Kimball Group LLC envisions apartments for young professionals, young couples and empty nesters with sidewalks leading to nearby shopping centers — particularly ones with an anchor store such as a supermarket or pharmacy.
Kevin Solli, a professional engineer with Kimball Group, said the multi-family dwellings would add to Monroe's housing mix.
"We feel this could be a great positive to the town. It meets some of its housing needs," Solli told the Planning & Zoning Commission at a hearing last week.
In response to comments that only .8 percent Monroe meets the state definition of affordable housing, the applicants said the commission could add in a requirement that 10 percent of the apartments be affordable.
An amendment to Article XVI and Sections 117-1600 and 117-1610 of town zoning regulations is needed to make the NARO Zone a reality.
Kimball Group made a presentation to the P&Z on behalf of its subsidiary company, Elm Street Farm LLC and its co-applicant BNM Builders & Developers last Thursday.
The amendment would allow seven units per acre in developments built on a minimum of four acre lots in a cluster housing development, which reduces the amount of coverage on a property. The proposal calls for 35 percent coverage.
Solli said a total of 227 units could be allowed throughout town if the amendment is approved.
A minimum of 65 percent of the units would be one-bedroom units to reduce the impact on schools. The buildings would also not exceed three stories or 40 feet in height. The parking requirement for the zone is 1.5 spaces per unit.
If the P&Z Commission approves the amendment, developer John Kimball said each proposed project would require a special exception permit.
In order for a property to be eligible for a NARO designation, it must be within 1,000 feet of a neighborhood shopping center, or the property must have been previously identified as a multi-family property by the Plan of Conservation & Development (POCD).
There are only six developments in town which could be considered a neighborhood shopping center, according to Solli. This includes: Century Plaza, Stop & Shop, Rite-Aid Center, Jennie's Plaza and Village Square on Monroe Turnpike; and Clock Tower Square on Main Street.
Input from P&Z commissioners, town land use staff members and the public was given during last week's hearing, which was continued to Sept. 20 to allow Kimball Group time to revise its proposal based upon some of the suggestions and concerns.
Aquarion Opposes It
The Greater Bridgeport Regional Council issued no formal response on the proposal, but the Valley Council of Governments had concerns over Monroe's lack of public sewers and Brian Roach, supervisor of environmental protection for Aquarion Water Co., urged the town to decline the application unless it is revised to ensure the future protection of Monroe's drinking water resources.
Solli told the commission that much of the concerns would be addressed in the presentation. For instance, he said a NARO designation must be served by a public water supply and be located on soils suitable for a septic system. It also must meet all requirements of the local or state agency having jurisdiction over the septic system design.
Special exception permit standards already require that the applicant must meet or exceed all water quality standards and Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection stormwater guidelines, he added.
The primary concern expressed by Roach was related to the septic demands associated with higher density residential development. He told the applicant that Northbrook development in Monroe has had chronic septic problems, according to Solli.
"It is our understanding that there were significant issues with ongoing inspection and maintenance of that facility," he said. "The three other multi-family developments in town are all located in a water supply watershed, have densities ranging from 1.5 to 5 units per acre, and the community septic systems are all functioning well."
Commission alternate Jane Flader asked why the minimum acreage the applicant is seeking for a NARO Zone is four acres. Kimball said there are not many large parcels close to shopping centers, because most of that land is already commercially developed.
Commission alternate Sean O'Rourke asked the applicants if they would oppose having Aquarion testify and Solli said they would welcome that.
Commissioner William Porter asked if the applicant intends to replace Design Opportunity Housing Districts in the regulations or if the proposal represents a new article. Solli said it is a new article.
There had been discussion of reducing the seven units per acre to five per acre, but Porter noted that with two bedrooms being allowed in some of the units, there could be 10 bedrooms to one acre. Solli agreed, but said the soil would have to able to handle a septic system for that capacity in order to gain approval. Jay Keillor, an engineer for the applicant, said the number of bedrooms could be deed restricted.
Commission alternate Cathleen Lindstrom expressed concern over the aesthetics of having numerous small developments rather than a large one that the town could put controls on.
Acting Chairman Pat O'Hara noted that with Village Districts the town could have stricter design standards.
O'Hara talked about having everything in the amendment "spelled out" so requirements are not open to interpretation.
He also asked if the applicant would be amenable to discussing a maximum density for a NARO development and a requirement that an applicant proposing such a development install fire hydrants. They agreed.
Nobody from the public spoke in favor of the application.
Paul Merriman of Monroe, an employee of Aquarion for 22 years, echoed Roach's concerns over the watershed.
"The one thing Monroe has is its watershed," he said. "I'd like to see Mr. Kimball come into this town and create jobs, not affordable housing."
Ronald Bunovsky read notes from several pages of a pad to express his opposition to the NARO Zone. Among his concerns are the potential impacts on public drinking water and the costs of services the town would have to provide as a result of a maximum of 227 housing units.
Bunovsky contended that none of the town's community septic systems are functioning without problems.
With the P&Z Commission in the process of revising the town's regulations, Bunovsky also thought it was inappropriate to discuss a zoning amendment proposed by a developer. "This is not something you can negotiate in a meeting with developers," he said. "It's something done over time with the consultation of experts."
Lois Spence, who serves on the Inland Wetlands Commission, called the proposal "a good outline," but added, if it isn't written in black and white, it's open to interpretation.
She said the bedrooms should be limited to two per unit, that there should be buffers between wetlands and landscaping to make such developments visually appealing.
O'Hara said there will be more opportunity for public input on the application when the hearing is continued on Sept. 20.