Stefanoni's latest project denied
Darien officials rejected a controversial affordable housing development Tuesday night that would have brought 16 units of apartments for senior citizens to the Hoyt Street area of town.
The unanimous rejection is the second rejected application in almost a month for affordable housing projects proposed by Christopher and Margaret Stefanoni. The Darien couple has been trying to develop several parcels in town under a state law that favors development of affordable housing.
"We cannot approve the plan as submitted because it is necessary to protect public safety and interests," said Planning and Zoning Director Jeremy Ginsburg. "Such interests clearly outweigh the need for affordable housing."
Similar to the commission's previous rejection of the Stefanoni's proposed development on Tokeneke Road two weeks ago, the commission's decision was packaged as an approval with modifications to the proposed application. In essence, it would require the developers to go back to the drawing board and meet the stipulations set forth by the commission -- a process that could prove costly and time consuming.
"These are people who have no experience building one stick of property," said Commission Chairman Fred Conze of the Stefanonis, who were not present at the meeting. "They've never built or maintained a property such as they propose. Trying to shoehorn a property like this into such a small area is inappropriate."
The Hoyt Street Senior Residences, as the project was called, would have brought 16 units of housing on about a half-acre of land on Hoyt Street. About 30 percent, or five of those units would be considered affordable housing under state law. The building would be a three-story complex, with two-bedroom suites that would range from 934 square feet to 1,073 square feet. There would also be 24 parking spaces in the development.
Specifically, the commission's decision was based on concerns about heavy traffic on Route 106, and the danger that added traffic from the housing complex and a necessary bypass lane would cause to pedestrians and other motorists.
"There just isn't any doubt about the compromise of the safety of the people on the sidewalks and people crossing Hoyt Street," said Commission member Joseph Spain. "Instead of crossing two lanes, they would have to cross three. It's very dangerous for pedestrians."
In addition, there were concerns expressed by the town fire marshal about access to the property during an emergency as well as a need for updated fire sprinkler systems and groundwater management systems.
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"These projects rely on underwater retention that has to be carefully maintained," said Commission member Susan Cameron. "Even their expert admitted that in the best cases, people don't maintain them well. It becomes a need to determine the need for five units of affordable housing for 40 years versus the quality of groundwater."
The planning commission's decision isn't likely to stop the Stefanoni's efforts, as the couple has been locked in a contentious battle with town planners to develop several parcels of land with affordable housing units. Just two weeks ago, the planning and Zoning Commission rejected an application the Stefanonis submitted to develop a senior living complex in Tokeneke.
The Tokeneke Senior Residences development called for 30 units of age-restricted housing on about an acre of land at 4 Pheasant Run, just off Tokeneke Road. The building would have three levels of living space, 30 two-bedroom units, and 47 parking spaces. Nine units, or about 30 percent of the units, would be designated affordable housing. Planners rejected the application on the basis that there were not enough exits from the property to support traffic safety, as well as rainwater management issues and not enough fire exits.
Under a state statute, towns are required to maintain a minimum of 10 percent of affordable housing units, and Darien remains well below that. The Stefanonis have been trying since 2005 to develop several sites under the state statute 8-30g, which allows developers to sidestep local regulations to develop affordable housing.
Under the statute, developers can enjoy a stipulation that favors developments that have a certain percentage of units put aside for affordable housing and puts the burden on the town to prove the application's invalidity. Town officials asked the Stefanonis last week for a week-long extension to consider the plan, but were denied. This put the planning commission on a tight deadline to either approve or disapprove the plan by March 24, or the Stefanoni plan would have been approved by default.
Christopher Stefanoni wasn't surprised at the result.
"I look forward to the next step in the process. Overall, the decision by the Planning & Zoning Commission was expected, and I am encouraged by it," he said.