Wheelers Farms housing expected to come up at P&Z Tuesday night

A proposed 180-unit apartment complex on Wheelers Farms Road returns to the Planning and Zoning Board in executive session on Tuesday, Nov. 17,  at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall.

The city and applicant, Milford Developers LLC of Chatham, N.J. met with a Superior Court judge on Nov. 9, and the result is the board discussing a possible settlement in executive session on Nov. 17.

On Aug. 14, Milford Developers LLC of Chatham, N.J. appealed the Planning and Zoning Board’s Aug. 4 denial for its project, which was filed under the state’s affordable housing law, 8-30g. The law overrides local zoning regulations, and places the burden of proof on the city as to why the project was denied.

Both Timothy Hollister, attorney for Milford Developers, and Matthew Woods, trial counsel for the city, declined to comment on the Nov. 9 proceedings.

Using past cases as a model for what might happen, the board has discussed 8-30g settlements in executive session for one or more meetings, and then returned to the regular meeting to vote on what was discussed.

At the Oct. 20 P&Z meeting, the board rejected a court-ordered settlement for an 8-30g affordable housing application at 86 Point Point Ave. The board had previously met in executive session to discuss a settlement ordered by Justice Marshall K. Berger, presiding judge of the Superior Court’s Land Use Litigation Docket. Berger has issued 22 decisions on 8-30g applications and all have been in favor of the developer.

To successfully deny a project, a board has to prove that threats to public health and safety from the project outweigh the need for affordable housing.

The project has been bitterly opposed by residents of Wheelers Farms and East Rutland roads, who attended the many public hearings for the project, and raised concerns about increased traffic, water run-off, and potential contaminants based on past use of the property as an auto salvage facility.

The P&Z board’s membership will shift when the board meets on Jan. 5, 2016. Current chairman Benjamin Gettinger (D-4) and vice chair Jeanne Cervin (D-2) chose not to run for another term. Elected in their place were Scott F. Marlow (R-2) and Richard Lutz (D-2).

Incumbents Thomas Panzella (R-1), Edward D. Mead (R-3), and John Grant (R-5) were re-elected. This change shifts the board from a 6-4 Democratic majority to a 5-5 Democratic-Republican split.

In past years when the board has had a 5-5 split, it had difficulties with the election of a chairman, since members were reluctant to break ranks and vote for a member of the opposing party.

The board ultimately adopted rules to govern such situations. If members are unable to break a tie, the chairman for the first year would be a member of the same party as the mayor, and the chairman for the second year would be from the opposing party.