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Tuesday, August 4 News

Westport looks to add more affordable housing

WESTPORT — More affordable housing could be on the way to Westport if a new plan introduced by the Planning and Zoning Commission comes to fruition.

The proposal, spearheaded by Planning and Zoning Chairman Danielle Dobin, involves requesting a portion of the state Department of Transportation’s maintenance lot at 900 Post Road E. to create a townhome community. First Selectman Jim Marpe has also signed off on preliminary efforts to contact the DOT.

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“Building and creation of substantially more affordable housing in Westport is not optional,” Dobin said at Thursday’s meeting. “There’s a state law — statute 8-30g — which requires municipalities like Westport in Connecticut to have 10 percent of all of their dwelling units qualify as affordable.”

By failing to meet this requirement, developers could use the statute to propose developments that circumvent the town’s zoning regulations. Westport was able to attain a moratorium in 2019, which gives the town nearly four years to control its own affordable housing developments.

“We are charged by the state during this time to not rest on our laurels, but to actively work to create an affordability plan,” Dobin said. “In addition to that, we need to create actual affordable housing to meet our next potential moratorium application.”

Dobin, who also chairs the Affordable Housing Subcommittee, said it was important to ensure affordable housing was created that fits Westport. Without a moratorium, she warned developers could construct buildings out of character with the town.

Working with the Westport Housing Authority, the preliminary plan would create an affordable housing complex that is 80% to 90% affordable, with the remainder being market-rate units. The commission looks to request 4 of the 10.73 acres along West Parrish Road to build the complex.

The need for affordable housing has long been a concern in Westport. In 2019 the affordable housing pre-application waitlist opened for the first time in four years, causing a flood of applicants. One of the driving factors in lack of affordable housing has been the cost — and availability — of town land.

“Westport is between 90% and 99% fully built out,” Dobin said, meaning there are few opportunities to build fresh on vacant land.

The land requested has been underutilized by the state, Dobin said, but has the potential to provide families an opportunity to live in Westport. Dobin noted she has already contacted neighbors of the property to gather their input on the process.

Though commissioners stressed this was only the first step, they all voiced support for starting a conversation.

“This is just a starting point. This is holding out an idea and looking for the possibilities,” Commissioner Chip Stephens said. “Nobody’s going to get shortchanged in this action, and everybody’s going to be involved.”

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While he commended Dobin for the idea, Stephens said he wished state officials did similar proactive thinking, adding the current 8-30g law neglects to recognize many spots in Westport that are affordable.

“You’re doing a nice proactive thing. I would ask that our representatives do the same and help us out here,” he said. “This is a quagmire we have to work through.”

The commission will discuss the proposal again at its Affordable Housing Subcommittee on Jan. 10 at noon.

dj.simmons@hearstmediact.com

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