Housing Debate in Legislature Stretches into Day Two

As of 6 p.m. Monday, the debate regarding the controversial zoning bill 1024 in the legislature’s Planning and Development Committee had lasted eight hours, with a few brief breaks to discuss other legislation. At 6 a.m. on Tuesday, the debate continued…

“It allows towns to focus development around infrastructure where it already exists in our main streets and train stations in those areas representing less than one percent of the state. Local town boards would write the rules in advance and the staff would administer them — that’s what we mean by ‘as of right,’ not a free for all,” said Sara Bronin, founder of Desegregate Connecticut, a coalition of 64 organizations that sponsored the bill.

She said the bill provides towns with a “free model form-based code for them to adapt and adopt as they wish.” 

If passed, the bill would allow accessory dwelling units as of right on single-family lots. In towns of 7,500 residents or more, the bill would allow four-unit multifamily buildings in 50 percent of the area within ½ mile of a town’s primary transit station as well as 50 percent of the area within ¼ mile of a town’s main street corridor. 

State Rep. Douglas Dubitsky, R-Chaplin, who is chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission in his town, said his town already approved — independent of the state — a regulation allowing accessory dwelling units, known as ADUs. 

“But that was our decision. We decided we wanted to allow people to have the opportunity to have their parents live next to them or to have a little extra income. The people of Chaplin decided that we wanted to do that,” he said. “We would have opposed any imposition from Hartford to do that because it’s not right for some towns and it is right for others. We decided that for us, a town of 2,000, ADUs were right for us.” 

Dubitsky asked Bronin how academics and officials from Hartford could decide that every town, regardless of circumstances, must follow certain rules. 

“From the standpoint of small towns, it’s ridiculous,” he said. 

Bronin said zoning reform was important economically because it supports the workforce and creates jobs. She said reform also provides environmental benefits by slowing down sprawl and increases equity by creating a diverse housing supply that meets the needs of young and old people who can’t find a place to live in their own communities. 

State Rep. Tami Zawistowski, R-East Granby, suggested that the state try out the program as a pilot in a few towns before passing broad brush legislation, but Bronin said that what the state has now is essentially a pilot program. 

“Many towns have ADUs but it’s such a patchwork. You can’t look at ADUs and see how it can impact housing opportunities across the state. We are not able to quantify the benefits,” Bronin said. 

Bronin said studies have shown that ADUs can increase the value of a home by 50 percent, which will generate more municipal revenue. 

However, state Rep. Joe Zullo, R-East Haven, expressed concern that towns will tax ADUs, driving up the cost of rent.

“Can the bill limit taxes on ADUs? The goal is to have them be affordable,” he said.

Zullo wanted to know why the number of affordable housing units across the state has not been quantified. 

“It’s hard to say we have a shortage when we cannot quantify what we have and don’t have,” he said. 

Bronin said the number of deed-restricted units is documented, but more important is the number of cost-burdened households — those that spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent — in each town, no matter how wealthy. 

But State Rep. Kimberly Fiorello, R-Greenwich, told Bronin that the bill provides mandates, not guidelines. 

“I think you take umbrage of your bill being characterized as a takeover. Can towns opt out of sections like the TOD?” Fiorello asked. 

Bronin said Fiorello’s interpretation was incorrect. 

“It’s not that I take umbrage at it, it’s just that it’s factually incorrect. It is not correct to say that this is a state takeover of local zoning. Like many other provisions of current state law in the state, the enabling statute provides real guidelines for towns to help to achieve goals that we really should all share. So, again, I think taking umbrage is a way to say that it’s my opinion but it’s not my opinion, it’s just a complete mischaracterization of the bill,” Bronin said. 

Home ownership or more rentals

“I’m a big proponent of home ownership. I see that as the key to generational wealth, as a gateway for families to get ahead. And I continue to struggle with how this legislation increases homeownership,” said Zullo, in an earlier discussion with state Sen. Derek Slap, D-West Hartford.

Zullo said the bill will make it easier and more permissible to build multi family housing in single-family districts — but that construction will require a substantial downpayment, 

“I don’t see people who are just trying to get into the realm of homeownership building multi family homes. I see them trying to buy affordable, single family homes — so what I think this is going to do is create more rental housing, which does not build generational wealth, which is going to keep people in the same cycle of just getting by,” he said. 

State Rep. Roland Lemar, D-New Haven, asked if it was possible to build multi family homes that could be purchased for affordable prices. 

“Over 50 percent of Connecticut renters are cost burdened. We do not allow renters to save money to buy a place,” he said. 

A question of public input

Zawistowski said her main objection to the bill was the lack of mechanism or opportunity for public input on whether local school systems and public services have the capacity for population growth. 

“It’s a top down approach with very limited opportunity for public input,” she said. 

State Rep. Carol Hall, R-Enfield, asked if a bill like this would override a local plan of conservation and development in a fashion similar to the Siting Council deciding on the location of solar farms. 

“How would this not be different from the overreach of the Siting Council? Are we going to eliminate the mandate for local towns to create their POCD, to create this vision of what they want their town to look like?” she asked.

Slap said the bill would change certain aspects of local zoning but towns would still have a role in creating a vision for their communities.

“It certainly changes some zoning rules and changes parameters but I think it finds a balance of respecting each towns’ autonomy in some ways — but our role is not just looking out for one town, but for the state as a whole,” he said.

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