NEWINGTON – Nearly a year after the Town Plan & Zoning Commission sent Dakota Partners packing, a Connecticut Superior Court judge ruled in the developer’s favor, sanctioning the build-out of a 108-unit affordable housing complex at 550 Cedar St.
The Honorary William Mottolese overturned TPZ’s denial of the application, citing Newington’s need for more workforce-type housing and the lack of evidence substantiating traffic and safety concerns. That leaves local zoning officials in a tough spot, especially considering TPZ Chairman Frank Aieta passed away Sept. 14.
A special meeting scheduled this week to discuss the recent court ruling was cancelled, since there wouldn’t have been enough members present to have a quorum. That means the town also passes on its opportunity to appeal the judge’s decision, according to Town Planner Craig Minor. He went on to call Aieta’s passing “a real loss.”
“Frank served for decades and it’s really a loss to the commission’s institutional knowledge,” Minor said.
CT General Statutes second 8-30g requires towns to designate ten percent of their housing stock affordable and Newington is currently at 8.2 percent as defined by the statute. Minor is currently in the process of applying for a moratorium on the regulation, which could give the town three years to formulate a plan to meet these guidelines. In the meantime, Dakota could move forward with its project.
“If approved no other developers could submit affordable housing applications like Dakota’s for three years, but the moratorium wouldn’t apply to them, only future applications,” Minor clarified, adding that if the project is built, the town will be 88 units away from meeting the statute.
In his memorandum decision, Mottolese asked the developer to procure permission from the State Department of Transportation to build a sidewalk from 550 Cedar St. to Fenn Rd., addressing one of the TPZ’s main safety concerns.
In their original rejection of the application last fall, commissioners deemed residents of the apartments as likely to utilize the nearby CTfastrak Station, a short but “highly dangerous” walk. Additionally, at least 30 school-aged children were estimated to reside among the complex, requiring regular bus pickups and drop-offs along the busy highway.
Mottolese’s decision contested the validity of these claims, as Newington Police and traffic safety experts previously stated they had no issues with the location of the proposed bus stop.
“The sufficient evidence standard requires that the record establish more than a theoretical possibility that these children will be unduly exposed to harm,” the judge wrote. “The conclusion was based solely on the personal knowledge of the individual commission members and the unsubstantiated fears expressed by members of the public...The record contains no history of pedestrian casualties on either Cedar Street or any of its relevant intersections.”
Meanwhile, the DOT intends to build a Hartford line train station a few years from now, almost directly across Rt. 175 from the Dakota property. Over the summer the TPZ put in place new regulations for a Transit Village Development District overlay zone to guide future development around this station. It calls for shopping, park areas, civic spaces and restaurants along with housing. That 64-acre zone includes the Dakota parcel.
“We were expecting 550 Cedar St. to basically be a vacant lot when the train station got built but now it’s likely going to have apartments,” Minor said. “At that point developers in the market are going to be looking at a much different situation than what we planned in 2019.”
TPZ Vice Chairman Mike Camillo will fill in as Chair pending a decision by the Town Council to fill the empty seat and the commission’s re-election of a chairman.
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at 860-801-5097 or email@example.com.