The Parkside Affordable Housing project is once again returning to Planning and Zoning to alter the terms of their approval. The applicants are hoping to avoid getting town approval to use public property for emergency access.
Tim Hollister, the attorney for Beacon Communities, which is managing the project, sent in a request to have Planning an Zoning change the location of an emergency staging area requires as part of emergency access, or eliminate a stipulation that the staging area be granted a deed restriction by the town.
As designed, the emergency staging area, where emergency equipment would be set up in the event of a fire or other issue, is on town property. As such, the approval for the plan granted by the Planning and Zoning Commission required the applicants to obtain a deed restriction from the owners of the property, in this case the town, to guarantee that the area would be locked in as an emergency staging area.
But like any other property, the owners of the property in question need to grant approval. As it is town property, that requires the legislative body, or the Representative Town Meeting, to grant such a deed restriction.
But with the majority of Indian Neck against the project, and the RTM controlled by the Republican Party, there remains almost no chance of an approval.
In the past the applicants, Beacon, and the Branford Hosing Authority, attempted to obtain asses via Melrose Avenue, also from the town. With Republican control and neighbors very much against the plan, it was defeated.
The Republicans were joined by Democrats Robin Comey and Maryanne Hall in that vote; Comey made the vote while running for state office, which she won and has since left the RTM, and Hall is no longer on the RTM.
Hollister encouraged the Commission to avoid having a public hearing for the matter, but de to the public involvement and concern in the application, the Commission chose to move ahead and schedule a public hearing. That will be held September 19, and continue to future meetings as needed.
After the last approval, Hollister filed a lawsuit to appeal the stipulations of the approval. That case remains in court, with it expected to be withdrawn if Beacon gets a favorable outcome in this most recent application.
A key witness for the Commission will be the fire marshall, Shaun Heffernan. It was Heffernan who determined what access was needed for the structure, which will be the largest residential structure in the area. With the application made under the state affordable housing statutes, the only aspects that the Commission can legally consider are impacts to health and safety.
The latest is a long line in changes and appeals made by Beacon to try and push the project through. With major opposition to the project seen with regards to the size and impact on residents, Beacon then pulled their application, and later reapplied with a new weapon: the affordable housing statutes, which eliminates the ability of the Commission to deny a project on anything other than health and safety.
With their hands tied, the project passed 3-2, but Beacon, which had proposed the Melrose Ave access, was unable to get town approval, and so then applied to remove that stipulation.
Again, under the affordable housing statute, it was approved 3-2.
Despite the long stream of starts and stops, appeals and modifications by Beacon, it also remains to be seen if they will get the state approval of tax credits to build the project, and if the neighbors will appeal.