Last Tuesday night three applications submitted under the State 8-30g affordable housing statute came before the P&Z commission.
The 8-30g statute is intended to encourage more affordable housing. (All towns are required to have 10% of their housing affordable. Greenwich has for many years hovered around 5%.)
Under 8-30g, the P&Z commission is barred from applying local zoning regulations.
Instead the criteria is a test of public health and safety. So unless public health and safety are at risk, the need for affordable housing has priority.
If approved, an application from Antoinette Delia for an 8-30g at 62 Byram Terrace Drive would make her illegal basement apartment a legal “affordable” unit.
If approved it would make the property a 3-family dwelling
The application had been reviewed last summer as a preliminary application.
“My first question was whether Bill Marr (head of the building department) responded to (architect) Rudy Ridberg’s report? The report says no new stairs are being installed or altered, but it doesn’t say if the existing stairs are to code,” P&Z chair Margarita Alban asked. “We’re making a change in the number of units. Are they to code? It’s not clear. I don’t get whether we have compliance.”
P&Z director Katie DeLuca explained that the P&Z commission reviews applications for zoning compliance, but the application must also comply with building code, and that goes through the Building Department.
Mr. Fox said, “We don’t have jurisdiction over the state building code.”
Ms. Alban said, “Mr. Ridberg’s report says if it exists, they don’t have to fix it.”
“We are working on the compliance and we brought in a code guru,” said John Heagney, the attorney representing the applicant. “We had to review with the compliance officer and contractor. We want to go into the permit office and get all the permits.”
“Our chair is saying since this was an illegal unit we don’t consider anything pre-existing,” Mr. Fox said. “You need to build this unit in total compliance with code and not take it as pre-existing. Because it’s pre-existing illegally.”
As for parking, the applicant has four spaces, which does not meet regulations. That may disappoint the neighbors who last year complained that tenants in this property had been parking on the street in a way that blocked their mailboxes and the mail carrier was not delivering their mail.
But given that the threshold of health and safety applies under 8-30g, the affordable unit outweighed the parking regulations.
The application was approved, but the applicant must still work with the building department to bring the unit up to building code.
The applicant agreed to file for an exploratory building permit to remove the walls in the unit to make sure the plumbing and electricity are up to code.
To the east of Byram Terrace, at 63 Oak Ridge, near McDonald’s on West Putnam Ave, the applicant, Charles Moore, sought to convert two illegal units out of the existing four units on the property into affordable housing.
One unit would be at 80% of the state’s median income and one would be at 60% of the state’s median income.
Like the Byram Terrace illegal unit, the proposal was in response to a zoning violation.
Only two units have a certificate of occupancy.
The rear half of the property was constructed in 1993 and Attorney John Heagney said he believed those two units were grandfathered in under a 1993 permit.
“But the problem is you are adding units, and you were inspected for a different number of units,” P&Z chair Margarita Alban said.
“We’d love to make the units affordable and we’re really glad for that, but they have to be safe. …We want to help and we want to be supportive,” Ms. Alban said.
“We had inspections done in 1993,” Heagney said.
“But when you go to four units you’re going to multi-family with an entirely different set of standards,” Alban said. “We could have shut them down, but we want to have the affordable units. They’ve got to be safe and make sure you’re compliant.”
The units in the back never received certificates of occupancy and the units in front never had their illegal kitchens removed.
A highlight of the discussion involved parking.
“You submitted a site plan, and eight parking spaces are required but I don’t see a layout of the spaces on the lot,” Mr. Macri said.
“We’ll be deficient,” Mr. Heagney acknowledged.
“We recognize that, but we want to see it,” Alban said of the missing diagram of proposed parking.
Commissioner Nick Macri said, “The plan I’m seeing is a singular driveway that is 12 feet wide and you’re stacking eight cars in it?”
Mr. Macri said he’d like to know how the eight cars in a single driveway would be managed.
“Am I running around moving everyone’s car out of the street?” he asked.
“We can address that through our leases,” Heagney said. “Currently all the tenants park on Oak Ridge Street.”
“There is a lot of concern about the number of cars and on street parking,” Ms Alban said. “To the extent you can satisfy us there is not a safety consideration, we’re good.”
Commissioner Dave Hardman said there was concern about tenants blocking each other in, given the stacked parking in the driveway.
“Who goes in first, and who goes in last, and how do you manage that?” Macri asked.
“Can you demonstrate that Oak Ridge is available for public parking?” Mrs. DeLuca asked
“Yes,” Mr. Heagney said.
Mr. Macri said the applicant needs to return to the commission to resolve the parking and sewer issues. The item was left open.
A third 8-30g application that was left open was for 241 Hamilton Avenue where the applicant seeks to make one unit “affordable” out of three.
“I have a different excuse as to why we shouldn’t comply with the building department,” attorney John Heagney joked. “This building was built in 1950 as a three-family.”
Heagney said there was a certificate of occupancy for three units.
“The sewer dept issued comments that their records show it as a two-family,” Ms. Alban said. “Otherwise, why would you have a cease and desist? I’m confused.”
“If you had a certificate of occupancy for three units, why would ZBA ask for the unit to be removed?” director of Planning and Zoning Katie DeLuca asked.
“The applicant agreed to remove the (illegal) unit but kept it. That invalidates the argument that it’s legal.” – Margarita Alban, P&Z commission chairwoman
Ms. Alban said fire egress from all bedrooms is paramount.
“I believe we can comply,” Heagney said.
“I don’t think the building department will agree. You have to bring these units up to code,” Ms. DeLuca said.
“Anything that is a life safety hazard has to be corrected,” Alban said.
“Why wouldn’t you want to adopt that?” DeLuca asked the attorney.
“It’s an onerous process to make these units up to code and affordable. Every architect on applications you’ve heard tonight have flagged – they’ve expressed concerns over the increased cost to comply with the building department’s policies.” – Attorney John Heagney
“You were supposed to remove the unit. It became illegal. You have something illegal and you’re asking the commission to make it legal. It’s a new unit,” Ms. DeLuca said.
“I want a conversation with the building department and sewer department,” Heagney said.
Mr. Macri said the Sewer Department is looking for information on the application. “Mr. Heagney, you gave us a site plan. It does not indicate the number of parking spaces you propose. The shared drive to the condo complex to the west – I’d like to see any agreement on the shared driveway.
Macri said the commission received information from a neighbor about an accident that resulted in a car being totaled.
“When they sold, they should have brought it up to snuff,” DeLuca said.
“My client has cause of action against the seller,” Heagney said.
“Doesn’t it behoove the seller to do a search?” Ms. DeLuca asked. “Isn’t it a buyer beware situation to understand the conditions of the property they’re purchasing?”
Mr. Heagney declined to reply.
The item was left open.