The Saddle Ridge developer may have to pay for an outside engineer on behalf of the town to oversee the project as it’s being built as one of many approval conditions for the controversial application.
Another possible condition could mandate the creation of a reserve fund or surety bond by the developer or homeowners’ association (HOA) to pay for future stormwater management system maintenance and inspections at the site.
The Planning and Zoning Commission discussed these and other possible conditions — or requirements of the developer — while working to draft a resolution on the large residential project at a Feb. 8 special meeting.
The P&Z’s outside attorney, Ira Bloom, and town Land Use Director John Hayes provided guidance during the meeting.
“This is probably a good first draft,” Bloom said of the working document discussed.
A majority of P&Z members have indicated during deliberations that they likely will vote to approve the 66-unit complex based on numerous improvements made to the project by the developer to protect the watershed and eliminate or greatly minimize other concerns.
“It sounds like that’s where we’re headed,” P&Z Chairman Robert Maquat said.
In general, the town’s outside engineering expert has concluded the current Saddle Ridge plan, as continually modified during the process, would not have more of an impact on wetlands or the public drinking water supply watershed than other housing plans previously approved or partially approved for the site by the P&Z.
P&Z members emphasized they are contemplating approval only because the application was filed under the state’s affordable housing law, statute 8-30g, which places a high burden on land use boards to reject such projects in towns such as Easton with limited affordable housing units.
Almost one-third of the Saddle Ridge units would be legally designated as affordable, with 40-year deed restrictions.
Maquat said if the current Easton Crossing plan was a regular application and not an 8-30g application, “it would not comply [with the town’s zoning regulations] and we would reject it.” Those unhappy with the possible outcome should find fault with state legislators who favor 8-30g, he said.
The P&Z’s potential resolution could even refer to “the realities of 8-30g” as one reason for approving the Saddle Ridge zoning application, Bloom advised the commission.
Most members appeared to agree that rejecting the application would leave open the possibility of a successful court appeal by the developer, and the potential that a judge’s decision wouldn’t include some of the strict conditions the commission wants to require for the project.
“That’s a risk,” Maquat said.
Some P&Z members have said an approval could be appealed in court by an outside entity unhappy with the outcome, particularly a group of project opponents who became legal interveners in the application process.
“There’s a role for the interveners here,” Maquat said of a potential legal appeal by others.
The P&Z has until mid-March to vote on the Saddle Ridge plan, and will continue finalizing a resolution during future deliberation sessions. Outside input, such as public comments, is no longer allowed because the application’s public hearing has been closed.
‘Areas of concern’
Discussion at the meeting primarily focused on whether “areas of concern” could be addressed through engineering by including certain conditions in an approval.
Among the many possible conditions being contemplated, the P&Z is expected to require individual site plans for each lot and to limit impervious coverage to 10% for the overall site and 13% per developed lot (some land would remain as open space).
Also, a 14-acre horse farm now on the Saddle Ridge property could never be used for affordable housing, the number of lots accessed by a dead-end road would be limited to 16, and “adequate” on-site water sources for fire protection would have to be shown.
An approval would be worded in such a way that it applied only to the Saddle Ridge site and not to another possible property in town.
Conditions would primarily be based on recommendations by the town’s engineering consultant, health sanitarian, town engineer/public works director, and land-use director.
“The applicant may take issue with some of our conditions,” Maquat said.
Using an outside engineer to monitor the site’s development would ensure that the project — including its many engineered systems — was built and then managed as detailed in the application and potential approval resolution.
“It’s a critical component that these things are maintained,” Maquat said.
Also discussed were specifics of the project’s affordability plan, such as when the affordable units would be built and how possible rents and income rules would be monitored.
P&Z voting member Ross Ogden said the application’s affordable housing plan “has lots of questions [and] gaps.”
He asked who would be responsible for affordability compliance if the affordable units were sold and not rented, and wondered how much jurisdiction the town would have in making sure the project conformed with the state’s 8-30g affordability rules.
Bloom said an outside management company usually oversees affordable housing plan compliance for a developer and HOA, and perhaps the P&Z could require that such a plan be submitted to the town for review. He said the town could hire a consultant to “certify the numbers” in the affordability plan at the applicant’s expense.
Members wondered what would happen if the HOA got into financial trouble and filed for bankruptcy. P&Z member Robert DeVellis said it’s uncertain if the HOA would have the “financial ability” to support septic systems and complex drainage systems designed to protect the watershed.
Six plans for site
Six different application plans have been filed for the Saddle Ridge property within the past decade, according to Bloom.
In the plan now under consideration, applicant Saddle Ridge Developers LLC wants to build a 66-unit development of both single-family homes and duplexes on 124.7 acres that border four roads — Sport Hill, Westport (Route 136), Cedar Hill, and Silver Hill.
All 48 residential buildings at Easton Crossing would be on lots of at least one acre and be served by individual wells and septic systems. About one-third of the overall site would remain undeveloped, and 14 acres would continue to be a separate horse farm. Access to the site would be from a new road connecting to Sport Hill and Cedar Hill roads.
Twenty of the 66 residences — nine houses and 11 duplex units — would be classified as affordable housing under state law 8-30g. The developer wants to rezone the parcel from three-acre, single-family home zoning to a newly created Planned Accessory Affordable Apartment Community zone.