[Note: This article has been updated with the town’s response, below.]
New Canaan’s application for four years of relief from a widely discussed affordable housing law has been denied, documents show.
In a letter to First Selectman Kevin Moynihan dated Oct. 18, Connecticut Department of Housing Commissioner Seila Mosquera-Bruno said that the agency’s staff “has reviewed the application and comments received and determined that the Town of New Canaan’s application does not meet the requirements for the issuance of a Certificate of Affordable Housing Project Completion as submitted.”
Moynihan could not immediately be reached for comment.
The town’s failure to secure the Certificate—or four-year “moratorium” from the widely discussed state law known by its statute number, 8-30g—means that New Canaan remains vulnerable to additional applications for affordable housing projects. Under the law, in towns where less than 10% of all housing stock qualifies as affordable (New Canaan is at 2.94%), developers who propose projects where a certain number of units are set aside to rent at affordable rates may appeal to the state after a local Planning & Zoning Commission denies their applications.
New Canaan since its last moratorium lapsed in July 2021 has received three such applications, at Weed and Elm Streets (120 units), Main Street (20 units) and Hill Street (93 units). P&Z is poised to deny the application at Weed and Elm, and hearings are underway for Main Street, with Hill Street expected to follow shortly.
Asked for his thoughts on New Canaan’s failure to secure the moratorium, the developer of the affordable housing projects now before P&Z, Arnold Karp, said in an email, “As the administration has now seen, spending town money to apply for a moratorium until Canaan Parish is completed does not get a state approval. This again proves that it is long past time that the First Selectman create a committee that helps to develop a short- and long-term plan for diverse housing in our community. Additionally, a strategy might be to work with developers rather than use town resources to fight against needed housing for existing New Canaan residents.”
The town has spent approximately $27,000 in legal fees alone on the moratorium application so far this calendar year, according to legal bills from the Town Attorney Ira Bloom’s firm of Berchem Moses PC.
It isn’t clear when officials expect a Certificate of Occupancy to be issued for the second phase of redevelopment at Canaan Parish, a milestone that will enable New Canaan to apply in earnest for another moratorium.
Attorneys who submitted comments to the state objecting to New Canaan’s application for the moratorium included Tim Hollister, who is representing Karp in the application at Weed and Elm, as well as a prominent Connecticut attorney specializing in housing law, Raphael L. Podolsky of New Britain-based Connecticut Legal Services.
In a lengthy document explaining why New Canaan fell short of the required “housing unit equivalent” points required for the moratorium, the state Department of Housing essentially echoed what the objections pointed out, that the town hadn’t correctly calculated its points.
The town had qualified for a four-year moratorium in 2017, with the denser redevelopment of New Canaan Housing Authority-owned apartments Millport Avenue, and hoped to qualify for another through the redevelopment of the Canaan Parish complex at Lakeview Avenue and Route 123, which was partially completed last October. Yet financing difficulties with the project emerged in April 2019, nearly a full year prior to the onset of COVID-19 here, and then the pandemic itself caused further delays, officials have said.
After initially balking, Moynihan said in late July that the town had filed its application for a moratorium, kickstarting a 90-day statutory review period. Moynihan said earlier this month that the town had been “led to believe” by state officials that its application for the moratorium would be approved. Some in town have questioned why, given that New Canaan hasn’t added affordable housing since October 2021, the town was not prepared to file for its moratorium at that time, potentially heading off the three 8-30g applications that have come in.
It’s a midterm election year, with many state offices up for election.
In the Oct. 18 letter to Moynihan, Mosquera-Bruno said, “I would like to take this opportunity to thank you and the Town of New Canaan for continuing to address the affordable housing needs in your community.”
Response from First Selectman Kevin Moynihan (issued at 6:54 p.m. on Oct. 19)
“On Tuesday, October 18th, the CT Department of Housing (DOT) notified the Town that our 8-30g moratorium application had been denied.
“All of us—our Town Attorneys, Town Lanner Lynn Brooks Avni, New Canaan Housing Authority Chairman Scott Hobbs—were shocked by DOT’s rationale for this denial of our application. Without getting into the arcane details of the 8-30g statute and DOH’s rules, it makes no sense from the standpoint of public policy.
“In short, the issue is that DOH disallowed 31 units at Millport Apartments that were not part of the Town’s first moratorium received in 2017, but had been completed before that first moratorium actually went into effect. Based upon DOH’s interpretation of the 8-30g statute, 31 units of occupied affordable housing constructed by our New Canaan Housing Authority can never be used in any moratorium application.
“Our Town Attorneys believe that DOH’s interpretation is not only legally questionable, but more importantly, expresses a bizarre public policy that will discourage affordable housing development.
“We are taking time to carefully consider the matter and will develop a response to DOT that will best serve and protect the interests of our Town.”