Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Influx of age-restricted housing applications could put debate on hold

By Jason Rowe
Journal Inquirer
December 28, 2005

VERNON — The debate on the future of age-restricted housing is scheduled to resurface next month.

But a backlog in applications before the Planning and Zoning Commission could delay until February a public hearing on proposed changes to the zoning regulations.

And some developers — cognizant that the days of large, age-restricted housing developments may be coming to an end in Vernon, are scrambling to get their applications in before the commission has its say, officials said.

The idea of removing age-restricted housing provisions from zoning regulations surfaced in August when Town Planner Thomas J. Joyce Jr. recommended that the PZC consider making the changes.

If the proposed changes are approved, developers looking to build age-restricted housing would be required to abide by the same housing density regulations as developers proposing traditional housing developments.

Economic Development Director and Assistant Town Planner Neil S. Pade said the public hearing on the proposed changes is on the PZC's Jan. 19 meeting agenda.

But the fact that the commission has a number of lengthy applications before it could mean the hearing will be pushed back, Pade said.

"It just doesn't look like we are going to make it based on the backlog of applications," Pade said. "It looks like it's going to be sometime in February."

And Pade said he knows of a number of developers who are working to get applications to the Planning Department before the commission has a chance to act.

Any changes to the zoning regulations would not affect housing developments that already have been approved or built.

In September, the PZC had scheduled a public hearing on the issue for its Nov. 3 meeting.

But before the town could hold the hearing and act on proposed changes to zoning regulations, it first needed to send notifications to surrounding towns and the local councils of government, Pade said.

Age-restricted housing communities have become more prevalent during the past few years, with the development of a number of large projects.

Central to the debate over age-restricted housing is the fact that developers are allowed to construct the housing at higher densities than would be allowed with standard homes or condominiums.

This fall, Joyce said those densities were the result of a provision added to zoning regulations in 1985 aimed at allowing public agencies and nonprofit organizations to set up low-cost housing for elderly residents on fixed incomes.

Those residents would have been able to live together in a community setting near services that they would use on a regular basis, Joyce said.

In 1999, that regulation was amended to define age-restricted housing as simply being directed at people 55 and older.

As a result, developers suddenly could construct unsubsidized, market-rate homes, officials said.

And in many cases, those developers could develop more housing units if the proposed development was an age-restricted community.

For an example, a developer with a 40,000-square-foot parcel in the R-10 zone would be able to develop a maximum of four single-family homes on four 10,000 square-foot lots.

But if a developer were to propose an age-restricted development, that number could increase to as many as 20 units for the entire parcel.

Among the largest age-restricted housing developments is the Quail Hollow Development off Dart Hill Road, which has grown into three phases and 160 units since its initial 74-unit phase was approved in April 2000.

Two more developments, together totaling 38 units, are under construction at the corner of Merline Road and Hartford Turnpike and at the corner of Tunnel Road and Whitney Ferguson Road.

And local developer Kenneth J. Boynton is presently before the PZC seeking approval to construct 59-units of age-restricted condominiums on roughly 21 acres off West Street.

The public hearing on that proposal is scheduled to resume on Jan. 5.