Old Lyme forms affordable housing committee

Old Lyme — More than a year after first discussing a proposed committee to study affordable housing needs in town, the Board of Selectmen unanimously approved forming the group Tuesday.

Made up of seven members and two alternates, the group will be tasked with researching how to best address state law requiring towns to have 10 percent of their housing stock considered affordable. It also will identify suitable locations for varying types of affordable housing, including multi-family and single-family homes, among other responsibilities, over the next six months to a year.

The state Department of Housing in 2017 stated that only 1.57 percent of Old Lyme's housing stock was considered affordable, with just a few spots in town — the Lymewood Apartments, Rye Field Manor and three single-family homes — offering such housing options, First Selectman Tim Griswold said.

The new committee "will get some momentum going," Griswold said Wednesday. "By doing a more proactive approach, I think you're maybe helping people sooner than later while also avoiding a contentious type of situation that might result than if you just did nothing and waited for someone to say, 'I'd like to go there.'"

The Affordable Housing Exploratory Committee was proposed as an idea to pursue in late 2018 by Karen Winters and John Fogliano, who are now members of the committee. It comes after HOPE Partnership and the Women's Institute for Housing and Economic Development — both of which specialize in affordable housing developments in the region — proposed the River Oak Commons affordable housing project to the town in 2018 and later withdrew the project in summer of 2019 due to intense local opposition during the permitting process.

The project called for a 37-unit affordable housing development to be built on land along the Interstate 95 north Exit 70 off-ramp and Neck Road (Route 156). It was approved by both the town’s Zoning and wetlands commissions but had divided residents on whether its proposed location was suitable for such a large development. The developer submitted its applications for under the state's affordable housing statutes, which stipulate that commissions that wish to reject applications must show public safety and health concerns are greater than the need for affordable housing.

The project’s developers withdrew their application in summer 2019, however, due to the "intense" local opposition, HOPE board President Tony Lyons wrote in a letter to the Zoning Commission’s former Chairwoman Jane Cable. He also wrote HOPE Partnership hoped to relocate the project and asked the town to help find a more suitable location for a similar affordable housing project.

“Rather than continue to fight the battle in a courtroom, which will increase the costs so the housing is no longer affordable, HOPE is appealing to the many residents who expressed concerns over location to assist in finding a property that would be suitable,” Lyons wrote.

At three public hearings held to discuss the proposal in the summer of 2018, residents came out by the hundreds to voice their opinions both for and against the project. Speakers expressed opposition to the location of the proposed development and raised concerns ranging from traffic safety and accidents to the number of schoolchildren the development would bring. Supporters argued the development would provide needed affordable housing for first responders, teachers and other working individuals and for local families looking to remain in town without having to purchase a home.

"We are appealing to town leaders and residents to follow through on the assertion we have heard over and over: 'Old Lyme supports affordable housing, just not in that location ...'" Lyons wrote in his letter last summer. "We ask the Zoning Commission, Board of Selectmen, and other town leaders to proactively identify site(s) that would be more acceptable for family housing. ... We would like to believe the support for the 'idea' of affordable housing in Old Lyme was sincere. We are now asking those who expressed that sentiment to join us and be part of the solution."

The seven members the Board of Selectmen selected for the committee are: Tammy Tinnerello, a Realtor for Coldwell Banker and a member of the town’s Zoning Commission; Tom Ortoleva, a former member of HOPE Partnership’s board; Fogliano, who has a background in “science and technology, business development, strategic planning and implementation, etc.”; John Zaccaro, a real estate and development attorney at Cipparone & Zacco PC law firm in New London; Harold Thompson, chairman of the Planning Commission; John Coughlin, a facility services manager with Ledyard-based Brand Services, and Winters, an accountant and former Old Lyme Historical Society board member. The committee also includes alternates Jennifer Miller, a Board of Education member who serves on the board of directors of Habitat for Humanity for Eastern Connecticut; and Peter Cable, a member of the Open Space Commission and Connecticut River Gateway Commission and a former volunteer and member of the Habitat for Humanity of Southeastern Connecticut board.

“Most of these people have been around town for a long time,” Griswold said. “... It’s a good group.”

m.biekert@theday.com

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