Members of the public waited more than two hours Tuesday to voice their opinion of the application to put 50 apartments at 55 West Woods Rd., but in the end only two people got to speak for a few minutes each.
But the rest will get their chance next month, when the Planning and Zoning Commission concludes its public hearing on the application from West Woods Properties for the site that had been approved for a 90-room hotel before the economy went south.
On Tuesday, the commission heard from land use attorney Tim Hollister that the two applications are very similar and that the latest is actually a less intense use than the one that had already won approval four years ago.
The apartments are being proposed under the state Affordable Housing Act which, Hollister said, can be somewhat confusing. Many equate it with federal affordable housing programs that provide subsidises, which this doesn't, he said.
The state Affordable Housing statutes aim to provide affordable housing for people earning between $40,000 and $70,000 a year, he said. If a town does not have 10 percent of its housing units deed restricted as affordable, it is subjected to the town statutes. While affordable units are available in Hamden, its stock of deed restricted units is only about 6 to 7 percent, Town Planner Leslie Creana said, so the town falls under the mandate of the act.
And as such, the commission is limited in what it can do with an application filed under the state Affordable Housing statutes. The burden of proof shifts to the town, which can only deny an application if it shows that it presents a danger to the health, welfare and safety to the town. Otherwise, it's fairly easy for a developer to take the town to court and win under the statutes.
Hollister laid out the plans for the complex: 50 units on 5.8 acres, including 39 two-bedroom units and 11 one-bedroom units with the affordable units interspersed within the market-rate units. The affordable units would range from $800 to $1,300 a month.
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But one group who won't be living in them is students, Hollister vowed. He was involved in a similar situation with AvalonBay's Town Walk complex in Hamden and was able to successfully get a caveat written in that precluded renting to undergraduate students, he said, and would do the same here.
The prospect of the units being rented to Quinnipiac University students was one of the neighbor's biggest concerns.
The developer's application is divided into three parts: rezoning the property to a newly zone created specifically for this development, approving the zone for the site and approving the plans for the property.
Asst. Town Planner Dan Kops read off a lengthy list of concerns the department has with the application and because of them, can't at this time recommend approval. But Hollister said he didn't hear anything that he thinks can't be worked out.
The hearing was continued to the commission's next meeting Nov. 13, when the public will have a chance to speak. But two residents were able to get their comments in before the meeting was adjourned Tuesday night.
"Setting up a special zone to make it easier for them seems crazy to me," said Still Hill Road resident Peter Schwartz. He's not opposed to affordable housing, he said, adding that he worked as a social worker for 35 years, but giving the developer so much leeway is a "slippery slope."
And the prospect of blasting is disconcerting, he said. The developer said they will be taking more than 51,000 yards of material out of the site in order to "tuck in" the building to the topography, and much of that material will need to be blasted.
The trucks that will remove that material are a concern to West Woods Road resident Sue Dennis, who said that traffic on that road is already difficult.
"There is a good reason why zoning requires that multi-families are put on a major road," she said. "West Woods Road is a totally inappropriate road -- it's curvy and steep and already has too much traffic."