Construction has begun on an apartment complex that the town of Stratford fought for years in court -- spending hundreds of thousands of dollars -- to prevent from being built.
More than a decades-long court battle between the town and AvalonBay Communities ended in 2012 when an Appellate Court rejected a final appeal from the town on a ruling in favor of the developers.
Stratford officials had argued that the 130-unit, two- and three-bedroom development, located just north of the Merritt Parkway on Cutspring Road, proposed certain environmental and public safety concerns.
The town’s Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission presented evidence that they said showed construction of the complex would decrease and pollute groundwater flow to a nearby brook and wetlands.
Stratford zoning officials contended further that the Merritt Parkway overpass on Cutspring Road is too low a clearance for the fire department’s aerial ladder trucks to pass under. And that type of apparatus would be needed in the event of a fire on one of the upper floors of the complex, they said.
What made the case a difficult one for the town was the fact that AvalonBay filed its applications under the state’s affordable housing law, which put the town in a position in court where it had to prove its concerns outweighed the need for affordable housing in Stratford.
“The law is stacked against communities,” Gary Lorentson, the town’s planning and zoning administrator, told Stratford Patch on Wednesday. “The intent of the law is good…but it allows developers to come in and totally disregard zoning laws.”
Lorentson said the courts ruled in favor of AvalonBay in part because the town could not provide enough specifics related to its protest, including the precise amount of time an aerial truck would be delayed in getting to the development.
In 2011, Stratford Zoning Commission Chairman Chris Silhavey said firefighters would have to slowly “walk” the ladder trucks under the overpass. “We know for a fact that the bridge is a certain height and the fire apparatus is a certain height,” he said at the time.
On Wednesday, Lorentson said the overpass remains a concern. As does the environmental issues raised by the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission, he said, adding that there will be weekly reports and regular on-site visits to ensure the brook and wetlands are protected.
Affordable housing units in Stratford represent about 5.8 percent of the town’s housing, according to Lorentson. At least 25 percent of the development’s 130 units must be affordable under state law, he said.
The affordable housing percentage in Stratford was higher (around 8 percent) when units at Stonybrook Co-op qualified as such, Lorentson said. He said properties there were initially financed with assistance from the state or federal government, which made them count as affordable.
But once the government assistance was paid off, which it was, the units were no longer considered affordable.
“It’s a weird law and a
flawed law in my mind,” Lorentson said.
Reporting from a 2011 article by Fred Musante was used in this article.