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North Stonington commission approves affordable housing application

By Anna Isaacs

Publication: theday.com

Published January 11. 2013 3:00PM   Updated January 12. 2013 12:56AM
Watson Estates would offer 18 single-family homes, six of them affordable, on 55 acres on Lake of Isles Road

North Stonington — In its first move in several years to add affordable housing to a town well below the state’s threshold for regulatory leniency, the Planning and Zoning Commission approved an application for an 18-unit development on Lake of Isles Road at its regular meeting Thursday night.

The plan for Watson Estates includes single-family homes, six of which would be deemed affordable, on about 55 acres owned by the applicant near the Preston town line. The term “affordable housing” applies to homes that require no more than 30 percent of a family’s income, where the income is less than or equal to 60 percent or 80 percent of the local or statewide median income — whichever is less.

The commission received the application, submitted under the state’s 8-30g statute, by Peter Gardner of Green Falls Associates in Gales Ferry, in early December. The statute frees up an affordable housing proposal from normal zoning and subdivision regulations if the town hasn’t met the threshold that 10 percent of its housing stock must be affordable. The only provisions for denial of an 8-30g application is if the project would pose a substantial risk to public health or safety.

North Stonington’s affordable housing stock is less than 1 percent of the total housing in town.

“With 8-30g, you can propose anything — it could be a monstrosity,” senior planner and zoning enforcement officer Juliet Leeming said. “This is something that easily fits in with the character of the town.”

Leeming said the town also is waiting for the state to OK an affordable housing application that the commission approved about three years ago. Due to the proposed development’s location on Route 2, the Department of Transportation must approve the plan.

Leeming said that before the commission unanimously approved this latest application, it established several conditions related to the development’s location. Because the parcel is surrounded partially by swamps and wetlands, the Inland Wetlands Commission has asked for a conservation easement behind some of the houses. While First Selectman Nick Mullane and some on the commission raised further concerns over drainage and flooding, Leeming said those concerns weren’t significant and have been resolved with the Inland Wetlands Commission’s approval.

Others pointed out a lack of parking space, but Leeming said the applicant has agreed to widen the shared driveway inside the development, to change the configuration of the driveways to include more space, and to widen a portion of the access road.

“I think it’s an example of what we refer to as a friendly 8-30g application, which means that the applicants let us have quite a bit of say,” she said.

North Stonington has a prickly past with affordable housing applications: In 2007, a proposal for 17 four-story apartment buildings, which Leeming said “horrified” everyone in the quiet, rural bedroom community, stalled and petered out with the economic downturn.

The next step for Watson Estates will be to present individual site plans for each house.

“North Stonington has so few affordable units. We definitely support this,” Affordable Housing Commission Co-Chairwoman Mary Ann Ricker said. “This is a good number of affordable housing units to add to that meager amount.”

But not everyone is appeased: Mullane said he still has concerns over the development’s proximity to wetlands and the lack of parking space. “I’m very disappointed with the acceptance of this,” he said.

a.isaacs@theday.com

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