October 27, 2020

Diebolt Clarifies His Plans for 220 (Approx.) Apartments on Hatchetts Hill (Includes 70 Affordable Housing Units); Says “It’s 100% Good for the Town”

The boundary marked on this map indicates the perimeter of the 20.6 acres owned by Mark Diebolt, which is the proposed site of a housing development. The site is already zoned for multi-family housing.

OLD LYME — Describing his proposed housing development off Hatchetts Hill Rd. in Old Lyme as, “A one hundred percent good thing for the town,” Mark Diebolt went on to give an detailed outline of the ambitious proposal during a phone conversation with LymeLine last Monday (Sept. 22.)

The plan, which is still in draft form and has not yet been released, calls for construction of 11 buildings, which will offer a total of between 216 and 224 one- and two-bedroom apartments. The precise number is not yet finalized but Diebolt anticipates it will be around 220.

The intention is for roughly a third of the apartments — between 70 and 75 — to be made available as ‘Affordable Housing,’ which means the plans can be submitted under the state’s 8-30g regulations that facilitate the process of obtaining approvals.

Diebolt described his vision for the development, which, apart from the apartments, is also slated to include a pool, gym. movie theater and clubhouse, as being, “Somewhere people want to live” and “Having the feel of its own little community.” He believes, “A diverse group of residents” will be attracted to the community, which will be both attractive and “completely safe.” and emphasized, “There will be ways for people to interact and socialize, if they wish.”

Drawing a comparison with the recent Saybrook Station development in Old Saybrook, he said he similarly envisaged, “New England-style building … and making it like a small village.” He emphasized, however, a significant difference between the Saybrook project and this one in Old Lyme in terms of the building density. Diebolt pointed out, “They have a lot less land,” noting that the former has 186 units in nine buildings on 1o acres whereas in Old Lyme, he is looking at 220 units in 11 buildings on just over 20 acres.

Noting it is a “unique location,” and “all rural around that area,” Diebolt explained that the uneven topography, which includes “lots of rock,” allows opportunities “to use the natural contours of the property” both for underground parking and also, in some cases, to offer views of Long Island Sound from the apartments. The parcel of land comprising 20.6 acres, which he has owned for many years and is already zoned for multi-family use, lies at the eastern end of Hatchetts Hill and is bordered to the north by Hatchetts Hill Rd. and to the east by Four Mile River Rd.

Diebolt stressed several times during the conversation, “This is not low-income housing,” adding, “There is a real misconception about it [Affordable Housing.]” He noted that the developers would be following the state rules for the number of units that would be offered at different percentages of the median income for the town. Significantly, the apartments designated as affordable housing will be intermingled with all the other units in this development and built to exactly the same standard.

Pointing out that the investors in the project will likely become, “One of the largest taxpayers in town,” Diebolt noted that, at the same time, he does not expect, “Too many kids,” to be entering Lyme-Old Lyme Schools as a result of the development due to the size of the individual apartments being offered.

Diebolt also notes another positive for Old Lyme is that the development will roughly double the amount of affordable housing in the town. Currently Old Lyme has around 1.5 percent of affordable housing and this project will take that percentage to around 3 percent. The town is under a long-term, statewide mandate to achieve a goal of having 10 percent of its total housing as affordable housing.

Asked the names of his fellow investors, Diebolt, who acknowledges he is, “The face of the project,” said they did not wish to be named at this point, but commented they are, “Connecticut residents and professionals,” adding, “I’m not a land developer.”

Questioned as to the intended name of the development, Diebolt chuckled and said that, as with the investor names, it was still under wraps. But he then shared that he is an amateur ornithologist and said that might possibly impact their choices as they, “Play around with names.”

In terms of location, Diebolt notes the site is extremely conveniently situated for on- and off-ramps going in both direction at Exit 71 of I-95. He also remarks that the single exit from the project will be onto Hatchetts Hill Rd. and will only allow a right-turn — there will be no exit onto the much busier Four Mile River Rd.

Regarding next steps, the plan has already been presented in a preliminary fashion to the Old Lyme Water Pollution Control Authority (WPCA). This was, in Diebolt’s words, to let them know that, “Basically our [Diebolt’s] professional engineers are in discussion with East Lyme WPCA engineers about connecting to water and sewer lines on Colton Rd. in East Lyme.” The property being proposed for development is only approximately 100 meters from those East Lyme  water and sewer lines and the possibility of connecting to them seems likely to be critical to the project moving forward.

Following that, Diebolt expects to submit a formal plan to Old Lyme’s Inland Wetlands Commission in December or January, which will kick off the official approval process with the Town.

Last Monday, Diebolt discussed the project with the Old Lyme Affordable Housing Committee (OLAHC), again for information purposes. After giving a brief overview of the project, Diebolt answered questions from the committee ranging from how many stories would the buildings have (Diebolt said a maximum of three) and would all the units be rented (yes – there will be no opportunity to purchase apartments) to whether pets will be allowed (yes, definitely – Diebolt again stressed the developers wanted these to be, “Homes people are proud to have” adding, “Pets are part of our culture.

Committee member Karen Winters spoke positively about the fact that, “The work force is intermingled,” so, as Diebolt clarified, “No one will know who’s who,” meaning those renting under Affordable Housing policies will not be identifiable from those who are not. Winters said, “I think that’s a win.”

Tom Ortoleva, another committee member, asked how many acres of the total were buildable. Diebolt responded, “It’s a tough site. One of the more expensive items [in the project] is site work.” He emphasized, “We have it all laid out. We could have put 274 units on the site … but we didn’t want it crowded.”

Committee member Tammy Tinnerello and Ortoleva questioned why Diebolt was not planning any three-bedroom units to which Diebolt replied, “Our market research indicates there is no demand for them,” or only minimal demand, but he also noted the developers would be willing to look into the matter further.

Overall, in Diebolt’s opinion, “The project was well received,” [by the committee] and, “The members seemed encouraging,” but prior to entertaining questions OLAHC Chairman Michael Fogliano had emphasized to committee members that they were there, “To listen and learn,” and not to consider a formal application nor take a vote.

Diebolt ended his session with the committee saying optimistically, “A thing of this magnitude is going to take a while to get going … but hopefully it will come to fruition.”

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