New Milford considering new multi-use zone
NEW MILFORD — A developer planning to add commercial buildings and apartments along Route 7 hopes the town will allow a new zone to promote this type of development.
The mixed-use development zone would encourage projects that include commercial and residential elements, including affordable housing options.
Under the proposal, these zones could only go in places near public transportation, existing commercial development and connections to public sewer and water, said applicant Anthony Lucera.
In New Milford, this means the projects most likely would appear on routes 7, 202 and 67, though the applicants will have to return to the zoning commission with specific parcels.
“It’s a stepping stone away from an applicant coming in with an 8-30g application and gives the town more control,” he said.
The state implemented the 8-30g statute years ago to increase affordable housing in Connecticut. It allows a developer to bypass local zoning rules if a certain percentage of the units are set aside as affordable.
A town can only deny the bypasss if it can prove to the courts that the health and safety concerns outweigh the need for affordable housing.
Lucera’s zone would instead promote incentive housing.
An area for the proposed mixed-use
This bases the affordable rents on the area’s median income instead of the state’s median income and would require at least 20 percent of the units be affordable rather than 30 percent. He said the numbers work out better for the developer, especially because the median income in this area tends to be higher than the state median income.
He said his proposal gives town officials control they wouldn’t have under 8-30g, including approving the building height, setbacks and design.
“Incentive is better for us and the town,” Lucera said.
The zone would encourage an outdoor recreation area for the housing.
Lucera successfully introduced this zone in several towns, including Brookfield and Newtown. He said those towns have been able to attract affordable housing projects to reach the recommended state level, while still giving them control over the types of projects coming in.
Generally, these projects have a few shops along the road and several apartment complexes with 30 units behind. The units are a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments.
The housing and commercial are generally in separate buildings, though residents should easily access the commercial area, he said.
Though usually apartments, Lucera said the goal is to increase the diversity of housing and can include other types, such as single-family homes, condominiums and townhouses.
New Milford’s zoning commission has approved a few affordable housing projects under 8-30g, including one or two they said were not in ideal locations because they were on busy roads.
Once 10 percent of a town’s housing market is classified as affordable, that town no longer has to accept 8-30g applications. New Milford is at around 3 to 4 percent.
The public hearing will remain open on the proposed zone and the applicants will come back with examples and more specific language, including set ratios of housing to businesses.
Zoning officials asked if this should be applied to industrial zones, with some saying it’s been practice to protect those areas because they’re dwindling.
Commission member Richard Saitta said what was considered a good idea a decade ago may no longer be the best practice, and affordable housing may be a more pressing need now.
“I wouldn’t be opposed to what was industrial becoming a thriving little community with houses and stores,” he said.
The only public comment about proposed zone came from residents opposing the plan for Route 7. Normally a specific plan isn’t discussed, but because the site plan has already been approved by the inlands and wetlands commission, it was allowed.
Residents said the plan, which includes five apartment buildings and five commercial buildings, was too big for that site and would leave little to no green space.