Developers who were refused approval to build a mixed use development that included affordable housing units will appeal the Town’s Plan and Zoning Commission’s decision in court. The application, submitted by Sixty Five Marsh Hill Road, LLC is for property known as 65-69 Marsh Hill Road and 0 and 15 Salemme Lane. The project calls for 23,641 square feet of commercial/office space in two, 4.5-story buildings connected by an underground parking structure as well as 60 apartments, 18 of which would be affordable housing units. The applicant submitted the plan as an Affordable Housing Application, invoking the state statute that requires all communities to offer affordable housing.
The Commission first denied the application in May and again in August after the applicant made several technical changes to the plan. “The rationale for our decision is essentially the same as it was the first time,” said newly elected TPZC Chairman Ozzie Parente. “Our local zoning regulations prohibit dwellings in our light industrial zone.”
The property is located in the area targeted to be a Transit Oriented Development District (TODD) as the home of a new train station approved by the state’s Department of Transportation. The Commission is currently in the process of amending the Orange Plan of Conservation and Development, and the town’s zoning regulations and map to reflect the new TODD and clarify regulations within the district. Residential housing units will be permitted once the new TODD regulations are adopted, but until then, the Commission voted earlier this summer to impose a moratorium on any applications for the district.
Parente pointed out the applicant did not submit its application as part of the TODD district and weren’t proposing a zone change. Jeff Gordon, President of Codespoti & Associates, who spoke on behalf of 65 Marsh Hill Road LLC, said the board’s denial citing residential use is not permitted in an industrial zone is “puzzling,” particularly as the project is in keeping with what the town envisions in the area. “If you have a clean light industrial district that really prohibits residential, that may be true. When you have a light industrial zone with a TODD overlay which permits a mechanism for mixed use residential, it is not the same. When Commission members ask, even suggest, we come back with a TODD application, it is a tough defense to say we are preserving the parcels for light industrial use,” Gordon said. “Plus Orange only has 1.1% affordable housing.” Gordon recounted the commissioners made positive comments about the plan during the public hearing and indicated that it was a “very nice” proposal.
Earlier this year, before the moratorium was put in place, the Commission approved a similar proposal by Orange Land Development LLC (OLD) to construct 200 residential units, a 799-car parking garage, and 22,000 square feet of commercial space at the site. OLD submitted a zone change application and received approval for it pursuant to the TODD regulations.
Gordon maintains his client’s proposal is far less dense than OLD’s plan. “Based on some of their comments, the Commission appears to be most upset that we chose the 8-30G (Affordable Housing Statute) route, rather than the process of the TODD,” Gordon said.
According to Parente, affordable housing units will be welcome in the TODD district once the regulations change but even with a zone change, there will be a cap of 250 housing units permitted in the TODD and OLD was already approved for 200 of them.
At the Commission’s May meeting, Town Attorney Vin Marino distributed a draft resolution for the Sixty Five Marsh Hill Project to the commissioners outlining all the reasons the plan was denied including a clause that states, “The Applicant (Sixty Five Marsh Hill Road LLC) admitted it is seeking to circumvent the TODD regulations. In particular, the Applicant conceded that it is not willing to abide by the 250 cap on residential units allowed in the TODD.”
By Laura Fantarella – Orange Town News Correspondent