By John Fitts
By a 6-1 tally, the planning and zoning commission on Wednesday approved a proposal for a 40-unit integrated housing unit on Commerce Drive.
Pending funding, Regan Development Corporation of Ardsley, NY plans to build a three-level complex with approximately 70 parking spaces on 7 acres below Boulder Ridge. At approximately 65,000 square feet, it would feature common areas and 29 affordable units for the general public, one apartment for a building superintendent and 10 units for clients of Canton-based Favarh, an organization that supports people with intellectual, physical and developmental disabilities.
The Favarh designated units would be built to accommodate a wide range of special needs, smart technology and more. While the general population units would all be 1- and 2-bedrooms, the Favarh specific ones would be as large as three bedrooms for those who need live-in assistance. Favarh will have staff at the building at all times.
This type of arrangement is one that gets away from the group home mentality, said Favarh executive director Stephen Morris.
“This sort of building is really the future of providing housing supports for people with disabilities,” Morris said.
Ken Regan, vice president of Regan Development, said his company has specialized in projects that provide affordable units, many of which are designated to those with special needs.
“My company looks at all the developments we work on as long-term investments in the community,” Regan said. “We’ve chosen this for social reasons as well as sort of a business niche.”
Preliminary rent estimates for the non-special needs units are $828 to $1,000 per month for the one bedrooms and $909 to $1,199 for two bedrooms, Regan said.
The company would be seeking funding assistance, including from the Intellectual Disabilities and Autism Spectrum Disorder Housing program administered by the State of Connecticut Department of Housing Department of Developmental Services Department of Social Services.
Regan said the company is seeking approximately $6.5 million, or about half the project, in funding but is still working on final numbers.
The Planning and Zoning commission’s action came after a lengthy public hearing on the proposal, that included a presentation from Phil Doyle of Simsbury based Landscape Architectural Design Associates, Regan and others associated with the project. The presenters said the project would be a positive one for the town and utilize existing growth to screen the project.
Preliminary tax estimates provided by the developers are $58,000 in additional annual income for the town. Regan contends that with most units being 1 to 2 bedrooms, the development would not significantly impact the school population.
Several area residents also spoke on the project at the hearing, including some clients of Favarh, as well as town residents. Most spoke favorably of the project but at least two people raised concerns.
Peter M. O’Meara, who lives on Bart Drive, asked the commission to consider the impact of subsidized housing on area property values as well as its impact on traffic, and state finances. He said the proposal was well-intentioned but perhaps not right for the location and said other areas might be better suited.
“Our biggest concern is that this is a really an experiment,” he said.
Regan later said that while this would not directly abut single-family homes, his company has some that do. Studies have shown those have not affected home values, according to Regan. Town officials also asserted that approved industrial park usages for the area could involve much more intensive uses.
Carol Storey, who lives in Boulder Ridge, the housing complex located above the proposed project area, spoke in favor of it.
“I think this is an extraordinary project for so many different reasons,” she said, adding that it would be good for the town and is preferable to the commercial applications that could have moved into the area. “Just as a human being I’m really in favor of this. I think this is a remarkable opportunity for the entire town.”
Craig Morrow of Simsbury, who has an autistic son, said those with disabilities go through so much when losing their parents, which, in addition to grief, usually brings changes in caregivers and housing.
Projects like these don’t change the grief but take care of the other issues, he said.
Mike Strauss, of West Hartford said his adult son Chris, who has special needs, is ready for such housing.
“He’s really ready to move on,” he said. “This is really the type of situation he needs.”
Strauss also argued that these types of project were much more cost-effective for the state than group homes.
Lauren Traceski of Canton, whose been a strong advocate for those with disabilities, said such an apartment would give her independence.
“I would really love to live in this kind of apartment,” she said. “It would be closer to my parents; It would be closer to Favarh and It would be closer to the trail.”
The approval creates a special Design District specific to the property and involved a zoning map amendment and other changes, many technical in nature.