Affordable housing threat leads to Ferry Boulevard approval

The Zoning Commission approved a controversial large apartment proposal for Ferry Boulevard on Jan. 30, with the developer having filed an affordable housing application on the property.

By a 5-0 vote, the commission passed the project in a resolution that includes a provision prohibiting any affordable housing plan from being pursued at the 2.5-acre site in the future. The resolution also requires the developer to withdraw the pending affordable housing application.

The motion will allow 119 units in two buildings to be constructed at 382 Ferry Blvd. and Willow Avenue. The building closest to Ferry Boulevard will include 1,254 square feet of ground-floor commercial space that can be converted into two additional residential units if not rented within two years, for a total of 121 units.

The commission has denied two previous applications on the parcel, for 131 and 119 units. The earlier proposals called for three buildings on the property.

The developer, Rolling Thunder II, was appealing the denial of the earlier 119-unit application in Superior Court. In the meantime, the developer had filed an affordable housing application under state statute 8-30g for a 143-unit complex that had yet to be heard by the Zoning Commission. State statute 8-30g allows housing developers to circumvent local zoning laws in municipalities where less than 10% of the available housing stock is affordable.

The vote came after the commission discussed the proposed settlement for more than an hour behind closed doors in executive session. The regular meeting then resumed and a vote was taken.

“I’m a happy man,” developer representative Nick Owen said after the approval vote. “It was a long road.”

Before the executive session, Assistant Town Attorney John Florek told Zoning Commission members they needed to discuss a “proposed settlement” in Rolling Thunder’s lawsuit. He said the executive session — closed to the public and press — would allow them to learn about “a pending claim and litigation” and be an opportunity to “talk frankly about the strengths and weaknesses of the case” and the town’s legal strategies.

Four of the five members voting on the resolution had not been on the commission when it denied the previous applications. The makeup of the commission changed in the November 2017 election.

The commission’s vote is subject to approval by the judge who is hearing the Rolling Thunder legal appeal.

The plan approved by the commission is quite similar to the 119-unit application denied last year, but has one fewer building and certain other restrictions. The denied plan had 140 parking spaces.

Most nearby residents have opposed the apartment complex proposals, fearing the buildings would tower over their neighborhood of single-family homes. They also are worried about increased traffic and on-street parking.

The property is where the commission previously approved a repair, office and warehouse facility for AAA Northeast, a decision that later was overturned in court after a successful appeal by neighbors.

Portions of the land are in two different zones — one for commercial use near Ferry Boulevard and one for smaller residential lots in the rear. The parcel is within the town’s Transit Oriented District that allows for denser development near the train station.

In addition to being on Ferry Boulevard and Willow Avenue, the development property borders back yards on Homestead Avenue and is near Housatonic Avenue.


Approval specifics

According to the commission’s approval resolution, the building closest to Ferry Boulevard will be five stories and have 67 or 69 units, depending on the commercial space status. The rear building will be four stories with 52 units. All units will be one-bedroom except for four studio units.

Required setbacks will be 20 feet to the east (from the rear apartment building to Homestead Avenue properties), 25 feet to the south (toward Willow Avenue properties), and 48 feet to the southeast (the rear of the property, closest to Housatonic Avenue). A six-foot-high fence will be built with landscaping along the eastern border, and the southeast corner will become “passive open space.”

The only development allowed in the part of the property zoned for residential use will be parking.


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