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Incentive Housing Zone could bring affordable housing to town center

SALISBURY — The Northwestern Connecticut Planning Collaborative has identified one site in the village of Salisbury that could provide affordable housing units as part of an Incentive Housing Zone.

The collaborative’s Jocelyn Ayer made a presentation to the Planning and Zoning Commission March 2. She said the site, about 2.2 acres between Indian Cave Road and Library Street (near the town garage), could accommodate up to 22 townhouse units, of which 20 percent, or five units, would be designated “affordable.”

Public Act 07-4 provides incentives to municipalities for creating Incentive Housing Zones. Within such a zone, an Incentive Housing Development designates a residential or mixed-use development that sets aside lower-cost units for people earning 80 percent or less of the median area income. Such units must retain “affordable” status for 30 years.

There is an incentive for a town to facilitate such development. The Connecticut General Statutes provide for a “zone adoption payment” to a participating town for $2,000 per unit of affordable housing and  “a one-time building permit payment for each building permit” that creates affordable housing — $2,000 per multifamily unit, $5,000 per single-family detached.

“In general, we’re looking at IHZs only in village centers and thinking of regulation in context of specific sites,” Ayer added.

She told the commission the collaborative is trying to “custom craft” an Incentive Housing Zone regulation for the site — in part because it is a serious prosposal and in part as a demonstration of how the Incentive Housing Zone process can work.

“The concept is not to be 100-percent affordable housing, but a mix of incomes,” she said.

In an interview last week, Ayer elaborated.

“The idea is to encourage development of affordable housing without a public subsidy. The owners [of an appropriate parcel] could develop it or sell it to someone else for development.

“We’re talking about zoning to allow it to happen if the owners decide to develop and giving a specific, practical example of how an IHZ works.”

She said the Library Street/Indian Cave site is not the only site the collaborative is considering.

Of course, nothing is as simple as passing a new regulation. Ayer said she just completed a state application — to qualify for the grants — for a similar site in Sharon.

“It was 89 pages,” she said with a sigh.

And landowners need to cooperate. Recent efforts to find affordable housing sites in Falls Village were not met with enthusiasm.

But in this case, the owners have gone on record as being interested. In a letter to the PZC dated Feb. 1, owners Dona Bainbridge, Harry Bainbridge Jr. and Thomas Owens wrote:

“If given the opportunity to participate in an Incentive Housing Zone, we would be pleased to explore, with the town’s help, how the parcel could meet some of the affordable housing needs of Salisbury while encouraging adjacent commercial growth. We also feel the aesthetically acceptable homes are needed to retain the look and feel of our town while helping individuals to live in well-designed homes at reasonable prices.

“We also understand the need to establish deed restrictions on a portion of the housing and we understand that the sale and use of the affordable housing units will need to be monitored by an approved community-oriented group.”

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