Thursday, February 22, 2018

CED Clinic Appeals Decision in Branford Zoning Denial

The Branford Housing Authority and Beacon Communities filed an appeal in New Haven Superior Court that the Branford Planning and Zoning Commission did not adhere to the state affordable housing law in denying zoning approvals for a proposed affordable housing development in Branford known as Parkside Village.

The Community and Economic Development Clinic ("CED") at Yale Law School represents the Housing Authority. Tim Hollister, a partner in Shipman & Goodwin LLP, represents Beacon Communities.

The Branford Housing Authority and Beacon Communities argue in the appeal that the commission incorrectly interpreted the state affordable housing law known as 8-30g, by considering a 3-2 vote in favor of the proposal as a denial. The commission incorrectly held that a supermajority of 4-1 was required, according to the appeal. In addition, state affordable housing law requires that zoning denials cite health and safety risks posed by the project. The two "no" votes did not cite any such risks as grounds to support their vote.

The Branford Housing Authority seeks to redevelop Parkside Village I into 67 one- and two-bedroom units. Currently 50 seniors and disabled adults live at Parkside Village I. The proposed redevelopment would provide current residents a safe, accessible home, while offering 17 additional individuals or families opportunities for affordable housing in a town with only 3.2 percent of affordable housing.

The current residents have a signed agreement with Beacon Communities and the Housing Authority guaranteeing they will have homes in the redeveloped building.

"We were disheartened by the Commission's actions because of the deep need in Branford for good affordable housing, which this development provides, and Parkside tenants well deserve," said Claudia Wack '18. Wack, Valerie Comenencia Ortiz '18, and Joseph Nania '19 represent the Housing Authority under the supervision of Clinical Associate Professor Anika Singh Lemar.

"The Branford Housing Authority has been working on this project for over five years because we know that the present facility is neither physically nor financially sustainable," said Douglas Denes, chairman of the Branford Housing Authority. "We have worked long and hard and made major adjustments to come up with a terrific project that we think will serve not only the tenants' but everyone's needs very well."

Dara Kovel, president of Beacon Communities, said, "It is unfortunate that we have had to file this appeal. We tried to address concerns every step of the way and have proposed a highly desirable and much improved alternative to the current conditions." Beacon and the BHA, she said, "are confident that the new Parkside Village will add a quiet, handsome presence that will be harmonious with the surrounding residential community, enhancing the neighborhood and living experience of residents in many ways."

The existing development was built prior to adoption of the Americans with Disabilities Act. "It has aged and has obsolete building systems," said Denes. "Piecemeal repairs cannot bring the current building into consistency with the ADA."

In September, Beacon and the Housing Authority applied for zoning approvals. The commission held four public hearings, allowing for extensive public testimony. Significant changes were made in response to public comment and town staff. Jamie Cavanaugh, president of the Parkside tenant association, welcomed the idea of larger, modern units, which would finally allow tenants to fit their wheelchairs in the bathrooms.

On January 25, the commission voted to approve, by 3-2, but asserted a super-majority was needed due to a protest petition filed by neighboring property owners. That incorrect legal application as well as the failure to cite evidence that the project poses any valid public health or safety risk, are reasons the denial should be overturned, according to the appeal.

"We look forward to the court's resolution of this appeal," said Denes, the Housing Authority chair. "The 8-30g law is clear and the current residents of Parkside, as well as the future residents of the development who can't afford to live in Branford deserve quality housing options," he said.