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Thursday, March 22 News

Money for affordable housing project delayed

The Board of Finance hit the brakes on a project that aims to bring up to 70 new affordable apartments to New Canaan.

The board decided Tuesday to table a possible vote on a request from the New Canaan Housing Authority to appropriate up to $500,000 from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund for engineering design costs for the new units.

Several board members want more details on how the money would be spent.

"We're being asked to approve $500,000 for a project that doesn't tell me what I'm going to get," board member Jim Kucharczyk said.

Bernard Simpkin, a housing authority commissioner, said the appropriation would be "seed money" to kick off the project, which would include engineering and architectural work, but the commission still doesn't have a rendering or details on how the money would be spent. Simpkin told the board that the vote would just make the funds available.

"It doesn't mean that (the money) is all going to necessarily be used," he said.

The new units would be built on the same site as the Millport Apartments on Millport Avenue.

The 18-unit complex and the adjacent 40-unit Mill Apartments are both managed by the commission and house low-income families.

The project would include the demolition of Millport's 18 units as well as its four condominiums and build a new complex on the same site, according to Charles Berman, chairman of the authority.

The Affordable Housing Trust Fund comes from a fee charged against all applications for a zoning permit for any new building construction or addition in town.

The inclusionary zoning fee is $10 per $1,000 of construction value, according to New Canaan's zoning regulation 7.6a. The money is then reserved for "constructing, rehabilitating or repairing housing affordable to persons and families of low and moderate income," the regulation states.

Finance Director Dawn Norton said there's about $550,000 in the trust, which "grows as building permits come in."

She added, "The $500,000 that they're asking for is sitting in the trust and is used specifically for this type of housing."

Norton noted that the money is not only available for the housing authority, but "it's available for anyone who's working on affordable housing."

Board member Mary Davis Cody was concerned with the amount the commission sought.

"If we only have a little more than $500,000, why are we giving it all to one person, or one entity, at this time? That's what I'm having an issue with," Cody said.

Board of Finance Chairman and First Selectman Robert Mallozzi, who supports the project, said the money would allow the commission "to get the ball rolling."

He also said the housing authority has "been incredibly diligent" in managing the funds.

"These are the only folks that have successfully built affordable housing in the town of New Canaan for the last 20 years," Mallozzi said.

Noting there were "more questions that need to be answered," Mallozzi proposed to table the vote. The board unanimously agreed.

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The Board of Selectmen unanimously approved the appropriation at a May 6 meeting.

At that meeting, Berman said the families living in the complex would be relocated for about a year while construction takes place. He also said "there's a lot of planning that goes in" before a final number of new units is reached.

The project is in line with the housing authority's master plan and the apartments still would be only two stories high, according to Berman.

Mill Apartments underwent a similar expansion in 2011 for a cost of nearly $8 million.

The housing authority is scheduled to meet Tuesday, May 20, when more details on the project may be available.

noliveira@bcnnew.com, 203-330-6582, @olivnelson

Nelson Oliveira|Education/general assignment reporter