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    Sunday, April 14, 2024

    New London board denies zone change needed for housing development

    New London — The Planning and Zoning Commission on Thursday night dealt a blow to plans for a 124-unit replacement site for the families living at the beleaguered Crystal Avenue high-rises.

    By a 6-1 vote and with little discussion, the commission voted against a zoning amendment that would have allowed residential housing, under limited conditions, on a swath of land along Colman Street that was zoned for limited commercial use.

    The site for the proposed affordable-housing development sits in that zone, at the former Edgerton School on Cedar Grove Avenue.

    The decision was met with disappointment from representatives of Affordable Housing and Services Collaborative and Peabody Properties, the new owners of the Edgerton School property. The companies were enlisted by the New London Housing Authority to find replacement housing for the nearly 280 tenants of the high-rises as the result of a class-action lawsuit.

    Attorney Mathew Greene, who represents the land owners and applied for the zoning amendment, had submitted reams of testimony outlining the benefits of integrating more residents into the commercial strip. He said it was unclear whether all of the material was considered by the commission.

    “I think we will consider the comments of the commission and decide how to proceed,” Greene said. “I intend to proceed with a proposal for a mixed-use development in this zone.”

    Housing Authority Board Chairwoman Betsy Gibson said she also was disappointed that the option of having the units available for high-rise residents would not be immediately available.

    Gibson earlier in the day had joined other city officials to meet with residents of the Thames River Apartments and discuss the board’s decision to apply to the Department of Housing and Urban Development for a “demolition disposition” that, if approved, would put federally subsidized housing choice vouchers in the hands of residents and allow them to move elsewhere.

    But she also said there were many among the more than 50 residents in attendance who expressed their desire to live near each other because they help one another.

    “They don’t want to stay at Thames River Apartments but they wanted to stay together as a community,” Gibson said.

    Jeanette Parker said the commission’s decision was a “letdown,” but she and other residents of the high-rises are split on their support for the new replacement site and still have lingering questions about the idea of vouchers. The vouchers would allow residents to find a HUD-approved apartment and continue to pay 30 percent of their income, up to a certain rental cost.

    “I would go there,” Parker said of the proposed Cedar Grove development, “but I’d rather take a section 8 voucher.”

    The lone vote from approval from the commission came from Lloyd Beachy, who prior to the vote voiced some concern about there being enough land to sustain housing developments off Colman Street.

    Commissioner Ronna Stuller voiced safety concerns related to a likely increase in pedestrians along Colman Street and the large number of curb cuts, or breaks in the sidewalks, for entrances to parking lots along the commercial strip.

    “I have big concerns about it even though I love the idea of mixed use,” Stuller said.

    Acting commission Chairman Carl Saszik, after the meeting, said the city has to plan for the future but also have a responsibility “to protect property owners.”

    g.smith@theday.com

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