With an eye toward gaining an affordable housing moratorium for four years, the Board of Selectmen and Finance approved $780,000 on Tuesday to finance a 72-unit, $20.15 million expansion of Millport Apartments downtown to provide low and moderate income homes.

"It is amazing a town like New Canaan can and does do this," Board of Finance member John "Buzz" Kanter said. "It is refreshing and good for the soul."

Under the proposal, construction would begin on 33 mostly one-bedroom units in the development in September, 2015, and would take a year to complete. They would be almost immediately followed by an additional 40 units, said Scott Hobbs, chairman of the New Canaan Housing Authority.

The units added in the first phase of the project are expected to qualify the town for a four-year break from affordable housing applications under the state's affordable housing law 8-30g, which allows developers to sidestep local zoning rules with proposals that set aside 30 percent of units rented to tenants who fall within the state's income guidelines as low and moderate income.

"8-30g is where all our zoning rules do not apply, and if we do not meet all our thresholds they can shove things down our throat that we don't think are necessarily good for our town," Hobbs said.

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The additional funds, which are being drawn from town building permit fees earmarked to develop affordable housing, are needed because of the involvement of the Department of Housing & Urban Development in financing the second phase of the project.

The federal agency is requiring 18 units to be rented at rates far below those allowed by state income guidelines, housing authority officials said.

Under HUD guidelines, the most a tenant could be charged for a single bedroom unit is $861 a month, compared to $1,085 a month under state guidelines, said Tim Welch, a member of the housing authority.

"With less income, we simply can't borrow as much short-term financing," Welch told the Board of Selectmen Tuesday.

In addition, HUD's involvement in the project requires the town to pay laborers in keeping with the Davis Bacon Act, which establishes a wage floor based on the area the project is being built in, Hobbs said.

Speaking on Tuesday morning just before the vote, First Selectman Robert Mallozzi III said the proposal was not just about retaining local zoning control, but was also about creating housing stock that working people could reasonably afford.

"The moratorium is wonderful, but we are also doing a public service by trying to make something affordable in these wealthy, wealthy communities," Mallozzi told Welch. "The amount of work you do and the imagination to get these things together is great."

The town would be eligible to apply to state housing officials for a four-year moratorium once certificates of occupancy are issued for the 33 units in the first phase, Hobbs said.

Existing Millport Apartment tenants, some who have lived in apartments or townhouses on the site for decades, will be given first preference for the new units, Hobbs said.

Connecticut municipalities, such as New Canaan and Darien, which don't have 10 percent of their residences designated as affordable, are vulnerable under 8-30g to developers building new complexes that include much denser housing than normally permitted as long as they set aside a third of the units as affordable.

Hobbs said the town has roughly 5,000 residences, meaning it would be difficult for the town to sustain the number of private developments needed to provide 500 units of affordable housing.

"If a developer wants 100 units, only 20 of them would be affordable whereas we're creating 72 units," he said.

Hobbs said while it is expected the town will qualify for a first four-year moratorium, a second ban on 8-30g housing proposals would likely require some level of additional development at another location in town.