A Rundown of Testimony from Local Residents on New Housing and Zoning Rules Proposed by Desegregate CT

Legislators, local officials and members of the public testified in total for more than 24 hours and submitted an additional 365 letters — splitting roughly 60 percent in favor to 40 percent opposed to Senate Bill 1024.

The bill represents the platform of Desegregate Connecticut, an affiliate of the Regional Plan Association and self-described coalition of more than 60 organizations focused on an “overall goal of tackling segregation in land use laws.” 

Below are excerpts from letters for and against the bill from residents of southeastern Connecticut: 

… I strongly believe that the zoning reforms in SB 1024 will positively impact communities across Connecticut, including racial equity, affordable housing, the environment, and the local economy. Our current housing and zoning policies disproportionately affect people of color and low-income populations. If we want to work towards a more inclusive state, it is essential to expand housing diversity, increase housing supply, and improve the development process to create a more inclusive state…

— Daisy Wang, Norwich

… It strikes me that a diversity of housing makes it more possible to have a diversity of voices in our communities. Such diversity is a gift in helping us all navigate this complex, global environment in which we live. Many I know in local congregations are craving that diversity, especially as they seek to address racial injustice. Many others know, from working with those recently incarcerated or homeless, that having a stable housing option is key to gaining a stable life… 

— The Rev. Rachel W. Thomas, Deep River

… Please understand that the current and historical implications of Connecticut’s municipal zoning laws are obvious and well documented. It is extremely easy to point out all the ways that our current, sprawling suburban communities are environmentally unsustainable, and often intentionally restrictive to communities of color. Restrictive single family residential areas represent a cartoonishly inefficient use of space. Never mind that suburbs eliminate any real public transportation opportunities and force individuals to travel by car for even the smallest purchases or for any service for that matter… I believe this bill can at least lay the groundwork for necessary change and allow communities to find their own solutions to these inherent problems in their own way. It seems to me that the real debate on this bill is between those who see the problems of segregation, lack of sustainable housing, impossible public transportation, and wish to begin to take steps to fix it and people who see those problems and don’t. 

— Tucker McLean Salls, Middletown 

… One size does not fit all. Please leave Planning, Zoning, and Development up to the individual towns and cities. The local residents and property owners know best what fits the character of their communities. I urge you to OPPOSE this Bill…

— Roy D. Downey, Higganum

I offer the following as my experience as a minister of a Congregational Church in Old Lyme, Ct. and a member of the Old Lyme Affordable Housing Cte and the Lyme Compact for affordable housing and The Lyme Affordable Housing Board. In our congregation of nearly 1,000 members we are aware of at least 12 older women – all widows- who have had to sell their home in Old Lyme and move to other communities because a small–sized and affordable housing alternative was not available in our own town. We have also had the experience of offering temporary housing to 4 refugee families who eventually had to move to other towns because they could not afford to live in Lyme or Old Lyme. I also help to offer emotional support to numbers of elderly families in our area who cannot find help to live nearby (or in an accessory apartment on site) so that they could stay in their own homes and “age in place.” Our area has a critical shortage of affordable houses. Changes to our zoning laws is critical.

— The Rev. Carleen R. Gerber, Lyme

… Where we grow up and live determines in large part how we relate to one another–especially those who are different from us–and shapes our understanding of the world. When we live in segregated communities, when we only ever see people who look or think or act like us, we lose sight of the ways in which we are all connected. Recent events have brought into plain view the devastating consequences of living in a segregated society, including the dehumanization of society’s most vulnerable members. To live in a segregated society is a choice we make, and we can just as easily unmake it. I believe SB 1024 represents a crucial step in the right direction–toward a Connecticut that offers equal opportunity to all.

— Sam Rosenthal, Guilford 

… The State of Connecticut is significantly segregated by income. This is morally wrong and economically self destructive. We know that this segregation causes childhood trauma which results in adults who are less likely to be able to contribute socially and economically to society and yet we insist on perpetuating this segregation. As a member of the Planning Commission of Westbrook, I have seen that people of good will can do a little at the margin to provide small amounts of affordable housing locally. At the same time, the vast majority of buildable land in Connecticut suburbs is zoned single family. This has the effect of reducing the supply thus increasing the cost of that land. Only direct action at the State level will result in a change in this market reality…

— William W. Neale, Westbrook

1. Excessive training requirements – one DesegregateCT web page claimed that ‘states across the country’ require training of municipal boards and commissions. I checked their reference article and listed states’ regulations and found none of those states require more than 4 hours annually. Unpaid volunteers doing community service fill boards and commissions in Connecticut. Some towns have difficulty keeping the boards filled and a requirement of 6 hours of annual training will not help. And if a board has members who fall short of the 6 hours in a year, they cannot vote. Short of a quorum, what happens next? Automatic approval, as in site plan reviews. Is this another unfunded mandate? 

2. Circles and zoning do not go well together. A radius of a half mile from a train station that sits on a rectangular lot does not result in a circle. What is the intent? If it is to allow 8-30g housing in Industrial Districts, then say so. If not, then exclude Industrial zones from the radius. Lot lines are straighter and more angular than any radius. If such a half mile radius captured a portion of a lot, is the entire lot affected (as on flood maps)? And if a lot in that radius is zoned Industrial, this then would put residential uses in an Industrial district. And, since all properties in a district must be regulated in the same manner, then all Industrial districts must allow residential uses – even if far outside the radius. IANAL, but courts have held that Industrial Districts are not subject to 8-30g appeals – BUT if residential uses are allowed in Industrial districts because a portion of a lot is inside the radius, then will all Industrial districts allow 8-30g appeals? 

3. By what metric will the success of this Bill be judged? More housing built, maybe denser housing than before but it may not result in more affordable housing. Old Saybrook’s TOD Incentive Housing Development of 186 units included (38) affordable units at 20%. Under this Bill, the yield would be only 10% affordable units. Recent local 8-30g developments of fewer than 10 units yielded 30% of them as affordable units. Developed under this Bill, the yield would be zero. If a town is not at 10% of its dwellings fitting the State’s definition of affordable, building new at a rate of 10% will not get it there. If CT’s shrinking population cannot afford to re-distribute itself to the newly built housing, is that success? One size does not fit most…

— Robert Friedmann Old Saybrook, Chair of Planning and Zoning

… Connecticut has dual housing affordability and segregation crises. At Connecticut’s current minimum wage, a family would need to work 96 hours a week to afford the average two-bedroom apartment. Exclusionary zoning and lack of affordable housing frequently restricts housing choices for low-income families, who are disproportionately Black and Latinx. Seventy-four percent of Black and 68 percent of Latinx residents live in “lower opportunity” census tracts more likely to have struggling schools and increased crime rates. Some families living in these areas want to stay and revitalize, while others want affordable housing choices elsewhere in the region. This bill will help Connecticut address its affordable housing crisis through several means. It will encourage multiunit transit-oriented development, cap costly and wasteful parking mandates, provide training for commissioners, including on fair housing and environmental issues, and legalize accessory dwelling units. These would collectively create more housing, reduce overall housing costs, build a more diverse housing stock, and reduce sprawl…

— Jennifer G. Kleindienst, Middletown, CT 

… It is clear to me, that carrot and stick approaches have been insufficient to grow diverse housing options in suburban CT. Changes in land use regulations will allow for a diversity of housing options while protecting our valuable forests from unscrupulous development. A multi-family project was spectacularly blocked in Old Lyme a few years ago due to fear, politics, and the promise of litigation rather than any sincere effort to adjust the plans to meet the housing needs of the region. We must do better… 

— Mary Jo Nosal, Selectwoman, Old Lyme

… The time has come to take action at the state level to promote the development of more affordable housing. Although I’ve heard over the last couple of months that local zoning boards and commissions are in the best position to address this issue, I think all the evidence disputes this assertion. In my own town, the last affordable housing unit was completed twelve years ago, and without some sort of state intervention, I would not be surprised if we see no further activity for another twelve years. In the meantime, we continue to hear residents talk about a lack of affordable housing for grown children of current residents. Some of these very same young people are volunteers in our fire/ambulance services. We also hear of older residents aging out of their homes and unable to remain in the community due to affordability issues. Regarding diversity, both economically and racially, the lack of it in our communities is painfully apparent and the shortage of affordable housing is clearly a contributing factor. The time to act to address these issues is now! 

— Tim Hildner, Lyme

… These land use reforms will encourage production of all types to meet the needs of all Connecticut residents by making the permitting and approval process easier and more manageable for small businesses to navigate while allowing for gentle density in and around our main street corridors and transit hubs, all while allowing for local control. Land use commissions will be properly trained and towns will have the resources needed to develop their own model design guidelines to ensure that as of right housing will fit the character of their towns and the economic and social needs of their communities…

— Joanne Carroll, Guilford

… While I certainly agree that the need for more diverse housing in Connecticut is an important topic of concern, I believe that there are better ways to achieve it. My main concern in this bill is the removal of local control in zoning regulations. Each town/village in this state has a unique look and “feel” to it. We have beautiful downtown city areas with great entertainment and dining as well as quaint farming communities producing lovely local produce. What makes these towns unique to each other is the local zoning control of the community. Boards/Commissions and Town Councils receive input from their residents and the community decides what is best for their individual town needs. Decisions for small towns like mine of North Branford should be made by the residents and not the politician’s in Hartford or those who live 100 miles away… 

— Nicholas Palladino, North Branford

… When our family relocated from the west coast to CT, we had a whirlwind week with a realtor to find housing and were astonished by the price of homes and the lack of affordable housing in central Connecticut. The property tax burden, added to the ever increasing utility delivery charges can make it very difficult to recruit people to CT. At my company, we have had job vacancies for over a year and although we have interviewed several viable candidates, we were unable to convince them to relocate to CT from out of state and the housing and cost of living was a large deterrent that they shared with us…

— Cherylyn Tunnicliffe, Portland

… There is no such thing as good segregation, whether racial or economic. Accordingly I strongly support the passage of SB 1024 to reform zoning laws in Connecticut. When I was twelve years old and in middle school, we moved to a wealthy suburb of Chicago. My father was a school administrator and my mother was a homemaker. The only housing we could afford in the community where my father worked was in one of the three apartment buildings in the town, which not coincidentally were right next to the railroad tracks. This allowed me to attend an excellent public school. It is my hope that passage of SB 1024 will permit more towns in Connecticut to provide young people the opportunities I enjoyed as a child…

— Mark Pierce, Essex, CT

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