Stonington – The Planning and Zoning Commission voted 4-1 on Tuesday to pass a new affordable housing plan for the town, which removes many of the recommendations contained in the original proposal.
The commission also voted to recommend that the Board of Selectmen form a commission with a broad membership base, including members of the public, to consider implementing the plan’s recommendations. They also requested that the selected women publish the openings of the commission.
The committee’s approval came despite the reservations of two members.
“I’m quite discouraged by these four pages,” Chairman Ben Philbrick said of the brief plan, which he voted against approving.
Commissioner Charles Sheehan added: “I don’t think it reflects our best work. …or where we might be with a different process.”
But he said he would vote to approve the plan so the city remains in good standing with the state, which requires a plan to be adopted by June 1.
Adoption of the plan does not mean that the recommendations are in effect. This would require additional approvals and hearings by the commission to change zoning bylaws or by elected officials and residents.
The initial plan’s long list of recommendations drew criticism from residents at a public hearing on April 5, and the commission later significantly reduced the plan from 33 pages to five.
The plan approved Tuesday night eliminated recommendations that the city establish an affordable housing trust fund that would provide loans or grants to affordable housing estates, or buy land or build affordable housing. The recommendation that the city create tax increase funding districts in areas around Interstate 95 exits 90 and 92 to support affordable housing is also eliminated. With such neighborhoods, the city would have spent money up front to fund infrastructure improvements, land acquisition, or other aspects of an affordable housing project, often through a surety, and then would have repaid the money with tax revenue from the project.
Instead, the revised plan calls for the creation of an affordable housing commission to study the two proposals as well as a property tax abatement policy.
Instead of the original recommendation that would have required developers to make 10% to 20% of residential units in projects affordable, the new plan calls for consideration of a requirement that residential developments “of a certain size must provide a minimum percentage of affordable units.” The size of these developments and the percentage of units are not specified.
Housing is defined as affordable when it is “sold or rented at or below a price for which a household pays 30% or less of its income”; in Stonington, the median family household income is $79,250. Under state law, when communities have less than 10% affordable housing, developers do not have to comply with zoning regulations when submitting projects where 30% of units are considered affordable . Currently, about 6% of Stonington’s housing is dedicated to affordable prices.
Among the changes recommended in the adopted plan are the reduction of the minimum 2,000 square foot requirement for building size to have a secondary suite in an effort to allow such accommodation in smaller homes; consider allowing duplexes on the same minimum lot size as single family homes where duplexes are permitted; and permit multi-family uses in residential neighborhoods served by adequate public sewer and water or wells and septic systems, as well as in commercial neighborhoods.
It is also suggested that a full review of permitted uses be conducted in each area and review the maximum number of units, lot area requirements and minimum percentage of commercial use requirements in projects to mixed use.