Former Darien First Selectman urges officials to go slow on affordable housing at public hearing

Town Hall in Darien

Town Hall in Darien

Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticut Media

DARIEN — The town’s first affordable housing master plan crafted in two decades came under its first public spotlight this week.

Only a handful of residents — including former First Selectman Jayme Stevenson — commented on the plan, meant to chart Darien’s current progress in tackling a housing shortage while laying out strategies for the future of affordable and high-density housing in a town that has maintained a longstanding commitment to homes meant for single families.

Sweeping state legislation meant to tackle the housing shortage in Connecticut passed earlier this year, requiring all 169 municipalities to submit an affordable housing plan earlier this summer.

During public comments, Stevenson took the microphone to ask officials to “look at our housing inventory in a holistic way.”

Stevenson is running for Connecticut's 4th District in the United States House of Representatives.

“So just a word of caution in my opinion, is to digest what we've done so far ... Take a breath and go slowly,” she said. “Always be mindful that as we become more dense and developed, we are impacting the environment no matter how hard you try.”

Viewing the overarching principles that guide the six-chapter document, officials said they want to maintain Darien’s character as primarily a single-family town built largely in a New England style.

“This is a really important document,” chair Stephen Olvany said, adding that Darien was one of a handful of towns hosting a public hearing on the state plan.

Officials also said they are aiming toward the ultimate goal: a moratorium on all new affordable housing regulations that would exempt Darien from state-mandated housing projects for a period of time.

But officials also say they want to provide a “wide array” of housing stock for different needs, including younger and older people who often find themselves priced out of homes in town.

As commission member Jim Rand noted, that will be increasingly hard to do with 98 percent of the town developed.

Only three communities have achieved the moratorium — including Darien, according to former zoning officer David Keating, who is acting as a consultant for the town.

Resident Rolf Obin, who also serves on the Representative Town Meeting, urged the commission to identify ways to keep the town from pricing out senior adult people, especially as housing costs rise exponentially.

“Now as a senior, I want to stay in my house... I don't want to be forced out because of raising property taxes on a continual year-by-year basis,” Obin said. “And so anything that the planning and zoning commission can do because you have influence on the market is something I'd like to ask you to consider.”