Shelton apartment moratorium excludes downtown

SHELTON — Apartment developments are on hold, everywhere but the city’s downtown.

The Planning and Zoning Commission, at its meeting Wednesday, voted to establish a temporary moratorium on any new multi-family residential rental housing units throughout the city, except in the Central Business District, which encompasses downtown. The moratorium takes effect June 10.

“We need to make sure the city can appropriately accommodate high-density residential proposals,” commission Chair Virginia Harger said. “We need balance and to make sure all of these are appropriate for our community.”

Harger said that while economic development is desirable, the public health, safety, and welfare of the city’s residents is of utmost importance.

Without a moratorium, Harger said the commission would not have the opportunity to investigate the impact of these projects on traffic and parking; the city’s sewer system; potential increases in demands on police and the schools; an increase in light pollution during the evening; and whether state and local governments need to make necessary public infrastructure improvements.

The temporary moratorium will expire on March 31, 2023, but it could be lifted on zones at earlier dates. The moratorium does not affect any applications filed prior to June 10.

“The Planning and Zoning Commission can also vote no on projects we don’t feel fit,” commissioner Jimmy Tickey said, “But whether it’s voting no or enacting a moratorium, we do need to pause, see the impacts of current developments, plan more and develop in a thoughtful way.”

Tickey noted the concern about the lack of parking downtown, adding that the commission should be examining the traffic flow and lack of parking and take action.

“Our downtown has become a victim of its own success and we need clearly labeled and well-lit ample parking so people can park and enjoy our downtown’s shops and eateries,” Tickey said. “We only get one opportunity to develop Shelton and we must get it right.”

In its resolution, the commission stated that the city has seen “exceptional growth” in the number of such developments in recent years through the use of the Planned Development District (PDD).

The commission stated that, in some instances, the developments outside the downtown area have “caused an unintended or unanticipated substantial change” in the character of that neighborhood.

“Such development fosters increased density, traffic, parking demands, noise and lighting,” the resolution reads. “As a result, there has been concern on behalf of commission members as to whether the continued approval of such multifamily residential rental unit projects is changing the nature (of those neighborhoods).”

The commission also stated that the increased density from the developments places additional demand on municipal services.

Attorney Dominick Thomas, who stated he was representing several local developers, said the moratorium was unnecessary. The PDD designation gives the commission control over the entire development, he said.

Thomas said that while a moratorium stops all such applications, it does not prevent developers from coming in with affordable housing plans under state statute 8-30g. Under those affordable housing applications, the commission loses control over such aspects as parking and architectural design.

“The city has not made a dent in the amount of housing it needs,” Thomas said.

Thomas said such a moratorium would also have a financial impact on the developers he represents as they have already begun planning projects that will not be able to be submitted in a timely fashion, if at all.

“You will also be reducing the supply, contributing to the higher cost of rents,” Thomas said, adding that the city’s occupancy rate stands at some 97 percent.

“Outside of the downtown, none of the projects you have approved, none of them, have had any parking problems or interfered with any neighborhoods,” Thomas said, specifically citing The Mark, Avalon Huntington, Beard Sawmill and the apartments on Old Bridgeport Avenue.

“When you get into the suburban ring, none has had parking problems or interfered with neighborhoods. Why? Because all the zoning for apartments there are PDDs. The only special exceptions for high density housing are the Riverfront District, but that is entirely used up,” Thomas said.

Mayor Mark Lauretti said the commission should “take a pause” and examine where high-density housing should be located.

“Right now, they are coming from everywhere … all parts of the city,” Lauretti said about high density rental unit applications filed with the zoning office.

“How far should we go with apartments?” Lauretti said. “Are we going to solve all the state’s problems? Because we are a place of employment, is it our responsibility to supply housing for every job that comes here?”

Rebecca Twombly, an original resident of the Birmingham on Canal Street, said she had hoped that the downtown would be included in the moratorium.

“Parking has been a problem downtown since I moved here in 2007,” she said, “And each year it just gets worse.”

Twombly is pleased with the city’s continued growth — particularly the downtown — but said focus must be placed on the parking problems.

“To suggest that we take the foot off the gas on Canal Street … I don’t think so,” Lauretti responded. “We have labored long and hard to get where we are down there. We don’t want to stop the momentum (on Canal Street) when people recognize Shelton is the place to be.”

After Twombly’s comments, the commission voted 4-1 to close the public hearing. Tickey opposed closing the hearing at that time.

“We have a lot of moving parts to this moratorium and would have liked to afford the public and others to comment on this for more than one public hearing as we do many of our large projects,” Tickey said.