Though New Canaan this summer qualified for four years of relief from a state law that allows developers to skirt local planning decisions by designating a certain percentage of units in new projects as “affordable”—and could be positioned to achieve a second four-year “moratorium” under that law—it’s unclear now whether or how the town will be able to continue doing so.
The major difficulty, according to the chairman of the New Canaan Housing Authority, is the high cost and scarcity of land in town that could take a fair-sized (say, 20-unit) affordable development.
“Land of any sort of sizeable acreage that is on sewer and water, is certainly subject to an [affordable housing] ‘cramdown’ from a developer, and it’s also therefore valuable to them,” Scott Hobbs told members of the Planning & Zoning Commission during their regular meeting, held Aug. 29 at Town Hall.
“And knowing that someday we will run out of moratorium time, so the odds that we could buy a piece of property like that, is going to be hard. It’s going to be hard to try to acquire the land to do something like that.”
The comments came during an update from Hobbs on the redevelopment of affordable units at Mill Pond—a widely hailed project that ultimately will see 112 units, the second phase of which is to wrap up in March, he said.
Though it’s too early to say just how it would go, a denser redevelopment of the 5.2-acre, 60-unit Canaan Parish housing complex at Lakeview Avenue and Route 123 could help New Canaan show enough new affordable units to the state to earn a second four-year moratorium under the Affordable Housing Appeals Act.
Yet barring a substantial change to the state law often referred to by its statute number, ‘8-30g,’ New Canaan likely would be subject to it.
Supposing Canaan Parish were redeveloped from 60 to about 100 units, New Canaan would still be 20-odd shy of achieving a third moratorium, Hobbs said.
Though New Canaan has never received an affordable housing application, the specter of such has loomed over P&Z in the recent past and affected its decisions.
For example, the threat of such a project emerged 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 earlier this year.
During the meeting, the newest member of P&Z, Krista Nielson, asked Hobbs how the Housing Authority partners with private developers to create affordable housing.
Hobbs said the agency hasn’t yet had an opportunity.
“The reality is there is not a lot of land to do big developments in a lot of small towns,” Hobbs said. “That is one of problems I have run into with the 8-30g rules, is it ignores the fact that in places like New Canaan, and to a little lesser extent Darien and other places, there are no big apartment zones with empty space where you can just come in and can put in something that does not dramatically affect the neighborhood.”
He added that “if a private developer were to come to us, we would be absoultely happy to talk to them,” though the Housing Authority would not want to be the conduit for a 350-unit “cramdown” under the state law.