The town has not yet applied for its next four years of relief from a widely discussed state law regarding affordable housing but is working hard toward its application, officials said this week.
Municipal officials are “moving forward and we are consulting with the town attorney at this point,” Town Planner Lynn Brooks Avni told members of the Board of Selectmen during their regular meeting Tuesday.
“We are hard at work putting it together,” she said.
As of now Planning & Zoning has received just one 8-30g application for an affordable housing project at the corner of Weed and Elm Streets, and “I don’t know whether there are more,” Brooks Avni said.
“I am sure there could be more, but we have only one in our hands right now,” she said during the meeting, held at Town Hall and via videoconference.
Brooks Avni added, “The way it works is the state has 90 days to approve once we formally submit. So if an 8-30g application comes prior to us receiving a Certificate of Completion for Affordable Housing, which is effectively the moratorium, we have to accept and they can file.”
The comments came as the selectmen appointed a New Canaan committee to participate in a regional planning group focused on affordable housing, as per state law. It includes members of the Planning & Zoning Commission and the New Canaan Housing Authority.
Since the application for a 102-unit development on a 3.1-acre property at 751 Weed St. came into the town, many neighbors and other residents have raised questions about the law—under section 8-30 of Chapter 126a of the Connecticut General Statutes—that allows developers in towns where less than 10% of all housing stock qualifies as affordable, to appeal local P&Z decisions in projects that set aside a certain percentage of new units as “affordable,” under the state’s definition.
Residents also are asking why the town is susceptible to the state law, especially after achieving a four-year “moratorium” from it by creating enough new new units with the redevelopment of affordable housing at Mill Pond in 2017, and then again rebuilding with greater density at Canaan Parish.
As Brooks Avni explained to the selectmen, the last moratorium ran out last June, and the window for developers opened because the Canaan Parish project experienced delays.
Though officials started discussing the possibility of rebuilding Canaan Parish in public in September 2016, P&Z didn’t take up the application for the project until mid-2018, and approved it that summer. It would be another two-plus years before construction commenced, following delays that included financing (in the spring of 2019, about one year prior to the pandemic) and, later, with the onset of COVID-19, according to Housing Authority officials. A ribbon-cutting was held last October, and Housing Authority officials at the time acknowledged that the delay in getting the project done had opened the window to 8-30g affordable housing applications in New Canaan.
Brooks Avni noted in addressing the selectmen that the town “could not do anything” with respect to applying for a new moratorium “until Canaan Parish had a TCO [temporary Certificate of Occupancy], so we are kind of limited at that point.”
She added, “They didn’t get their TCO or CO until the end of October and internally we started to prepare some of the documents and in December we brought on an outside consultant to move the process faster along, and bring us to completion much sooner.”
It isn’t clear just when the town will apply for the new four-year moratorium, though until the Certificate is issued, any 8-30g application that comes into P&Z must be processed as such.
First Selectman Kevin Moynihan, a neighbor of the proposed affordable housing development, said he has been advised by the town attorney to recuse himself from “official action regarding 751 Weed St.”
Moynihan also noted that, as a member of the Board of Finance, he is a member of the town’s Water Pollution Control Authority, which is being asked to make a finding on whether the town’s sewer system has enough capacity to handle the proposed development.
“On the other hand that doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion, and I’ve expressed my opinion, rather publicly, that I don’t think 751 Weed is an appropriate location for a large multi-family development,” Moynihan said.
In 2018, the property’s owner, Arnold Karp, proposed a senior housing project at Weed and Elm. Town officials did not pursue it. Moynihan has said repeatedly that the police station on South Avenue could be sold to a developer for senior housing, with the police headquarters relocated elsewhere in town.
P&Z has not yet opened hearings on the proposed project at Weed and Elm. During the Commission’s regular meeting Tuesday, Chair John Goodwin said: “As most of you know, an 8-30g affordable housing application for 751 Weed Street has been filed with the Commission. It has not yet been determined when the Commission will open the application. Commissioners, as you know, we are limited as to when and how we can discuss applications. The particulars of considering an application filed under 8-30g add another layer of complexity. For much of the public this is probably that much more confusing. Therefore, I asked our law firm Berchem & Moses to write a memo addressing both 8-30g specifically, and Planning & Zoning communications in general.”
The memo is to be posted to the town website, Goodwin said.
Various municipal bodies have weighed in on the situation, in some cases revealing a lack of familiarity with the state law as well as the town’s application for a moratorium.
For example, during the Town Council’s Feb. 16 meeting, Councilman Penny Young asserted that the town’s application for a moratorium “was filed but it got held up in Hartford because of COVID” and that “the state offices weren’t open to process it [the application] because of COVID”—both falsehoods.
Discussions about the state law also have taken on political overtones here.
At the same Town Council meeting, for example, Councilman Tom Butterworth said that “Our reps [in the General Assembly] are very proactive right now about advocating,” adding, “Well, the Republicans.”
Young said, “It’s only Ryan and Tom, it’s only the Republicans,” a reference to state Rep. Tom O’Dea (R-125th) and state Sen. Ryan Fazio (R-36th).
(A press secretary for Fazio on Feb. 17 issued a press release saying that “New Canaan state legislators and community leaders announced efforts to reform 8-30g, protect local control over zoning, and advance affordable housing goals sustainably,” adding that Fazio, O’Dea, state Rep. Lucy Dathan (D-142nd), Moynihan and Housing Authority Chair Scott Hobbs supported the effort.)
During the selectmen meeting, Moynihan and Selectman Nick Williams said they regretted that all of New Canaan’s delegates to the General Assembly weren’t of the same mind with respect to 8-30g.
Addressing Brooks Avni, Williams said, “Is it true that our state legislators interceded with the governor, Governor [Ned] Lamont and his administration, to request extension [to the moratorium, due to the pandemic] and that was denied?”
Brooks Avni responded, “I know that our legislators worked with us last year and the year before to try to get one. I don’t think we were successful at all. There were only two or three communities and I don’t believe anyone was successful.”
Williams asked whether New Canaan was “in this situation because of the governor and his administration, correct?”
Brooks Avni responded, “I don’t know if I would say that,” adding that Lamont may have been able to issue an Executive Order with respect to affordable housing moratoriums but didn’t.
Williams said, “He is well known for his Executive Orders—unfortunately, I guess, we didn’t qualify for the dispensation.”
Selectman Kathleen Corbet suggested putting together a FAQ on the subject “because there is a lot of misinformation that is floating around out there and I think to get to these facts we simply make sure that we talk to everybody and then get it down on paper, and then we will have the answer going forward without judgment, just facts.”
This is an election year at the state level.