by Maria Weingarten, CT169Strong.org
This Connecticut legislative session has been turned on its head. Zoning bills have been voted favorably out of the Planning and Development and Transportation Committees, awaiting a vote in the General Assembly. Any zoning language can still be added or deleted until the session ends in June. Do residents even know what is in the bills? Probably not.
Democratic legislators, like Will Haskell, the Co-Chair of the Transportation Committee which passed HB6570, have not informed their constituents about the contents of these bills or about public hearings. The press has not disclosed bill details, focusing instead on the marketing spin from Democratic leadership and Sarah Bronin’s (DesegregateCT) roadshow, without delving into the problematic provisions and language actually in the bills. Devastating public policy may soon be voted on by the General Assembly.
The duplicity of these proposals is that they serve to benefit developers by relaxing building standards and placing greater legal burdens on municipalities, thereby allowing exponential market value development instead of providing intended affordability. SB1024 undercuts local inclusionary zoning policies and affordable housing funding from developer fees, eliminates P&Z public hearings on individual projects, and allows sub-par methods for traffic impact studies to push greater density. HB6611 mandates towns build an unfair “fair share” of affordable units, eliminates legal standing for aggrieved parties and obligates the court system to play a bigger enforcement role in affordable housing development. The “fair share” calculations are critically flawed, making the allocated units completely unachievable (it would result in doubling or tripling the entire housing stock) for any town.
In the final vote, deleted DesegregateCT bill language can also be reinserted to allow “as of right” (bypassing all local zoning laws) 15+ units per acre market value development with no required off-street parking in transit and main street areas (a disaster for Ridgefield.) We believe zoning changes in our towns should only be implemented at the discretion of local Planning and Zoning Commissions. They alone have the knowledge of the unique constraints within their towns. With local citizen feedback, they also stay informed on matters of local concern.
The existing 8-30g law is not meeting affordable housing needs and has resulted in over-development in some towns and horrific violations of zoning laws in many instances. It needs to be reworked or revoked. It is indicative of the results of State control by politicians, bureaucrats, and interest groups over local matters. We don’t need more of the same and none of the current zoning bills should be passed. One-size policies will never fit every town.
Instead, the role of the state should be to outline general policy goals, not coercive mandates. These goals should be determined by a working group of municipal stakeholders, small-town and suburban P&Z boards, and experts in sanitation, conservation, environmental, and soil considerations.
Each town can then chart the course of its own development with an eye to the changing needs of its citizens and the unique character of their town. Local self-government has worked well for 300 years here. Our legislators must not destroy this freedom.
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