State rejects Darien's bid for a new affordable housing moratorium
Lawyers and land-use officials representing Darien expect the town to get a quick reversal of the state's recent rejection of a second affordable housing moratorium, a ban that would allow the town to turn down prospective affordable housing developers' proposals that overstep local land-use regulations.
The town feels it has solid arguments in support of the moratorium. The 106 units of the Heights at Darien, for example. Completed in 2012 and financed by the Connecticut Housing Authority, it reflects that the town grew its affordable housing stock by 2 percent and earned the moratorium, Town Planning & Zoning Director Jeremy Ginsberg told the Board of Selectmen on Monday night.
The town can also alter deed restrictions for properties to limit tenants to lower-income groups, and also seek credit for renovating two single-family public housing structures originally built for returning World War II veterans at 216-218 West Ave. to be converted into multi-family housing, Ginsberg said.
"The state has to process what they're given and we'll talk to them about possibilities," Ginsberg said.
The state housing authority two weeks ago rejected the town's attempt to extend the moratorium provided under the state's affordable housing rules, which allows developers to sidestep local zoning laws if 10 percent of the town's housing stock doesn't meet the state's affordable housing guidelines. In 2010, Darien became only one of four towns to have earned one of the four-year moratoriums.
If taken to court, the burden of proof falls on towns to prove that a project they turned aside is detrimental to their town.
Ultimately, the state determined that Darien fell 4.5 points short of the necessary 141.48 points, based upon calculations related to The Heights at Darien development, which the state decided merited fewer points than the town appointed to it in its application.
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The Heights of Darien involved the redevelopment of 53 units at the Allen O'Neill Homes into 106 units within the new Heights.
For the purposes of the moratorium, the state calculated points based on whether the units were restricted to tenants making less than 40 to 80 percent of the state median income.
Because the units at the Heights are deed restricted to area median income rather than the lower state median income, the calculations became less straightforward, Ginsberg said, with the state awarding fewer points for units set aside for tenants making 50 percent or more of area median income.
The difference between the state median income of $86,300 and the $125,000 median in Darien is significant, and it's the state's reasoning that residents in higher income affordable units could theoretically make in excess of state median income guidelines, Ginsberg said.
"When the Heights of Darien went for financing to show how their project would work, they proposed tying housing to area median income," Ginsberg said. "The state said we have to assume everyone makes the higher end of the range, which is an interesting assumption because that is just not likely."
Following the presentation, board members expressed the desire to continue to expand affordable housing in town, and First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said she believes the state should place greater emphasis on deed restricted housing for seniors, an important social need for Darien.
Stevenson said it might be worth finding out if additional zoning regulations could restrict developers to use the state median income guidelines for affordable housing units if the town wants new lower- and middle-income units to meet the requirements to get a moratorium.
"Clearly having developers develop to area media income is not going to be a good strategy for us if we want to maximize points," Stevenson said.
Ginsberg said he was surprised when the state indicated it would not factor in anonymous income data for tenants he was trying to gather who he expected would demonstrate that the units in the application were inhabited by people who fell within the lower state median income guidelines.
"Regardless of the deed restrictions, the occupant might have an income far below the threshold and would easily merit higher points," Ginsberg said.
The earlier moratorium was granted in 2010 based on the state's finding that the construction of units at AvalonBay Communities and Clock Hill Homes created enough of the required housing equivalency points for the town to maintain control of affordable housing approvals.
Selectmen E. Reilly Tierney said he was encouraged to hear the town might still prevail in getting the moratorium, but said the Board of Selectmen faces a decision whether they want the town government to proactively direct what guidelines and restrictions apply to new developments involving affordable housing.
"We need to decide whether the BOS will be in the business of developing affordable housing," Tierney said.