P&Z rejects scaled-down New Haven Avenue housing plan

An attempt to approve a slightly smaller version of an 8-30g affordable housing development at 1613 New Haven Avenue resulted in the project’s rejection at the Dec. 15 meeting of the Planning and Zoning Board (P&Z).

Attorney Thomas Lynch, who represents developer Charles Gagliardi of West Haven, wrote in a Dec. 16 e-mail, “We felt there was no legal grounds for the board’s action last night. My client will weigh all options, including a Superior Court appeal, and we will proceed accordingly.”

The board had held open the public hearing for the eight-unit project, pending the results of a board-requested but applicant funded traffic study. Traffic Engineer Kermit Hua discussed his review of the applicant’s traffic study. Traffic Engineer David Spear had presented his findings at the Oct. 20 public hearing.

Hua said he generally agreed with the methodology and conclusions of Spear’s report, but said they differed slightly on how traffic counts were calculated. In particular, he said Spear’s use of Jan. 2011 traffic counts “doesn’t represent the worse case scenario of the area” which sees additional shoreline traffic in summer.

“There will be limited traffic impact from these eight units,” said Hua concluding, “Even if you consider the seasonal factor, you have more than enough space capacity on the roadway to handle these eight trips.”

Hua said that sightlines are adequate even for people traveling at 40 miles per hour, which is 10 mph faster than the posted 30 mph speed limit.

The three parking spaces per unit, plus three visitors and one handicapped spaces are much higher than the 1.38 spaces per unit recommended by a traffic engineers’ manual. However, Hua did criticize the parking lot design, saying, “Parking is pretty tight on the site” and also commenting that is “an unusual arrangement for a site like this.”

Commenting on Hua’s report, Spear said, “We concur with Mr. Hua’s comments,” adding that even if summer traffic were 50 percent higher than winter, it would not affect the capacity of New Haven Avenue.

Project Engineer Ronald Wassmer said he made some minor changes to the site plans in response to concerns made by Board vice chair Jeanne Cervin. At the Oct. 20 public hearing, Cervin said she was concerned about weed killers that might used to control weeds growing through the pavers used in the visitor parking area.

Wassmer said standard asphalt paving would be used for the visitor’s spaces, and pavers would be eliminated from the patio areas, and shrubs would be added in the patio areas. He said John Gaucher, coastal planner for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), had reviewed plans for a stormwater galley designed to reduce water percolation.

Commenting on the parking lot, Wassmer presented a graphic of vehicles backing up in the parking lot, saying, “There is adequate room to maneuver.” Discussing snow removal and storage, Wassmer said there are “a couple of places to store snow” but larger storms will require a contractor to remove the snow to an off-site location.

At the Oct. 20 public hearing, 13 residents expressed concern about the project’s density and existing traffic conditions on New Haven Avenue. The 0.43-acre property is located in an R-12.5 zone, which is a single-family zone. No one commented at the Dec. 15 meeting.

State Law Concerns Board

As they have when discussing other 8-30g applications, board members again expressed their frustration at a law that limits their ability to regulate such projects, and allows these projects to be rejected only if they present a threat to the health, safety and welfare of the public.

Board vice chairman Edward D. Mead said the P&Z rejected a two-lot subdivision two and a half years ago because the proposal would have resulted in undersized parcels. Mead said the new project calls for eight units on the same size lot. Mead said the fact that “developers can put in more units than are allowed really bothers me.”

Following Mead’s remarks, Cervin made a proposal to reduce the project to seven units to decrease the density and create room for an enclosed play area for children. She also proposed requiring a shade tree by the play area. Cervin said the change would also “improve an unusual and dense parking situation” and would also compensate for a loss of permeable surfaces due to the changes proposed by Wassmer.

Board member Jim Quish said he appreciated Cervin’s attempt to “mitigate the density” but said he could not support a project with seven or eight units. Quish said that developers use the 8-30g law to force the board to accept projects it does not support.

Board member Anthony Sutton said state legislators have asked the board to reject 8-30g proposals. Sutton challenged those same legislators to “change the statute, change the law” to allow only housing that “protects the character of the neighborhood.”

The measure failed by a 3-5 vote with only Mead, Cervin, and board member Thomas Nichols supporting the modified proposal. The rejection leaves the applicant with a decision to make, whether it will appeal, or resubmit.