State Control of Local Zoning

In recent polling, Connecticut scores high on quality of life and low on affordability. As our state economy continues to struggle, the latest “fix” coming out of Hartford is state control of local zoning. This is purportedly to address issues of housing affordability and opportunity. Yes, Hartford would be in charge of making decisions on zoning in Norwalk and Darien and every other city in Connecticut, not your locally elected zoning officials.

Highlights of this proposed legislation—LCO 3562:

  • Eliminating single-family zoning throughout the state.
  • Allocating 10% of the land in every town with 5,000 or more residents to multifamily housing and mixed-use properties
  • Financially penalizing towns with zoning codes considered segregationist or exclusionary.
  • Allowing local public housing authorities to expand their areas of operation by 15 miles to “high opportunity” areas, including those outside their town boundaries.
  • Requiring 50% as-of-right multifamily zoning within a half-mile radius of transit stations and a quarter-mile radius of major corridors, downtowns, and other commercial areas

Many of you are concerned about this one-size-fits-all top-down government and lack of local control and uncertainty. Understandably so. This is reminiscent of the recent Democrat proposal to regionalize our schools.

With any legislation, it’s important to ask “what problem does this solve”? 

Everyone has the right to live anywhere in our state. Segregation based zoning has been illegal for more than five decades. So demanding affordability to live in any community is an oversimplified ask that can be confused and misleading. It is an assumption that local zoning controls are exclusionary. These accusations are made to inflame and suppress meaningful dialogue.

Darien has been a leader in developing affordable housing, starting with former First Selectman Ann Mandel’s affordable housing initiative in the late 1980’s to former First Selectman Jayme Stevenson’s achieving a record second moratorium under the state affordable housing statute (8-30g,). In addition to the second moratorium, Darien has historic approval of three mixed use developments adding housing diversity to our town. In the past twenty years, we’ve added hundreds of apartments /condominiums balancing our housing portfolio to include affordable options. Significantly overhauling Darien’s housing is an ongoing challenge as it is the most densely developed small town in the state.

It’s also arrogant and misguided to assume that Hartford would know best how each community should be developed. Connecticut’s 169 towns are a rich tapestry of unique qualities. Derby, Deep River, Danbury and Darien all have varied needs and characteristics. The people of each of these towns should decide how they should be developed in the future. Local control represents the true voice of the people and is more transparent and more accountable.

An alternative idea would be to work with our neighbors in Stamford and Norwalk on our own, bottom up, not top-down solutions. The private sector has been and should be an important partner in this where it’s easier to manage and measure – and actually solve problems.

Without proper vetting and understanding of the crucial problems we are trying to solve, this legislation could be another fix based on fantasy thinking and not practical reality. Democrats are the party that believe a bigger government is a better government. They’ve had total control of the legislature for over forty years. By any metric, One Party Rule has not worked well in Connecticut.

Constituents are hungering for moderation, stability, sanity, and competence, and hope. We’re dealing with a pandemic, economic contraction and cultural upheaval all at once. Overwhelmingly, people want deep truth to speak to the extraordinary challenges we face right now. It is time for change to a paradigm of working together to build consensus on key issues. 

I look forward to hearing your thoughts and questions.  Terrie.wood@cga.ct.gov and 860.240.8737

This article originally appeared in The Darien Times on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020

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