Darien waiting for state's decision on moratorium status
The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the Town of Darien in regard to the federal Fair Housing Act.
First Selectman David Campbell received a letter from the U.S. Department of Justice in May stating the department had initiated an investigation into the town's zoning and land use practices. Specifically, the letter says the department is interested in "understanding the reasons why the Town adopted Section 586 of the Regulations, entitled `Priority Populations.'
According to Planning and Zoning Director Jeremy Ginsberg, Section 586, which has never been implemented by the town, establishes a framework for who will have access to affordable housing if the demand is greater than supply, said.
Specifically, Section 586 says in regards to priority population: The below market rate dwelling units shall be offered for sale or rent to income eligible households in accordance with the following priority designations:
a. Individuals or families who live and work in the Town of Darien who provide volunteer emergency/life saving services for residents of the Town.
b. Individuals or families who are employed by the Town of Darien or Darien Public School system.
c. Individuals or families who live and work in the Town of Darien.
d. Individuals or families who live in the Town of Darien.
e. Individuals or families who work in the Town of Darien.
f. Individuals or families who previously lived for a minimum of one (1) year in the Town and wish to return.
g. All other individuals or families.
The letter goes on to say that the investigation is only preliminary and no decision had been made whether the town violated the Fair Housing Act.
"It's the wording of the inclusionary zoning regulations that are the problem," Campbell said. "Planning and Zoning had taken Stamford's and Norwalk's inclusionary regulations and basically copied them."
"No harm was done to anybody," Campbell said.
With the 30-day public comment period closed, the town is waiting for the state's ruling on whether it will achieve a moratorium for affordable housing.
Christopher and Margaret Stefanoni submitted an extensive commentary to the Department of Economic and Community Development detailing why Darien fails to meet the required number of moratorium points.
In a letter addressed to the Deptartment Commissioner Joan McDonald, the Stefanonis assert that the Town of Darien fails to meet the required moratorium points in regards to Villager Pond, Clock Hill Homes, the Cottage and Avalon Darien. According to the Stefanonis, the Villager Pond development does not qualify for moratorium points because the units were built before July 1, 1990 and the Villager Pond maximum income levels exceed 80 percent of both the State Median Income and the Area Median Income.
Clock Hill Homes does not qualify because the maximum income levels exceed 80 percent of the state and area median income.
The Cottage shouldn't be considered in the town's moratorium points because it is a group home, and should, therefore, be considered one dwelling unit, the Stefanonis say.
Finally, Avalon Darien does not comply with the statutory definition of a set-aside development and should not be given the 0.25 points given to market-rate units in a set-aside development, the Stefanonis stated.
The Connecticut Finance Authority lists the statewide income limits by county and for a household of one to two persons, the income limit is set at $116,300; for households of three or more persons, the income limit is set at $133,745.
In a statement, Christopher Stefanoni said it was unfortunate that the application process for affordable housing ended up pitting the Stefanonis against town leaders and lawyers. However, Stefanoni said his intent from the start was to find an intelligent way to build affordable housing.
"Three years ago, my only plan was to help the town find an intelligent course for affordable housing, and the Leroy-West Senior Residences next to the train station, a location identified by the Town as ideal, was a step in the right direction," Stefanoni said. In his statement, Stefanoni asserts that "the town's application process has been suspect from the start, riddled with improper secrecy, attempting to avoid public comment, questionable procedural missteps, incorrect documentation and material misstatements."
Campbell disagreed with Stefanoni's statement.
"The Stefanonis want to greenmail communities," Campbell said. "They have never built anything in this town and the moratorium would put them out of business for four years."
In a prepared statement, Stefanoni said, "It is obvious from Dave Campbell's comments that I have ticked him off again, so I will probably not be on his guest list for any of those secretly-planned parties. Nevertheless, it is wrong to use against me that I have not built affordable housing in town. It is the town who has to issue a permit before I can build anything, and the town has been doing its best for years to avoid issuing one. That is the whole point of the Department of Justice's inquiry into whether Darien violates the fair housing laws. The Leroy-West Senior Residences were first proposed in May of 2008, and that was a long time ago. However, with perseverance and the law on my side, I hope to prevail, and that has Dave Campbell agitated. If the town would just bite the bullet and build some senior affordable housing, that would be fabulous. I have been advocating that for years."
Campbell said the moratorium is not the answer to the problem at hand, citing Trumbull as an example.
"Trumbull had two moratoriums and they used both, so now they can't do anything," Campbell said. Getting the affordable housing statute repealed would be a step in the right direction, according to Campbell.
"It's a broken law," Campbell said. He addressed the fact that many big cities get all the money for affordable housing developments because there is such a high demand for it.
"The market price on housing has dropped to the point where a lot of the housing on the market is affordable," Campbell said.
Instead of seeking a moratorium, Campbell said the town should be responsible with the placement of housing units; putting housing units in dense residential areas is not the answer, Campbell said.
Campbell agreed there was a stigma in town in regards to affordable housing.
"People look at Alen O'Neill and because it's rundown and tired, that's what people think of as affordable housing," Campbell said.
Campbell acknowledged that there has been some demand in the past for affordable housing for teachers and police officers, but he said they make too much money to want to live in an affordable housing development.
The solution to removing that type of stigma would be to build more developments like Avalon, Campbell said.
"People like it," Campbell said referring to the AvalonBay development. "Avalon was built in an appropriate area.
The state has 60 days to make a ruling on whether Darien will receive a moratorium. There are three rulings the state can give: the moratorium can be granted, the moratorium can not be granted or the state can decide to not issue a ruling in which case Darien will be granted the moratorium by default.