Affordable housing battle in Darien

September 15, 2010 3:31:22 PM PDT
A nasty battle in Connecticut is underway in one of the richest towns in the country.

The Justice Department is investigating whether efforts to build affordable housing are being thwarted by strict zoning regulations in the Town of Darien.

It's a town with big houses, big money and powerful people.

However, Darien doesn't have a lot of is affordable housing.

30% of the units in a complex were set aside when it was built, but that was 15 years ago.

Now the Justice Department is investigating whether Darien is in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

"The Town of Darien is against affordable housing, it's as simple as that," said Chris Stefanoni, a developer.

Chris and Margaret Stefanoni are developers who've been trying to build senior housing since 2005.

They say their plans have been rejected over worries about property values and racial concerns.

"There's a strong emphasis on maintaining a certain standard, a way of life, different code words that people use, and it's unfortunate," Stefanoni said.

Just 2.4% of Darien's housing stock is affordable.

The first selectman says reaching the state mandate of 10% is virtually impossible, but he insists they're trying.

"We're confident that we've done nothing wrong and we'll take care of it if there's anything in that ordinance that needs to be changed," said David Campbell, Darien First Selectman.

The Stefanoni's insist they didn't file the original complaint with the Justice Department, but have been interviewed by government lawyers.

They say they've faced retaliation from vandalism, to even their 9-year old son being demoted from a little league team.

"You can slash my tires, but don't hurt my kids, and yeah, we're ticked off," Stefanoni said.

Critics say the Stefanoni's are opportunists trying to pass their proposals off as altruistic.

"I think it's about knowing that there is a good thing that's achievable with enough effort. I like the fight, definitely," Stefanoni said.

It's a fight the federal government may ultimately take a side in.