[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.”
Mike – I think residents should be reminded that Mr. Hollister from all the records I can see remains the lawyer for the New Canaan Housing Authority, who is managing the relevant delayed project at Canaan Parish (and completed Millport). Residents also need to be reminded that the developer of the three mentioned 8-30g projects remains on (or was until very recently) on the board of New Canaan Neighbors Inc. (a non-profit which has a long term land lease from the Town of New Canaan) which is in joint venture with the New Canaan Housing Authority on Canaan Parish (again the delayed project causing the moratorium issues). It may or may not make sense for a new affordable housing committee to be formed, but first the town needs to transparently define in easy to read language all the relationships, entities and responsibilities engaged in this area.
Just the fact that we want to apply for moratoriums whenever possible indicates that we don’t care about affordable housing. While on the face of it, we are using density as the reason, we should really look in the mirror and examine the not so obvious reason of systemic racism. I hope Karp gets his way with the state.
Systemic racism? Doesn’t it have more to do with the dreaded prospect of a five-story building, in a historic area, surrounded by expensive homes, each on an acre or more?
Are we going to put a mustache on every Mona Lisa and call that progress?
Let’s presume people agree that laws should apply to everybody equally. 8-30g, as it has become, has allowed a small number of well connected private developers and their advisors to try to circumvent zoning laws (8-30g is also used by municipalities such as New Canaan). A moratorium brings us all back to equal before the law. If people would like an exceptionally small number of people (i.e. much less than 1%) to not be subject to the same zoning laws the rest of us have to deal with, you should not want a moratorium and should support 8-30g. If you want equity before the law I.e. an individual property owner looking to live in a home being treated the same as a developer of very large buildings you should want a moratorium and repeal of 8-30g. For folks who think because you live in north New Canaan or Silvermine or some other place in town that does not yet have a project, that this is not an issue for you – it is only a matter of time.
I don’t care what color my neighbors are. I do care how close together our houses are. I chose New Canaan because I wanted a small-town feel, not dense apartment buildings changing the skyline, hiding the trees, and packing people close together. I deliver food all the time to affordable housing in Stamford, and while some of it is large buildings, much of it is townhouses
Smaller issue but I don’t get the logic of our applying for the moratorium when we did. It was late and we knew we didn’t have the numbers we needed until Canaan Parish was completed. Seems like a further waste of money. Agree with Karp here in that we should take a proactive approach to development. We are continually on our back heels in a reactive position.
While the initial 8-30g application was for Weed St, I understand that this is a corner lot and it could easily be changed to an Elm St address which is a higher density neighborhood. Screen the Weed St side with fast growing evergreens like Thuja Arborvitae and everybody wins, especially those who could benefit from affordable housing.
I should also add that most of the protests against 8-30g just say ‘No’ but fail to offer a solution to the affordable housing requirement. One of the core management tenets is ‘bring solutions, not problems’. The 10% goal is impossible if we keep saying no every time a potential solution pops up.
I encourage you to read the New Canaaan Affordable Housing plan https://westcog.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/Final-New-Canaan-Affordable-Housing-Annex_2022.pdf. That plan is actually leading to a yes rather than no for projects. As you know we as a town lost a very good opportunity when a large development was put up recently that had no affordable units – yet was constructed in the area zoned and appropriate for such units. Residents may also not be aware that in 2021 the Town of New Canaan added an ‘inclusionary zoning area’ (page 8 of the document). You can overlay some town property as well over this zone and residents can see potential opportunities for the town to progress to the next affordable housing project (i.e. after Canaan Parish). As for your comment on changing the address on the 751 Weed Street project – you will see that all abutting property to that address is the zoned the same as 751 Weed i.e. 1-acre single family so changing the address name does nothing – unless you propose rezoning that entire area. Lastly I encourage you to talk with representatives representing (or seeking to represent) New Canaan in Hartford and ask them will their ever be a reward for New Canaan for the good work it is actually doing on affordable housing (see Canaan Parish and Millport)? Will we ever be able to satisfy the 8-30g law as interpreted by State Government or will goal posts move as time passes? Should New Canaan (and the other 130 towns in the State who do not meet the 10% threshold) just rezone the entire town (or State) similar to what Minneapolis did and eliminate single family zoning, irrespective of the consequences to our neighbors and community? There is a certain fairness to what Minneapolis has done – but New Canaan (and the State) will look very different in 10 years – perhaps that is actually the point of 8-30g advocates. Whatever is decided let’s come up with a transparent plan – stick to it – and make sure it works for everybody in a fair and equal way not just a select few who happen to have the time and resources to work the system.
The Vue development had suggested an affordable component during the approval process, and the town said “no” (in the public record). That there was no affordable component moved NC a grand total of 3 affordable units further away from the 10% affordability goal.
New developments in town with a 30% affordable component would move NC closer to the 10% affordability goal ten times faster than the additional living units generated would be adding to the NC housing units total.
I can see a record of a lot of things but I can not see any record of the town telling the developers of The Vue to not put any affordable units on that property – please provide a link to that requirement from the town.
You’ll find it in one of the videos of the hearings
Let’s be clear, New Canaanites are PRO affordable housing. We take issue with developments that look like Disney Cruise ships parked in residential neighborhoods.
That’s all. Design appropriately sized buildings that don’t impede the health and safety of our community and we will be waving flags with your name on it.
What you just described is a unicorn. To build small multi-family housing developments or single-family dwellings is to make them not affordable, by definition. What’s being said is, in effect, that you don’t want affordable housing here. And by here, I mean in NC. And wanting to export a perceived problem to nearby communities, as some have recently suggested, is to miss the very purpose of CT housing laws. Some among us might consider why they feel it’s more important to allow developments they define as pretty than to allow the construction of much needed affordable housing for those already living and working here in NC (which includes seniors on a fixed income, workers in town, among others, at zero cost to NC taxpayers yet adding to the town’s tax base).
Mr Karp and Mr Stone – your assertions that the town “rejected” affordable housing at the Vue are quite disingenuous and misleading. The truth is Karp and team threatened to use the affordable housing 8-30 exemption as means to force the town to accept more units at the Vue than most town residents and neighbors were comfortable with. As a result, the town ended up with an out of scale luxury apartment complex looming over downtown. You could have made some of these units affordable – you did not need town “permission” to do so. You chose not to include affordable units but rather used the threat of 8-30 to maximize the size of the Vue and maximize your profit. This was a loose-loose situation for our town.
This following is quoted directly from the November 16, 2019 issue of Newcanaanite:
“Karp indicated after the October hearing that his partners at M2 were unhappy with the figure of 105 units and willing to go the affordable housing route in order to redevelop Merritt Apartments.”
I believe most town residents support the development of affordable housing. What they do not support is the shockingly massive and hulking structure you are proposing for a one acre single family zoned neighborhood. If you truly cared about affordable housing and New Canaan you would work with the town and local residents to build something that is welcoming, in-character for the neighborhood and provides necessary affordable housing. Your current proposal exploits the exemption provided by affordable housing law section 8-30 – using it as a sledge hammer to achieve maximum profit and is destructive to the character of the Weed Street neighborhood.
Apologies the quote cited above regarding Mr. Karp’s intention to use the affordable housing law to develop the Vue property if the town did not meet his demands for expansion of the number of units at the Vue is from the November 30, 2016 Newcanaanite (not the date cited above).
Ask yourself why does Karp want to build his so called “affordable housing” monstrosity with a small number of affordable units at 751 Weed- it’s because he bought the dirt with SFH zoning. If it had been zoned for multi family in the first place he would have paid millions more. This is pure economics- the profit potential is so high Karp was willing to achieve pariah status and move out of town and fight this fight. This is a money grab pure and simple- Virginia there are no altruists at Karp and co.