August 19, 2018

Affordable Housing Public Hearing Deadline Extended Again, This Time to Sept. 10


UPDATED 7/20, FULL REPORT NOW ADDED: Around 270 people showed up at Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School Tuesday evening for the third Public Hearing held by the Old Lyme Zoning Commission on the 37-unit Affordable Housing development on Neck Rd. proposed by HOPE and the Women’s Institute.  At the end of the almost three-hour sometimes contentious, sometimes rambling meeting, the commission voted at the applicant’s request to continue the Public Hearing to their next regular meeting on Sept. 10.

The meeting opened with commission member Jane Marsh reading from a letter submitted by Old Lyme Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder, who was unable to attend the meeting. Reemsnyder had requested the letter be read into the zoning commission’s record.

In her letter, Reemsnyder explained the reason she had felt it necessary to write was because, “There are a range of accusations I feel must be directly addressed.”  She said the first was, “A conflict of interest,” and after explaining her position on the Advisory Council of HOPE was non-voting, she stated, “I have no personal stake in this development nor do I serve on any of the boards that must approve this application. By any standard, this does not even qualify as a perceived conflict of interest.”

The second accusation she cited was,“I brought this to our town.”  In answer to that, Reemsnyder wrote, “I support affordable housing for Old Lyme because it is a serious need and statutory mandates. Hence I have supported the mission of HOPE for years, never being secretive about it.”   She elaborated on the process that has been followed and clarified, “It is my longstanding and consistent policy to maintain the independence of our boards and commissions and to refrain from attempting directly to influence their decisions … I provided no comments, discussions or requests to any land use commission members.”

Finally, Reemsnyder noted she had seen an email stating, “The fix is in” suggesting this proposal is “… not going through the proper process.”  She responded in the letter, saying, “I have no idea what this refers to but if it is an allegation that someone is applying pressure to the zoning commission that would surely be news to me.”  Reemsnyder added, “The rumor that there has been an effort by me to “speed things along” with the town is “categorically untrue,” noting, “It is disturbing to see the misinformation going around about the application and the applicants.”

Reemsnyder concluded, “In the end it is you, the commission members, who have to abide by the rules for approving or denying affordable housing … I support each one of you.”

David Royston, who serves as attorney for HOPE and the Women’s Institute, makes a point during his preamble to a request being made by the Women’s Institute for an extension to the Public Hearing through Sept. 10.

Attorney David Royston, who represents the applicant, namely HOPE and the Women’s Institute, then took close to an hour to explain why he would be requesting an extension to the Public Hearing, primarily because several reports, which required responses from the applicants, had only been received in the last few days.  These included reports from the Old Lyme Fire Marshal David Roberge and the Town Engineer, Tom Metcalf.  Royston added he had also hoped to receive comments regarding the septic approval prior to the meeting, but that had not occurred.

Royston emphasized that “the position of the applicant” is not to “object in any fashion to scrutiny regarding health and safety issues” but rather that, “We understand fully the concerns of the community regarding the access driveway and the safety issues regarding emergency vehicles.” He stressed, “We want to assure you [Zoning Commission members] that every item raised will be addressed.”

Noting that an important concern of Metcalf was the entry driveway, Royston explained the applicant needed more time, “to allow these matters to be fully and professionally addressed.”

Kristen Anderson of the Women’s Institute made the official request for the extension on behalf of the applicant noting that continuing the Public Hearing to the zoning commission’s next regular meeting on Sept. 10 retained the application within the required legal timeline.  The Hearing would have to be closed on that date and a decision then given by the commission within 65 days after the meeting.

Land Use Coordinator Keith Rosenfeld (extreme left) listens intently as Zoning Commission Chairwoman Jane Cable (third from left) solicits input from other members of the commission during Tuesday’s Public Hearing.

Asking the audience to “Be kind” and “Don’t repeat,” Commission Chair Jane Cable then opened the floor to public comment.  Pamela Hamilton spoke first commenting initially on, “the bucolic and historic nature of Old Lyme,” and then noting that she had seen too many towns and villages, which had “frittered away their charm.” She stated firmly, “It is not elitist to treasure charm, history and beauty,” which drew spirited applause, adding, “The people of Old Lyme are a generous lot … they do not want to say,’We do not want affordable housing.’” She maintained their message was simply, “Build in some other location,” while adding in a questioning tone, “One wonders what the motivation is [for this site.]

Before calling the next speaker, Cable reminded the audience that the commission can only consider health and safety aspects of the proposal and urged speakers to restrict their comments to those matters.

An Old Lyme resident then went to the podium and questioned, “Have any of you stood on Sands Dr.? [the road almost opposite the Exit 70 exit ramp on Rte. 156/Neck Rd.] This is a public safety issue …  I just don’t see how this project has got this far.” He added, “You cannot do away with the safety problems it {the proposed development] will cause.  There is just no way.”

Old Lyme former First Selectman Tim Griswold, who noted he had served for 14 years, asked if the Zoning Commission had received a formal recommendation [regarding the proposed development] from the Old Lyme Selectmen’s Office or the State Police in Westbrook since the First Selectwoman and/or the Resident State Trooper “have jurisdiction over speeds, Stop signs.” Commission members indicated this was not case to which Griswold responded, “This is a deficiency that should be corrected.”

Hope’s Board of Directors President Tony Lyons, an Old Saybrook resident, said he wanted “to dispel” a couple of the points that were being communicated about the proposed development. First, he stated it is not “profit-motivated’ and second that HOPE” is looking to help people already here” rather than people from outside the area. He surmised, “Everyone in this room knows someone who has a housing issue … the millennial on your couch, the senior who has no senior housing.”

Lyons prompted jeers when he said, “This is not about traffic … traffic will be negligible.” He asked the audience where they have been for the past four years while HOPE has been looking for a site for affordable housing, saying, “We have been an open book.  We are a completely transparent organization.” Lyons also said the audience should think about the alternative if this project is not approved, speculating that “It will not be 37 units but 137 units,” built by a property developer.

In a more conciliatory tone, he said, “We are looking for help from everyone in this room to make this project the best we can.”

A resident of Wolcott Lane wondered whether additional police would be required for the increased town population resulting from the development.

Old Lyme resident Jill Pilgrim read the Fire Marshal’s letter, which had been submitted the previous day, into the record.  The letter raised nine comments, which required attention by the applicant, and its conclusion was, “Based upon its current submitted design(s) and our noted nonconformance to the Connecticut Fire Safety and Fire Prevention Codes, this Office cannot support this project at this time.”

One speaker noted it is possible to rent in Old Lyme and “you can find places to rent,” while a second commented, “There’s plenty of affordable housing in this own … that needs to be explored a little more.” He also suggested that the rents at River Oak Commons sounded high.

Speaker after speaker urged HOPE to reconsider the location of the development with possible sites proposed at the Ryefield Senior Housing and its environs and also on Hartford Ave. in Sound View. Concerns ranged from whether the end of a school bus picking up students would extend to the foot of the Exit 70 off-ramp, how children are going to cross Rte. 156 in order to reach Hall’s Rd., “a catastrophic accident,” and who will pay for the subsequently needed traffic lights and a rotary.  One resident described the locations “dangerous and absurd.”

Tom Ortoleva, a resident  of Old Lyme and a board member of HOPE, spoke passionately in support of the project noting he had never had difficulty turning right from the Exit 70 off-ramp and that, “Families that want to stay local [in Old Lyme] have to go to other towns … college students are moving away.” He surmised that Old Lyme would not be able to support volunteer Fire or Emergency Medical Technician Departments if this situation continued.

Ortoleva also stressed that concerns the development would turn into a “drug haven” were unfounded.  He had explored with the Old Saybrook Police Chief Mike Spera whether the Affordable Housing development at Ferry Crossing in that town had experienced higher crime rates than other parts of the town and the answer had been a definitive “No.”  Spera said there had been “no violent crimes or drug incidents at Ferry Crossing.”

Wes Swanson, another HOPE board member and pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Old Saybrook, urged the audience to consider the aspect of “health” in relation to River Oak Commons in the context of a “healthy community,” that is, one which is diverse and hospitable.  He submitted that “This proposal will enrich and enhance Old Lyme and contribute to the community’s well-being and growth.”

Dominic Pappa, an abutter of the proposed development, drew applause when he summed up many of the concerns of those objecting saying, “Affordable Housing is needed but it’s obvious to everyone in this room that this site has a health and safety issue.” He urged the commission not to extend the public hearing but rather to have a vote and, “make a decision.”

When evaluating the evidence before making their decision, Michael Fogliano recommended the commission should take care only to consider, “objective data.”

Finally, after more than two and a half hours of testimony and some confusion in the final minutes, the commission voted unanimously to extend the hearing to Sept. 10 as requested by the applicant.

Editor’s Note: Links to our stories on previous meetings regarding this Affordable Housing proposal are respectively at Boisterous Crowd Packs Middle School Auditorium to Listen to, Give Opinions on HOPE’s Affordable Housing Proposal published June 8, and At HOPE’s Request, Old Lyme Zoning Extends Affordable Housing Hearing Deadline to July 17 published June 13. There are also numerous Letters to the Editor on the subject in our Letters section and opinions in our Op-Ed’s section. The articles themselves also stimulated a wide variety of comments.

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