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New Canaan forced to accept affordable housing units after state denied moratorium

New Canaan will now be required to accept affordable housing projects previously denied by the town.

The state Department of Housing (DOH) once again ruled against New Canaan’s request to extend a moratorium on construction of affordable housing units.

The state made its initial ruling in October. In December, New Canaan asked the DOH to reconsider, however, the request was rejected in late May.

New Canaan had a moratorium on affordable housing in place from 2017 to 2021, according to court records. Last year, the town applied for the moratorium to be extended.

The town has yet to decide what the next steps will be and disagrees with the state’s decision, according to Nicholas Bamonte, an attorney who is representing the town.

“The town fundamentally disagrees with DOH's interpretation, which is contrary to DOH’s own past practice, and has already initiated legal action to obtain a court's final ruling on the application of the pre-moratorium housing points,” Bamonte said in a statement. “The recent declaratory ruling provides another potential path to seek similar legal recourse from the courts. At this point, the Town is determining whether it intends to continue to challenge the decision and is considering the several legal options for doing so.”

As part of the moratorium, New Canaan wanted to use 31 affordable housing units constructed prior to the issuance of the town’s first moratorium in 2017 as justification for a future moratorium.

The state’s verdict comes on the heels of New Canaan’s recent rejection of three largely affordable housing apartment complexes that would have added more than 30 affordable apartments to the town.

The projects, proposed by the same developer, Karp Associates in New Canaan, were denied based on safety concerns including accessibility for emergency vehicles and pedestrians.

Arnold Karp, the developer, said the town was looking for any reason to deny the project.

“If there was a valid reason, we'd be happy to listen to it and design around it,” Karp said. “If it was a project they wanted, they would bend over backwards and say, everything's fine. If there were life safety issues, as the developer and builders of these, we would certainly attend to them. But all of our experts say there are no life safety issues.”

The company previously established several single-family homes, commercial spaces and multi-family complexes with less affordable housing units in New Canaan and the surrounding towns. When their proposals began including 30% affordable units, the town began rejecting the plans, Karp said.

“They're grasping at straws and trying to come up with a reason to justify their foolish and badly-timed turn down on housing that is severely needed by many people in Fairfield County,” Karp said.

Karp and the company’s Chief Operating Officer Paul Stone, said the state’s ruling will have little tangible impact on the town.

“I don't think we're going to be changing minds anytime soon, because I think it's a very entrenched mindset,” Stone said. “It's more indicative of the kind of opposition that has been in place for for many decades and even generations. We are hopeful. I don't think this completely changes the game, on any of it. I think it's more of an indicator of where a lot of these small towns are, and the mindsets that kind of fuel that opposition.”

New Canaan historically has one of the lowest rates of affordable housing in the state, with less than 3% of its housing units designated affordable.

The Department of Housing is working with individual towns and setting up programs and opportunities to expand affordable housing in the state, according to Michael C. Santoro, director, at the Office of Policy, Research and Housing Support.

“Over the last two years, we have provided direct guidance as well as grants to support technical assistance to more than 80 of our small to mid-sized communities,” Santoro said. “We are going to be working over the next year or so to provide further technical assistance to those communities that have created municipal affordable housing plans to implement those plans, and create the affordable housing opportunities they worked to identify.”

Resistance to affordable housing in smaller towns, particularly in Fairfield County, is related to the towns’ rural history and hesitancy to change the town’s landscape, according to Sean Ghio, policy director at the housing advocacy group Partners for Strong Communities.

“It's been clear that some towns will use every tool at their disposal to prevent more homes from being built and prevent more people from enjoying life in Connecticut,” Ghio said. “It's really only in a very small number of towns where this is an issue, because it has to be a combination of things and one is, towns have to resist development and two is, the market has to be strong enough.”

Abigail is Connecticut Public's housing reporter, covering statewide housing developments and issues, with an emphasis on Fairfield County communities. She received her master's from Columbia University in 2020 and graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2019. Abigail previously covered statewide transportation and the city of Norwalk for Hearst Connecticut Media. She loves all things Disney and cats.

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