Wood offers update on legislative zoning proposals

Legislative proposals on state control of local zoning recently passed the state House and Senate. Lots of time, energy and much reflection went into the many conversations on housing choice and the issue of affordability over many months. Collectively - across the state - we did lots of homework, thoughtfully asking questions.

Some of the most extreme measures in these proposals were modified or eliminated this year. The right to develop multi-family housing “as of right” anywhere within a half mile of a train station or a quarter mile of a commercial zone are both out for this year. Though in the words of a majority party leader this legislation “represents a significant first step” in the state exerting more control over zoning in all 169 municipalities.

For the record, every Republican voted against the bill joined by eight House Democrats and one Senate Democrat. Next stop is the governor’s desk for review.

This legislation:

  • Requires town and cities to allow accessory apartments ‘as of right.’
  • Limits the number of parking spaces that can be required per unit of housing
  • There is an opt-out provision for accessory apartments and parking requirements. A municipality’s zoning commission and legislative body may opt-out if both decide to do so by a two-thirds vote.
  • Requires continuing education /training for municipal zoning officers and commissioners.
  • Updates sewer and water pollution control measures that will allow for higher-density housing.
  • Allows mobile homes the same zoning rights as single family zoning, with no municipal opt-out provision.
  • Creates a task force ‘Commission on Connecticut’s Development and Future,” a study will evaluate policies on zoning, affordable housing and infrastructure. Coming from the Fair Share proposal, this will force certain towns to develop more affordable housing.

Affordable housing is a laudable goal and some of these proposals make sense. I’ve long been a supporter of allowing accessory apartments as a way to develop more affordable housing locally. Continuing education for municipal zoning officials also makes good sense too. Darien is already doing this. The Darien Planning and Zoning Commission will be looking at guidelines on allowing accessory apartments this coming year. Darien has proven well that effective solutions come from community involvement with local oversight.

Here are my concerns with this legislation:

Housing built before 1990 is not allowed to qualify as affordable under 8-30. The 1989 housing statute that mandates 10 percent of a town’s housing must be affordable. Nonsensical.

We need to create opportunities to address affordable housing for the developmentally disabled community. There’s significant need for this type of housing in many communities. Yet this is not a priority for affordable housing advocates. This is misguided

Modify prevailing wage laws in Connecticut. If we truly want to address the affordability of housing … we need to address the cost of building housing. Prevailing wage requires any public project valued more than $1 million pay work rates under prevailing wage with union labor. This drives up the cost of any project anywhere from 15-25 percent. These laws render less opportunity to create truly affordable housing. Legislative Democrats remain deeply loyal to state labor unions.

There needs to be a commitment that the task force will be a politically balanced group of people who will be able to find common ground with practical policy solutions.

Remembering the foundational reason for these zoning proposals is to address urban poverty. Where are the solutions that will directly address this critical issue? Where are the voices of the people who live in our cities? I don’t believe they were sought out or heard in this process.

Housing becomes unaffordable when our state is unaffordable. Democrats seemingly turn a blind eye to our state’s ongoing fiscal challenges + realities. Their go-to solution is a bigger and more expensive top-down state government with less accountability. We can and should be working together to solve these key issues.

This legislation shows the power of the state versus every day people and our locally elected government. The power of the people is minimized. Simply not right. Please let me know your thoughts. Your voices matter. Terrie.Wood@cga.ct.gov.

This article originally appeared in the Darien Times on June 4th, 2021.

Photo by Mohit via unsplash.com.