Affordable housing doesn’t have to be such a scary thing, especially if it compliments the town‘s existing rural character and charm.
That’s what about a dozen residents learned Tuesday during a workshop held by the Planning and Zoning Commission to discuss new regulations being proposed to establish incentive housing overlay zones to encourage affordable housing.
The workshop was led by the Stamford firm, BFJ Planning, which the commission hired to draft the regulations.
BFJ Consultant Frank Fish, along with Architect Stuart Lachs, welcomed residents’ input on what they’d like to see included in the draft report that BFJ is slated to submit to the commission later this month for review. Some of the items on residents’ wish lists include town homes, rather than multi-family housing, the use of natural-based building materials and substantial landscape buffering between the homes and nearby commercial zones.
Resident input is highly encouraged, and those who have ideas are welcome to submit comments online to HousingStudy@oxford-ct.gov.
The regulations are necessary because according to state law, Oxford simply doesn’t have enough homes that would be considered “affordable housing.” The state defines affordable housing not as low income or public housing, but rather “workforce” housing that would be affordable to individuals or couples earning less than 80 percent of the town’s median income. Such housing would be appropriate for local police, town employees and teachers looking for reasonably priced dwellings, Fish said.
In Oxford, the median income is between roughly $80,000 and more than $90,000 per year depending on the study, and affordable housing, by state definition, is for those earning less than $64,000 per year (on the low end of the median scale).
Fish explained that towns with less than 10 percent of its existing housing stock as affordable are in a difficult position because developers can come in and use the state law to override local regulations to push projects through.
Oxford currently has just 1.4 percent, or between 40-50 housing units that fall under the affordable designation. Fish said Oxford is not alone, saying “there’s almost no one at 10 percent in Connecticut,” with the exception of the larger cities like Hartford and Bridgeport.
If Oxford can raise its current percentage of affordable housing to 2 percent, it can then impose a three-year moratorium on further affordable development. Fish said Oxford would reach its 2 percent goal if another 21 affordable housing units were built.
Having regulations on its books with respect to affordable - or incentive overlay zones - will help the town in several ways, Fish said. Not only would the state offer incentives to Oxford, but having regulations will also allow the town to control the location, determine the housing type and impose design standards so any such proposed housing could tie in nicely with Oxford’s existing rural character, he said.
“It will better protect the town on the direction where you might and might not want this type of housing,” Fish said.
Time is of the essence for Oxford to develop regulations, as a one-year moratorium on affordable housing expires in July, said Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Bill Johnson. Oxford previously denied an affordable housing proposal, which is currently being processed through the courts.
BFJ has identified three potential sites along Route 67 that could be suitable for such housing, all which consist of multiple lots in commercial zones, and have access, or potential access, to sewer and water. The sites are the Haynes Construction quarry area, which boasts about 38 acres; land behind Tommy K’s Plaza, which 13 acres; and property bordering the Seymour/Oxford town line near the American Legion building, which comprises about 17 acres.
Fish said with residents’ and the commission’s input, the regulations would lean toward the building of two-story attached town homes at 10 units per acre, as opposed to multi-family units, which could mean 20 units per acre.
With town homes, Fish said the Haynes site could potentially house 380 town homes, with 76 units designated affordable; the Tommy K site could house 130 town homes, with 26 as affordable and the third site could house 170 town homes with 34 deemed affordable. Fish stressed those numbers represent the “max build out,” and the developments would likely end up being far less than what he projected. He also noted that the three zones would be overlaid onto existing commercial zones, and would give property owners the option to develop their properties commercially, or develop town homes, under the new regulations.
Regardless, several residents said they’d only like to see six housing units per acre in an effort to control density.
In resident Janis Hardy’s focus group, members told Fish they’d definitely prefer two-story town homes, rather than multi-family homes, with aesthetics that are in keeping with Oxford’s rural character.
“We’d like to see no more than six town homes per acre, the use of natural materials, landscape buffers, as we need to be sensitive to the neighbors near these sites, and inclusion of passive recreation, too,” Hardy said.
Other design details residents encouraged would be garages that face the back of the property, not the street side.
Hardy said if done correctly, she sees affordable housing not as a detriment to Oxford, but rather a place for single parents, and young people looking to start out, in a home they can afford, in a desirable community.
“People should have choices as to where they want to live, and this done properly and according to regulations, will be a benefit to this town, not a detriment,” she said.
Resident Tanya Carver, co-founder of Keep Oxford Green, said she likes the fact that Oxford can write its own affordable housing regulations, which she said will allow “more control of the density.”
For more information on the issue, residents can visit www.OxfordHousingStudy.com.