Traffic study requested for New Haven Avenue affordable housing application
Flexing its new muscles, the Planning and Zoning Board (P&Z) has requested an applicant-funded traffic study for a proposed eight unit affordable housing development at 1613 New Haven Avenue, filed under the 8-30g statute.
The board conducted a public hearing at its Oct. 20 meeting for the plan presented on behalf of Charles Gagliardi of West Haven, who purchased the 0.43-acre property for $201,000 in June 2012 under the name Seaview Cove LLC, which lists him as the sole member. The vacant property is located in an R-12.5 zone, which is a single-family zone, between Anderson Avenue and the Oyster River.
The Board of Aldermen recently passed an ordinance that authorizes the P&Z to hire outside experts and have the applicant pay the cost. The aldermen passed this ordinance in response to court cases where Justice Marshall K. Berger of the Superior Court’s Land Use Litigation Docket has criticized testimony against 8-30g projects as not coming from an expert witness.
After the applicant’s presentation and the public comment period, the board directed City Planner David B. Sulkis to take the steps necessary to hire a traffic engineer at Gagliardi’s expense. Sulkis said the board would have 35 days to keep open the public hearing, which must close by Nov. 24, necessitating quick work for the traffic study.
Gagliardi’s attorney, Thomas Lynch, protested the idea, saying, “On this application, it’s not appropriate, ”due to its small size.” Lynch said the project would have minimal traffic impact, and the study would add to the project’s total cost.
Board chairman Benjamin Gettinger suggested having the board hire a traffic engineer to conduct a traffic study on all 8-30g applications to be fair to all applicants, so the board is not making a decision based on the number of units.
Agreeing with Gettinger, board member Jim Quish said, “At this point, it’s the only tool we have to get independent analyses.” Quish said such a review should be done while city agencies are reviewing applications, so the board can review the traffic studies from both the city and the applicant at the same time.
City Agencies Approve Plans
In making the presentation on behalf of Gagliardi, Lynch said the approval of plans by city agencies, including the police and fire departments, shows that the proposal would have no negative impact to public health and safety, nor would it have a negative impact on traffic.
Lynch said there are assorted uses on New Haven Avenue, including Colonial Manor condominiums, a commercial district at Pond Point Avenue and at Merwin Avenue, the recently approved 8-30g project at 1556 New Haven Avenue, and single-family homes.
The project will have two-bedroom townhouses located in three buildings: two with three units each, and one with two units, said Lynch.
The three units in building one would be designated for rent at affordable rates. Two units will be set aside for people making 80% of the area’s median income and will rent for $1,398 per month, while one unit will be rented to someone earning 60% of the area’s median income with a monthly rent of $1,066.
“Clearly this isn’t low income housing,” said Lynch.
Lynch said Gagliardi attempted to subdivide the 18,600 square foot property into two lots for single-family homes in July 2013, a plan the board rejected because the R-12.5 zone requires a minimum lot area of 12,500 square feet. Lynch said there are both R-7.5 and R-5 zones nearby, which require 7,500 square feet and 5,000 square foot lots respectively.
According to the minutes of the July 2, 2013 public hearing, Sulkis called the subdivision plan spot zoning. In response, Lynch stated that spot zoning would be if he came in with a client who wants to build a multi-family development on this property.
At the Oct. 20, 2015 hearing, Lynch said “my argument at the time” was that the property was an anomaly because the properties across the street are much smaller. Following rejection by the board, Lynch said Gagliardi brought forth an application under the 8-30g law, which is designed to encourage the development of affordable housing.
The original plan included nine units, which were reworked to address Police Commission concerns. The changes added three visitor parking spaces, one of which would be designed for handicap accessibility. The additional space also improved the turning radius for the fire department, and provides room for a larger rear setback, and additional landscaping.
“The Police Commission voted to approve these plans as presented,” said Lynch, noting that the sightlines along New Haven Avenue extend straight for one quarter to one half mile in each direction. He further said that All-American Waste, the refuse company, would use a pickup truck, rather than a full-sized dump truck to collect trash.
The Fire Department approved the plans, and recommended that the buildings have sprinklers, which Lynch said were added to the plans.
He said the Sewer Commission had concerns about the density, but he said recent court cases have shown that since Milford’s sanitary sewer system has the capacity to handle the project, there are no grounds to reject the plan. He said improvements to the Rock Street pumping station will be complete within the next year and approval could be made contingent, based on those upgrades.
Architect John Wicko said the townhouses will have three levels with a two-car garage on the first level, and will be 32 feet in height when measured from grade to the midpoint of the roof. He said the two-bedroom units would be 1,139 square feet with 1.5 baths. Wicko said foundation landscaping could be used, including shrubs and small trees.
Project Engineer Ronald Wassmer said each unit would have parking in front of the garages, in addition to the three visitor spaces. Wassmer said all storm water would be directed into an onsite stormwater detention system. He said some mature trees would be removed, while others would remain.
Traffic Engineer David Spear said New Haven Avenue has 466 vehicles per hour moving past the property in the morning peak hour and 635 vehicles per hour in the afternoon peak hour. Spear said the project would generate seven trips per morning peak hour and eight trips per afternoon peak hour. He said sight distances are more than 500 feet in each direction, which exceeds the 335 feet required for the 30 mph speed limit and the 445 feet required for people driving at 40 mph.
“This is a very good location from a traffic standpoint,” said Spear.
Board member Jeanne Cervin expressed concern about weed killers that might be used to control weeds growing through the pavers used in the visitor parking area.
In response to questions from board member Thomas Nichol about snow removal, Lynch said two areas near the parking lot could be used for snow storage.
Traffic and Density Concerns
While the 2013 subdivision elicited no public comment, the eight-unit townhouse plan drew opposition from 13 residents, who expressed concern about the project’s density and existing traffic conditions on New Haven Avenue.
Wendy Fitzgerald of 12 Anderson Avenue said she lives in the large house at the corner of New Haven and Anderson avenues. Fitzgerald said the property at 1613 New Haven Avenue used to be part of her property, and the former house on that property was the carriage house to her house.
Fitzgerald disagreed with the traffic report, saying she has difficulty getting out of her driveway. She further said, “My pool is going to be blocked by this property.”
William Stark of 17 Chaucer Court said the project would have a negative impact on the neighborhood and diminish the sense of privacy. He suggested Milford provide property tax rebates to abutting homeowners. Stark said he was opposed to the plan, seeing it as a way to circumvent the P&Z regulations, particularly with regard to setbacks.
“Woodmont is mostly single-family homes with reasonable setbacks,” said Stark.
Chris Pooler of 2 Grove Street said the project was “way too dense for the area” and said developers are using the law to circumvent zoning rules. Pooler expressed concern that fluids from cars parked on the pavers in the visitors’ spots would drain into Long Island Sound.
Tina Andranovich of 1564 New Haven Avenue had previously protested the 8-30g project at 1556 New Haven Avenue. Andranovich said that property has already been posted for sale, even though no development has taken place. Referring to Gagliardi, Andranovich said, “He will flip that property and sell it to someone else.”
Steven Hayden of 1592 New Haven Avenue said he did not see any traffic counters used for the traffic study reported by Spear. Hayden said New Haven Avenue is a “highly congested main thoroughfare” with traffic that worsens in the summer due to “hundreds of motorcycles.”
Hayden said he thinks that if someone built this project next to Gagliardi’s house, that he would be opposed to it.
“Common sense should show that this type of project just does not fit in this neighborhood,” said Hayden.
Patricia Jaser of 18 Rosemary Court said her backyard abuts the property for this project. Jaser said traffic is so busy that she cannot make a left turn onto New Haven Avenue, but instead turns right and uses the rotary to reverse direction and head west.
Commenting on the project’s potential effect on property values, Jaser said, “To have that kind of building certainly does not make your property worth more, it makes it worth a lot less.”