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Wednesday, August 21 News

Commission nears ‘no’ on Hiawatha Lane housing

WESTPORT — A plan to bring a 187-unit rental complex on Hiawatha Lane may be at the end of its road.

The Planning and Zoning Commission reviewed reasons to deny the application proposed by Summit Saugatuck LLC at its meeting Thursday night. The development application was submitted as an 8-30g application before the town’s recent four-year moratorium.

In municipalities that don’t have enough affordable housing in the eyes of the state, any 8-30 g application brought before a town or city’s zoning board can circumvent local building regulations and only be denied on traffic, safety or environmental grounds.

“What the commission is required to do if they are going to deny an application for an affordable housing is determine there is a significant public interest that outweighs the need for affordable housing,” Town Counsel Peter Gelderman told the commission.

No formal vote was held, but the commission plans to decide at its next meeting on June 20.

Commission members discussed pedestrian access, fire safety, and lack of consistency with the town’s plan of conservation and development as reasons, among others, to deny the application.

If built, the housing development would be near the Avalon rental complex in Norwalk. In previous testimony, Fire Marshal Nate Gibbons said an adequate second fire road was needed near the site, and also advised against approving the project without this road.

But if turned down, it could follow a similar fate of Morningside Drive Homes, which recently reached a legal settlement with the town after several attempts to build on a historic Greens Farms property. Morningside was approved a three-lot subdivision for 26 Morningside Drive South.

Both projects have been highly contested by neighbors in the past, and groups like Save Old Saugatuck and Greens Farms United.

Commissioner Catherine Walsh said that, in 2006, a mutual restrictive agreement was made between Summit Saugatuck and the then-owners of the Avalon complex, which stated both parties needed a secondary access road for safety.

“There’s a written agreement that shows Summit knew they needed, as the fire marshal said, that access road,” Walsh said, adding the fire marshal arrived at his conclusion without knowledge of the agreement.

In 2009, the city of Norwalk made the only property viable for such an access road a conservation easment, which prevented the road’s construction.

“Prior to this application even coming to us, they knew there were certain conditions that were going to be difficult,” Planning and Zoning Chairman Paul Lebowitz said.

This is the seventh time since 2002 Summit Saugatuck Principal Felix Charney has appeared before the Planning and Zoning Commission, having also previously served on the commission.

However, Walsh said it was important to note the managing partner for the applicant was the Grossman Companies in Boston.

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“It’s not really a local company,” she said. “I think it’s important for everybody to know that we’re dealing with a very large, big-business entity.”

dj.simmons@hearstmediact.com

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