Access Road Revision Sought for Branford's Parkside Village I
This Parkside Village I project proposal for 115 South Montowese Street was part of the 2017 application review and includes an outline (at right) showing the existing Sliney Road off South Montowese/Route 146. Image from https://courbanize.com/projects/parkside-village/information )
Beacon Communities Development LLC (MA) and Branford Housing Authority (BHA) have submitted an application to Branford Planning and Zoning Commission (PZC) to delete a Melrose Avenue extension condition on the Town's approved site plan for the Parkside Village I affordable housing renovation project at 115 South Montowese St. Instead of a Melrose Avenue extension, Beacon and BHA are seeking a revision to the approved site plan to show use of Sliney Road as the access road.
The application is making its first appearance as new business on the PZC agenda as part of its Thurs. Feb. 21 regular meeting at 7 p.m. Branford Fire Headquarters, 45 North Main St. The agenda was first posted on the Town's website on Feb. 20 (www.branford-ct.gov)
The new approach by Beacon and BHA is the next move following an October 2018 Hartford Superior Court decision overturning a complex January 2018 vote by the PZC which served to deny BHA/Beacon's three-part application to redevelop and expand Parkside Village I under CT General Statute (CGS) Section 8-30g affordable housing [§ 8-30g].
Built in the early 1970's, Parkside Village I is out of ADA compliance and currently houses seniors and disabled adults in studio and one-bedroom units.
According to a January, 2019 press release in which Beacon announced Dara Kovel as its new CEO, the comany is a "multi-family housing development, investment, and management company with developments throughout New England, New York, and the eastern seaboard. The company currently owns over 140 communities with more than 18,000 units of housing, from suburban new construction to urban historic rehabilitation." As of August 31, 2018, Beacon's list of Connecticut properties numbers 814 total units of which 641 are affordable units (see related document).
January 2018 PZC Denial; October 2018 Judge's Ruling to Overturn
When the PZC undertook its vote on the application back on January 25, 2018, it was done as series of three votes on the project's three separate applications submitted by BHA and Beacon. Each application was approved by a PZC vote of 3-2, but, based on a condition set by the PZC using the Town Attorney's interpretation of state statutes, one of the applications, for a zoning map amendment to change from residential use to an Assisted Housing District under § 8-30g, required a two-thirds "super majority" (4-1) vote for approval because the PZC had received a valid protest petition submitted by neighbors.
Minutes of the Jan. 25, 2018 PZC meeting actions on the 3-2 vote denying the zoning map change note, "A valid Protest Petition was filed per C.G.S. Section 8-3(b) with respect to this application requiring a 4-1 vote for approval." The PZC also added a condition that all three applications required proper approval to move the project forward. Because of the failure to reach the supermajority, the PZC submitted that only two of the three applications were approved; so the project was denied.
Beacon and BHA appealed the "super majority" caveat and on Oct. 24, 2018, Hartford Superior Court Judge Marshall Berger overturned the PZC's January vote, noting in his written decision, "The commission's inclusion of a condition requiring approval of the zone change for the site plan to be approved was unequivocally illegal. Accordingly, inasmuch as the plaintiffs acknowledge and agree to the conditions imposed by the commission on January 25, 2018, the denials of the commission based upon the 'supermajority' provision of § 8-3 (b) are reversed."
As part of his decision, Judge Berger remanded the applications to the commission for approval with "the conditions as previously imposed, excluding the condition requiring a zone change for approval of the site plan."
The Melrose Avenue Extension Issue
In the applications the judge remanded to the commission, the site plan application approved by the PZC in January of 2018 included a proposed emergency access road to be created by extending a town road, Melrose Avenue, to point reaching behind the Parkside complex. Bringing in the access road extension requires the town to give permission to extend the road. To date, such permissions have not been made by the town.
Most recently, in the summer of 2018, while the BHA vs. PZC court appeal was underway, Branford's Representative Town Meeting (RTM) received a request from BHA/Beacon for access to land to build an access road to Melrose Avenue. On July 25, 2018, the RTM voted 18 to 6 reject the request. The request sought an easement for two years' time to allow for temporary construction access and parking that would be needed in order to redevelop Parkside Village I. As part of the request, BHA and Beacon also offered to contribute $200,000 for the road the town. The Melrose access road installation would have also allowed emergency responders access to the proposed redeveloped, expanded Parkside Village I.
The Sliney Road Proposal
With its new application on the Feb. 21, 2019 PZC agenda, Beacon and BHA are seeking approval for a revision to the approved site plan to show use of Sliney Road as the development's access Road.
Back in December of 2017, at the final part of the PZC's public hearing on the applications, Beacon attorney Timothy Hollister (Shipman & Goodwin, LLP) said that safety concerns raised by the town's fire marshal, regarding a proposed emergency access road leading in from Melrose Avenue to the development; could instead be addressed by utilizing Sliney Road (currently a driveway access road), with tree clearing needed, including at the South Montowese Street entrance, to widen the path.
At that same meeting, Branford Town Planner Harry Smith noted Beacon's proposed widening of Sliney Road would be no better than the bringing in the proposed Melrose access road; as both would still require the use of town property for emergency vehicles to stage and access the development.
A Brief History of BHA/Beacon's Applications, To Date
In 2016, BHA and Beacon withdrew a first application to redevelop and expand the current three-building, 50-unit Parkside Village I at 115 South Montowese St. to create a brand-new single building with 71 units. At the time, BHA/Beacon had sought PZC approval for Planned Development District (PDD). The application was withdrawn by BHA/Beacon after the project's size and scope was met with objections.
In the fall of 2017, BHA and Beacon submitted three new applications, under § 8-30g, to redevelop Parkside Village I as a single building of 67 one-and two-bedroom units, to include affordable housing not only for seniors but for individuals or families of all ages. The application for a zoning map change would create an Assisted Housing District guided by § 8-30g instead of Branford's more stringent zoning regulations.
Now, Beacon Communities Development LLC and BHA are asking the PZC approve a request to delete the Melrose Avenue extension condition that is part of the the three town-approved applications, and seeking approval of a revision to show use of Sliney Road as the access road.
PZC public hearings on the applications in 2016 and 2017 drew crowds of residents, with some in support of the project; but many, including those from residential neighborhoods around Parkside Village, who voiced opposition to the project.