As published in the Record Journal, Saturday January 12, 2013
Zone near train depot seems to be the spot
WALLINGFORD - A proposed Incentive Housing Zone could rejuvenate businesses in the lower downtown area, but proponents of the plan say a key element is also the construction of new affordable housing.
“There’s a lot of young people who grew up in Wallingford who can’t afford to move back,” said Democratic Town Councilor John Sullivan.
The Incentive Housing Zone would allow developers to build high-density three- and four-story mixed-use buildings. In exchange for the increased density, 20 percent of the housing units constructed must be designated as affordable for those making 80 percent or less of the median area income.
About six percent of the town’s housing stock is considered affordable. The state has set a goal of all towns having 10 percent affordable housing.
“I believe that affordable housing is something that is very much needed in Connecticut,” said Town Planner Kacie Costello. “It serves a wide population: young people, older people that are on a fixed income and a lot of professional people between those ages.”
Local developer Liz Verna also said the town needs more affordable housing. Her firm, Verna Properties, built one of the two affordable housing developments in town. Old Oak Village, a cluster of condominiums off North Turnpike Road built in 2002, has 24 units designated as affordable.
“Connecticut is very expensive to live in,” Verna said. “Businesses aren’t going to come to Connecticut if housing costs are so high.”
The town’s other affordable housing complex, Juniper Landing, has 11 affordable units and is next to Old Oak Village, according to Costello.
Verna said many people are misinformed about affordable housing. Such developments are not government subsidized and should not be confused with low-income housing, she said. They are privately built houses, condominiums or apartments that “shall be sold or rented at, or below, prices which will preserve the units as housing for which persons and families pay 30 percent or less of their annual income, where such income is less than or equal to 80 percent of the median income,” according to state statute.
Wallingford’s median household income in 2009 was $71,117.
Costello said the current affordable housing in town was built with 50-year deed restrictions, which means if the units are sold, they must be sold at below market rate to remain affordable to prospective buyers for a half century after they are built.
“We do have affordable housing and it works very well,” said Republican Town Councilor John LeTourneau.
Verna supports the Incentive Housing Zone and sees it as a way to breathe life into the downtown. Housing will bring young professionals to the area who will frequent local businesses, she said. With a new commuter rail service set to roll through town in 2016, people could live in downtown Wallingford and work in Stamford or New York, Verna said.
State Rep. Mary G. Fritz, D Wallingford, said the town has come a long way in building affordable housing in the last decade or so, pointing to Verna’s development and other clusters of condominiums that have popped up. But she believes that more affordable housing would help keep young people from leaving Wallingford.
“We need the young people in town,” she said. “We have to take care of them so they can take care of us.”
Sullivan said outside of the Incentive Housing Zone, he doesn’t see more affordable housing in town on the horizon, and believes the town should take advantage of the opportunity. Councilors gave the Planning and Zoning Commission the go-ahead this week to continue drafting plans to send to the state and apply for the designation.
“Our sons and daughters are now grown up and they’d like to live in Wallingford,” Sullivan said. “Having more affordable housing, especially down where the train is going to be, it all makes sense.”