UPDATED: Stonington commission approves Pawcatuck affordable housing development
Stonington — The Planning and Zoning Commission on Tuesday night approved the permits needed to construct a 100-unit housing development, that would contain a mix of affordable and market-rate units, on the 2.4-acre vacant lawn in front of the Brookside Village complex on Route 1 in Pawcatuck.
Before the commission's vote to approve the project, it held a public hearing at Pawcatuck Middle School in which representatives of Brookside Associates Limited Partnership outlined the project, known as The Glennon.
The PZC attached several stipulations to its approval of a special use permit and groundwater protection permit.
One will require Brookside to have a sidewalk installed along Route 1 before tenants can occupy the units. The town plans to use state funding to extend sidewalks from the high school to downtown Pawcatuck, including the section in front of the Glennon. PZC member Lynn Conway unsuccessfully pressed her fellow members to have Brookside pay for its section of sidewalk so the state money could be used to address other sidewalk needs. Brookside, though, could end up paying for the sidewalk if the town does not extend the sidewalk.
The commission also stipulated that Brookside must dig additional test pits along the southeastern portion of the Glennon site to determine where lead and any other possible contaminants in the soil begin and end, and then submit a certified plan on how the contamination was remediated.
The commission attached the stipulation to its approval after former PZC Chairman David Rathbun spoke during the public hearing and said there used to be a junkyard on the site, where oil and antifreeze were poured out on the ground.
"There's stuff down there we don't know about," he said.
He said a more detailed groundwater study should be done. Project attorney Bill Sweeney said test pits had been dug on various portions of the site and a study was done. The commission's stipulation will require more test pits to be dug in the area of the possible contamination.
The only other resident to speak during the hearing was Carlene Donnarumo of Pawcatuck, who said the proposed 146 parking spots were not enough to accommodate both residents and visitors.
Earlier, Sweeney told the commission that 30% of the mix of 33 studio, 43 one- and 24 two-bedroom units in the four-story building would be dedicated as affordable for 40 years, which means they would be rented below market rates to households earning 80% and 60% of the median area income, which is $90,000 a year. Seventy percent of the units would be rented at market rates.
The building would have an elevator, fitness center, club room and business center available for tenants.
"You will not be able to tell if you are living in a market-rate unit or an affordable unit," Sweeney said, adding the quality will be the same.
Sweeney explained that because just 5.7% of the town's housing is dedicated as affordable, short of the 10% goal set by the state, the project does not have to conform to local zoning regulations because the project has an affordable component. The only way the PZC could have refused to grant a permit for the project was if the commission could prove the project would jeopardize the health, safety or welfare of the community and those reasons outweigh the need for affordable housing in the community.
Sweeney estimated the town would have to build an additional 400 units of affordable housing to reach the 10% mark and be exempt from the state's affordable housing law.
The project is not allowed in the zone where the land is located and its design does not comply with many aspects of the town's zoning regulations, such as lot density and the number of units.
But Sweeney said Brookside has tried to work cooperatively with town officials on the design and has received approval from the Architectural Design Review Committee. Sweeney said the design is not only compatible with the community but superior to proposals for other affordable housing projects in town over the past few decades.
He added the project is being privately financed and Brookside will not be asking for any tax abatements from the town. Brookside's parent company is Gilbane Building Co., which built and manages the existing Brookside Village and was the construction manager for the Stonington High School, Deans Mill School and West Vine Street School renovation and expansion projects. No date has been set for the start of construction.
Sweeney said state traffic officials would have to approve a major traffic generator permit for the project because tenants' vehicles will be using the Brookside Village driveway onto Route 1. The project as approved cannot proceed without the traffic permit.
The project's traffic study found the roads can handle the additional traffic, which it expects will have a negligible impact on delays. It also suggested a traffic light signal change at Route 1 and Pequot Trail.
Some members of the Board of Police Commissioners criticized the project's traffic study last week, saying it did not consider the impact on some nearby intersections. Members also expressed concern about adding more vehicles on Route 1, which in the morning is backed up with students and staff trying to reach the high school and residents leaving other nearby housing developments.
The Glennon will become the latest project with affordable units in Pawcatuck, which has become a hotbed for affordable housing over the past several years. Currently there are now five projects recently completed, under construction or approved in the village.