Development Commission “on the fence” on plan for affordable housing in North Hamden

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HAMDEN — A developer hoping to install affordable units in north Hamden is facing backlash from the Planning & Zoning Commission.

During a virtual meeting on Tuesday, the commissioners expressed reservations about the plan to build 31 townhouse-style units on Sherman Ave. 455 to be installed on a vacant lot adjacent to Quinnipiac University and across from the Farmington Canal Trail. At least 30 percent of the units would meet affordability requirements.

Although they did not directly deny the motion, instead voting to continue the public hearing until the next meeting, the commissioners shared concerns about the site’s accessibility by public transit, the lack of a sidewalk between Sherman Avenue and Whitney Avenue, and a lack of recreational areas.

But Bernard Pellegrino, an attorney representing applicant John Ranciato, argued there was a need for affordable housing in north Hamden.

He recognized the location wasn’t ideal, he said, but maintained “there aren’t many ideal locations in the northern part of your city.”

Services that complement affordable housing “are not necessarily available there,” Pellegrino said.

“(The proposal) could go a long way towards helping your affordable base and bringing affordable options to North Hamden,” he said.

“The application is being filed under state law 8-30g, which means at least 30 percent of the units will meet affordability requirements,” Hamden urban planner Erik Johnson told the New Haven Register.

Usually, the burden of proof for rejecting 8-30g applications lies with the municipal commissions, as applicants can appeal their decisions through a special procedure.

But because 455 Sherman Ave. Located in a manufacturing zone, Johnson said, the commission could reject the application on the grounds that it would preserve Hamden’s industrial land.

Matthew Davis, Hamden’s town planner, advised the commission to first decide whether to preserve the manufacturing space. If the commissioners were willing to construct a residential property in the production zone, he said, the city would study the draft application closely.

Commissioners Jay Cruickshank and Michele Mastropetre said Hamden already has limited manufacturing space.

“We really don’t have a lot of M-Zone lots in the city,” Mastropetre said.

“I think we need all the manufacturing space we can get,” Cruickshank said. “There is very little.”

The two commissioners also raised security concerns about the property. Mastropetre said the property is adjacent to a ledge, while Cruickshank noted the lack of a continuous sidewalk between the site and Whitney Avenue.

He feared kids might be tempted to go to Whitney Avenue, where there is a convenience store and other amenities.

“To get there, you have to walk a short distance up Sherman Avenue,” he said. “Sherman Avenue has a speed of 40 miles per hour.”

Tractor trailers also use the road, Cruikshank said, prompting the applicant to install sidewalks between the property and Whitney Avenue.

“I’ll discuss it with them, but I think that’s a tall order,” said Pellegrino. “I’m not sure if it’s really legal, but I don’t want to rule it out.”

Shenae Draughn, another commissioner, said the site is in a remote area and is cut off from public transportation.

As the commission debated whether to consider the project further, Joseph McDonagh seemed at first to be the only member in favor.

“We have to try to create affordable housing,” McDonagh said. “The advantage of this application is that it is an affordable housing application that has its own value.”

While he understood concerns about limited manufacturing space, he said the property at Sherman Ave. 455 “has been vacant for a damn long time”.

Cruickshank, Mastropetre and Draughn all initially said they could not support the proposal. But after a long discussion, the commission agreed to look further into the application, with Mastropetre and Cruickshank changing their minds.

Mastropetre was “indecisive” about the proposal but recognized the need for affordable housing in north Hamden, she said as she explained why she chose to keep it on the table.

The Commission voted 3-1 to keep the public hearing open and the application is still under consideration.

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