Tonight the Planning and Zoning Commission will meet to discuss a plan submitted by real estate developer Patrick Downend that proposes to erect a multi-unit apartment building on the one-acre lot at44 Westport Rd., at the intersection with Dudley Rd..  They will discuss it at their regular meeting, which will also include a public hearing on the proposal; however, because public attendance is expected to be high, the commission has moved their meeting location to the Wilton Library, at 137 Old Ridgefield Rd..

According to the agenda posted on the Town of Wilton website, the meeting is scheduled to begin at 7:15 p.m.

Public attendance is expected to be high because the debate is intensifying over the proposed development. Some neighbors and other town residents are upset with the proposal and are mobilizing to try and prevent the project from moving forward; the developer is hoping the town will hear his reasons for bringing the project to that location before making a judgement.

According to the proposal Downend recently submitted to the town, and which he discussed with GOOD Morning Wilton in an interview last week, he hopes to take down the historic single-family home that currently sits at 44 Westport Rd. and build a 20-unit apartment complex with 41 parking spaces on the one-acre lot. The property is abutted by single-family homes in a mostly residential neighborhood zoned for single-family homes on one-acre parcels. Just south on Westport Rd., on the other side across the Dudley Rd. intersection, sits the large commercial office building at 10 and 20 Westport Rd.

The development is being planned under the umbrella of affordable housing laws. The state regulation at the heart of the dispute is the State’s “Affordable Land Use Appeals Act,” known as CGA 8-30g, something that was drafted about 20 years ago. Through the statute, the Connecticut General Assembly mandates that all CT towns should have at least 10-percent of its housing stock qualify as affordable housing. Both public and private development of affordable housing falls under the legislation.

CGA 8-30g defines affordable housing as housing that is available to eligible persons or families with income that is 80-percent of the state median income; in Fairfield County, that median income is $82,614, according to the most recent U.S. census figures.

Of the 20 units planned for the location, Downend says six of them will be classified as ‘affordable.’

What the debate is gradually centering on is that affordable housing:  opponents to the plan charge that the developer is using the affordable housing state laws to circumvent local jurisdiction, proposing a property that not only doesn’t belong in the neighborhood where it’s proposed–and setting a dangerous precedent–but that also presents a significant safety risk with added traffic and congestion, and that it doesn’t provide adequate green space or safe access to town for pedestrians; the developer has argued that there is a significant need for affordable housing in Wilton, that his plan offers a high-quality, attractive option to meet that need, and that his project is being mischaracterized.

Many of the location’s neighbors have banded together in an ad-hoc group to try and prevent the development from moving forward, starting a Facebook page and calling themselves Save 44 Westport.  They have said they are hopeful other Wilton residents show up at the P&Z hearing tonight to express their opinions or write letters to the commission.

Read GOOD Morning Wilton‘s interviews with both the developer and neighbors opposed to the plan, here.

Affordable Housing and Wilton

While Wilton has had affordable “set-aside” requirements within the town’s four multi-family residential zones (most of which are located in and around Wilton Center) since the late 1980s, the state legislation impacting this proposal supersedes any town zoning laws.

Town planner Robert Nerney explained the state law assumes that the need for affordable housing “trumps” any other need a town might consider when they’re looking at zoning requirements and building proposals, including population density, neighborhood character and the like.

“When a developer or land owner wants to change the zoning to a different classification, it’s a fairly rigorous process. We have the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development, the community’s long-range plan that has a land-use element. The [Planning and Zoning] board has great discretion when it comes to changing zoning districts. But 8-30g is different:  normally the burden rests with the applicant [to prove why a zone should change], but under affordable housing, that burden shifts to the town. So it’s the town that has to substantiate its decision [to block such housing] and prove it,” he said.

According to Nerney, there are currently 236 affordable housing units in Wilton, which constitutes 3.64-percent of available housing in the town. Those numbers include the most recent locations built in town, particularly Wilton Commons on Station Rd., and Avalon at 116 Danbury Rd., which together increased the amount by approximately 1-percent.