Greenwich has no way to remove board, commission members. Officials say maybe it’s time to develop a policy. – Greenwich Time

GREENWICH — The Board of Selectmen unanimously approved changes to the proposed housing trust fund but put off for a later day a larger question surrounding town ethics.

The wording to establish the fund, which will allow private money to incentivize affordable housing, originally included a section that would have allowed the Representative Town Meeting to remove a member of the trust’s board for cause.

However, there is no current mechanism to remove someone from any town board or commission and the selectmen felt a removal clause should not just apply to a newly formed trust fund board.

“We don’t have that process in place for any other town board,” Margarita Alban, chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission, told the Board of Selectmen on Thursday. “We don’t have a set of standards for what is ‘cause’ and how it would proceed. We suggested to the RTM that if they want to have that type of clause that it be considered for all town agencies that are nominated.”

Alban said she believed a removal clause would not affect people who are elected to town office, such as the RTM, but that it could work if language was added to the town code that governed how people are nominated to town boards or commissions.

“It seemed unfair to have one board that would have this and no process and no standards,” Alban said.

Assistant Town Attorney Aamina Ahmad agreed.

“We don’t see that type of language in any of our other boards and commissions’ ordinances. … This might be a good time for us as a town to look at whether we need something like that for all our other boards and commissions. …We could certainly take the lead on that and propose a policy or procedure that might apply across the board rather than starting with (the trust fund).”

The selectmen said they supported development of an overall policy.

“That makes a lot of sense,” First Selectman Fred Camillo said. “I’d rather see a policy across the board to be fair and consistent.”

Selectwoman Lauren Rabin said it would also be a good chance to look at term limits for town boards and commissions. Rabin pointed out there is only a term limit in place for members of the Board of Human Services; members can only serve a maximum of three three-year terms.

Alban said she and the others are working “very closely” with the Board of Ethics already.

“It’s important we have good process in place for this,” Alban said.

The Board of Selectmen had first approved the declaration of trust, which is needed to be able to legally collect money, in December but changes to the declaration need to be approved before any further action can be taken.

Changes to the declaration of trust include correcting what Alban termed “scribner’s errors” and clarifying the role of the Board of Estimate and Taxation for when federal money, such as from the American Rescue Plan, is allocated to the trust.

Under the structure, the trust fund would collect money through grants and private donations. That money would then be managed by a yet-to-be named Board of Trustees which would consider proposals from developers to allocate money for their projects if they either include designated affordable housing units or renovate existing affordable units. The rules also say that all candidates for the trust’s Board of Trustees have to be approved by the RTM.

The language for the trust fund will now head back to the RTM for consideration at its March meeting. The RTM must approve the formation of the trust before the trust can start accepting private money.

Alban told Greenwich Time on Thursday that the Planning and Zoning Commission’s next step should be to submit an affordable housing plan to the RTM. It is required every five years and will “set out the town’s overall affordable housing strategy as well as guide priorities for the Affordable Housing Trust.”

The idea of a trust under the Planning and Zoning Commission — an idea strongly endorsed by Greenwich Communities, which oversees affordable and senior housing in town — is to allow more affordable units to be included in developments with more town control over the size and location. All Connecticut municipalities are required to have 10 percent of housing stock deemed “affordable;” Greenwich is currently at 5.3 percent.

Developers have used the 8-30g statute to overcome neighbor and town objections to projects by taking them to court, saying state affordable housing mandates trump local decisions.

In one example, the Planning and Zoning Commission in November 2017 denied a 60-unit apartment project on Sound Beach Avenue in Old Greenwich which drew a large public outcry because of concerns that it lacked adequate parking and posed a life safety hazard. The project developers then sued the town.

In 2019, the town reversed itself, approving a scaled down version as part of a legal settlement between the town and developers.

This week, Camillo and the town’s bipartisan legislative delegation were in Hartford calling for reform in the law and against state affordable housing mandates. Housing, they said, is something that can be handled better locally.

kborsuk@greenwichtime.com