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Simsbury rejects affordable housing project

Developer appears ready to appeal

Artist's rendering of original affordable housing unit planned for Hopmeadow Street

By Paul Palmer

Staff Writer

SIMSBURY – By a vote of 4-2 Monday evening, the Simsbury Zoning Commission rejected the proposal to build a 64-unit affordable housing building along Hopmeadow Street.

The controversial plan from Vessel Technologies had faced strong opposition, especially from people living near that proposed location. They cited concerns with flooding, noise, traffic, and possible impact on the nearby wetlands and Second Brook. The fight might not be over though as Vessel issued a statement after the vote that indicated they would be taking Simsbury to court over the decision.

“We're very sorry that Simsbury's teachers, police officers, firefighters, and other local workers will need to remain patient for a bit longer, but they should rest assured, in the end, we will prevail in court and the project will be built,” a statement read, in part.

Originally slated to be an 80-unit building that would have 30% of the units at affordable rates based on state income statutes, it was reduced to 64 units late in the hearing process. Multiple Simsbury oversight boards had raised concerns about the amount of parking that was being proposed as well as the overall size of the building. In the end, the Zoning Commission’s chief reason for denial was a lack of parking and the possible dangers it would create for residents who would have to leave their vehicles elsewhere. Vessel had argued that according to state and federal standards, the property could have fewer than 2 spots per unit for parking. Simsbury officials countered that the town ordinance was 2 spots per unit, and that an overflow of cars might lead to parking along Hopmeadow Street, creating a danger.

Opponents hold up signs during the Simsbury Zoning Commission vote on a proposed affordable housing project.

That finding was key due to the limited nature of oversight that the Commissions had on this project. Proposed under the state 8-30g statute on affordable housing, the Zoning Commission could only decline if it found a danger to public health and safety that could not easily be rectified.

In its statement Vessel was critical of what it saw as a Commission giving in to limited opposition.

Last night's decision reflects the sad but enduring power of the NIMBYism movement in Connecticut's bedroom communities. The members of Simsbury's Planning and Zoning Commission clearly understood their obligation to abide by state law and approve this incredibly well-planned project, that had received sign-off from all their own professionals and staff, but instead caved to a small but vocal group of self-interested condominium-owning neighbors,” it read in part.

Prior to the vote, Commissioners went through a condensed list of 14 concerns raised by opponents and Zoning Commission members. Commissioner Bruce Elliott was the most vocal in opposition, supporting several objections or concerns that were listed – chief among them his concern that questions regarding fire safety had not been answered to his satisfaction. Simsbury’s Fire Marshall had issued a letter to sign off on the project, but Elliott said he believed the letter also contained a sufficient number of concerns and questions.

I asked the applicant if they were working on easement of the (neighboring) Rails to Trails with the state to use as access for fire apparatus. The applicant responded they were not working with the state for an easement. The Fire Marshal’s writing pointed out that they might have to ask for permission from Riverview to use their parking lot for access to Rails to Trails. My point is if the Marshal thinks they need Riverview’s approval they might need access for fire apparatus,” Elliott said.

When fellow commission member Kevin Gray pointed out that the last communication from the Fire Marshal said that his office was standing by its findings, Elliott disagreed. “I say he doesn’t want to change what he submitted.”

Elliott was also most vocal about the impact on property values in the area.

“I’m 100% certain a positive vote on this is going to reduce property values to the immediate neighbors. We have a responsibility to residents to not worsen property values. If this is approved there will be another, and another and where will the next neighborhood be? Chairman Dave Rodgers Ryan reminded everyone that they had not received any expert testimony to that fact.

Commissioner Diane Madigan who voted no on the plan said she had issues all along with the parking plan.

“They compared it to a study in Middletown and that’s apples and oranges. I’m also really bothered by being asked to take a lot on faith and a lot of trust. Nothing indicates they would be a good neighbor. Early in the process I said we’re being asked to choose new affordable tenants against existing residents. I can’t in good conscious vote in favor of new residents over existing residents,” she said.

This story will be expanded for the June 2 Valley Press.


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