Residents concerned about density in Fairfield

Fear new developments could overwhelm neighborhoods; meeting April 8

Fairchild Avenue is a short dead-end street off the King’s Highway East commercial strip where there are several businesses and about 20 small homes on tiny lots. When cars are parked along both sides of the road, it’s a tight squeeze, even more so when there’s snow on the ground.

But in the Fairfield County Gold Coast world of real estate development, there’s always room for more. That’s why there is a 54-unit apartment complex being built at the end of Fairchild Avenue, and why another 33 units of two-bedroom apartments for a total of 66 bedrooms on less than half an acre of land is being proposed right across the street from it.

Together with a proposed 95-unit residential development on Bronson Road in the town’s Mill Plain area, these apartment development projects have raised the ire of neighbors who claim the Town Plan and Zoning Commission is allowing density to go over the edge.

A sign on the lawn outside Joseph Conlin’s house on Fairchild Avenue urges Fairfield residents to speak against high-density zoning. (Tony Spinelli Photo)

A sign on the lawn outside Joseph Conlin’s house on Fairchild Avenue urges Fairfield residents to speak against high-density zoning. (Tony Spinelli Photo)

Signs by FairfieldTaxpayer.com proclaiming “Say no to TPZ change in high density zoning” have been posted around town, including the corner of Fairchild Avenue and King’s Highway East.

At the Town Planning and Zoning office in Sullivan Independence Hall, there is a thick packet of perhaps 100 or more emails from residents who are passionately opposed to this type of housing density. In the Fairchild Avenue case, the project requires a zone change, a zoning regulation amendment, and a special permit, among other requirements, to build the 33 units by changing that B residential zone to a Designed Residential Zone.

Specifically, the developer a seeks a change in the regulations for as many as 60 bedrooms per roughly half an acre in that type of zone. Currently, the town’s regulations for a Designed Residential Zone allow 15 units per acre if it is a qualified affordable housing proposal.

The project address is at 110 Berwick Avenue and 145 Fairchild Avenue, encompassing two parallel streets that abut the dead-end, which faces Interstate 95.

Residents are fired up about it.

“The idea of putting up a housing complex on a half-acre is ridiculous and does not properly protect the neighborhood and the character of the town,” resident Ilene Feldman wrote in an email to P&Z.

“I am opposed to the amendments as proposed, as they will permit changing the character of certain neighbors within Fairfield,” resident Bruce McDonald wrote in his email to Planning & Zoning.

For Fairchild Avenue resident Joseph Conlin, who is a writer and editor of a literary magazine, density is more than a word to describe an apartment development. He has lived on the small street 30 years, and cannot comprehend how all the cars would fit, or where they would fit.

He figures with two-bedroom apartments, it’s going to be a married couple living in there, and there will probably be at least two vehicles per family.

“The new facility has only 33 parking spaces, that’s the problem with it,” said Conlin, who added he is not outright opposed to housing developments in his blue collar neighborhood of immigrant families, just their density and parking provisions.

“You’re talking about a street where 50 or 60 people have lived for the last 60 or 70 years,” Conlin said. “It’s just a dead-end street.”

The developers of the project were not available to respond to these concerns. They are listed as Richard Albertelli and Kevin B. Bartlett, in an LLC called Berwick Fairchild and Associates. Their attorney is Bryan LeClerck of Berchem, Moses & Devlin in Milford, who was asked to comment but said his clients were unavailable.

Saying no to the project on the grounds of density is not a simple matter. Plans include affordable housing units, and state law that favors the development of affordable housing in wealthy towns carries a bit of clout. Under the developer’s plan, 10% of the 33 units, meaning five units, would be reserved for 40 years as affordable housing for those who learn 60% or less of Fairfield’s median income or Connecticut’s median income, whichever is less. Another five units would be reserved for those who earn more than 60% of the median income but less than 80%.

Fairfield’s median income is said by the website city-data.com to be $98,922 as of 2011, the latest year for which data was available. Connecticut’s median income was said to be $67,276 in 2012, the last year for which data was available, according to the website deptofnumbers.com.

The heat on these projects is coming to a peak. The Fairchild Avenue development will be the subject of a Town Planning and Zoning Commission meeting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 8, at McKinley Elementary School.

It is expected to be well attended. One of those who may attend is Kathryn Braun, a member of the RTM and an attorney who has represented clients opposed to the density projects.

The building on Fairchild Avenue, for example, is planned to be four stories, with a garage on the street level and three stories of apartments above it.

“If you look at that street, it’s really horrible,” Braun said. For her, zoning regulations should exist to protect the town and control development.

“By people coming in and proposing high-rises,” she said, “it defeats the purpose of zoning.”

Joseph Conlin and others on Fairchild Avenue fear proposed developments will greatly increase traffic in the area due to high density. (Tony Spinelli photo)

Joseph Conlin and others on Fairchild Avenue fear proposed developments will greatly increase traffic in the area due to high density. (Tony Spinelli photo)

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