Opening rounds were fired July 8 in the latest battle for home rule before the Town Plan and Zoning Commission. This time it is to decide if Stamford developer Garden Homes may construct Fairfield's largest residential apartment complex on quiet Bronson Road, using state affordable-housing statute 8-30g to override our zoning laws.
Why would any business go through such great expense to force down the throats of neighborhoods unwanted high-rise housing in the first place -- Thorpe Street and Bronson Road in my district, and Berwick-Fairchild on the other side of town last month?
Is Garden Homes driven by a burning desire to advance the cause of affordable housing? Or is the real goal to turn a nice profit by exploiting flawed laws which towns statewide are working to repeal? Is it to gain tax-advantaged affordable units while using one-year leases to attract a high turnover of transient market-rate tenants for whom rents can be raised annually? Hence the need to cram 95 units of renters with families, roommates, visitors and cars into 2.7 acres on the peaceful banks of the Mill River.
Garden Homes is no more a champion of affordable housing than of Zen floral design. One has to wonder how much the company can care about its tenants when its representatives testify that a project of this magnitude would have no impact on traffic congestion, parking access and pedestrian safety; that an emergency-access road well under the recommended size of 24 feet by 50 feet would protect occupants, especially in snow or downed-tree scenarios; that there were no accidents from I-95 and local traffic, when neighbors recall otherwise; that sidewalks were unnecessary for pedestrian safety of folks likely to choose this location because they could walk to train, school and stores; that below-standard parking space provided would not spill over onto Bronson and Mill Hill roads; that construction would not stir up contaminants and complicate long-awaited cleanup of Mill River; that the architect complemented natural surrounds he describes primarily as train tracks and highway entrances.
Until 8-30g is repealed by the legislature, we must deny predatory residential development on very narrow grounds. Major defenses such as impact on town density, quality of life, historic character, schools, taxes and even ample availability of other low-cost housing are simply not recognized by Connecticut courts. Where's the justice in that? As July 4th fireworks fade, I can't help feeling our fundamental rights to representative government and local home rule are in grave danger but for the heroic efforts of our Town Plan and Zoning Commission under its kind and judicious chairman, Matthew Wagner.
RTM District 9