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Forums Slated On FFH Residential Uses Begin Saturday



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The possibility of incorporating a residential element into Fairfield Hills redevelopment has again entered conversations, which will be opened to the public this month.

First Selectman Pat Llodra on Monday, November 24, told the Fairfield Hills Authority members of two upcoming forums on December 6 and 11 “to address housing.” The two sessions will be sponsored by three town agencies: the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z), the Fairfield Hills Authority (FHA), and the Economic Development Commission (EDC). Mrs Llodra also asked the authority to fund a moderator for the forums at a cost of $5,000. The authority had brief discussion for and against funding the moderator, but soon voted 5–2 in favor.

The meetings are scheduled for 2 to 4 pm on Saturday, December 6, and from 7 to 9 pm on Thursday, December 11. Both sessions will be held in the library of Reed Intermediate School, 3 Trades Lane.

Discussion will focus on possibly revising the town’s Fairfield Hills Adaptive Reuse (FHAR) zoning regulations to allow rental apartments in certain areas. According to a statement issued by George Benson, town director of planning, “The proposed mixed-use zoning regulations would include limited residential apartments above commercial uses, permitted only in the area where Newtown [Hall], Woodbury [Hall], and Shelton House are currently.”

The proposed zoning rules would specify certain limits on the relative amount of space that could serve as apartments, Mr Benson said.

After such proposed regulations are formulated, the P&Z would hold a public hearing on them in January or February, he said. P&Z action on proposed regulations typically follows such hearings.

Last June, the EDC endorsed allowing the creation of rental apartments located above commercial uses at future development projects at Fairfield Hills. (See related article, this issue.)

Mrs Llodra this week told the authority that the town’s Land Use staff had “developed language to go before the Planning and Zoning,” and wanted to conduct a public forum.

She said, “It’s not up to Land Use, the P&Z, or this body to decide this question.” While members debated funding the moderator, Mrs Llodra said, “If Land Use does not have the forum, the document for P&Z to consider goes right to them, so that body of people would be deciding.” Land Use felt the best way to “take the temperature of the community on the topic was to have a neutral place for voices to be heard.”

Member James Bernardi phrased a motion to fund a facilitator for the forum without endorsing its outcome, but member Renata Adler felt the motion showed the authority as “taking a position.”

The Residential Component

A residential component to Fairfield Hills development has long been a source of controversy, earning mixed public and official opinion. Past projects that included apartments or housing associated with a small school, for example, never took shape.

With a public poll and thoughts gathered at various forums, a recent Master Plan Review Committee learned that, as stated in its final report from the fall of 2011, “there is broad support for limited commercial development, particularly if such development supports people’s use of the property, e.g., cafes, small retail, etc. Third, based on our research and understanding, the buildings appear to be a hurdle for development. It costs as much (or potentially even more) to rehab a building as to demolish it and build from scratch. The conditions of the buildings especially deter their use by small businesses. Fourth, there is still the wide-spread opinion that residential housing should not be a part of the future of Fairfield Hills in any form.”

Later in the 122-page report, the authors detailed results of a public survey showing higher percentages of respondents who would be agreeable to residential housing development in the form of single-family homes in Newtown in general, with a percentage of those respondents saying it should not occur at Fairfield Hills, while a smaller group felt it would be appropriate to include on the campus.

Residential development in the form of age-restricted housing or condominiums at Fairfield Hills was the most acceptable form of housing among respondents, and mixed-use residential such as apartments over offices or retail space also won some support.

When the authors translated the data into a summary, they wrote: “When a housing option is put in the context of ‘smart growth’ that includes a residential component as part of more valued restaurant and retail options, there is an increase in appeal — but still only among a minority.

“A similar level of support is gained by creating a tangible vision of a main street or ‘town center’ destination combining restaurants, retail and housing — much like Ridgefield or West Hartford … Yet, describing development as a mixed-use ‘neighborhood’ with apartments over offices/retail, support drops …

“Similarly, framing development as a ‘planned community’ with appropriately-sized residential component results in only one-in-five respondents who are extremely/very favorable toward having this at FFH.”

As stated in the revised master plan updated in 2013, “While the Newtown Zoning Regulations still omit housing as an allowed use, the practice of actively discouraging developers from presenting plans that included even a minimal amount of housing may have resulted in a loss of development that would have benefited the community by enabling some development and increasing the diversity of its members. Therefore, this plan allows the site review process — with one or more well-publicized public hearings — to be considered for development proposals that include a limited number of rental units where such units are clearly ancillary to any mixed-use development and above commercial use and where they do not constitute the bulk of the development.”

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