Woodbridge committee recommends opportunity housing in busy commercial district

A possible method for adding affordable housing in the Dev. 1 zone is to install apartments above commercial businesses such as these in the Woodbridge Plaza at 214 Amity Road.

A possible method for adding affordable housing in the Dev. 1 zone is to install apartments above commercial businesses such as these in the Woodbridge Plaza at 214 Amity Road.

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WOODBRIDGE — A town committee charged with implementing more affordable housing has recommended including "opportunity housing" within a busy commercial district.

The Woodbridge Housing Committee this month made a recommendation to the Town Plan and Zoning Commission to amend its zoning regulations to extend opportunity housing into the Development 1 zone, a mixed-use district tucked away in eastern Woodbridge.

Neatly bounded by Amity Road, Bradley Road, and Litchfield Turnpike, the Dev. 1 zone mostly serves as a commercial district featuring small to mid-sized businesses, including professional offices, restaurants, laundromats, and lodging, town documents show.

Planning officials said that the area, which also includes a smattering of single-family homes, is an ideal location for opportunity housing, offering easy access to public transit and utilities.

According to town documents, opportunity housing provides greater variety and economic diversity within Woodbridge's housing landscape. Affordable housing is one example of opportunity housing.

Woodbridge officials have sought to reassess their housing options after a 2021 state law required each municipality to provide no less than 10% of its total housing stock as affordable housing. As of 2021, the percentage affordable housing in Woodbridge is 1.18%, according to the town's recently adopted Affordable Housing Plan.

In addition to amending the zoning regulations, the Housing Committee also recommended incorporating the town's Affordable Housing Plan into its Plan of Conservation and Development, which would "ensure that housing development is coupled with the community's other goals such as economic development," documents state.

The recommendations, which were given at the TPZ's Nov. 7 meeting, comes against the backdrop of a lawsuit aimed at the town for its alleged discriminatory zoning regulations restricting multi-family housing.

Housing Committee Chair Kathleen Hunter said Wednesday that her group will continue making suggestions that highlight ways to promote opportunity housing in Woodbridge. She said the decision to recommend housing in the Dev. 1 zone was obvious, calling it "low-hanging fruit."

The committee's recommendation also aligns with a preference among residents to locate affordable and multi-family housing in commercial areas. A recent town-administered survey found that about 76% of respondents wanted affordable and multi-family housing to be built in or near mixed-use developments, including above retail businesses.

Formed in February 2021, the Housing Committee was initially charged with creating an affordable housing plan as required by state law. Now, the committee is responsible for implementing the strategies that are outlined in the plan.

According to Hunter, the committee has also recommended re-purposing the town-owned Woodbridge Country Club into an affordable housing destination. That property, she said, has the capacity for high-density housing because of its access to public utilities. 

Woodbridge residents have largely opposed efforts to promote affordable housing, with some seeking to preserve the town's intimate and rural character. But Hunter said she believes that the pushback has mostly come from an outspoken minority, and that attitudes among residents are shifting.

"The hearts and minds of most Woodbridge residents have been changed, and I think they are more appreciative of having a more diverse robust community," Hunter said.

However, only 35% of people who responded to a recent housing survey, conducted by the South Central Regional Council of Governments, said they believed that Woodbridge has an obligation to create housing opportunities for those who can't afford to live there. About 51% of the survey's 759 respondents said the town shouldn't have that obligation, and about 14% said they were unsure. 

Planning officials said the most likely method for building affordable housing in the Dev. 1 zone would be to install apartments above commercial businesses, fulfilling the need for high-density housing. A public hearing on the Housing Committee's recommendation will likely be held at a future TPZ meeting.

Some business owners located in the Woodbridge Plaza at 214 Amity Road have expressed their support for affordable housing, officials added.

Mark Fernicola, who owns Ferni's Barbershop, said he liked the potential of having more customers frequent his business in the plaza.

"It would be great if people were living above the business," Fernicola said. "Then they can just walk over and get a haircut."






Against the backdrop of a lawsuit