Stefanonis: Town does not qualify for moratorium
Published 1:04 am, Thursday, June 10, 2010
When the Town of Darien submitted its notice of intent to file an application for a moratorium under State Statute 8-30g on May 18, residents were given 20 days to file comments regarding the application.
The commenting stopwatch stopped ticking earlier this week, but Darienites and developers Christopher and Margaret Stefanoni submitted a nine-page comment -- with a 42-page appendix -- on Thursday, June 3, in which they argue that "Darien does not have sufficient points for a moratorium."
"The town is saying it has enough points to achieve an affordable housing moratorium, but never proves how," Christopher Stefanoni said on Wednesday. "There are specific formulas to follow. We are saying the town does not have enough points to achieve an affordable housing moratorium and we prove exactly why."
According to 8-30g, Darien must have 2 percent of its housing categorized as "affordable" in order to qualify for a four-year moratorium during which all developers will have to follow the town's zoning laws. There are currently 6,792 dwelling units in town; to meet the 2 percent guideline, the town must have 135.84 points, according to the Planning & Zoning Department.
Earlier this year, Republican First Selectman David Campbell announced that Andrea Aldrich, P&Z's manager of community development services, found 35.5 additional points by claiming that the 142 market-rate units at Avalon should be classified as "set-aside" points, meaning each receive .25 points toward a moratorium. This brings the Town's point total up to 144, according to Aldrich.
Aldrich argues that while the current law states that affordable housing developments must have at least 30 percent of units listed as affordable in order to be classified as a "set-side" development and receive additional points for their market-rate units, the 30 percent rule was not enacted until June 2000, a year after the P&Z Commission approved the Avalon project.
But the Stefanonis argue that this is not the case.
"When Avalon was approved by the Town of Darien in 1999, Connecticut General Statutes Section 8-30g did not include the term `set-aside development,'" their comments read.
As a result, the Stefanonis said Darien should only receive 70.5 points from the Avalon development, instead of the 106 P&Z claims. Additionally, the Stefanonis' report states that the town should not receive any points for the Villager Ponds and Clock Hill Homes developments, for which P&Z claims two and 30 points, respectively. The couples' comments also state that The Cottage should receive no more than one point; the Town currently claims six points at that location.
The Stefanonis' comments claim that the income levels for residents at Villager Pond and Clock Hill Homes "exceed by a significant amount the State maximum income levels allowed and therefore do not qualify for any moratorium points."
As for The Cottage, the Stefanonis say that if the group home qualifies for points at all, it should only receive one.
"The Town of Darien has consistently defined The Cottage as a single-family residence for zoning purposes. The Darien Zoning Regulations define a one-family dwelling as `a detached building containing one dwelling unit only.' For the Town of Darien to claim now that The Cottage is [six] dwelling units is an obvious attempt to simply maximize moratorium points," the comments state.
"There are formulas to follow," Stefanoni said Wednesday. "People think there's a lot of gray area. But there isn't. It's laid out very explicitly by the state."
Stefanoni said many people are saying he and his wife are attempting to hold up the moratorium in an effort to gain more time to submit an application for an affordable housing development. But his motivation in submitting the comments is simply that the facts state the Town does not have enough affordable housing for a moratorium, he said. In fact, according to his numbers, the town has less than half the points toward a moratorium than it is claiming: 71.5 instead of 144.
P&Z Director Jeremy Ginsberg declined to comment on the discrepancy.
In addition to his comments, he and his wife also submitted a petition for a public hearing about the moratorium application on Wednesday, June 2.
As the Darien News previously reported, the Town's administration originally kept its plans to apply for the moratorium under the radar.
"Confidentiality is critical," Republican First Selectman David Campbell wrote in an e-mail to the other four members of the Board of Selectmen on Feb. 24, which was obtained by the Darien News. "If we keep this news from Stefanoni, he will not be able to develop his properties at Pheasant Run or Hoyt [Street]. If he finds out that we have made an application for a moratorium, he can rush an application to beat the deadline. Only the selectmen, Andrea [Aldrich], Jeremy [Ginsberg] and Karl [Kilduff] know of the application. It is imperative we keep this to ourselves.
"When we get the moratorium we can have a party in public, but for now it is private," the e-mail reads.
The town originally applied for moratorium on April 1, but was told to re-apply because notice had not been legally posted in the local newspaper. Notice was published in the May 13 edition of the Darien News, and again in the May 18 edition of the Connecticut Law Journal.
"I think secrecy and government are a bad mix," Stefanoni said Wednesday. "And if you have to explain any reason why I requested a public hearing, it was not to delay the application so much as to ensure open government."
Campbell declined to comment.