Retaining wall delays affordable housing plan on Plains Road

A proposed retaining wall along a property line has delayed the application for a 12-unit apartment complex with an affordable component at 65 Plains Road. The application will be presented at the Planning and Zoning Board’s (P&Z) Nov. 21 meeting.

AAP Builders LLC of Fairfield, which lists Andrei Piatrevich as its member and manager, made a presentation for the project at the board’s Nov. 8 meeting. The 0.56-acre property has a 1,400 square foot house built in 1870 at the front, and a 1,920 square foot barn at the rear. AAP is applying for a special permit and site plan approval.

Attorney Thomas Lynch said prior to the board’s approval of an apartment complex on Plains Road, which took place in August, zoning regulations allowed for residential development in the Corridor Design District 1 (CDD-1) zone, provided 30% of the units were set aside for affordable housing. The board removed that affordable requirement in approving the 168-unit Metro Star project.

At the Aug. 15 meeting, then Board Vice Chairman Anthony Sutton asked City Planner David B. Sulkis if there had been any applications for such projects in the CDD-1 zone, and Sulkis said that since the zone was established in 2004, no 8-30g affordable housing projects had been proposed in the zone.

Commenting on that conversation, Lynch said, “I had to smile because there was one in the pipeline.” He said the only reason this project does not conform is because the regulations require a minimum lot size of one acre for 8-30g projects in the CDD-1 zone.

“This is an application that meets the spirit of your CDD zone,” said Lynch.

Lynch described the property as “basically abandoned” and the house as being “in a state of disrepair.” He said the house has no historic value, but due to its age, the city’s demolition ordinance applies. This means the city historian can delay demolition up to six months.

The property is located just north of the split at Plains Road by the Cumberland Farms gas station and a few hundred feet south of the shopping center with Aldi and other stores. To the north and rear is Carriage Green, an assisted living facility. To the south is an office building. Across the street there are four single-family homes that will be demolished when the Metro Star buildings are constructed.

Lynch said the area has “a lot of development” and said the proximity to I-95 and Route 1 “lends itself to traffic being dispersed in an orderly manner.”

Architect Greg Grew said the project would have four three-story buildings containing three one-bedroom townhouses each. The outside units would be 990 square feet while the center units would be 1,020 square feet. Each unit would have a garage, plus there would be 12 additional spaces in the parking lot.

Lynch said four units would be rented at affordable rates. Someone earning 60% of the area’s median income would pay a monthly rent of $910.63. A tenant earning 80% of the median income would pay $1,1150.40 in rent. He said market rate units would rent for $1,800 to $2,000 per month.

Lynch said the project has received approval from the Police Commission, the Sewer Commission, the fire marshal, and the city engineer.

Sulkis said the application calls for a retaining wall along the property line with Carriage Green, requiring AAP Builders to use the neighboring property for construction access to build the wall.

“The board cannot approve any plans that use other properties without permission of the neighbors,” said Sulkis.

In response, Lynch said, “They are going to give us permission,” adding that Carriage Green wants a written document with a bond. Lynch said the board could make the approval conditional based on permission from Carriage Green.

Joseph Codespoti, founder of Codespoti and Associates, said the project is not dependent on the retaining wall, and said the area could be regarded instead.

No Traffic Impact Predicted

Traffic Engineer Steve Ulman said the project would generate 80 vehicle trips per day, which would not impact traffic along Plains Road. He said the sightlines at the project driveway are adequate in both directions, based on the 80th percentile speeds of 34 mph eastbound and 37 mph westbound.

Ulman said a review of accident data showed only six accidents, none of which indicate a problem with the road design. After he did his traffic study in March, the Metro Star project was approved and commenting, “We should have included that data in our analyses.”

The city hired Traffic Enginer David Spear to review Ulman’s report. Spear said adding the traffic volume from the Metro Star project does not create a road capacity issue.

Spear expressed concern about the limited visibility for a motorist traveling from I-95 to Route 1, and having sufficient time to stop for someone turning left into the apartment driveway. Spear suggested restriping Plains Road to create a left-turn lane.

Spear also had a concern about the ability of a 30-foot long delivery truck to access the property, saying it would need the full width of the driveway to make a turn into the property, and would have difficulty turning around on the site.

“You do not want them parking on or backing up into Plains Road,” said Spear.

Ulman said he just received Spear’s comments that day, while did not give him time to do a formal study. He said based on predicted traffic volumes, there should be no more than one car turning into the site at a time. He said from 250 away, he could see the taillights of a car by the project driveway, but could not see them from 300 feet away.

“I believe there is sufficient stopping distance,” said Ulman. “I don’t believe there is a need to restripe the road.”

Ulman said normal deliveries would be made by a standard-sized UPS or Federal Express truck, which are shorter than 30 feet. He said projects do not have to be designed to accommodate a larger vehicle, such as a moving truck.

During the public hearing, the lone comment came from a man who said he had just bought a house at 248 Plains Road, and was concerned about how the project might affect his home value, and state and local taxes.

Unlike other 8-30g projects that have drawn strong protests from neighbors, this property is not located in a single-family residential zone, and received only one comment at the Nov. 8 meeting.