WALLINGFORD — The Planning and Zoning Commission is expected to take up a proposed text amendment to the town’s Incentive Housing Zone that could allow as many as 50 housing units per acre on 20 downtown parcels that make up just over seven acres.
The amendment encourages mixed use developments, prohibiting housing units on the first floor of the buildings to preserve them for retail uses, though amenities for the residents could be on the first floor. In addition to town approval, the amendment also would require approvals from the State Commissioner of Housing.
One goal of the incentive is to bring more people to the town’s center, PZC Chairman James Seichter said. To be a vibrant area, it needs people living there, he said, and allowing the higher density is a tool to achieve that.
The incentive targets the area on North Cherry Street near the Railroad Green, which officials believe is an appropriate spot for higher density housing.
In March, the zoning commission denied an application from Vigliotti Construction for a 40-unit mixed development at 28 North Colony Road. The commission noted the application’s density in its denial, but voiced a willingness to consider increasing the allowed density in the future, which led to the proposed sub-district amendment.
The town first approved the Incentive Housing Zone in 2014, allowing for 10-15 units per acre for townhouse developments and 20-26 units for multi-family and mixed use developments.
In May, the Planning and Zoning Commission conducted a workshop on the proposed changes to the zone, with the discussion revolving around the proposed 50 units per acre in areas of the sub-district zone. Some objected to that increase, saying it wouldn’t be appropriate for some of the property in the zone, suggesting if the higher density were allowed, it should be applied only on parcels deemed appropriate, and those properties could form a sub-district of the zone.
The new proposal includes a sub-district “High Density Downtown Core” for a 7.2-acre piece comprised of 20 separate parcels where 50 units per acre would be allowed.
The zone is seen as a way to help the town reach the state’s affordable housing requirements, but that is not the driving factor in increasing the zone density. The goal, zoning officials said, is to provide more housing that is considered affordable regardless of whether it meets state guidelines.
Affordable housing is not the same as low income housing. To be eligible to rent or purchase a unit deemed affordable, applicants must meet income guidelines but earn too much to be eligible for government subsidies. Low income housing is subsidized by the government for people living at or below the poverty line.
State affordable housing regulations require towns to have 10% of its housing units carry deed restrictions labeling them as affordable. In municipalities falling below that requirement, developers proposing developments that include an affordable housing component can appeal denials in court and overwhelmingly, those denials are overturned unless the municipality can prove the development poses a threat to the town's health or safety or welfare.
Units may qualify as affordable housing, but unless the deed notes the affordable restriction, it is not included in the municipality's inventory of affordable housing and can't be applied to reaching 10%. Currently 4.37% of Wallingford housing units carry the deed restriction and qualify as affordable, and the town needs about 1,000 more units to meet the 10% requirement.
Allowing higher density in some areas is seen as one way to get closer to the 10% goal providing they are deed-restricted. The vast majority of Connecticut municipalities do not meet the 10% requirement and are subject to the state's affordable housing laws.