State commissioner calls on Mayor Blake to denounce P&Z vote

State Housing Commissioner Evonne Klein has asked Mayor Ben Blake to denounce the Planning and Zoning Board’s recent vote that allows an upscale apartment building to be constructed without affordable units. In a letter to the mayor dated Aug. 25, Klein also strongly criticizes the city for its actions regarding affordable housing.

The Planning and Zoning Board voted 6-3 Aug. 15 to approve changes to the city’s zoning regulations that would allow a 168-unit apartment complex to be built on Plains Road near the Boston Post Road without having 30% of its units designated as affordable, as defined under the state’s 8-30g affordable housing law.

In her letter, Klein writes, “While I recognize that this is an independently elected board, I am asking you, as Mayor of Milford, to denounce this vote, because you have affirmed your support for the development of affordable housing in the past, and I believe that same commitment remains true today.”

She also said the P&Z vote “may be interpreted as regressive and exclusionary.”

Klein points out in her letter that Milford was taken to court 10 times in the last 20 years by developers after their affordable housing developments were denied by the P&Z.

“Milford has a demonstrated need for affordable housing, but from 2013 through 2016 Milford’s deed-restricted housing stock declined,” Klein wrote. “It was 6.18% in 2013 and by 2016 only 5.25% of its housing stock was deed-restricted as affordable. Milford has lost affordable units due to the expiration of these deed-restricted units without a plan for replacement.”

Blake did not denounce the vote, but rather said he believes the board voted as it saw fit to approve a project that will add vibrancy to that area of the Boston Post Road. The apartments are just one piece of the development plan, Blake said, noting that it is largely commercial, and he said the mix will be much better than 1,100 housing units that could have been proposed for the site.

“It is a good project,” Blake said.

The mayor also said he looks forward to working with Klein to create a better state housing law and to improve the availability of affordable housing in Milford for working families and senior citizens.

When the P&Z voted Aug. 15, several members spoke against changing the regulation, including board member and chairman of the board’s Regulations Subcommittee, John Grant, who said anyone who voted in favor of the change “would do the city a great disservice” due to 8-30g projects being built in single-family neighborhoods. Grant said three 8-30g projects “are coming down the pike.”

He and others have argued that the city needs to take a more proactive role in the placement of affordable housing so that the housing is constructed in places deemed appropriate. Milford residents have been complaining about multi-unit developments being placed in single-family neighborhoods, and some officials have argued that if Milford encourages construction of affordable housing in areas it would like to see this type of development and reaches the state goal of affordable housing to achieve a moratorium, the city will not be subject to developers who can override local zoning to place these units in single-family neighborhoods.

On the other hand, speaking in favor of the regulation change, board member Carl S. Moore said a developer should be allowed to build housing other than an 8-30g project, which he described as “segregation, no matter how intentional or unintentional.”

That P&Z vote followed a revision to the state affordable housing law that local legislators pushed for, but that opponents said would weaken the affordable housing law in the state. In July, the Senate and House voted to override Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s veto of HB 6880, a reform to the 8-30g affordable housing statute that makes it a little easier for cities like Milford to reach moratorium level on affordable housing.

The bill, for example, makes Ryder Woods, a mobile home community, count toward Milford’s application for an affordable housing moratorium. It also makes affordable housing moratoriums more achievable for midsize cities, lowering the threshold to qualify for a moratorium from 2% to 1.5%. And, midsize cities like Milford will be able to get a five-year moratorium for their second moratorium instead of the current four years, presumably giving Milford and similar communities the time to ensure their housing stock is kept at target levels to qualify for future moratoriums.

State Rep. Kim Rose has spoken out about the need to build affordable housing in Milford where it is appropriate, and she had urged the P&Z not to allow the apartments to be built without an affordable component.

In a letter to the board in May, prior to the vote, Rose wrote, “...this city’s job is to continue to build affordable housing during a moratorium. If you allow this application to move forward without adding affordable housing components it will be a disservice to the residents of Milford.

“It is your job to encourage the development of affordable housing units so that we can continue to reach our minimum requirement as set forth in SS8-30g,” Rose wrote.
Why the zone change?
Earlier in the P&Z process, 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.”

Also, during the recent P&Z meeting when the board voted to approve the change to the zoning regulations, City Planner David Sulkis, responding to a question from a board member, said the Corridor Design Development Districts were established on Jan. 1, 2004, and that, “No residential 8-30g projects have been built in any zone where we would like them to be built.” He said the zone change would not preclude an 8-30g project from being built because the state law allows such projects in any zones, except industrial ones.

Board Vice Chairman Anthony Sutton said while the city has had the opportunity for an 8-30g project for 13 years, “It hasn’t had the effect it was intended to have. It appears to be discouraging development.”

Sutton also said the Metro Star project as planned would add vibrancy to the area.