Letter: Fairfield's Right To Home Rule In Danger

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FAIRFIELD, Conn. -- The Fairfield Daily Voice accepts signed letters to the editor. Send letters to fairfield@dailyvoice.com.

To the editor:

Opening rounds were fired July 8 in the latest battle for Home Rule before the Town Plan and Zoning Commission (TPZ). This time it is to decide if Stamford developer Garden Homes may construct the largest residential apartment complex in town on quiet Bronson Road, using state Affordable Housing Statute 8-30g to override Fairfield's own zoning laws.

Listening to the applicant's case I was struck by the frequent invocation of 8-30g. It seemed an attempt to cut off probing questions and even a veiled threat alluding to the presumption that any denial by our TPZ was sure to be overturned by the courts on appeal. This was a neat way to dismiss the importance of the Commission and skip over real scrutiny of actual facts.

But not so fast.

Why would any business enterprise go through such great expense to force down the throats of neighborhoods unwanted high-rise housing in the first place: Thorpe Street and Bronson Road in my district, and Berwick-Fairchild on the other side of town last month?

Is Garden Homes driven by a burning desire to advance the cause of affordable housing? Or is the real goal to turn a nice profit by exploiting a flawed law which towns statewide are working to repeal or work around?

Is it to pluck tax advantages of deed-restricted units while using 1-year leases to attract a high turnover of transient market-rate tenants, for whom rents can be raised annually? Hence the need to cram 95 units of renters with families, roommates, visitors and cars into 2.7 acres on the peaceful shores of Mill River.

Garden Homes is no more a champion of affordable housing than of Zen floral design. How much can they truly care about affordable housing tenants when they testified that a project of this magnitude would have no impact on traffic congestion, parking access and pedestrian safety; that a two-lane emergency access road well under the recommended size of 24 foot x 50 foot would protect building occupants, especially in snow or downed-tree scenarios; that there were no accidents from I-95 and local traffic in the area, when Bronson residents exclaimed there were accidents neighbors could recall; that sidewalks were not necessary for pedestrian safety of folks likely to choose this location because they could walk to train, school, stores and downtown green; that providing below-standard parking space would not produce spillover onto Bronson and Mill Hill Roads; that construction would not stir up contaminants and complicate long-awaited cleanup of Mill River; that the architect cared much about fitting into the natural surrounds when he described them primarily as railroad tracks and a highway entrance?

Until 8-30g is repealed -- and I hope state candidates in November commit to this loud and clear -- we must deny predatory residential development on very narrow health and safety grounds. Understand that major defenses such as impact on town density, quality of life, historic character, schools, taxes and even ample availability of low-cost market housing -- are simply not recognized by Connecticut courts. Where's the justice in that?

As July 4 fireworks fade, I can't help feeling our fundamental rights to representative government and local home rule are in grave danger but for the heroic efforts of our Town Plan and Zoning Commission under its kind and judicious chairman, Matthew Wagner.

Elections have consequences, my friends.

Ellen Jacob, RTM District 9

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