Southington planners vote down affordable housing plan

Southington planners vote down affordable housing plan

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SOUTHINGTON — After months of meetings, town planners denied an affordable housing development on Laning Street citing traffic, emergency access and septic system concerns.

The Planning and Zoning Commission voted five to two during Tuesday’s meeting to deny local businessman Frank Fragola’s request to change the zone at 295 Laning St. The change would have allowed Fragola to build a 30-unit age-restricted housing development with an affordable housing component.

Since the town’s housing stock includes fewer affordable housing units than the state’s goal of 10 percent, Southington planners can only deny affordable housing applications on the basis of public health and safety.

Residents should pay no more than 30 percent of their income on housing according to the state’s criteria of affordable housing. Developers are allowed greater flexibility in building homes in exchange for selling or renting homes at below-market prices.

Fragola’s lawyer, Bryan Meccariello, said Wednesday that a decision on whether to appeal in court hasn’t been made yet. He wasn’t surprised by Tuesday’s vote since planners had been voicing their objections over the past few meetings.

“We’re going to consult with our experts. We’ve also consulted with other counsel anticipating the need,” Meccariello said.

He believed the town hadn’t made a good case for denying the housing plan.

“It was difficult to hear the reasoning,” Meccariello said. “Just a denial, reading a canned answer… You have over 10 hours of public hearings, you put your experts on. There’s no competing experts, there’s not peer review. (The commission) couldn't even get the fire and police chief to come in and talk about it.”

Commission members cited a concern over access to the subdivision during a fire or other emergency as a reason for denial. Fragola’s plan called for access on Laning Street and a gated emergency access through the neighboring Faith Baptist Church parking lot.

Commission members pointed to regulations that called for two full access points for developments of this size. In a prepared statement, they called the access plan “inadequate and unsafe” for fire department and emergency access.

Planners said the location wasn’t right for septic systems as proposed by Fragola and that the added traffic could have been a danger to Laning Street drivers.

Appeals, additional lawyers

When Fragola first proposed affordable housing, the town hired land use attorney Brian Smith. For Tuesday’s meeting, he drafted the language for the commission’s motion to vote down the plan. 

Earlier this year, Smith represented a developer who sued the town after planners reduced the size of a downtown affordable housing project from 30 to 22 units. In an agreement between local developer Carl Verderame and the town to settle the lawsuit, the builder was able to construct 28 units.

Bob Hammersley, the commission chairman, said Smith is an expert in affordable housing development and would help guide the commission through its decision.

Smith said Fragola can either appeal the denial in court or modify his plan to accommodate the commission’s concerns.

Sewer access

Previous iterations of the Laning Street housing plan included extending the town’s sewer system to the 11-acre parcel. The plan denied Tuesday was for the 15 duplexes to have private septic systems.

The Town Council in 2019 rejected Fragola’s request to extend town sewers to the property.

Jeffrey Gworek, one of two commissioners who voted against denying the plan, questioned the reason for concern about septic systems.

“What specifically about the septic systems didn’t fit?” Gworek asked commissioners.

Bob Salka, the commission vice chairman, said the number of septic systems being added to the area was a cause for concern. Neighbors who spoke at recent public hearings questioned what the addition of 30 housing units might do to their drainage and septic systems.

jbuchanan@record-journal.com203-317-2230Twitter: @JBuchananRJ

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