May 24, 2022

Essex Board of Appeals Rules on Elderly and Affordable Housing Expansion

ESSEX— The zoning board of appeals Tuesday denied a series of variances requested for a planned 22-unit expansion of elderly and affordable housing at the Essex Court elderly housing complex in the Centerbrook section. The variances were rejected on 4-1 vote, with member Paul Greenberg in favor of approving the variances.

The decision is a setback for the plan by Essex Elderly and Affordable Housing Inc., a non-profit group established by the Essex Housing Authority, to complete an expansion on a one-acre town-owned parcel located on the west side of the Essex Court property. The existing Essex Court elderly housing complex has 36 units that opened in 1985 and have been upgraded in recent years.

Essex Elderly and Affordable housing Inc. has received a $250,000 planning grant from the state Department of Housing, and is hoping to apply for grant or loan funding for construction by the end of the year. The group has hired the firm Quisenberry & Arcari Architects LLC of Farming to prepare preliminary plans for the project.

But the three-story building designed by the architects requires 12 variances from current town zoning regulations. Architect Tom Arcari presented the plans at a public hearing Tuesday, explaining the need for each variance. The requested variances include several variances of setback requirements, along with variances of minimum lot size, lot coverage and unit size requirements.

Arcari said most of the 18 one-bedroom units would be 700-square feet, below the 750-foot minimum size requirement of the regulations. The regulations also limit the number of units in one multi-family dwelling to four, and the number of floors to two with a maximum building height of 30-feet.

Arcari said many of the setback variances result from activity on the east side of the property which abuts the existing Essex Court complex. He said the town’s current regulations for multi-family dwellings do not address many of the current development standards for elderly and affordable housing. Arcari said the “physical constraints of the parcel,” and the goal of adding the new units near the existing Essex Court site were hardships related to the application. No one spoke in opposition at the public hearing, with one resident speaking in support of the project.

But board Chairman Doug Demerest said there were just two many variances for the board to approve for a single project. He suggested the applicants confer with the zoning commission about possible changes to the regulations that would reduce the number of variances needed for the project. Greenberg said the need for additional elderly and affordable housing in Essex should outweigh the number of variances, adding that approving the variances would be “the right thing to do.”

Janet Atkeson, chairwoman of the Essex Housing Authority, said proponents of the project would confer with the zoning commission about options, while also exploring a provision of a new state law on affordable housing that could allow the project to move forward without local zoning approval. She said the expansion plan faces a January deadline to apply for the available funding for construction.