NORWALK, Conn. – A plan to put 70 apartments across the street from the planned rebuilding of Washington Village was met with a tepid response last week from Norwalk zoning commissioners due to proposed amendments to affordable housing regulations and other requests.
Spinnaker Real Estate Partners LLC is proposing to construct Maritime Village, a three-building complex at 17 and 19 Day Streets, which would include one studio apartment, 46 one-bedroom apartments and 23 two bedroom apartments. A six-story building would face the Washington Village project at 20 Day St., and a smaller “more residential-looking” building would be built, Senior Planner Dori Wilson said. In addition, use would be made of the existing industrial building.
One problem is that the maximum building height in the revised Transit Oriented Development (TOD) area, near the South Norwalk railroad station, is five stories. Another is that Spinnaker is requesting modified parking regulations. Lastly, Spinnaker would like to change the income requirement for 10 percent of its affordable housing from being affordable to people earning a maximum 80 percent of area median income to people earning a maximum 100 percent of the area median income.
“Why would we want to do that?” Zoning Commissioner Nora King asked.
“I don’t know,” Wilson replied.
Spinnaker would make 20 percent of the units affordable, a total of 14. Half of that would be at the workforce rate and half would be at the higher income level.
Wilson spoke of state statute 8-30g.
“Currently 100 percent of area median would not qualify. … we qualify only if we pick the lesser of the state median, which is $86,400, and the area median, which is $125,100. Of course, in Fairfield County, almost every time you’re going to wind up with the state median because the area median is so high,” Wilson said.
The intent of TOD was to make more affordable units, Wilson said. Allowing a six-story building would complicate things, she said. Norwalk has about 50 workforce units now, but when it gets up into the neighborhood that Stamford has currently – 500 – keeping track will become confusing if things aren’t standardized, she said.
“I don’t think we should start messing with the formulas because it sets a precedent,” King said. Commissioner James White agreed.
Plus, “There is a lot of development going on now. … I am starting to think we need some sort of study of how it is going to impact the school system,” King said. That was a “very valid point,” Zoning Commissioner Michael O’Reilly (an alternate) said. White said they would get input from the Board of Education.
Clay Fowler of Spinnaker Partners asked to speak. The project is “not fully baked,” he said, but his company brought it forward for an introduction because of all the issues involved, he said.
He referred both to proposing “another layer” of affordability and the $30 million Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Choice Neighborhoods grant recently bestowed upon the Norwalk Housing Authority and its Washington Village project.
“The other layer that has been used now for Washington Village proposal is 30 percent of 8-30G,” Fowler said. “Well, that is fine. That is a project that has gotten a heavy subsidy, $30 million. It leaves a big gap between the ability for the private developer, us, who is not using subsidy to provide affordable housing or more affordable housing, and we are totally flexible and willing to engage in discussion on how that might be able to be accomplished with modification to the existing regulation.”
Allowing the changes he was requesting would provide more incentive for affordable housing production, he said. “I think in South Norwalk, in particular, it’s really important that as fragile as it is it continues to grow and what makes it grow, what is going to make it vital, is people. It’s people that makes the community. So I think that is part of the reason to allow more density to more affordable housing and to provide another mechanism,” Fowler said.
Wilson expressed skepticism. Using the HUD fair market rent of $2,345 per month for a two-bedroom apartment resulted in a calculation of an affordable rate of $1,845 per month, including utilities, she said.
“I don’t particularly feel that’s affordable and I think we have actually heard from others that market rate in this area is around 17 to 18,” she said. “So I don’t see where it fills a gap.”
The commission needs more information, she said, and suggested that Spinnaker come back with revised numbers.