The Planning and Zoning Commission's public hearing Tuesday night was standing room only as residents, lawyers and experts voiced concerns about the proposed 16-unit townhouse complex at Jelliff Mill. Residents focused mainly on traffic, health and safety hazards, and the notion of affordable housing.

Several residents are upset about the affordable housing proposal, which would be located near the Noroton River. At a recent Inland Wetlands Commission meeting, Tim Hollister, a lawyer representing the developers, asked for an amendment to the zoning regulations to permit the project.

Since the proposal is for affordable housing, the zoning is governed by the state under the Affordable Housing and Land Use Act. Towns in Connecticut with at least 10 percent of their housing options designated as "affordable" are exempt from the state law, while those with at least 2.5 percent qualify for a four-year exemption.

However, the label of affordable housing was challenged by attorney John Goetz, representing some of the upset neighbors, who pointed to dam maintenance as evidence that it cannot be designated as such.

"The covenant that runs with the land is that the owner of the property has to fix the dam. They have to fix the dam and they have to repair it. That means all these [units] are going to have that obligation when they purchase the property," Goetz said. "And that is a unique thing. I haven't been able to find a case where an affordable housing development had an affirmative obligation to maintain a dam like that. And this is not a cheap deal. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair this thing if something happens. They are legally required to do that. So now the question is, given those facts, can this application qualify for affordable housing?"

In Goetz's opinion, under those designations, Jelliff Mill fails to qualify as affordable housing.

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Planning and Zoning Chairman Lazlo Papp asked Goetz if he had seen any instances of such a situation before.

"You're saying that this is such a special situation that you would not be able to point out any legal precedence?" Papp asked

"I haven't found find any," Goetz replied

"Which, of course, makes it even more difficult for us," Papp said.

The commission's job is far from over. After covering traffic and safety concerns, mostly from the neighbors perspective, issues with the septic tanks, sewers and environment will be discussed at another special meeting in March.

The neighbors also brought in an expert civil engineer, Kurt Jones, to comment on structural and safety concerns, especially when it came down to flooding during storms.

"We also have a lot of concerns about the storm drainage system, especially what is called the `flexipave' [material]," Jones said. "It's a very porous material."

Jones did not offer any alternatives to the flexipave material with which he had "strong reservations." He said because of the material, he expects water to runoff more frequently into the driveway and the roads creating what he called a "severe traffic hazard during severe storms."

Hollister said they plan on commenting on every point in writing and in person at the next meeting, which is scheduled for March 13. Inland Wetlands will also be discussing the subject Feb. 27.

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