Moratorium upheld despite numerous challenges - Top story of 2010
Achieving a moratorium was no small task for the town as private developers and the state questioned the use of the existing affordable housing.
Only weeks after Darien was granted a moratorium, the town had to pull together information on Clock Hill Homes to determine if the units were in accordance with the 8-30g statute after developers Chris and Peggy Stefanoni challenged the DECD's interpretation of Clock Hill Homes.
First Selectman David Campbell explained that Clock Hill Homes was being questioned in order to clarify that the town did not sell any of the units to people whose incomes exceeded 80 percent of the area median income.
"We feel that with our research there's no problem with the income levels," Campbell said. "We're confident that everyone in there complies with the 80 percent median area income stipulation."
In a letter to Campbell from the Commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, Joan McDonald of the DECD said "information has to come light which, if corroborated, would indicate that the authority has administered the Clock Hill Homes deed restrictions in a manner which has resulted in sales to households whose income exceeds eighty percent (80 percent) of area median income."
The letter went on to say that a response was required by Nov. 15 in order for the town to retain its moratorium. The DECD requires that the town provide a written explanation that addressed the issues with Clock Hill Homes.
"As you are well aware, DECD does not have oversight of the enforcement of or implementation of the deed restriction as administered by the Darien Housing Authority; this responsibility resides solely with the Town of Darien," the letter states. "Please provide a written response and explanation which: i) addresses whether the affordability restrictions for Clock Hill Homes are being administered in a manner consistent with the deeds' stated affordability restrictions and ii) furnishes a detailed analysis of your findings for all the Clock Hill Homes."
The letter also mentioned that if any errors were discovered while researching Clock Hill Homes, the town would also have to provide an explanation of how the town would avoid making similar errors in the future.
Campbell explained there are repercussions for towns if they fail to provide accurate information to the DECD.
"If you did misrepresent information in the application then there is a period of three years where you can't reapply for a moratorium," Campbell said.
In addition to gathering the necessary information for the DECD, Christopher and Margaret Stefanoni had also submitted two more applications for affordable housing developments. The first development would be on Hoyt Street and the second would be at the intersection of Tokeneke Road and Pheasant Run.
As part of the approval process for the developments, both of which involve building a structure that would house 30 units, 30 percent of which would be affordable housing.
Chris Stefanoni, in a statement, said the town is acting unfairly in regards to affordable housing.
"Our Town government embarrassed itself again Tuesday night, and it is shameful that Darien keeps stooping so low not to be inclusive," he wrote. "For the last five years, my wife and I have fought uphill battles against Darien land use commissions that misadminister the rules to protect the Town's `character' and `way of life' which are no longer compatible with the modern ideals of diversity in our country."
Stefanoni went on to say that he and his wife would be meeting with a Department of Justice investigative team to submit testimonials and materials in regards to the handling of inclusionary zoning in Darien.
"However, the State and Federal government have recently expressed serious concerns about Darien's conduct with regard to affordable housing," Stefanoni said. "My wife and I, as well as others, have been asked to travel to meet with an investigative team from the Department of Justice next week to submit testimony and materials, going back to 2005."
Stefanoni expressed an interest in seeing the town move forward in terms of fairness and decency.
"With some time, effort and hope, Darien could move from the 19th century into the 21st century, and that would be pleasing to anyone who believes in fairness and decency," Stefanoni said.
"If there were to be a judicial interpretation of the language of the re-sale restrictions, I am confident the DECD's interpretation that 70 percent of 115 percent is 80.5 percent would not qualify as meeting the statutory requirements, and not only because 80.5 exceeds 80," the Stefanonis said in an e-mail. "First, the plain meaning of the re-sale language does not give that result, and the courts do not favor tortured interpretations of language. If there were any doubt about the meaning, the court would look at the time-tested interpretation given to the language by those who created it and those who administered it.
A determination of whether the town would retain the moratorium or not didn't come until mid December when the DECD ruled that Darien's moratorium would be upheld.
In a letter to First Selectman David Campbell, DECD Commissioner Joan McDonald said the town would retain its moratorium.
"As you are aware from my prior correspondence, the state has the ability to revoke a State Certificate of Affordable Housing Project Completion upon a determination that an application contains inaccurate, misleading, or materially false information or was otherwise approved without compliance with the criteria of sections 8-30g CGS and RCSA sections 8-30g-1 to 8-30g-11, inclusive," the letter states.
"A review of the information submitted by the town shows that the affordability restrictions for Clock Hill Homes are being administered in a manner consistent with the deeds' stated affordability restrictions," the letter reads. "Based upon Attorney Fox's November 12, 2010 letter, along with the supporting documentation he provided, I have concluded that the town's application did not contain any inaccurate, misleading, or materially false information."
As a result of the decision, the town of Darien is protected from affordable housing applications that were submitted after Nov. 2.