Despite town counsel’s confidence that safety concerns for an 8-30g project at the corner of Leroy and West Avenues gave the town a good chance at getting at least a hearing with the state Appellate Court, that court recently denied the town’s request for appeal.
After a years-long court battle, last March, a state judge ruled that Darien’s need for affordable housing outweighs the town’s objections to the housing project proposed by Chris and Margaret Stefanoni in 2008, which were safety related.
The town said the new structure would cause sightline problems at the busy intersection.
In sustaining the Stefanonis’ appeal of the town Planning & Zoning Commission’s denial of the proposal, Judge Henry Cohn of the New Britain State Superior Court said the town had “not met its burden under state statute 8-30g.”
In 2008, the couple originally proposed a 16-unit, age-restricted condominium complex on their 0.47 acre property at the corner of Leroy and West. Five of the units would be “affordable,” which allowed the Stefanonis to propose the project under the state’s affordable housing statute. The units would also be limited to residents 62 and older.
State statute 8-30g allows developers to overstep local zoning laws in towns such as Darien that do not have 10% of its housing classified as affordable. A developer may get around zoning laws if a proposal includes affordable housing.
In September, Chris Stefanoni said he was interested in a possible compromise with the town on his projects and said he might have a buyer for one of, if not all three of his current projects.
Earlier this year, Wayne Fox, town attorney, said there is no automatic right of appeal in the case, and in order for it to be granted, at least two of the nine state Appellate Court judges have to agree the case is worthy.
In the appeal, the town said P & Z commissioners “expressed their desire to have affordable housing on the site.”
“They urged the plaintiffs to submit a modified plan, reducing the size and mass of the proposed building to eliminate the safety hazard that it would create,” the petition to appeal said.
“All that was required to eliminate the safety hazard at the intersection was to reduce the size of the proposed building so that it would not encroach upon the 30-foot clear area required in the regulations dealing with ‘visibility at intersections,'” the town said in its petition.
The P & Z Commission denied the application based on the project’s density in addition to other factors. In the resolution, the commission said that it was not opposed to the location at the corner of Leroy and West for affordable housing.
“The intensity/density/number of units proposed results in serious parking issues and potential traffic safety conflicts. The proposed intensity of development is a serious problem which needs adjustment. As currently proposed, this would not be safe for the community or the proposed occupants,” the resolution stated at the time.
The commission gave the Stefanonis the option to revise the plan to their specifications, which the couple declined — instead opting to appeal the decision in court.
Judge Cohn addressed the safety concerns cited by P & Z, which said the site would lack a clear visibility for motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians once the project was completed.
Cohn wrote that a state Department of Transportation engineer said the project did not violate sight line criteria and said that a hedge across the street from the project exceeded the visibility regulations the commission was citing as a problem for the Stefanoni project.
“The test is whether substantial safety concerns outweigh the need for affordable housing. The commission has not met this test,” Cohn wrote.
“Both the plaintiffs and the commission have recognized at the hearing the need for affordable housing at this location,” the judge said.
The town was awarded a four-year moratorium from state 8-30g projects in October 2010, a moratorium that the Stefanonis continue to challenge in court on the grounds that the town did not earn the required points.
This project was proposed before the moratorium took effect. The couple has two other proposals in the appeals process.
The Stefanonis proposed two 8-30g developments last year in time to be grandfathered in before the moratorium, one on Hoyt Street and one on Pheasant Run in Tokeneke.
Both were rejected by the Planning & Zoning Commission last year, unless, like the Leroy Avenue project, the Stefanonis made extensive modifications — an option they once again declined, choosing the appeal process instead.
Fox could not be reached for comment.