After their application to build a 24-unit affordable housing complex for returning military veterans was denied by East Haven's Planning & Zoning Commission, Heroes Village officials say they will now pursue a federal Section 8 rental housing development at the same Route 80 site.
Antonio St. Lorenzo, Heroes Village founder and a decorated Vietnam War veteran, told East Haven Patch this morning that, prior to the earlier project's rejection, his group attempted to negotiate with town officials in order to address their concerns — and hopefully find a middle ground to allow the veterans condominium development to move forward.
But, he said, the organization was "met with roadblocks at every turn."
Because of this, St. Lorenzo said he has no choice "but to utilize federal law and place Section 8 affordable rental housing on the site to accommodate the needs of our veterans."
The housing choice voucher program, administered by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development agency, assists very low-income families, the elderly and the disabled to affordable housing in the private market.
“It’s puzzling that our veterans can fight and die for our country, but they can’t live in East Haven," St. Lorenzo said.
Previous Project Rejected
Heroes Village currently is looking to build a series of "affordable, state of the art, 'green,' customizable homes" throughout the region.
Among those locations was 142 and 150 Foxon Road (Route 80) in East Haven. The Connecticut-based company purchased the two parcels this past October from previous owner Mark Dilungo.
The application for the proposed project, however, was unanimously rejected by the Planning & Zoning Commission earlier this month because, they said, it was not a suitable project for the site.
Racial Bias Allegations
But Heroes Village officials allege the site plans were rejected not because they failed to meet town regulations or zoning codes — but due to the fear of some in the East Haven community that the condominium homes there, if built, could one day be occupied by non-white minorities.
To support their allegations, company officials pointed to an incident that occurred following the planning board's November 2011 meeting during which racial and sexual slurs were allegedly hurled at Sean Richardson, Heroes Villages's chief business and legal affairs officer, and St. Lorenzo. Richardson is black.
Project 'Too Large' for Site
East Haven Planning and Zoning Chairman Gene Ruocco, however, strongly denied that racial bias had anything to do what so ever with the commission's rejection of the project.
Ruocco told East Haven Path earlier this month that the site plan was rejected by the commission because the 24-unit project is "too large" for the two parcels, which currently are zoned only for the construction of single-family homes.
In addition, he said town planners also had safety concerns regarding the proposed development, which would sit along the busy Route 80 corridor.
Ruocco also said Richardson's presentation before the commission did not adequately answer the questions commissioners, other town officials and neighboring residents who spoke during the Feb. 1 public hearing regarding the project.
"His presentation was the weakest, most ill-prepared presentation we've ever had before the the P&Z," Ruocco said at the time.
Committed to Veterans
But St. Lorenzo said he remains committed to providing affordable housing here in East Haven, as well as throughout the region.
Heroes Village renovated the former VFW Post at 48 High Street in Norwalk, which now houses some 30 female veterans who are currently homeless. And facilities are also scheduled for construction in Meriden, Bridgeport, Rocky Hill and the Hartford area.
"The national numbers are clear: this country desperately needs affordable, dignified and accessible housing for military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan," he said. "We owe them that much.”