After meeting for months and hearing from residents at two public forums, Easton’s Affordable Housing Committee will unveil its first draft on March 17 to establish an affordable housing plan for the town as mandated by Public Act 21-29. State law requires that all municipalities must have an affordable housing plan in place by June 1, 2022.
The public is invited to attend the 6 p.m. meeting at the Easton Senior Center when the draft plan will be discussed. The meeting can also be attended via Zoom using the following link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83359353225pwd=NWxZMFYvcmlpVTQxZXNkb0hpQ0ZBZz09
The Board of Selectmen hired consultant Glenn Chalder from Planimetrics Inc. in Avon to advise the town in preparing the plan. The Planning and Zoning Commission recommended a committee of residents be established. The Affordable Housing Advisory Committee members officially appointed by the Board of Selectmen at its Dec. 2 meeting are Raymond Martin, Gordon Cliff, Phil Doremus, Jay Habansky, Darrell Harris, Jackie Olschan Kaufman and Kevin Rodrigue.
The affordable housing plan is one of several mandates outlined in the new law. The law allows the statewide legalization of “accessory apartments” and bans minimum parking space rules. Municipalities are allowed to opt out of permitting accessory apartments and the ban on minimum parking space rules with a two-thirds majority from local planning commissions and legislative bodies.
First Selectman David Bindelglass insisted from the outset that town officials agree about the importance of Easton being allowed to make its own decisions about affordable housing plans. He also emphasized Easton’s legal obligation to protect the drinking water that the town supplies to the region through its large reservoirs and watershed areas.
Following an initial November 2021 public forum hosted by Bindelglass, Rep. Ann Hughes, Sen. Tony Hwang, and Planning and Zoning Commission Chair Raymond Martin, the affordable housing committee met in January to begin the drafting process. They have since met several times via Zoom and in person, and held a public information session on Feb. 10 to gather input from Easton residents.
In January, the Board of Selectmen voted in favor of the Planning and Zoning Commission’s decision to opt out of three provisions outlined in Public Act 21-29, including the minimal parking ban requirements, the installation of temporary health care structures, and the allowance of detached accessory apartments. Opting out of the provisions does not impact Easton’s requirement to have a draft of an affordable housing plan in place by the June 2022 deadline, however.
The Feb. 10 public information session at Samuel Staples Elementary School began with a presentation from Chalder that included case studies, statistics, affordability options, and addressed common misconceptions about affordable housing. During the second half of the meeting, residents were allowed to ask questions, comment, and voice their concerns.
Martin, who chairs the affordable housing plan committee, began by reading two email statements into the record. A statement from the local preservation advocacy group Citizens for Easton said several scientific studies have established that high-density housing developments in Easton would pose a threat to the public watershed and water supply, and urged the town to consider alternatives to increasing affordable housing that do not include high-density housing development. Those might include amnesty for illegal apartments for those who come forward to be counted and tax incentives for accessory affordable apartment owners, according to the statement.
Longtime Easton resident Harold L. Rosnick’s statement referred to a letter to the editor he had written forty years ago stating that “‘[Easton’s] zoning laws, and wetlands and conservation regulations are too restrictive, make home ownership too expensive, and the end result is de facto discrimination whether intended or not.’ Unfortunately nothing has changed. All you have to do is look around at the town meeting such as the one you are conducting this evening and it will be all too obvious that the town is not reasonably integrated,” Rosnick’s statement said.
Elizabeth Boyce began the in-person public comments by emphasizing that Easton should be granted a watershed exemption to the affordable housing mandate, and said the presentation would have benefited from including a comparison of Easton’s affordable housing stock with other reservoir towns in the state. Boyce also suggested that any proposed development project should consider its potential impact on historical buildings and historically important areas. She noted that no archeological survey was done before building the new Samuel Staples Elementary School, which according to one expert, was built on a potentially significant historical site from the neolithic era, Boyce said.
Several residents expressed their concerns that the affordable housing plan might have a negative impact on the the water that Easton supplies for surrounding cities and towns.
Lea Sylvestro said “high-density [housing] isn’t appropriate for our town,” and emphasized that “we are the stewards of the public drinking water supply.”
Jeff Becker said “this law makes no sense for the town of Easton, where the water supply must have the highest precedent. Nothing should be built in Easton. The goal is to protect the water supply.” According to Becker, “The real issue is not affordability. It is the gross, obscene divide between the haves and the have-nots.”
Glenn Maiorano, Dana Benson and others suggested that the town should integrate the old Samuel Staples school into its affordable housing plan. “I agree with the idea of a private sector rental to increase the housing stock and the idea of taking [the old] Samuel Staples, which we already own and rent to a school, and converting that into affordable housing,” Benson said. “We already have the senior center, parking, and septic there. . . . It’s simply repurposing the [old] school for alternative use.”
Maiorano also said that Easton does not have the infrastructure in place to support affordable housing, which is better suited for cities like Bridgeport that already have sidewalks and public transit systems. He said the town could be financially responsible building that infrastructure.
John Meyer said that the town should “provide assistance to make living in town more affordable for people, so it is not necessarily making affordable housing, but it’s [about] making it affordable.” He gave the example of existing tax breaks for Easton seniors and suggested offering subsidies for public employees to assist them with the high cost of living in Easton.
Devon Wible encouraged residents to avoid taking an “all-or-nothing approach.” She said the affordable housing plan presents “a huge opportunity for us to choose to control how we choose to develop [and] where we choose to develop, … that fits in with the town’s character.
“But we have to stop making accusations that people want to destroy the water or we all want cluster zoning. We can find a plan that works and probably work with the state to come in well under the 10% [goal established by state statute 8-30g], but still provide affordable housing for teachers, seniors, and startup housing for familie,” Wible said.
Less than 1% of housing in Easton currently qualifies as affordable and Easton has never exceeded 1% for at least the past 18 years, according to the Connecticut Open Data website.
Other residents who spoke at the Feb. 10 public hearing reiterated a concern that the affordable housing plan could pave the way for high density housing developments to be built in Easton. This is an especially contentious issue for Easton in light of the Planning and Zoning Commission’s 2017 approval (with conditions) of a high-density affordable housing development on sensitive watershed property. The approval of the development was subsequently challenged by the Coalition to Save Easton, a branch of the group Citizens for Easton. The Easton Planning and Zoning Commission, Saddle Ridge Developers, LLC and Silver Sport Associates LP are all named as co-defendants in the ongoing case.
Selectman Kristi Sogofsky has said that the claims that the new affordable housing plan will result in bringing high-density housing to Easton are untrue. “It’s about putting a plan in place so that we can maintain control, so we have a proposal that is feasible for the unique community that we are. We can either set our own path forward, or risk being put on a path that we didn’t choose,” Sogofsky’s stated in a Feb. 10 message posted on the Easton Town Republican Committee’s website.
Bindelglass has also reaffirmed that high-density housing in Easton is not feasible because the town has no public transportation and public sewers, and because Easton is also in a unique position because the town must protect its watershed for the benefit of surrounding cities and towns.
Martin stated that the committee will remain receptive to community input throughout this complex process. “Currently, we are collecting public input and emails from people who have suggestions and questions,” said Martin. “We have to get [the plan] to the selectmen’s office by June 1, and then it will be up to them whether they vote it in, or adopt it out,” he said.
The public comments and email input the committee has received to date reflect the complexity of the committee’s overall charge, which Martin says must balance the important goal of increasing affordable housing while preserving Easton’s unique characteristics.
“We have a strong history in Easton of both protecting our watershed and agricultural heritage… That is a paramount topic that we have to take into consideration. At the same time, we recognize that affordable housing is an issue that we have to address, and it’s something that Easton could use. We could use more diversity, and hopefully there’s a way that we can come up with a solution that both the state mandates, our watershed, and our farms can coexist while addressing this utmost important topic of diversification,” said Martin.
Near the conclusion of the meeting, several residents said it would be beneficial for the committee to create and circulate an official draft of the proposal before presenting it to the public. “If the committee is able to present something … to us prior to the next meeting, then maybe everyone can digest it, see it, and have a bit more input,” said resident Anthony Possidento. “It’s obviously an important issue, but if we’re aware of it ahead of time, then it’ll be easier for us to accept it.”
In addition to a draft of the plan being made available at the March 17 meeting, there will be additional opportunities for members of the Easton community to learn more about the plan at future public information meetings.
Zoom link for for 3/17 meeting at 6 p.m. at the Easton Senior Center to discuss draft of the affordable housing plan: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83359353225pwd=NWxZMFYvcmlpVTQxZXNkb0hpQ0ZBZz09.
February 17, 2022 Affordable Housing Committee Meeting:
February 10, 2022 Affordable Housing Committee Public Information Session:
February 3, 2022 Affordable Housing Committee Meeting:
January 20, 2022 Affordable Housing Committee Meeting:
January 6, 2022 Affordable Housing Committee Meeting:
November 23, 2021 Public Forum on Affordable Housing: