Deadline approaching for decision on proposed affordable housing project
By Paul Palmer
SIMSBURY – The deadline is closing in on the Zoning Commission and The Conservation Commission / Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency to issue rulings on an affordable housing plan being proposed for Hopmeadow Street. Vessel Technologies of New York City wants to build an 80-unit apartment building on a lot that sits between Hopmeadow Street and the bike trail. Each group has held several public hearings on the plan and final decisions must be made by April 7, according to attorney Peter Alter who represents Vessel.
The proposal calls for 30% of the units being leased as affordable housing for the next 40 years. The 24 units would be reserved for people making 80% and 60% of the adjustable gross income in Simsbury. That translates into rents of $1,265 and $1,054 a month for a one-bedroom unit while two-bedroom units would go for $1,563 for those qualifying at 80% of the adjustable gross income and $1,302 for those at 60%.“ Typical 1 bedroom rents right now in this area are $1,800 to $2,000 a month.
“This represents a substantial opportunity for people who might be shut out of housing in Simsbury,” Alter said.
Simsbury’s Design Review Board was the latest to review and report on the plan. By a 3-2 vote, the Board gave the proposal a neutral/positive decision at its March 20 meeting. Vessel had presented multiple changes to its original plan based on conversations with the Board. The building will sit on 1.97 acres along the east side of Hopmeadow. It will be 300 feet in from the street in the southeast corner of the property located at 447 Hopmeadow.
“We’re thrilled to clear another hurdle and we appreciate the positive feedback from the Board. What’s important for the Board to consider is often they view change as a look, but they have to take into account the need for it in the community. You have to embrace something new to achieve a goal,” said Vessel Vice President Josh Levy after the vote.
Several new renderings of the proposed building were given to the Design Review Board, including a look at where the HVAC units would be located, a view of the north side of the building (rear portion). They were also presented with a rendering of the materials that were being used, especially in the entryway that had been the topic of conversation at previous Design Review Board meetings. Also shared was a photo of the only existing Vessel concept building in operation (in New Jersey).
“We’ve made all the accommodations we can. The form of the building follows the function of it being a Net Zero building,” said Alter “We’ve made all the accommodations we can. The form of the building follows the function of it being a Net Zero building.”
Board member Kate Beal – who was one of the no votes – was not pleased with what was presented. “We asked that you make the building more attractive with colors and I am not seeing it here,” Beal said.
Levy replied, “We can’t start introducing multiple colors as the building is a product not customed designed each time.
Board Member Anca Dragulski . the other no vote, added, “It seems it is cast in stone and honestly looking at the room layout it is so small.”
“When you start customizing buildings rents go up and you keep people from living in healthy, sustainable units,” Levy replied.
The Zoning Commission must wait for the Conservation, Inlands/Wetlands group to issue its ruling before it can decide. The two groups scheduled public hearings on back-to-back nights the first week of April. Each has held previous public hearings and meetings regarding the proposed project. The Vessel project was submitted under what is called 8-30g. That is a state statute that is designed to bring more affordable housing options into communities that have less than 10% affordable housing. It also places very strict limits on what a municipality can do to reject the proposal. At a March Zoning Public Hearing, Chairman Dave Rogers-Ryan reminded those gathered that the Vessel proposal is not required to comply with local Zoning or Subdivision Regulations. The standard of review is state mandated and projects can only be halted when the decision is supported by sufficient evidence on the record. Any decision denying an 8-30g must show that the public interest clearly outweighs the need for affordable housing and there are no modifications that can reasonably be made to the application.
Of the 100 or more residents who attended the meeting, about 15 chose to speak and the majority were against approval. The biggest concerns expressed concerned traffic, storm water runoff, parking on the property and potential damage to nearby wetlands and waterways.
Zoning Commission member Melissa Osborne raised concerns about the standards that were used in the traffic and parking reports.
“Our transportation options are unique in Simsbury,” she said.
The traffic engineer for Vessel responded that the standards used are the industry standard that everyone uses. There will be 95 parking spots for the 80 units, which Vessel says meets all requirements.
“Has a demographic profile of the people that live in affordable housing been done?” asked resident Toby Winters. “I’d like to know what they think they will be. The issue is that traffic generation is a function of demographics of the units.”
Kelly Rothfuss lives on Nutmeg Court, which sits directly behind the proposed building. She spoke about issues with flooding from the nearby Second Brook and concerns about how Vessel plans to deal with snow removal. “I’m a product of affordable housing and would not be able to live in this town without a properly done community. They will be creating a huge mountain of snow on a curve on Hopmeadow Street and there will be lots of accidents.”
Her neighbor, Kathryn Godiksen, said “There is a concern by us (Nutmeg Court residents) that the storm basin won’t handle this capacity, leading to flooding in Second Brook.”
Questions were also raised about the need for affordable housing in Simsbury. Some mistakenly labeled the Vessel proposal as “Section 8” housing” which refers to a separate government program that pays rents for those that cannot afford it. Vessel’s apartments are not Section 8 housing.
“If this was not affordable housing, would the Zoning Commission approve it?” Asked resident Diane Nash. “I suggest the answer is no. We have 30% open space in Simsbury so everyone can come use it and not live here.”
“This is really, really sad that it has come to this because we didn’t have enough affordable housing,” added Susan Cleeve of Mallard Circle.
The Conservation Commission/ Inland Wetlands and Watercourse Agency has been focusing in on the issue of noise and light pollution as well as storm water and melting snow runoff and the impact all of those might have on adjoining wetlands and wildlife in those areas. Vessel’s attorney Alter told the Commission that there will be no work on the wetlands, that concerns over light from the building and the parking lot spreading into the wetlands area have been addressed.
Alter and project engineer Shamus Moran also addressed continuing concerns about how the owners will deal with storm water runoff, melting snow and materials used for de-icing the parking lot. Alter referenced a study from the University of New Hampshire that said the approaches being taken by Vessel are the most recommended ways to deal with storm and water runoff. Moran said that the collection and underground treatment system being employed to gather and discharge the water will get rid of 95% of any petroleum hydrocarbons in the water. When it comes to how snow clearing will be done, they said that they would pretreat the parking lot with a brine solution – as the state does on its roads – and that combined with plowing should cut down on the need for extra calcium chloride. The snow itself would be piled in 3 spots in the parking lot with the melting water being treated by the underground system before it is released back into the spoil or discharged through piping. There are plans, according to Moran, to have any excessive snow piles trucked out of the parking lot if needed.