Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
PZC, after curfew, OKs change in housing regulations

By Jason Rowe
Journal Inquirer
January 21, 2006

VERNON - With little discussion or debate, the Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously Thursday to remove provisions for age-restricted housing from zoning regulations.

The vote came after a public hearing that lasted roughly 20 minutes, and began in earnest roughly 40 minutes after the PZC's mandated 10:30 p.m. curfew.

Because of a backlog in applications, commission members voted to extend the curfew several times to give them the opportunity to complete the regulation change, which was proposed by Town Planner Thomas J. Joyce Jr.

The proposal to remove special provisions for elderly housing from the zoning regulations was floated in the fall by Joyce, who argued that developers were using the special provision to build condominium projects at higher densities than would be otherwise allowed under the town's regulations.

"If people want to build condominiums and multi-family housing at a density then they should build them in zoning districts that allow those densities," Joyce told the commission.

Even with the regulation change, developers can still propose age-restricted housing developments. But now, those proposals will have to adhere to the density requirements set forth in the zone regulations.

Age-restricted housing communities have become more prevalent in town during the past few years, with the development of a number of large projects. Central to the debate has been the special provision, which was created in 1985 and was 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. But in 1999, that regulation was amended to define age-restricted housing as simply being directed at people 55 and older.

As a result, developers could construct unsubsidized, market-rate homes, some of which were selling well over $250,000, officials said.

For 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.

Only one member of the public spoke during the public comment portion of the application.

Fred Goff, of 130 Tracy Drive, who opposed a 59-unit age-restricted housing development off West Street that was rejected earlier Thursday, spoke in favor of the new regulations.

Knowing that the PZC was likely to change the regulations, developers were reportedly busy trying to get applications into the planning office before the commission could act on the new rules.

At least one developer was successful.

Earlier Thursday, the PZC accepted an application which proposed to construct eight units of age-restricted housing on 2.88 acres at 256 West St.

Because the application was accepted before the commission voted on the regulation changes, that proposal will be subject to the old rules.