The Soap Box

Affordable Housing in CT – Part 1

By Timothy Bristol
https://www.linkedin.com/in/tim-bristol/

For the next few weeks, I want to go deep into the topic of affordable housing. I want to explore the ideas behind affordable housing and why it is an important topic to discuss.   I will interview a few experts on the topic and will be presenting their thoughts over the next couple of weeks. My hope is to dispel some myths about affordable housing and get some insight into the importance of this policy to Connecticut towns and especially Stratford.

For my first interview, I spoke to Dr. Jonathan Wharton, a Professor of Political Science at Southern Connecticut State University. Dr. Wharton has focused on policy towards Planning and Urban development. He has also been involved in New Haven’s planning and development in the past. I spoke with him about his take on Affordable Housing.

According to Dr. Wharton “Affordable housing is often, but not always, based on a certain scale of rent charged based on the area and market as well as a renter’s income. Traditionally, it should be a 1/3 of a renter’s income but in urban areas especially it tends to be 40%, even 50%.”

What are the differences were between affordable housing and low-income housing?

“Often both initiatives are used interchangeably and should not be all the time. Low-income housing is often centered on a poverty level amount. Which is nationally $27K per family or less and in some places it can be higher based on cost-of-living expenses.”

He continued: “Usually, section 8 housing (based on HUD standards) will have renters qualify for rental vouchers to live in specifically defined housing or designated housing developments. The image is often “projects” but it is more than just that. Some can be housing authority complexes in a variety of areas. Others can be mixed-income or set-aside housing of 10, 20, 30% of units for low-income or affordable housing. Usually, affordable housing would be for public employees or public safety renters, or owners and they can be more than often middle class based on income”

Dr. Wharton spoke about the necessity of affordable housing saying that it is necessary in many localities but not everywhere, and that there were several different approaches to affordable housing policy including mixed-income housing and rent control. He said that the misconception of affordable housing was that “All housing options are the same when they really vary by practice, policy, and location.”

What are the difficulties in Connecticut with affordable housing policy?

“Too often local governments are the ones missioned to address affordable housing and the state has few options or involvement because of what’s been done for years and local home rule authority.”

He also noted the Pros and Cons of affordable housing policy by saying “It allows for many to stay in their neighborhoods, especially if gentrification is concerning. But it’s often difficult to lure developers and investors as well as gain support from many wealthier land owning and property paying residents.”

I would like to thank Dr. Wharton for his time and contribution:

Jonathan L. Wharton, Ph.D.
Associate Dean
School of Graduate & Professional Studies
Southern Connecticut State U

 

An Open Letter To Our Town Council:

by Andrea Byrne

I’m adding my voice to those who want to see the trees at Longbrook Park preserved, and a new solution found for the tennis courts.  Repairing the many other courts in town seems like a good start.  Any inconvenience of transporting students engaged in competitive tennis tournaments to these other courts pales in comparison to what can be lost by the removal of healthy, old-growth trees.  The casual disregard for what those trees provide to wildlife, climate and the environment is disturbing.

I’m also disturbed at the idea of filling the former Center School property with high-density structures and high-density traffic.  With the growing number of children in the Historic District neighborhood, I would have preferred for them to have a school to attend together.  Absent that, I would like to see that property be open park space with a variety of seasonal uses, a place for both kids and adults to congregate.

When the school came down, there were many meetings at which residents were asked their opinions about what should go into that property.  None of those responses said, “We’d like to pack it with apartments, and maybe a couple hundred more cars on East Broadway.”

It has felt over these last seven years that neighbors who offered their thoughts in good faith, assuming that they’d be listened to, were actually given the same casual disregard as the trees in Longbrook Park.

I know there are different council members here now, and I don’t mean to tar you with the past.  I just want you to truly listen to and represent your constituents’ wants and needs.  Please take a moment to think how it would feel if this proposed plan was happening in your own neighborhood, because someday it might.

Implementation of a Q&A at our Stratford Public Forums

by Paula Sweeley
District 1

Dear Mayor Hoydick and Council Members,

I think this idea is well worth considering and would love some feedback on it. I think this would give members of the community a chance to participate in our political process even if they are not able to come to Council meetings. Their names could be read as authors of questions submitted, and even if they can’t attend, they can view the YouTube video of the forum. It could be explained at the end that time did not allow for all questions to be answered but that unanswered questions could be resubmitted the following month.

“These forums are a welcome way for Stratford residents to express ideas and concerns to our elected representatives. Why not include some Q and A if there is time remaining after members of the public have spoken.  The public could be invited in the Mayor’s newsletter to submit questions to a given email address with a clear understanding that questions will be answered AS TIME ALLOWS at the monthly forum, after all who wished to have taken their turns.

I remember, a while back, that State Senator Kelly and then Representative Hoydick sponsored Q and A sessions at different local diners, and they were very effective in bringing about some real dialogue between the public and our legislators.

The pandemic has prohibited such an activity currently, but Q and A at monthly forums, is very possible. There has been time left over, sometimes 40 to 45 minutes before the Council meeting starts. A Q&A would make excellent use of that time.

I think this is a simple, very reasonable, easily accomplished idea and would go far toward transparency, encouraging public participation and increasing public inclusion in Stratford’s government.”

Respectfully submitted,

Paula Sweeley

District 1

Stratford Is Stirring

by Rachel Rusnek

Spring is in the air, or could that be change?

Residents of Stratford have perked up, poked out their heads, and wandered over to Town Hall. This is evidenced by three new Change.org petitions that have sprung up opposing development issues over the last several weeks.

Residents have come out in full force to speak out against a tennis court proposal that would require razing eight healthy, mature trees at Longbrook park.  A petition launched in January to save these trees and shift the tennis court arrangement has gathered close to 700 signatures. The outcry resulted in a hearing held by the Conservation Commissioner and, ultimately, their recommendation that Town Council considers alternatives.

Similarly, residents have proactively spoken out against a high-density apartment proposal at the former center school site in the heart of the historic district. In just a week, over 400 signatures were gathered calling for the proposal to be rejected. At the recent Town Council Open Forum, opponents described the negative impact on existing residents and resistance to selling town-owned property for apartments.

Most recently, a group has launched in response to a proposed zoning change on the corner of Broadbridge Ave. A petition launched March 15th had already begun to garner signatures.

It’s not always easy to follow what’s going on in Town Hall, but thankfully,  residents persist. Accountability of elected representatives, the essence of democracy, is making a comeback in Stratford.

Keep fighting the good fight, neighbors!

Back at it at the Center School Site

By Rachel Rusnek

Two years after Town residents responded to proposed development at the Center School Site with a resounding “No”, we are back at it. Another high-density proposal is on the table for the site in the historic Stratford Center. This proposal comes in at an even greater density, proposing 160 units and 300+ parking spaces.

At countless meetings, town-sponsored charettes, and citizen-organized events, residents have repeatedly renounced high-density apartments and parking garages for this space, yet the proposals persist.

Consider the implications of 300+ new cars coming through Stratford Center and waiting in line to head under the I-95 bridge. Charming, no? Of course, we can’t forget to account for the additional traffic generated in this area from the other three new apartment buildings going up on Ferry Boulevard or the Village proposal across from Christ Church on Main Street.

Besides the increased traffic, resulting smog, and reduction of that pesky green space – what exactly do the residents of Stratford gain from the sale of this town-owned property? Selling at $9/ square foot with a proposed ten-year tax abatement,  it seems that publicly owned land in the historic town center goes cheap.

As Councilwoman Dancho noted recently in speaking out against a proposal in her neighborhood, as quoted by the CT Post, “… you recognize that this (home) is usually a resident’s largest investment,” she said. “When a home is purchased in an area, buyers consider the current zoning and trust that the regulations of that zone is one way to protect that investment and retain the parameters of a chosen lifestyle.”

This sentiment should ring true REGARDLESS of what area of town homeowners have purchased in. Residents of Sutton Avenue and East Broadway likely never considered town-sponsored destruction of the historic district, with the razing of a school to make way for a towering apartment complex. The town may fall back on TOD; however, this proposal directly conflicts with identified TOD goals. I urge other aggrieved citizens who do not support this proposal to visit Change.org and sign this petition urging decision-makers to reject the proposal.

Let’s do better for Stratford.

https://www.change.org/p/save-historic-stratford-center-school-site/psf/promote_or_share?recruiter=919694

 

Be the Difference

By: Osi Rosenberg

“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice,

but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” ~ Elie Wiesel

I feel powerless. I can not shake this ominous feeling, like the other shoe is about to drop. I think of my family, how they fled Poland and Germany in the 1930’s. I think of ships teeming with refugees looking for a port; gathering only what they can carry on their back and seeking a new home, because your old home was taken from you. I think about the way the rest of Europe reacted when a tyrant forced choices on the rest of the world.

I keep a small burning hope, that this time, maybe the world will not remain silent. But here I am, in the safety and comfort of Stratford, thousands of miles from terror, bloodshed, and hopelessness. I sit and watch… I think… I wonder…maybe not unlike you… “How can I help?”

In high school, a teacher led a class discussion. “What role, would you take in your community leading up to and during WWII.”  While I don’t recall all the grandiose ideas we all had as freshman to fix the world, the concept of the discussion stuck with me. The message was simple, “You can be the difference you are hoping to see.” For the first time I realized history was taking place all around me, and I can make a difference. I started paying attention. I watched people take action. I noticed how people affected history. I realized it is not just my place, but my duty to be active. Every time world tensions boil, I look for ways to act and help others act.

In high school, my answer was easy. I would fight with every breathe in my body, tooth and nail, until I had nothing left to give, and I would do it willingly and for as long as it took to defeat the enemy. Today, at Forty$#% years old, my blood still boils at the atrocities. I still have that fighting instinct! I cannot sit by and watch. I must act. WE must act!

The people on the ground in Ukraine are in desperate need for medical supplies.

Go to our Amazon Wishlist and your donation will be sent to us directly. We will deliver it to be shipped directly to L’viv, where it can do the most good.  Then share the link!

We are not powerless.

Donate today and spread the word.

Rosenberg, Whewell & Hite Attorneys at Law, LLC (rosenbergattorneys.com)

https://www.rosenbergattorneys.com/community/humanitarian-aid-for-ukraine-call-to-action/

The Soap Box

The Food Truck Revolution

By Timothy Bristol
https://www.linkedin.com/in/tim-bristol/

This week I would like to talk about something very personal to me, the lack of acceptance of Food Trucks by municipal governments in Connecticut.

I know this is a very ” Grinds my Gears” kind of piece but it has been so difficult to make any headway on this topic, that I ask that the reader indulge me this time.

I currently own a food truck called The Melting Truck. We have been in business since Late 2020. You may have seen it in and around the Stratford area. The Truck can be found at the Shakesphere Farmers Market. I enjoy doing business in Stratford and in other towns nearby, but I have come across many issues with the towns in Connecticut, especially Stratford.

The issue is that most municipalities don’t really have or want policies regarding street vending for food trucks. I can’t just go out and park my truck on the side of a street and start selling to the public.

Now I understand that I can’t just park where ever I want. It would be a bad policy to allow food trucks to park anywhere, but most municipal governments including Stratford have the opposite policy or no policy at all regarding food trucks.

This lack of policy needs to change, food trucks all over the state encounter policies that are either lacking or negative towards them. Stratford seems to have absolutely no policy when it comes to where food trucks can set up shop in the town and that is disappointing.

Despite my letters, public comments, and even conversations with various public officials in Stratford, no effort has been made to at least form a policy.

I am not asking for much, all I would like is a place for food trucks to operate in town without being hassled by zoning, or any other commission in town. I will say that the police and the health department have been helpful and understanding on this topic but the town council and other commissions have been either a thorn in my side or completely absent in addressing the issue.

My suggested plan would be to set up a few zones in town where food trucks can safely operate without becoming a problem for residents or other businesses in town. I propose the beaches, the Birdseye boat ramp, the parking lot at Shakespeare Park, or along Lordship Blvd. These places are ideal for food truck operations without food trucks being a problem.

Food Trucks are not what they once were, years ago they were a very niche part of the restaurant industry. Today they are a thriving and important part of the industry, especially during the pandemic, as they allow for easy contactless service and can serve as an alternative for restaurants who had to close their brick and mortar locations.

Connecticut has 100+ food trucks in operation as of last year, but many towns are behind the times when it comes to accommodating food trucks as businesses, and with the new itinerant vendor law being put in place by the General Assembly this year it will be very easy for food trucks to go where towns have modernized their zoning policies to allow food trucks to operate easily.

Towns like Stratford who don’t adapt will miss out. I don’t want to take my business elsewhere, but if Stratford doesn’t change I will be left with no choice.

Ethics Commission Violation

By Dave Mullane

On February 16th I emailed Thomas Kulhawik, Charles Lindberg and Tim Bishop regarding Joe Bonetatibus being put on the Ethics Commission to replace me in January.  I was never sworn in as a member of the Ethics Commission, and my term expired in May 2021.

It appears Mayor Hoydick appointed another member this month a Michelle Trepasso.  Apparently these appointments were done in violation of the Ethics ordinance since neither Bonetatibus or Trepasso were not vetted by the commission. (2)

Regarding the resignations there was Patricia Gallagher in July right after she was upset about not being able to charge me with a false ethics violation.

In November Secretary of Ethics, Robert Chimini resigned, leaving the commission without a secretary.

You don’t need to elect a President but you do have specific business to attend too.

The Town Clerk does need to swear in current commission members, Bonetatibus and Trepasso in order to conduct business

Then you should elect a Chairman, Vice Chairman and a Recording Secretary. There also needs to be at least one meeting a year in October to set up for the coming year.  (1)  This was never done during my 4 years with the commission.

I suggest that the ordinance be revised so that it does not violate the US Constitution and there is not another farce like the Ethics commission had last summer with me. (3)

Good luck to all of you.

ß 5-29. Ethics Commission Establishment; Membership; Terms; Vacancies; Compensation; Legal counsel

  • The Commission shall elect annually (October meeting) a Chairperson, a Vice Chairperson, and a Recording Secretary from its own number.
  • The Ethics Commission will participate in the vetting process of Commission appointments by interviewing potential candidates to discuss the involvement and commitment of being a Commission member and making recommendations to the appointing person/body.

ß 5-37. Savings Clause

  • Should any provision of this Code of Ethics conflict with any provisions of federal law or the Connecticut General Statutes, the provisions of the federal law or the Connecticut General Statutes shall prevail.

Is Selling Town Properties a Good Idea?

Some Questions to Ponder

By O.O.. Rawls

A home owner had trouble balancing his budget so he sold a piece of his property. A few years later, his expenses were still higher than his family income, so he sold another piece, but continued to spend the family money unnecessarily and to lavish his friends with gifts. A few years after that, with his expenses still higher than his income, the last piece was sold.

His neighbor, whose expenses also were higher than his family income chose another route: he added a few hours of overtime to his work week. He stopped the expensive cleaning service and found out his family could do the job in-house better, faster and cheaper.  He traded his expensive car for a more economical one. He worked with the gardener, tending to his trees.

At the end of the day, Owner One ended up with large apartment blocks on his former property boxing his family in, while Owner Two’s grandchildren played under the old trees in his still large yard.

At the present, as the council considers selling 3 acres of prime town property to developers, it may be time to ask ourselves and our elected officials:

  • Which policy do you think our town should adopt? The short term or the long run?
  • Does it make financial sense to sell the town piece by piece?
  • Does it make financial sense to attract developers by giving them freebies such as exemption from paying taxes for years and years while residents are saddled with high property taxes?
  • Is there a vision for Stratford’s future, or is it piecemeal efforts at closing budget gaps?

We have an opportunity to have a say in our town’s financial health and its future.

Let your voice be heard. Write your councilperson. Ask them those important questions. Attend the public forum on February 24th. Speak up. It’s your town!

The Soap Box

Local Government Matters

By Timothy Bristol
https://www.linkedin.com/in/tim-bristol/

Every so often in my little section of the Crier, I want to talk about some thoughts about politics in general, and ideas that aren’t just related to Connecticut or Stratford. This time I want to talk about local government and how important local politics are.

First, I want to say that I understand that local politics are not as flashy or compelling as national politics. Most of local government is very boring and can be especially so if a municipality is run by essentially one party. Budget meetings are boring, public works meetings are boring, and zoning board meetings are boring. I don’t disagree with any of that, but they are also important. They are important to the function of the town and go largely unnoticed by the people who live there.

I often tell people the local government is the most important level of government. Your local town council more directly affects your life than anything that happens in congress. They control your property tax, school funding, and what is being built in town. The candidates who get elected to the various boards and committees in a municipality are often overlooked, but nonetheless, vital to decisions made in the town.

Now many people will say, “Tim, the same people get re-elected each year, my vote does not matter.” To that I say local government is where one vote matters the most. Every office from Mayor all the way down to Board of Zoning appeals has such a small voter pool that 50 votes one way or another could swing the race. I have seen races decided by less than 10 votes, my own races have been as close as 200 votes. In local elections, every vote matters, and every dollar contributed to campaigns matters.

The vast majority of Local races are also locally funded. Most local campaigns are run on less than one thousand dollars, and that money is stretched. Most candidates make do with some yard signs and a box of walk cards. Mailers are only affordable if you have a lot of money; so, most candidates knock on doors to get votes. Having knocked on many doors, I will say most people don’t answer. Behind the curtain, in campaigns, they would be happy if people answered 25% of doors knocked. That is just the nature of campaigning, but the part that gets me is the lack of voter interest in local elections.

Political participation has several levels, and at the very bottom is voting. Voting is the least a citizen can do to participate in civic life, and about 70% of voters don’t vote in local elections. According to the Book Bowling Alone written by Robert Putnam “Voting is by a substantial margin the most common form of political activity, and it embodies the most fundamental democratic principle of equality. Not to vote is to withdraw from the political community.” Too many voters have become withdrawn from their local politics, and this disinterest hurts the politics surrounding local government.

Because voters have become disengaged, other levels of political participation such as joining local party committees, attending public meetings, and running for office have become even rarer. I am not saying that you must spend all your time going to town council meetings, but it would benefit a community if everyone paid attention. We need to be more engaged; more people need to be in the conversation. More people need to run for those local offices because more candidates create more competitive races. The greater engagement from the public in local government, the more the government will have to listen.