Affordable housing plan in Berlin meets opposition

Affordable housing plan in Berlin meets opposition

reporter photo

BERLIN — The Planning and Zoning Commission has asked town staff to draft a motion to reject a zoning amendment that would create a new affordable housing zone near the Middletown line.

The move is in response to a plan to build 11 multi-story buildings with 319 rental units. Thirty percent would be set aside as affordable, under the plan.

“I think I can speak for everybody on this commission…it's not the fact that it's affordable housing that's the problem. It's the density, the scale, the scope of the project,” said PZC Vice Chairperson Diane Jorsey during the commission’s Thursday meeting.

Rio Vista Associates LLC, submitted the text amendment and a related map amendment to create the affordable residential planned development overlay zone and have it applied to 19 acres of property it owns along Atkins Street. William Krame, principal for the LLC, declined to comment for this story.

Safety concerns cited by the commission centered around the ability of Atkins Street to handle the increased traffic.

"With respect even to the road safety, the road widths and the proposal in the text amendment allow for a building to be 20 feet off the street with no sidewalks on a narrow roadway that two cars have a hard enough time passing to begin with ... to me it is outrageous to think that the applicant thinks that that's a reasonable proposal," Jorsey said.

On the advice of legal counsel, commissioners asked for the drafting of a written motion with their objections. State law requires a municipality with less than ten percent of its housing stock considered affordable to base any rejection of a plan on the need to “protect substantial public interests in health, safety, or other matters the municipality may legally consider.”

The commission expects to vote on the motion at its Sept. 5 meeting.

The Rio Vista proposal was met with uniform opposition during two public hearings on July 11 and June 6.

"If this is approved and that goes in, it is only a matter of time before there will be a very, very serious accident there," said Stacia Grosso, a Middletown resident who lives at the base of a hill on Atkins Street.

At the July hearing, Robert Berchem, an attorney with Berchem and Moses, who is representing the Rio Vista, said the town needs more affordable housing.

"There's an effort here to recognize that people who live in town or work in town, candidly, don't necessarily make enough to buy in town,” Bercham said. “This project ... will allow a teacher, a fireman, a policeman, to stay in Berlin... Right now, the availability of rental stock is simply so low as to be almost non-available." .

Town Planner Marek Kozikowski said that the town expects to surpass the 10 percent threshold within the next few years. Berlin is only 63 units away from the 814 needed, he added.

Town staff are currently processing a new development with 50 affordable housing units and another is anticipated to be submitted in September, which would add 40 on the Berlin Turnpike, Kozikowski said.
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