P&Z Chair on Developer Loophole: ‘There Are Some Real Threats’

Though he declined to name specific properties (so as not to give anyone ideas), the chairman of the Planning & Zoning Commission on Wednesday said the town is at risk of seeing unwanted housing complexes shoehorned into New Canaan by developers leveraging a state law whose spirit and intended purpose—not always evident in practice—is to boost affordable housing stock. Under normal circumstances, that’s a widely embraced goal by New Canaanites who point to valued, essential workers such as teachers, police, firefighters and public works crewmen as candidates for affordable units. Yet the Affordable Housing Appeals Act (sometimes called “8-30g” for its statute number) when abused is a tool that developers wield in order to get around rejections of site plans locally. “There are several parcels in town which may be targeted by—and I’m sorry to say this—probably mostly out-of-town developers who would like to come in and propose 8-30g affordable units there,” P&Z Chairman Laszlo Papp said Wednesday during a Town Council meeting. The law is triggered in municipalities where less than 10 percent of the housing stock is considered “affordable,” by the state’s definition.

New Canaan To Seek Protection from Developer Loophole

While New Canaan may not be constituted to meet a rigorous state threshold that would forever protect the town from loophole-happy developers, it might be able to stave off unwanted development at least for a few years while alternatives are figured out, officials said Tuesday. A proposal that would double the number of affordable housing units at Mill Pond may trigger a three-year exemption from the Affordable Housing Appeals Act. Under that law, in towns where less than 10 percent of the housing qualifies as “affordable” by the state’s definition (see below—New Canaan’s is at about 2.4 percent), developers may bypass local planning decisions by designating a percentage of units within proposed new structures as affordable. Town Planner Steve Kleppin said at the Board of Finance meeting that it’s not realistic for New Canaan to get all the way to 10 percent. “The total number is just not there,” Kleppin said at the meeting, held in the Sturgess Room at the New Canaan Nature Center’s Visitors Center.