The Branford Housing Authority will see some new members, and lose some, as the Board of Selectman appointed two new members Wednesday night.
With a 2-1 vote, the Board appointed two new members, Mark Colello and Victoria Verderamme, were added.
But the larger story is who was not appointed to a new term. Longtime chairman Doug Denes, who spent much of the last year at war with the neighborhood over the proposed Parkside project, was not granted a new term. His current term had expired earlier this year.
Denes had been acting chairman of the Housing Authority for years, largely under the radar on a body that existed only to manage the Parkside development. The Commission is not a town one, although the local Board of Selectmen appoint members.
The Parkside development is a project that was initially for seniors but has evolved to include low income individuals and those with disabilities. Due to the age of the units, the Housing Authority chose to move forward with Beacon Communities, a Boston based company that specializes in affordable housing, to tear down the existing structures and build a new one.
As the project began, a commission largely unknown to many became more heavily scrutinized, especially as opposition to the project grew.
And as residents and press sought out more information on the hiring of Beacon and how the process moved forward, it became clear that the Commission, under Denes, had failed to keep accurate records, including meetings minutes, for years.
With residents banding together in opposition, complaints were filed with the states Freedom of Information Commission, which came down hard against Denes and the Commission, which, at times, had sent residents on something of a wild goose chase to find meeting minutes which Denes knew well did not exist.
Denes did seek to be reappointed, and first selectman Jamie Cosgrove stated he spoke with Denes earlier this week to let him know he would not be reappointed. Jack Ahern, the lone Democrat in the Board, voted against the new appointments, questioning making a change at this time.
It was the relationship between Denes and local Democrats that further added fuel to the fire in the debate over the last year. Denes went to war on the neighborhood, working to bring in Jay Pottenger, a Yale attorney and candidate for Branford office in 2017, who attempted to paint the opposition as racist. Denes and Pottenger then proceeded to hold closed door meetings with Democrats to try to push needed land acquisition through the RTM, an attempt that failed.
Opposition to the project has come on multiple fronts from the locals, but was also limited legally as the state's affordable housing statute significantly limits the reasons a project can be denied. The Housing Authority and Beacon have led the town on a long series of stops and starts, agreeing to stipulations and then suing to remove them, pulling the project and then reapplying under the affordable housing statute, and as recent as last month filing yet another appeal.
Opponents have raised concerns with the size of the project, which takes 3 smaller, 2-story structures and combined them into one, 4 story structure. Additionally, the new project will actually provide fewer units for those with next to no income, and concerns continue about what will happen to the current residents longterm.
With contracts in place, new appointments may not significantly alter the course of the Parkside project. What may impact it is financing. With governor Ned Lamont’s “debt diet,” funding for projects like this has been greatly reduced. Beacon has requested over 26.1 million dollars for the project, which works out to over $435,000 per affordable unit.