New Canaan on Tuesday received state approval for four years of relief from a law that allows developers to skirt local planning decisions by designating a certain percentage of units in new projects as “affordable.”
The Department of Housing issued the town a “Certificate of Affordable Housing Completion,” according to a notice published in the Connecticut Law Journal. It provides for a temporary moratorium from the requirements of the Affordable Housing Appeals Act—a state law often referred to by its statute number, “8-30g,” that long has loomed over New Canaan and other lower Fairfield County towns.
First Selectman Rob Mallozzi called the moratorium—earned by New Canaan because it has added a significant amount of affordable units to its overall housing stock, almost all at Mill Pond—a “home run on two fronts.”
“Not only do we get the pressure out from beneath us from outsiders who may not have a New Canaan-centric desire to build housing that’s not in keeping with the feel of the town, but we also got an increase in our affordable house stock, and can offer housing to more people than we could six or seven years ago,” Mallozzi said. “So it’s a win-win and we were able to do it on our own terms, and that is huge.”
New Canaan has added about 90 units of affordable housing since 2010, Mallozzi said.
The specter of 8-30g loomed over the Planning & Zoning Commission at the time New Canaan approved the redevelopment of Jelliff Mill into condos—an agreement that followed a lengthy, contentious legal battle and in the end required the builder to put money into a town fund that’s used for affordable housing development. That fund is composed mainly of fees collected from property owners at the time building permit applications are processed. P&Z again cited the affordable housing law and threat of a far larger development in approving Merritt Village.
Town officials have pursued the moratorium actively for more than three years. A portion of the 73 new units at Mill Pond are being rented to households earning at or below 80 percent of area’s median income, as required by state law.
Even with those units, New Canaan still is far below a state guideline whereby municipalities are exempted from 8-30g outright. Specifically, 10 percent of all housing stock must qualify as affordable to get out from under the state law. New Canaan will be at about 5 percent when the project is done.
The town has never received a formal 8-30g application. The four-year moratorium is triggered by a provision (a complicated provision) in the state law. Under the provision, types of housing are assigned a certain number of points based on variables such as how much they cost (in mortgage payments or rent) and whom they serve (seniors or families). If a town amasses enough “housing unit equivalent” points, it can earn a four-year exemption.
Mallozzi credited the New Canaan Housing Authority, currently led by Chairman Scott Hobbs, and P&Z, currently led by Chairman John Goodwin, with helping obtain the moratorium. The town late last year hired a retired town planner in the area, Betty Brosius, with experience in such applications to help put New Canaan’s together. Former Housing Authority Board Chairman Chuck Berman had originally conceived of a more dense redevelopment at Mill Pond in order to boost New Canaan’s affordable housing stock.
The moratorium relieves New Canaan for now “from the threat of affordable housing development in less desirable locations in town that may not be a good fit with the type or intensity in use of land that could be used,” Mallozzi said. “Under 8-30g, all local zoning rules are obfuscated and therefore you could have densities in the 1- and 2-acre zones that are literally 30, 40, 50 times greater than what is allowable under the current zoning laws. So this is a real reprieve for the town of New Canaan and it keeps us in control of development of affordable housing.”