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    Saturday, July 13, 2024

    Stonington PZC adopts scaled-back affordable housing plan

    Stonington — The Planning and Zoning Commission on Tuesday voted 4-1 to adopt a new affordable housing plan for the town, one that deletes many of the recommendations contained in the initial proposal.

    The commission also voted to recommend to the Board of Selectmen that it form a commission with broad based membership, including members of the public, to consider implementing the plan's recommendations. They also asked that selectwomen publicize the openings on the commission.

    The commission approval came despite the reservations of two members.

    "I'm quite discouraged by these four pages," Chairman Ben Philbrick said about the brief plan, which he voted against approving.

    Commission member Charles Sheehan added, "I don't think this reflects our best work. ... or where we could be with a different process."

    But he said he would vote to approve the plan so the town stays in good standing with the state, which requires a plan be adopted by June 1.

    Adoption of the plan does not mean the recommendations are in effect. That would take additional approvals and hearings by the commission to alter the zoning regulations or by the selectmen and residents.

    The long list of recommendations in the initial plan prompted criticism from residents at an April 5 public hearing and the commission then significantly scaled back the plan, from 33 pages to five.

    The plan approved on Tuesday night eliminated recommendations that the town establish an affordable housing trust fund that would provide loans or grants to affordable housing developments, or buy land or build affordable housing. Also eliminated is the recommendation that the town create tax increment financing districts in areas around exits 90 and 92 off Interstate 95 to support affordable housing. With such districts, the town would have expended money up front to fund infrastructure improvements, land acquisition or other aspects of an affordable housing project, often through bonding, and then repaid the money with tax revenue from the project. 

    Instead, the revised plan calls for the creation of an affordable housing commission to study the two proposals as well as a property tax abatement policy.

    Instead of the original recommendation that would have required developers to make 10% to 20% of residential units in projects affordable, the new plan calls for considering a requirement that residential developments "of a certain size to provide a minimum percentage of units as affordable." The size of such developments and percentage of units are not specified.

    Housing is defined as affordable when it is "sold or rented at or below prices for which a household pays 30% or less of their income;" in Stonington, the median family household income is $79,250. Under state law, when communities have less than 10% affordable housing, developers do not have to conform to zoning regulations when they submit projects that have 30% of the units considered affordable. Currently, about 6% of housing in Stonington is dedicated as affordable.

    Among the recommended changes in the adopted plan include considering reducing the 2,000-square-foot minimum requirement for building size to have an accessory apartment in an effort to allow such dwellings in smaller homes; considering allowing duplexes on the same minimum lot size as single-family homes where duplexes are allowed; and allowing multifamily uses in residential districts served by adequate public sewer and water or wells and septic systems, and also in commercial districts. 

    Also suggested is a comprehensive review of uses allowed in each zone and reviewing the maximum number of units, lot area requirements and minimum percentage of commercial use requirements in mixed-use projects.


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