Affordable Housing Trust Passes RTM; Peter Lowe Elevated from Alternate to Full Member of P&Z

Affordable Housing Trust Fund

At Monday’s RTM meeting a new Affordable Housing Trust Fund ordinance was passed.

Alexis Voulgaris said the eight member special committee on the affordable housing task force was created in June after it became apparent there was no easy fix to create the 1,200 units of affordable housing, which is roughly the amount required to bring Greenwich to the 10% threshold and a possible moratorium on large developments being submitted under the state affordable housing statute 8-30g.

“I think at this point everyone is aware of what state statute 8-30g is, and how municipalities that don’t have a minimum of 10% of affordable housing stock are vulnerable to developers, who can largely ignore local planning and zoning regulations and build very large developments, so long as 30% of the units in the development are designated as affordable housing.”

She said the trust fund would be one tool Greenwich could deploy to work with developers thinking of building a project under 8-30g, but with some assistance from the trust would be willing to scale back their project.

“And with the the potential of a smaller building comes the benefits of less bulk, something that may be more aesthetically pleasing, a building more consistent with the POCD, and a project with less impact on parking, traffic, sewer, water, etc.”

She said another financial incentive the trust provides a developer is the ability to use Area Median Income versus State Median Income for the purposes of charging rent on the affordable units.

“Currently, the Area Mean Income is roughly 50% higher than State Median Income, which allows the developer to collect higher rents for all the affordable units, thereby making it financially possible to reduce the overall size of the project,” Voulgaris said, adding that over a 40 year period that could cover the original cost for reducing the total number of units.

Voulgaris said the trust was structured so all only private money is invested through private donations. She said no municipal funds would be used, and no municipal land would be used.

She also explained that with very rare exception, every application the trust is considering for an award as already gone before the P&Z commission for approval for 8-30g.

“It’s just a question of whether the project will go through with trust money or without trust money,” she said. “If the RTM stops the award, it will not stop the project, but rather only allow the developer to make the building bigger.”

Also, the revised ordinance included a requirement that the chair of the trustees present an annual report to the RTM.

The revised ordinance also reduces the Board of trustees from 11 to 7. The Advisory Council (non voting members) has 11 members. 

Further, it recommends the award threshold for the RTM to become involved remain at $500,000.

During the meeting were two motions to weaken the trust, one being a sunset provision after six years, and one to require a simple majority rather than a two-thirds majority to reject a trust fund award. Both motions failed.

Frederick Lee spoke in favor of the trust fund. He until the town achieves about 1,200 additional affordable housing units, it loses the ability to zone housing and maintain what makes Greenwich special compared to urban areas.

“Missing the mandate allows developers to create sky-high projects without regard to the neighborhood, housing and the quest to make a economically viable for profit,” he said, adding that if the town relies on developers to meet the mandate from the state would result in anywhere between 4,000 to 6,000 units to qualify.

“Having the affordable housing trust fund and working with the Greenwich Housing Authority would alleviate this by increasing our affordable housing stock, prevent over development and over population, maintain home rule where Greenwich gets to decide what works for Greenwich, and allow the units created to be used for town employees who currently are unable to live in Greenwich,” Mr. Lee said.

Brooks Harris, who worked on the affordable housing trust fund, described 8-30g as a very punitive law that will require the town to add between 4,000 and 6,000 units and strain the capacity in terms of traffic, schools, etc.

“This law is going to cause major problems for us. If this trust goes through and it scales up, maybe we cut the number of units we need from 6,000 to 4,000, or from 5,000 to 3,500, but we’re still going to add a ton of housing. We’re going to have to figure out how to manage that and how to pay for it,” Harris said.

The vote on the housing trust fund was 176 in favor, 22 opposed, with 5 abstentions.

Nomination of Peter Lowe

When it looked like there might not be enough time to consider the nomination of Peter Lowe to move from alternate to regular member of P&Z commission, due to a midnight hard cut off, P&Z chair Margarita Alban said that would create a violation of the town charter.

Ms Alban said with the appointment of Arnold Welles to fill Mr. Lowe’s position as alternate, effective immediately, there would be four alternates, while the town charter specifies three.

Moderator Tom Byrne agreed to squeeze in the item right around midnight, which he did.

Late last week and over the weekend, RTM email threads grew lengthy after district 2 member Laura Gladstone objected to Mr. Lowe’s nomination.

She wrote to Moderator Mr. Byrne on Sept 23 asking him to separate out Mr. Lowe’s name from the list of appointments saying,”There are a lot of people who do not want to vote for him as he has a history of yelling at people and many people do not want him representing this town,” she wrote.

“Peter Lowe was very aggressive with me at the voting polling station at Town Hall in 2018.  He came up to my face and was very aggressive screaming obscenities about Trump and myself as a Republican.  He is bigger than I am and a man.  It was downright frightening to have a man come up to a woman who was simply handing out flyers (local candidate flyers) to people going to vote which was my duty as a volunteer and member of the RTC.  The screaming and bullying was completely unprovoked.  There were many witnesses who can attest to it, including Wilma’s (Nacinovich) husband,” she wrote in a subsequent email.

Byrne responded explaining,” I base my decision on the reports of districts and committees. I have not yet seen any such request to consider this as a separate item.  If there is no such request by a district or committee, I would likely place it on the consent calendar. You would be able to object to its placement on the consent calendar under our rules, and if supported by 20 members, it would be removed from Consent.”

Glastone replied, “I am on the committee so I am requesting it. By not doing it you are complicit in Peter Lowe’s inappropriate behavior that represents the town of Greenwich.”

Byrne replied, “The only thing inappropriate in these communications is your last email. There was absolutely no need for such disrespect. I explained the applicable process as clearly as I could, so you could work within that orderly procedure to accomplish your goal. Your response was to insult me. I will learn from that.”

Gladstone replied back, saying, “The only disrespect was towards me from Peter Lowe and towards Wilma (Nacinovich) from Bob McKnight. Please focus on what is important here and not your feelings. I, in no way insulted you. I too will learn from your response to me.”

By email Alexis Voulgaris, RTM Moderator Pro Tempore, reminded Gladstone that in 2020, well after the alleged incident, Ms Gladstone had cast a vote at the December 2020 Appointments Committee meeting in favor of Mr. Lowe’s nomination.

During the meeting, Bob McNight said Mr. Lowe was interviewed by the Appointments committee on Sept 21. He acknowledged the Gladstone accusation without mentioning her name. His committee’s vote was in favor of Mr. Lowe, 11-1.

Peter Berg said the Land Use committee also interviewed Mr. Lowe last week. He noted Mr. Lowe had already served 2-1/2 years as an alternate, participating as a regular member, often having the opportunity to vote when other members were absent or recused. The land use committee voted 12-0 in favor of Mr. Lowe’s appointment.

Fred Camillo urged Mr. Lowe’s approval.

He said the Board of Selectmen had voted unanimously on his nomination. “He interviewed well,” Camillo said. “He has demonstrated over the 2-1/2 years a strong and consistent commitment to P&Z, and he has the support of his colleagues there.”

P&Z chair Alban said Mr. Lowe had already been reappointed once as an alternate.

She described Lowe as committed thoughtful, fair and courteous.

“He cares deeply for this town and strives to enhance and protect it. His services is a great asset to our community.”

Nick Macri, who is secretary on P&Z said he too supported Mr. Lowe. “In his two years serving on the commission, Peter has always brought balanced, insightful opinion to our deliberations and decisions. His continued work as a regular member would be invaluable as applications before us grow larger and in increasingly complexity.”

“Peter’s commitment to the town of Greenwich through his service on the commission is exemplary and is a model for all those who serve our town.”

Mr. Lowe said he was born and raised in Greenwich, and had lived in town for 50 years.

“My perspective on the town’s landscape extends back to my childhood in town in the 50s and 60s,” he said, adding that he had moved away and returned in 1993 with his young family, and since then witnessed dramatic changes, both structural and cultural in Greenwich over the decades.”

“I have an abiding concern for the preservation and vitality of this town and perceive the need for an appropriate balance between the town’s assets and scarce resources and the sensible development of its existing landscape.”

He said last week he was surprised and horrified to read the email submitted to the Appointments committee. He said it made “unsubstantiated claims” concerning his behavior.

He said he’d served as a volunteer in Greenwich in a variety of capacities, including coaching children’s sports team, serving on the local committees for Harvard College for 20 years, serving board of directors of Stanwich Club for 6 years, and P&Z for the past 2-1/2 years.

He said he had worked collaboratively and constructively with colleagues in these organizations.

“Never once has there been a questions about my behavior and demeanor,” he added.

Lowe sailed through with a vote of 160 to 6 to 8 abstentions.

Screen shot of a recent P&Z meeting via Zoom.