Challenges and Advice from the Field

 

Both phases of the development were slated for completion by early 2017. There have been some challenges. There was some opposition in the community, which Savin had to acknowledge and work through. There were some misconceptions about which population would live in the housing, what the housing would look like, and how it would impact the community. Savin understood the concerns of the community since this was one of the first mixed-income housing projects in Stonington. As a resident of Stonington, she could relate to people and level with them about the realistic impacts of the housing developments. The financial aspect of the project is also very complex. “Layering the funding has been a challenge,” said Savin. 

Advice

“Know your audience,” said Savin. She found that building relationships with staff and key community leaders was essential in propelling the project forward. Savin asked staff members about the Planning and Zoning Commission meetings and they provided information about the typical schedule and format of the meetings as well as advice about how to prepare. Depending on the type of meeting and the people involved, said Savin, she would dress accordingly, highlight the aspects of the project which are most important to the group, and engage differently. The project itself has universal overarching objectives and facts, but she tailored her approach toward different populations to most effectively satisfy everyone’s concerns.

“Do what you’re good at and stop there.”
 

She understood that the future success of the development would depend on the support of the town officials and that is why she built relationships with staff from various departments. She worked with the Police and Fire departments, along with building officials, but the best example was her cooperative efforts with the Department of Human Services, which will be help lower-income residents with additional services when needed. 

“Validate the concerns of the community  that you don’t want to turn the town into something else or change the landscape of the town.”

You can educate the person about how or why the development will not change the town, explained Savin, but it will turn into a head-butting situation if you do not validate the concern first. 

Conscious of possible misconceptions related to the term “affordable housing,” Simmons prefers the term “workforce housing” to explain the new mixed-income housing developments in Stonington. He explained, “Workforce housing conveys a factual image that the majority of people applying for space in these properties are people who are working or have worked.” This development will provide housing options for “police officers, school teachers, young professionals, and retirees,” said Simmons.

From the perspective of the Planning and Zoning Commission, collaboration between the developer and the town staff is crucial for a successful proposal. “Most commissions tend to be a little defensive with 8-30g applications,” said Prue. He emphasized how the working relationship between developer and staff is vital, as it was in this case; “The Commission does not have a lot of say. Impacting the trajectory of projects, based on community concerns, happens in the preliminary meetings.” He added, “Staff in Town Hall guide the project according to what is best for the town, for the developer, and for everyone’s goals.”

Another piece of advice is to be conscious of and intentional about the location for mixed-income housing developments. Brynes said, “If it was a development in the middle of a residential area, it could be a tough sell. Pay attention to the context; build to a similar scale of what is there.” Spruce Meadows/Spruce Ridge were approved in an area that is desirable place for people to live and also complements the town’s existing infrastructure and layout.