WOODBURY — Members of the Planning Commission, meeting January 6, listened to an introductory presentation from John Guszkowski of CHA, the firm chosen by the town to assist it in developing an affordable housing plan, as required by the state.
Mr. Guszkowski began by saying he is a senior planner with the firm, Clough, Harbor and Associates LLP (dba CHA), which is a 1,300-person, full-service engineering, architectural and planning firm with multiple offices. He reviewed some of the work the local office has performed for such communities as Essex, Hampton, Plainfield, Old Saybrook, Durham and Avon, as well as Middletown and Branford.
Mr. Guszkowski also reviewed the legislation that mandates towns must write or review an Affordable Housing Plan every five years. He read from state statue section 8-30j which states that the plan shall specify how the municipality intends to increase the number of affordable housing developments it has within the municipality, but then went on to note that the section does not say who is responsible for creating the plan and only calls for the chief elected official to write a letter to the Commissioner of Housing to explain why the plan was not done if the town fails to do so.
He went on to remind commissioners that the other half of the affordability requirement, contained in another section of state law, puts municipalities on notice that the goal is a minimum of 10% of units designated as affordable and that less than that, especially without a plan, could lead to developers citing the law and taking the town to court in order to force acceptance of affordable housing without regard to zoning regulations.
He asked commissioners what the town’s goal was in crafting an affordable housing plan. He suggested the town encourage a community conversation on the topic in order to develop an implementation roadmap.
He said a good approach would be to have CHA do a review of regulations, plans, demographics and economics, followed by a preliminary evaluation and the development of a draft plan.
CHA would then facilitate public engagement sessions and the presentation of a more developed plan at a public hearing. The final plan would then be presented to the town for adoption.
The goal would be to have a plan in place by the end of this fiscal year, as the grant that is funding CHA’s work must be spent by June 30, 2021.
Commissioner Katy Sherer said the town adopted a new Plan of Conservation and Development last year and that there appeared to be great demand for more affordable housing. She then explained that commissioners were not entirely sure if residents were talking about “Affordable” housing with a “capital A” or just housing that was more affordable that what the town currently offers.
Chairman Joel Serota said he was concerned about the negative impact affordable housing could have on nearby single-family residential homes.
Mr. Guszkowski countered that in the “broad majority” of cases, the housing did the opposite, increasing values across the board because the town became a more lively, attractive community.
Ms. Sherer and Commissioner Mary Connoly volunteered to serve as a subcommittee working with CHA, along with Town Planner Maryellen Edwards.
In other action, commissioners re-elected Joel Serota as chairman, Mary Connoly as vice-chairman and Andrew Chapman and Joel Serota as co-representatives to the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments.
The commission also spent time updating the timeline included in the town’s POCD.