Item 35 on Monday night’s full RTM meeting agenda featured a non binding Sense of the Meeting Resolution to amend Connecticut’s Affordable Housing land use appeals procedure for 8-30g “to better address the needs of vulnerable populations and development oversight in the Town of Greenwich.”
The first 34 items on the calendar went relatively quickly.
Next, there was a vote to approve the Housing Trust Fund: 192 in favor, 11 opposed and 10 abstentions.
Item 35, the SOMR, was debated for two hours, including discussion of a proposed amendment to the SOMR presented by District 10.
“This is a non-binding resolution, but it will send a strong message from the people of Greenwich to Hartford, and may prompt other towns throughout Connecticut to follow suit, since only 31 of the other 169 towns in our state have achieved affordable housing levels that exempt them from 8-30g,” the authors of the SOMR* wrote in an op ed.
Tara Restieri presented the SOMR. She noted that the Greenwich RTM, with its 230 members, had more members than the CT State House of Representatives and Senate combined.
“A vote of yes will demonstrate a clear support of our state delegation in their efforts to reform the current 8-30g statute and help Greenwich pursue affordable housing developments that better serve the community,” she said.
The amendment from district 10 sought to replace the SOMR in its entirety with the the original wording of the petition that had been signed by 150 people:
Whereas the 1989 state of CT mandated 8-30g statute was intended to promote affordable housing development efforts across the state;
Whereas recent townwide large scale development proposals are undermining the intended purpose by utilizing 8-30g statute to skirt local zoning oversight with negative consequences for residents of our town.
Resolved that the RTM backs efforts of our delegation to reform the 8-30g statute and help Greenwich pursue affordable housing development that better serves our community.
Jane Sprung said she had been excited about the original wording on the petition, and that the wording of Item 35, which came from District 7, went beyond the original petition language, adding what she believed was controversial language that neither she nor other petition signers were aware of.
Lucia Jansen from District 7 said that while she believed state statute 8-30g needed to be modified, the verbage on the original petition that garnered 150 signatures, including hers, was was different from the wording of the SOMR presented for a vote. Therefore, she said she supported District 10’s amendment.
Cheryl Moss also spoke against the amendment, which she said had been “watered down.”
District 10’s motion to amend failed to carry, though the vote was close: 95 in favor and 101 opposed, with 10 abstentions.
Elected officials who testified in favor of the SOMR included First Selectman Fred Camillo, State Rep Steve Meskers (D-150), State Senator Ryan Fazio (R-36) and State Rep (R-149) Kimberly Fiorello.
Mr. Meskers said he realized 8-30g was a “gateway” for developers, and the town was suffering under the large amount of applications from developers. However, he urged people vote for the SOMR as presented in Item 35.
Mr. Camillo said he strongly supported the SOMR, and that earlier in the day he had testified against the proposed HB 5429, the transit oriented development bill, which he said was “worse than 8-30g.“
“(It) would take the radius of a half mile from the local train station and carve it up and have 15 units on an acre, and only 10% would be affordable,” Camillo said. “That’s worse than 8-30g. That’s what we’re dealing with right now.”
Camillo noted that while some say Federal Housing Law doesn’t allow units provided to private school teachers and hospital employees to be counted toward the required 10% affordable housing, because those units are not open to everybody, he believed they should be counted.
“The town does have skin in the game because we give tax abatements,” he said.
Mr. Fazio said reform of 8-30g was necessary.
“Greenwich is the tenth largest municipality by population. It’s the second largest economy, and sends the second most in income tax receipts to the state government,” he said. “People, both regionally and across the state, including people running for statewide office, will pay attention to what you say here today or in the next month. If we send a balanced, sensible message across party lines with overwhelming buy-in that we need a change, and we need reform, people will hear you.”
State Rep Kimberly Fiorello (R-149) said once the buildings are torn down to make way for 8-30 developments, such as those in the Fourth Ward, they are gone forever.
“At the core of what we’re defending here tonight are our private property rights and our right to self-determination,” she said. “It is reasonable for us to demand that 8-30g, a very flawed special interest law, be fixed.”
“We support diversity of housing and we don’t blame the legislators 30 years ago who voted yes on 8-30g, thinking it would make affordable housing flourish, but it is breaking our hearts right now, because developers are invoking 8-30g in their projects to take advantage of a bill that lets them override local restrictions like height, setbacks, traffic, and even demolish our century-old historic buildings,” Fiorello added.
“There’s no excuse for us not to do everything we can to demand that this law be fixed,” Fiorell said.
Hector Arzeno testified that he favored the SOMR.
“If we want to better address the needs of vulnerable populations in our community, as the title of the SOMR says, we must acknowledge that we have to increase our efforts,” Arzeno said. “Ninety-five percent of Greenwich Communities (housing authority) was built more than 30 years ago – before 8-30g existed.”
“It is obvious that our call for help will fall on deaf ears if we don’t also show them that we are asking our own town to do a better job than we have in recent decades,” Arzeno continued. “It is also how we can control our own destiny and obtain a moratorium.”
Arzeno said Greenwich Communities had hundreds of modern, beautifully design and architecturally respectful units ready for development.
“If only our town would make the case for them, and potentially offer low interest loans that would be fully repaid to fund a small portion of the construction costs,” he suggested.
Wyn McDaniel said she and neighbors were keenly aware of the proposal for 192 units on Church-Sherwood, which is in a historic district, and expected that fighting the project would be an uphill battle.
“But we realized we needed to go to the source of the problem, which is state law 8-30g,” she said. “This will send a strong message to Hartford. We need this 30-year-old, outdated law to be changed. We need the definition of affordable to be changed, and we need to maintain control of our own zoning.”
Jonathan Perloe said he was very much opposed to the SOMR.
“If Greenwich has a problem with 8-30g, we should come up with a solution to our decades long inability to provide affordable housing, in violation of state mandate, rather than try to change the mandate.”
Peter Berg, chair of the Land Use committee, and principal opponent of the SOMR, said the SOMR was bad public policy.
“There are over 1,000 households on the housing authority waiting list, and the list has been closed for some time because it exceeds the limits of hope,” he said. “We know them. They mow our lawns. They clean our houses. They cook and serve our restaurant meals. They wash our restaurant dishes. They stock our supermarket shelves and check us out at the cash register. They wash our cars and pump our gas. They are our rookie first responders. They are our library staff and teacher aids.”
“Affordable housing may be new to many of you, but not to us RTM long-timers. Years ago, at an RTM meeting, I said the town needed to provide more affordable housing, and a wise guy at the back of the room said, ‘That’s why we have Port Chester.'”
“Now, after decades of inaction by the town of Greenwich, this SOMR wants our state legislative delegation to persuade their fellow legislators, and get Greenwich off the hook,” Berg said.
Ellen Brennan-Galvin testified the SOMR would send a message to Hartford that the town supported affordable housing, “but not in the way it is being rammed down our throats by developers in the face of growing opposition from Greenwich residents.”
Ms Brennan-Galvin said Mr. Berg had been the only member of the Land Use committee to vote against the SOMR, and his own ideas about the SOMR were defeated in his committee 11-1-0.
“(Berg’s) major rebuttal was that the SOMR is flawed because it does not suggest where to build affordable housing or how to pay for it,” Ms Brennan-Galvin added. “That is the whole point of the affordable housing trust fund.”
“The fund will include a board of trustees and an advisory council, on which Tara Restieri and I are the newly appointed RTM members. Our major task over the next two years will be to discuss, debate, and attempt to come up with solutions to these thorny problems, particularly the issue of funding these much needed projects.”
Local developer, Joe Pecora, who has built several 8-30g developments in Greenwich, and has a large one in the works at 5 Brookridge Drive, said the Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) had talked about the need for affordable housing.
“The town has failed in all respects,” Pecora said. “The SOMR is a scare tactic, and only represents 150 people who want to change the only regulation that will provide the affordable housing…”
Mareta Hamre opposed the SOMR, saying local zoning laws disallowed multi-family housing on 98% of residential land in Greenwich, and the SOMR talked about clear cutting of trees and increasing impervious surfaces, but there was no evidence supporting either.
“To the contrary, 8-30g does not affect a property owner’s ability to clear cut trees,” she added. “In fact, it is the construction of single family homes that are allowed, as of right, under our zoning laws throughout our town and in back country, that has caused the clear cutting of vastly more trees than any clear cutting that allegedly would occur even if all of the proposed developments were built.”
She said impervious surfaces would not increase as alleged.
“In fact, single family zoning, which again comprises nearly all of Greenwich residential property, creates vastly more impervious surface than multi family housing,” Hamre said.
“Our local zoning laws encourage sprawl into pristine undeveloped areas,” Hamre added. “Our local zoning laws require vastly more roads and impervious surfaces to reach the houses on large, single family lots.”
Hamre said building concentrated multi-family housing where land is already developed and where infrastructure already exists, was the only way to build the housing the town needs in an environmentally sustainable way.
That *SOMR was approved in a vote of 164 in favor, 22 opposed, and 9 abstentions.
After the vote, Tara Restieri who was the principal proponent of the SOMR, said in an email, “Tonight, the RTM sent a clear and resounding message to Hartford. The RTM voted in overwhelming favor of the proposed resolution to support our state delegation in their efforts to reform the current 8-30g statute and help Greenwich pursue affordable housing development that better serves our community. We want our residents to know that we, their representatives, are listening to their concerns and their voices are being heard.”
*The Sense of the Meeting Resolution to amend Connecticut’s Affordable Housing Land Use Appeals Procedure (CGS § 8-30g) to better address the needs of vulnerable populations and development oversight in the Town of Greenwich
WHEREAS the State of Connecticut set an affordable housing goal of not less than 10% of a town’s housing units under CGS § 8-30g more than thirty years ago, and if a town has not met the 10% level, the local planning and zoning commission has very narrow grounds on which to amend or deny such projects;
WHEREAS 22% of Greenwich’s residents are Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE), 21% of its public school students are eligible for free or reduced lunch, 34% of its residents are renters, and 7% of its residents fall below the poverty line;
WHEREAS the Town of Greenwich has 1,380 housing units, or 5.3% of relevant housing stock that qualifies as affordable under the conditions of CGS § 8-30g;
WHEREAS the Town of Greenwich has a number of affordable housing units that are not counted towards the 10% target of CGS § 8-30g because they are not deed restricted;
WHEREAS Greenwich Communities (previously known as the Greenwich Housing Authority), which manages 13 subsidized residential complexes, 225 section 8 (government subsidized) residences and a 40-bed facility for the aged, and has added 18 affordable units at the Armstrong Court property and 11 units at the Adams Garden property, is in the process of renovating the Armstrong Court buildings, which will include the addition of 42 new affordable units, and is planning to add 52 new senior units at Vinci Gardens, and is planning a complete redevelopment of the Quarry Knoll property to consist of at least 225 units;
WHEREAS the Town of Greenwich is currently developing an Affordable Housing Plan to address additional needs and has approved an Affordable Housing Trust Fund which is intended to support further development;
WHEREAS the Town of Greenwich had only received 8 applications under CGS § 8-30g in the past 29 years and now is reviewing 13 housing projects filed by developers under CGS § 8-30g in the past 14 months, with more expected this year, and that under CGS § 8-30g developers may construct buildings substantially in excess of Greenwich’s local zoning limits, as long as 30% or more of the units are deemed affordable;
WHEREAS the combined impact of these projects filed under CGS § 8-30g will have significant negative consequences for the environment and for town infrastructure as developers’ plans would require the clear-cutting of trees, an increase in the amount of impervious surfaces, and could overwhelm the capacity of Greenwich’s wastewater treatment plant, roadways, drainage systems, and schools; and
WHEREAS as of last year only 31 of the 169 towns in Connecticut had met CGS § 8-30g’s 10% target, indicating that the requirements of CGS § 8-30g make it difficult to achieve the affordable housing target of CGS § 8-30g; now therefore, be it
RESOLVED, that the Representative Town Meeting:
- urges Town leadership to increase efforts to develop and plan for the affordable housing needs of our Town; and
- urges the state delegation for the Town of Greenwich to work with the Governor and the legislature to amend CGS § 8-30g to
a. cap the volume of CGS § 8-30g projects that must be considered concurrently by a municipality so that the effect of each project on the municipality can be determined before additional projects are evaluated;
b. expand the list of criteria which local housing commissioners may use in an appeal proceeding defending their decision to amend or reject an affordable housing proposal to include issues such as incompatibility with a Town’s Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD), density, height, traffic, environmental and infrastructure impacts, drainage and sewerage;
c. allow local municipalities to adopt policies that prioritize affordable housing development rather than allowing private developers to control such policies under CGS § 8-30g; and
d. review and update CGS § 8-30g’s metrics to better reflect the intent of the original statute.