Months of tension came to a head during Monday’s (June 12) meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission as a politically-tinged shouting match broke out between several Commissioners. Chair Rick Tomasetti, Vice Chair Melissa-Jean Rotini, and Secretary Eric Fanwick were at the center of the dispute, which concerned the proposal for a residential complex known as Wilton Lofts at 12 Godfrey Place and Connecticut’s 8-30g legislation.
The project at 12 Godfrey Place was initially presented in a pre-application hearing in March 2022 as a four-story 30-unit building with three of the units earmarked for affordable housing. This iteration of the design, which formally went before P&Z in November 2022 and received positive design feedback, would have followed the standard public review process and been subject to Commission approval.
After weeks of delays driven by the Commission’s desire to complete its months-overdue master plan for the area, and explicit threats by the applicant team that they were not willing to wait, the application was withdrawn and resubmitted as an 8-30g project. Section 8-30g of Connecticut’s affordable housing law effectively allows developers to sidestep local zoning in towns like Wilton where less than 10% of residential units are considered affordable.
Now topping out at five stories with 40 units, the project will offer 12 units of affordable housing, six of which will be set aside for residents earning less than 60% of Connecticut’s state median income and another six for those earning below 80%.
Upon seeing the project update and the changes to the building, Architectural Review Board Chair Rob Sanders said, “Let this be a lesson to us.”
A Few Final Tweaks to a Long-Evolving Project
Monday night’s hearing began with attorney Liz Suchy outlining the latest changes to the proposal made in response to the prior hearing with P&Z. The updated proposal reduces the number of units from 42 to 40, a change made possible by turning four 1-bedroom units into two 2-bedroom units. Parking for the proposed building will remain at 40 spaces, with only one vehicle per household and no allotment for visitors.
Rotini followed up on earlier questions about the handling of e-bikes on the site, in light of the growing fire risk associated with large lithium-ion batteries. Despite noting in its summary to P&Z that “E-bike storage will not be permitted to be within the interior spaces of the building,” the applicant team confirmed that e-bikes will be stored and potentially offered charging stations within the garage that lies directly beneath the building’s residential spaces. Rotini questioned whether the fire marshal had been made aware of this prior to issuing an approval of the project.
During the public comment period, local resident and A Better Chance of Wilton (ABC) House host family member Bill Lalor reiterated requests from the institution that construction at 12 Godfrey Place be restricted during the times of year and hours of the day when their resident students are most likely to be home.
Resident Farah Masani spoke as well, saying, “I am a huge proponent of downtown living. I want neighbors; I want to see people walk in my neighborhood. But I just don’t get that vibe from this proposal.” Citing concerns about parking and safety with e-bikes and lithium-ion batteries on-site, she concluded, “I hope you will come up with solutions, not just build a monstrosity under 8-30g.”
Sparks Fly as Deliberations Begin
From there, the discussion quickly devolved as the Commission began its deliberation period.
“We all read the Facebook comments,” said Tomasetti. “People feel like ‘you should have just approved [the original application], we would have been better served by that.’ But this isn’t a function of P&Z saying ‘no’ to things. This is a function of an applicant being very heavy-handed with an application, saying ‘this is what we’re going to do, take it or leave it and we’re going to do an 8-30g.’”
“Whoever doesn’t like this, this is what these clowns in Hartford throw at us when they think one size fits all from town to town,” said Commissioner Christopher Pagliaro.
Echoing Pagliaro’s sentiment with an explicit reference to “recently elected officials who felt that this law did not need to be repealed,” Rotini called 8-30g “an unfortunate result of an experiment that has run its course.”
Regarding 8-30g itself, Tomasetti added, “It’s been tens of years and hasn’t changed a damn thing. And it’s really frustrating to sit here as a Commissioner and listen to all of this stuff because frankly, our legislators haven’t done what should have been done for years in trying to make Connecticut more affordable by deregulating other things.”
At that point, Fanwick interjected saying, “Mr. Chairman, I think you’re going on and on, I think we should get back to the issue at hand.”
Tomasetti shot back, “I will not be silenced on this issue. I’m not in favor of it and I’m allowed to vent. Our community is electing legislators who are for this stuff. Stop electing these people!”
The trio then engaged in a charged back and forth about whether State Sen. Ceci Maher and State Assembly Member Keith Denning, both Democrats representing Wilton, “support” 8-30g.
After a few minutes, Town Planner Michael Wrinn managed to halt the debate and Commissioner Florence Johnson brought the group back to the substance of the application with a discussion about what rights nearby property owners have to restrict residents and guests from using their parking spaces.
Commissioner Ken Hoffman then asked for clarification on the rules for voting on the project, confirming that the Commission may freely vote against an application regardless of its 8-30g status, but that the applicant can then challenge that decision through litigation.
Closing out the discussion, Wrinn explained that the rejection of an 8-30g proposal must be grounded in an argument that the project poses a threat to the environment or to health and safety that is significant enough to outweigh the value of affordable housing. Several Commissioners commented that the concerns about e-bike storage could be addressed as a condition of the approval and would not stand up as grounds for rejection.
The Commission will reconvene for its next meeting on Monday, June 29, where they are expected to vote on the application.