Main St. Design District: What should the ratio of 2-bedroom apartments be?

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The proposed development for 127 Main St. includes six apartment buildings and one mixed-use commercial building.

MONROE, CT — A new design district would allow more flexibility for development of properties of two acres or more on Route 25, with multifamily housing as an option for parcels over 15 acres. Kevin Solli is proposing the overlay zone with one housing project already in mind, a mixed-use development with 174 luxury apartments on the Pond View property at 127 Main St.

Solli, principle of Solli Engineering in Monroe, told the Planning and Zoning Commission his clients would agree to have an affordable housing component, but asked that up to 65 percent of the housing consist of two-bedroom units to make such a project economically feasible for developers.

“I’d like to see that number come down a little,” Vice Chairman Bruno Maini said at the hearing on June 3.

Maini noted how the presenters showed some Continental Properties apartments, including Ten Trumbull, The Mark in Shelton and Montage Rocky Hill, in which lower than 65 percent of the apartments are two-bedroom.

“So I think you can make a living,” Maini said. “I’d like to see that number at 60 percent at least, so the number of one and two bedrooms are closer.”

But Solli said the other properties could be profitable because they do not have an affordability component, requiring that 10 percent of the units meet the state definition of affordable housing under the 8-30g statute.

“When you invest to make this really nice and luxury it affects your taxes too,” Solli said of another economic factor. “When you weigh all that, further restricting the two-bedrooms makes some of these projects nonviable.”

Solli later agreed to lower the two-bedroom limit to 60 percent, but not without an appeal from Greg Kamedulski, who is working with Sabrina Keillor, owner of the Pond View property.

“We on the development side would really like to keep it at 65 percent,” Kamedulski said. “An important consideration is the affordability component. It’s important to keep the project economically viable.”

Joe Williams, an attorney experienced with multifamily housing projects in Connecticut, spoke for the applicants. He said some towns impose too many restrictions on projects in an effort to make them “great,” only to lose out on developers willing to build these types of projects.

The Multifamily housing would be restricted to properties of over 15 acres, because the Monroe Planning and Zoning Commission wants to limit these types of developments.

Solli said Newtown’s South Main Village Design District, which Monroe’s district is modeled after, does not have a limit on the percentage of units that could be two bedroom, it only does not allow three-bedroom units (which Monroe’s also would not allow). The two-bedroom restriction sets Monroe apart, according to Solli.

“Usually a town allows the free market to determine the unit mix,” Williams said. “It is the kind of specific requirement where you can micromanage and lose projects.”

“I’m not trying to kill projects,” Maini said, adding he just feels 65 percent is too high for two-bedrooms.

The commission is considering a regulation text amendment petition to create a Route 25 Mixed-Use Design District (MDD) overlay and a Special Development District (SDD).

While the multifamily housing component is not specifically for Pond View, Solli said the only other property that could be eligible is 300 Main St., which is mountainous and does not have the same favorable septic capacity the Pond View site does.

The Main Street Design District would apply to all of Main Street (Route 25) with the exception of Stepney center, where the town is considering establishing a village district.

The hearing was continued to July 1.

A flowchart

On June 3, Solli showed the commission a flowchart of how one would apply for an SDD. Among the requirements for a multifamily application are schematic plans, septic capacity documentation, a traffic impact study and a fiscal impact assessment.

The project would also require reviews by the Architectural Review Board and Inland Wetlands Commission.

“This is really a good opportunity for the town to introduce another land use tool to your tool box,” Solli told the commission.

Solli said commissioners would decide whether an application to establish an SDD, which would allow uses beyond what the zoning allows, is suitable for a site. Then the commission could decide on the specific regulations for each one on a case-by-case basis.

If an SDD is approved and a developer later wants to revise its allowable uses, it would require commission approval of an amendment.

Town Planner Rick Schultz said land use staff members are comfortable with the concept of a special design district, adding he is familiar with it from his time in Shelton, where it was successful. Schultz also said he has heard from property owners on Route 111, who want the district to apply there too.

Solli said he is only petitioning for the SDD on Route 25 for now as a “baby step” before it applies to more places in town.

When commissioners had an opportunity to weigh in on the application, Nicole Lupo said she agreed with Maini on reducing the maximum allowable two bedroom units to 60 percent.

Other than the multifamily use, Lupo said she would like to see properties of less-than-two-acres be eligible for the SDD, to give those owners more flexibility. For instance, someone who wants a restaurant where one is not allowed could apply.

“I feel this is being tailored to the Pond View project,” Lupo said of one concern over the petition to establish the Main Street Design District. “I’m not seeing the effect with other properties.”

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