Posted by: Patricia Salkin | October 1, 2019

CT Appeals Court Holds the Need for Affordable Housing was Not Outweighed by Any of the Concerns Brought Before the Town Plan and Zoning Commission

This post was authored by Matthew Loeser, Esq.

Pursuant to the Connecticut Affordable Housing Land Use Appeals Act, Garden Homes applied for permission to build a ninety-five unit apartment building that would accommodate affordable housing units. The Town Plan and Zoning Commission of the Town of Fairfield denied Garden Homes’ application to construct an affordable housing development, and the Superior Court reversed. In this case, the Commission appealed from the judgment of the Superior Court.

The court noted at the outset that the question at the heart of this case was whether the commission’s concerns as to Garden Homes’ initial application and site plans outweighed the need for affordable housing. The record reflected that the Commission cited concerns that during an emergency, pedestrians might attempt to flee in the twenty foot wide right of way, which would thereby endanger the pedestrians and impede emergency vehicles entering the property due to the lack of sidewalks. The court rejected this argument, finding that because the Commission’s concerns were merely theoretical, the Superior Court properly concluded that those concerns did not outweigh Fairfield’s need for affordable housing. The court next determined that the concerns as to the ratio of parking spaces per unit were merely concerns as to the convenience of parking. As the Commission bore the burden of proving that its denial was necessary, evidence was required to demonstrate that a quantifiable probability that harm would occur. The court further determined that a secondary access way was not necessary to adhere to national fire safety standards.

The court did acknowledge, however, the need to afford fire trucks the ability to turn around on-site so that they could leave the site without backing up the full length of the access way. Here, Garden Homes’ proposed a redesign to the turnaround area. Thus, the court found that it might be possible to accommodate this concern via alternative plans. As such, the Superior Court properly remanded the case for consideration of the revised turnaround area.

On remand, Garden Homes provided the commission with evidence of turning movement counts, which Garden Homes’ engineer calculated using radius measurement provided by the manufacturer of the department’s largest fire truck. According to that engineer, the department’s largest fire truck could turn around by making a four count “W shaped” turning movement in the proposed turnaround area. The record did not contain evidence as to the probability that such a scenario would result in harm to health and safety.

The court next held that the Commission mistakenly interpreted the court’s order in light of the court’s determination that concern as to the inability of fire trucks to turn around on-site posed a considerable concern as to public health and safety. Due to this error, the Commission evaluated Garden Homes’ revised site plans more broadly for any new concerns pertaining to the department’s ability to access the building and enter and exit the site. By doing so, the Commission rehashed matters on which the court previously had ruled.

Garden Homes Management Corporation v. Town Plan and Zoning Commission of the Town of Fairfield, 2019 WL 3773931 (CT App. 8/13/2019)

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