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Waterford gathers results of affordable housing survey, drafts plan

Waterford — A survey issued in early March by the Planning and Zoning Commission finds that a majority of residents consider housing affordability an issue and say development should be encouraged, yet most disapprove of the construction of three- to four-story apartments or condominiums.

Planning Director Abby Piersall says the purpose of the online survey, which was distributed on the town's social media platforms and open to the public from March to April, was to gather early opinions on affordable housing before drafting a plan the commission hopes to present for further public discussion in the fall.

The commission, Piersall said, recognizes the need to increase housing that people can afford. The goal is "enhancing existing neighborhoods" and figuring out gaps in the town's housing options.

The data from the survey was compiled for review in May and has since been the partial basis of a plan that "addresses housing choices for residents of all ages and income levels," as stated in the survey. 

A little over half of the 454 respondents were over the age of 55 and/or women. In terms of the ethnicity or race of the respondents, 74.55% identified as white or Caucasian, 1.79% as Black or African American, 3.35% as Hispanic or Latino, 1.12% as Asian or Asian American, and 19.2% as "another race" or preferred not to answer.

A vast majority of respondents are homeowners and said they can afford to live in Waterford. However, 56.7% found housing affordability to be a concern and more than 60% said the town should encourage housing people can afford. 

Housing types the majority of respondents encouraged are for people 55 and older, veterans, workforce and families, as well as assisted living. The majority, however, discouraged the development of three- to four-story condominiums or apartment buildings.

Two of the questions in the survey addressed the state's affordable housing statute, Sec. 8-30g, which allows housing developments to be built without meeting local zoning requirements if less than 10% of the housing in town is officially deemed affordable. Waterford is currently at 4.81%.

A majority of respondents thought the town should seek to increase the amount of affordable housing to avoid such override of requirements and 57.3% thought affordable housing should be expanded regardless of the state statute.

"We want to attract people of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds," said First Selectman Rob Brule, who is concerned for 55+ residents and younger professionals unable to afford living in town. He noted the growing demand for affordable housing coming from Electric Boat and the casinos' job market. "There is an age group of young adults and professionals where they have no place to live."

In open-ended responses, respondents echoed Brule's thinking and urged the need to provide more opportunities for younger professionals and "diversify" the town. Some also felt the need for more "entry-level single homes" and the repairs of already existing buildings, a few comments suggesting the repurposing of Seaside or the Cohanzie School, a proven point of controversy for Waterford residents. The last time developers attempted to turn Cohanzie into a multifamily housing complex in 2019, the commission voted 4-1 against it with overwhelming public support.

Some respondents were displeased with the idea of affordable housing in Waterford. They wished to maintain the "semi-rural" and "quaint character" of the town, concerned with crowding and transitioning into a "crime-ridden" city.

When drafting the plan, the Planning and Zoning Commission will take into consideration newly proposed legislation surrounding housing development and attempt to set a goal for coming years, Piersall said.

As the commission drafts a plan this summer, two housing developments already are underway. An affordable housing apartment building, which was able to bypass the town's zoning laws under the state statute, is under construction on 171 Rope Ferry Road. The other is still in the predevelopment stages and will be located at 908 Hartford Turnpike road.

j.vazquez@theday.com

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