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Developer Withdraws Hunters Ridge Applications

Published: April 20, 2018

PLEASE NOTE: This story includes important updates unavailable for the April 20, 2018 print edition of The Newtown Bee.

 

The developer for the proposed major mixed-use project Hunters Ridge has withdrawn multiple applications for the complex from town review. The development was proposed for a 35-acre site at 79 Church Hill Road — near the westbound Interstate 84 Exit 10 interchange.

Newtown Director of Planning George Benson told The Newtown Bee April 18 he received a message from attorney Christopher Smith withdrawing the project’s zoning application from Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) consideration. The attorney for developer 79 Church Hill Road, LLC, said he had no comment on the matter when contacted the following day.

The withdrawn zoning application had proposed the construction of 224 rental apartments in six buildings, plus more than 55,000 square feet of commercial space at the site.

Twenty percent of the units, or 45 dwellings, would have been designated as affordable housing under the terms of the P&Z’s Incentive Housing-10 (IH-10) zoning regulations.

Because the aquifer protection aspects of the proposal are overseen by the P&Z, the Aquifer Protection Agency’s (APA) planned review of an aquifer protection application also is canceled.

On April 19, the developer withdrew its application for a wetlands/watercourses protection permit for Hunters Ridge.

On April 20, it was unclear if the developer would attend a May 10 Water & Sewer Authority (WSA) meeting to pursue obtaining sewage treatment capacity for a possible new smaller version of the project.

 

WSA Decision

On April 12, WSA members had rejected a request for municipal sanitary sewer service for Hunters Ridge, which would have required more than 44,000 gallons of daily sewage treatment capacity.

WSA members, however, agreed at that May 10 session to consider providing sewer service for a possible smaller version of Hunters Ridge, which would hold 141 rental apartments, but no commercial space, requiring about 21,000 gallons of daily sewage treatment capacity.

Unlike the larger version of the project, which would have been situated on a 35-acre parcel, the smaller version would be built on the 3.5 acres of the site which is nearest to Church Hill Road. Those 3.5 acres, representing one-tenth of the 79 Church Hill Road site, lie within the town’s central sanitary sewer district, while the other 31.5 acres at the site are not in the sewer district.

The WSA’s April 12 session was held at the Public Works Department, where a crowded meeting room held several dozen residents from neighborhoods near the development site.

Walnut Tree Hill Road resident Ken Chimileski offered WSA members a petition signed by 333 people opposing the Hunters Ridge development proposal.

In March, the Board of Selectmen recommended that the WSA not provide sewer service for Hunters Ridge.

The initial Hunters Ridge project was submitted to the town under the terms of the IH-10 zoning regulations, which allow high-density multifamily housing with an adjacent commercial component, provided that 20 percent of the dwellings are deed-restricted for 30 years as affordable housing. Such affordable housing is offered to eligible people at much lower prices than the market-rate units in the complex.

At the WSA session, Mr Smith proposed that the WSA provide the developer with nearly 21,000 gallons of daily sewage treatment capacity to handle wastewater disposal from 141 rental apartments. Those dwellings would be located in two four-story buildings. One building would contain 77 units, and the other would hold 64 apartments, he said.

However, all those dwellings would be located on the 3.5 acres of the site lying nearest to Church Hill Road, which is in the sewer district. Mr Smith told WSA members that future development could occur on the other 31.5 acres of the parcel, which lie outside the sewer district, through the use of a large-scale community septic system.

The WSA calculates that the town has approximately 33,000 gallons of unallocated sewage treatment capacity remining in the central sewer system.

Notably, the IH-10 zoning regulations would theoretically allow a maximum of roughly 40 dwellings in an area of 3.5 acres, so the developer apparently would not be in compliance with the IH-10 rules in constructing a 141-unit complex.

 

Affordable Housing

It is unclear if the developer would submit a new application to the P&Z for some modified version of Hunters Ridge, and if it is rejected by the P&Z, then seek to develop the property through the provisions of a state law often referred to as the “8-30g process.”

The 8-30g process, also sometimes known as the Affordable Housing Appeals Act (AHAA), provides developers with a legal mechanism to gain multifamily housing approvals, provided that 30 percent of the dwellings in such complexes are designated as affordable housing.

In 2009, after having fought a lengthy court battle, Danbury developer Guri Dauti, who built the 26-unit Edona Commons condominium complex on Church Hill Road in Sandy Hook Center, gained approval for that project through the AHAA process, winning lawsuits against both the P&Z and the WSA. The town then failed to overturn those court victories.

The 4.5-acre Edona Commons site lies inside the sewer district.

In the AHAA process, a developer whose multifamily proposal is rejected by a municipality appeals that decision to a special housing court, which may then approve the project, based on the state’s goal of increasing the supply of affordable housing.

In overturning a local zoning rejection, the court then allows a developer to formulate a unique set of zoning regulations that then apply only to the housing complex at hand. The court directs the local zoning agency to approve the complex under the terms of those unique regulations. Mr Dauti created a unique set of zoning rules known as the Mixed-Income Housing District (MIHD) zone.

Newtown, like many other communities, is under a state mandate to significantly increase its stock of affordable housing. The 79 Church Hill Road site is considered developmentally desirable for multifamily housing, which includes an affordable housing component, because it has frontage on a major roadway, access to sanitary sewers, and access to a public water supply.

First Selectman Dan Rosenthal told The Bee that Newtown has been increasing its stock including projects in Hawleyville and Sandy Hook.

“Newtown has a demonstrated track record of supporting affordable housing,” Mr Rosenthal said.

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