the motion, Lynch stepped to the microphone to say, “She is a statutorily aggrieved party because…

Quish interrupted him by saying in part, “We are not going to hear from you tonight. Thank you for your input. That’s her choice to recuse herself or not.”

Lynch continued by saying, “You understand that would be grounds for an appeal” with Quish saying over him, “That’s fine. That’s fine.”

Ginise offered comment Wednesday about her vote. She said, “As an elected official for the 2nd district, I felt it was my duty to hear the application. I was presented with the option of recusing myself and, instead of taking the easy way out, decided the residents who placed their confidence in my ability to serve came first.

“All board members live in the City of Milford; any one of us could live near an applicant’s property. That should not preclude us from fulfilling the duty we were sworn to uphold,” Ginise continued. “As affordable housing applications can be denied due to public health, welfare and safety concerns, my vote against the revised application was based on a review of the December hearing and confirmation the concerns lodged were not adequately addressed by the new application.”

Board Vice Chairman Carl Moore made the final motion, which was to approve the revised application as presented on Feb. 6, and that motion failed by a 5-5 vote.

At the Nov. 21 public hearing, six residents spoke in opposition to the project, expressing concern about density, water run off and traffic. No one spoke in favor of the project at either public hearing. At the Dec. 19 hearing, many of the same people spoke in opposition, this time with seven speaking against the project.