An attorney hired by a property owner seeking to amend zoning regulations to lower the age in their senior housing complex from 62 to 55 did little to convince the Town Plan and Zoning Commission to change their initial reaction to the proposal. In July, Sadri Sohayegh, owner of 32 Senior Housing LLC at 256 Peck Lane appealed to the TPZC to consider lowering the age restriction of her senior housing apartments to boost the spirits of the elderly people who live there and to bring “new life” to the building. At that time the Commission said they did not hear compelling reasons to make the zone change but agreed to allow Sohayegh to return again with her attorney.
Last month, Sadri Sohayegh and her husband, Michael, sat in the audience while their attorney, Brian Stone of The Pellegrino Law Firm in New Haven, appealed to the board on his clients’ behalf, pointing out lowering the property’s age restriction to 55 would be beneficial to the town as well. Stone, who is former town attorney, said the age change will give developers more opportunities to build age restricted housing in town. “Development has been stagnant since 2006,” he said.
Since the average age of the current tenants at Sohayegh’s apartment complex is 75, Stone echoed her assertion that opening up the building to 55 year-olds would have a positive impact on both generations. He also pointed out that the only 55 and over housing in Orange is Fieldstone Village, a community of upscale condominiums that sell for upwards of $400,000. “It doesn’t serve the needs of the community because of its cost,” Stone said. “Amending the zoning regulations is a small thing with a positive impact. There is no downside.”
Since purchasing the property last August for $2.8 million, the Sohayeghs have installed security cameras, made gardens and put on a new roof. Though they maintain the age restriction makes it difficult to fill vacancies, they reported having just two vacancies in the building.
A petition signed by current tenants who support lowering the age of residents was also submitted to the board. Though tenants were invited to attend the public hearing, no one was present to speak in favor of the plan.
First Selectmen Jim Zeoli, who spoke against the proposal in July, addressed the board again, urging them to uphold the regulations they put in place many years ago. “We have a shortage of age-restricted housing in town and we need more housing like this – it serves a huge need,” he said, adding Sohayegh and her husband, Michael, were aware of the age restriction on the property when they bought it.
Commissioner Paul Kaplan agreed. “There aren’t any relevant zoning issues,” he said. “The owners knew about the deed restrictions, it seems they are seeking younger blood for higher rents. I agree with Jim that there is a greater need for housing for those 62 and up.”
Chairman Ozzie Parente repeated what he said the first time he heard the proposal in July, that there was “no compelling evidence” to warrant a zone change.
By Laura Fantarella – Orange Town News Correspondent