DARIEN — Several tense moments marked a hearing on the last piece of a development project that could reshape downtown.
The final piece of Baywater Properties plan to build 117 apartment units downtown along with retail and office space, is a controversial off-site affordable housing structure focused on those with special needs.
The proposed affordable housing for 26 East Lane would involve 12 apartment units in two buildings. Each building would be 4,500 square feet with six parking spaces. The units on East Lane would have the income limit set at 40 percent of state median income, which as of 2017 was around $23,000 for an individual.
By proposing affordable housing with its development, Baywater is allowed to play by different zoning rules. This would also allow greater density for the project.
Robert Maslan, attorney for developer Baywater Properties, started the public hearing for the proposal by clarifying how someone would qualify for the units.
If a person is receiving DDS (Department of Developmental Services) benefits it will automatically qualify them, said Maslan.
“The alternative is a person receiving services from an organization whose sole mission is to provide support services for people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities,” he said
According to Maslan, there are over 100 of these type of organizations in the state of Connecticut. Baywater Properties is currently proposing to work with Abilis, a nonprofit that provides services and support for special-needs individuals.
During one such moment Mike Donoghue, a Darien resident, said he thinks the proposal is something that’s needed for the town. Donoghue said placing the residents in the group and having them together is important.
“This is a brilliant idea. There’s a huge need for it,” he said. “This is going to be one of the greatest things we do in our town.”
Planning and zoning chairman John Sini also momentarily stopped the hearing to address the room.
“When I joined this board I never thought I would deal with such an emotional issue,” Sini said. “There are many different professional opinions on how to best serve this community.”
He said the commission has to consider the approval based on federal law and asked residents to focus on the intensity use.
Ed Piorkowski, a Darien resident, said the issue is not isolation as much as the issue is taking a dense population of 12 people with special needs and putting them on a single piece of property.
“We don’t feel that’s in line with Medicaid, DDS and the more progressive thinking of what people with disabilities need to live independently in the future,” he said.
Piorkowski said the lack of DDS funding is also a risk. This is important because it could affect the viability of the property.
Wilder Gleason, attorney for a neighbor on East Lane, was involved in a brief moment of tension with Stephen Olvany, vice-chairman of the commission during the hearing.
David Genovese said concerns from neighbors is why Baywater voluntarily suggested to include seniors in need of affordable housing.
“I think we can all agree that affordable housing for seniors is equally great to the need for housing for adults with disabilities,” he said.
Sini said he would leave the public hearing open to further review the proposal.
“One of the frustrations I’ve had with this application is there’s no blueprint,” he said. “This is a pretty unique application for a zone change.”
Sini said the commission would meet with town counsel about the legality of the application and how it fits fair housing law.
The final public hearing for the proposal will be on Sept. 25.