P&Z denies zone change that would allow new upscale apartments

Expressing concern about losing a potential property for 8-30g affordable housing, a divided Planning and Zoning Board (P&Z) voted 5-4 on July 5 to reject changes to the zoning regulations that would allow construction of a proposed 168-unit apartment complex planned for Plains Road near the Boston Post Road.

Prior to the vote, Robert Smith Jr., managing director of Metro Star Properties, told the board that his company is not interested in constructing an 8-30g affordable housing project.

“We don’t care to serve that clientele,” said Smith.

Smith equated the regulations that require a free-standing apartment complex in the Corridor Design Development District 1 (CDD-1) to have 30% of its units designated as affordable to the board telling an upscale Neiman Marcus style of department store, “We don’t want a Neiman Marcus. We want a J.C. Penney.”

Smith said under the 8-30g regulations, he could construct 300 apartments, instead of the 160 that he proposed.

“I’m not here exploiting 8-30g. My company is right on point with the regulations,” said Smith. “Let our company build to the market we are good at.”

As part of the application, Metro 150 LLC requested three changes to the zoning regulations, all of which the board denied. One change would remove the requirement for an 8-30g component.

A second proposed change would have reduced the permitted minimum square footage of one-bedroom units in multi-family residential buildings in the CDD-1 zone to 700 square feet from 800 square feet.

A third proposed change would set the following minimum off-street parking requirements for multi-family dwellings in the CDD-1 zone to 1 to 1.5 per efficiency bedroom unit, to 1.5  to 2 per one bedroom unit, and 2 to 2.5 per unit for two-bedroom units.

Board Vice Chairman Anthony Sutton, who voted against denying the zone change, asked City Planner David B. Sulkis how many multi-family housing projects have been constructed in the CDD-1 zone.

Sulkis responded by saying that since 2004, “We have never had an application for an affordable housing 8-30g [project] in any of the CDD zones.”

Board member John Grant said he saw no problems with reducing minimum apartment size or reducing the required parking ratio. However, Grant said he wanted to see the 8-30g component retained, and voted to deny the zone change.

Grant said Milford needs 461 points to reach a moratorium and said the city is only halfway there. He said the proposed bill passed by the General Assembly “would allow us to get close to a moratorium.” He said with Smith’s plan the city would have 160 additional units not designated as affordable, requiring the city to get additional points to qualify for a moratorium.

“We should be fighting to get as many points and more units to prevent projects from inundating our single-family neighborhoods,” said Grant.

The 8-30g law supersedes local zoning regulations, allowing the construction of multi-unit housing in single-family zones. To prevail in court, the P&Z has to prove the project poses a hazard to public health, safety or welfare, a threat that outweighs the need for affordable housing.

In making the motion to deny the zone changes, board member Jim Quish said in light of projects like the 12-units proposed for 178 Seaside Ave. that “seems like something we should try to stop, but can’t, we should capitalize on the opportunity to get 8-30g where it is planned.”

Attorney Amy E. Souchuns, who was representing Smith, challenged the board’s vote, saying it needed a majority of the board to deny the zone change request and that five votes “is not a majority.” The board has 10 members, but only nine were present for the vote.

In response, Sulkis said the board only needed a simple majority of those present, which was five votes.

Board Chairman Scott Marlow said the board would seek clarification on the question from the city attorney. As a result, the board tabled the application for the special permit and site plan review for the 160 apartments.

Public Mostly Opposed

During the earlier public comment period, one resident praised the work that Smith has done in Milford and said the 8-30g requirement was not needed, while three others asked the board to retain the 8-30g component.

Daniel German of 114 Beach Ave. said Smith has done many project in Milford and has produced “top-notch stuff.” German said he thinks Smith’s projects have added value in Milford.

“I don’t think we need that [an 8-30g requirement] at that spot in Milford,” said German.

By contrast, State Rep. Kim Rose (D-119th) said she was embarrassed by Smith’s comments that he would be diluting his projects with affordable housing. Rose said the 8-30g law is intended to encourage affordable housing for middle income people, such as firefighters and teachers.

“We have regulations in place for a reason, not for developers to change on a whim for their own personal profit,” said Rose. “This is a perfect example of where affordable housing should go.”

Rose said she was okay with the reduction in minimum unit size, but opposed to the change in the parking regulations, saying large-scale projects in Milford never have enough parking.

She cited a bill that Gov. Dannel Malloy had on his desk that would have eased requirements on Milford to comply with a moratorium on 8-30g projects: Malloy had until midnight on July 8 to decide on the bill. Two days after the meeting, however, on July 7, the governor vetoed the bill. (See related story)

Dominic Cotton of 60 Corona Drive said he spoke in Hartford in favor of the bill discussed by Rose, saying the city earns points by designating an area where affordable housing can be built. Cotton urged the board to “find people to work within the law,” saying the city would have not projects like the one approved at 178 Seaside Ave. where he said a developer is jamming a large project on a small piece of property.

Susan Glennon of 99 Carlson Drive, who also serves as Board of Education chair, said changing the regulations because a developer requested the change “sets a dangerous precedent.” Glennon said the board created regulations to designate where it would be appropriate to build 8-30g applications.

In response to residents’ concerns, Smith said the 8-30g provision is in all the P&Z regulations, except for industrial zones. He said he could build 350 units on the property under the 8-30g law, a number 50 higher than he said earlier in the meeting.

“I am building a very balanced, moderately dense project,” said Smith.