Rural affordable housing proposal criticized for remoteness in East Lyme
East Lyme ― Holmes Road residents are objecting to a proposal for 19 houses and 24 townhouse units in the woods on the Montville border.
A plan for the 12.67-acre site owned by South Carolina-based Duval Partners LLC is in front of the Zoning Commission. It was submitted as an affordable housing development under the state statute known as 8-30g, which makes it easier for developers to sue the commission — and win — if their plan is rejected.
The second installment of a public hearing that began earlier this month will be held June 1.
Residents at the first public hearing criticized the rural location, distance from public transportation, and lack of public water and sewer systems.
Lou Racicot, a firefighter in another town who lives on the street, pointed out the fire suppression limitations in the area.
He said the nearest firehouse in town is about 12 minutes away in the Flanders section.
Pointing to statistics that show a fire grows twice its size every minute, he said, adding that firefighters could arrive to find the whole development on fire if it took them that long to get there.
Montville’s Chesterfield station, which is designated to respond automatically to calls from that section of East Lyme, is two miles away. The proposed affordable housing site is a little less than a mile from Route 85, a state road that connects with Salem on one side and Waterford on the other.
Racicot also asked where the water would come from to fight fires.
Paul Geraghty, the attorney for Duval Partners, said he is in negotiations with the East Lyme Land Trust to access a fire pond on the adjacent Nehantic Nature Preserve.
Land records show Geraghty represented the land trust when the nonprofit organization purchased 301 acres from Duval Partners last March for $1.6 million to create the preserve.
Duval Partners submitted its “conceptual site plan” to the commission in March as an affordable housing application. Geraghty described the application as a way to gauge whether or not a project like this could get a favorable review from the commission. Otherwise the investors could “spend significant amounts of money only to receive denial after denial after denial,” he said.
Under 8-30g, zoning commissions in towns with less than 10% of their housing stock designated as affordable can only reject an affordable housing proposal if they prove in the state Superior Court that it’s a threat to public health and safety.
Once a community hits the 10% affordable housing threshold, it is no longer subject to the 8-30g statute. Then the onus returns to developers to convince the town the project should be built, as opposed to requiring a zoning commission to convince a judge why it should not.
The most recent data from the state Department of Housing shows 6.7% of homes in town are affordable.
The project application shows eight of the townhouse units and six of the single-family houses would be designated affordable by state standards. That means rents for those two-bedroom units would range from $1,521 per month for very-low-income earners to $2,028 a month for low-income earners, based on rent limits published by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
In East Lyme, housing is considered affordable to low-income earners when a family of four making less than $90,080 can afford to live there without spending more than 30% of their income on housing expenses like mortgage or rent, utilities and taxes. A family of the same size that makes less than $67,560 a year falls into the very-low-income bracket.
The affordability plan, dated Feb. 28, designated Evergreen Attainable Homes, Inc. as administrator. The agency is required to submit yearly status reports to confirm the development is offering the promised rates to the required number of low-income households.
The company was listed with the state of Delaware as a domestic corporation on April 17. The company agent is the business incorporation company Harvard Business Services Inc. of Delaware.
Connecticut Department of Housing spokesman Aaron Turner said the state does not maintain a list of entities qualified to administer affordability plans. He said communities should establish their own vetting criteria when it comes to approving companies selected as part of an affordable housing application.
Zoning official Bill Mulholland, who said he had no additional information about the company, said the issue will be “fleshed out” through the public hearing process, including discussion by commission members and legal counsel. He said town attorney Michael Carey will likely be in attendance and may have additional information.
Real estate investor and developer Stephen Harney, who has described himself as a consultant for the venture, said the name of the administrator could change.
He called the conceptual site plan a “template” that could evolve based on who’s ultimately interested in developing the property. That means the number of units, how many are designated affordable, and whether they’re rented or sold could also change.
Lindsay Muscarella from nearby Upper Walnut Hill Road told the commission she thought affordable housing units were better situated near public transportation and employment opportunities.
“You have a couple businesses down the road in Montville and some up in Salem, but that’s it,” she said. “This isn’t New London.”
The lack of access was reiterated in a memo from Planning Director Gary Goeschel, who said the only way to get to go shopping in town from Holmes Road is to take a car 7.3 miles to Flanders Four Corners or 8.7 miles to the Niantic village center.
Goeschel said the town’s Incentive Housing Zone, established with encouragement from the state to guide local affordable housing growth in areas where residents want it, is focused on commercial centers in the Flanders and Niantic sections of town “where access to public transportation and public utilities exist or are planned.”
The planning director said no soil scientists have signed off on statements in the application that there are no wetlands or watercourses and erosion on the property and no plan has been submitted to manage stormwater runoff during construction.
He also recommended a traffic report to determine if Holmes Road to the intersection with Route 85 would need to be widened to accommodate additional traffic from the development.
A traffic analysis submitted April 30 estimated the site would generate 27 more car trips during the morning peak hour and 31 more car trips during the evening peak hour on weekdays. The report said the numbers equate to one additional trip every 2.8 minutes turning onto Route 85 during the morning rush hour and one more trip every 3.1 minutes in the evening rush hour.
Heather Longo Racicot, of Holmes Road, listed for the commission more than a half dozen developments in town with some or all units set aside for low-income renters. Several of those are reserved for the elderly population.
“The affordable housing that already exists in town is sufficient,” she said.
Carey, the commission’s attorney, submitted a five-page memo with more information about the affordable housing statute governing towns that haven’t yet reached the 10% affordability threshold.
The memo reiterated commissions can only deny a complete affordable housing application under 8-30g if there is sufficient evidence that public health or safety risks outweigh the need for more affordable housing.
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