As the owner and resident of a historic property in Guilford that was built in 1769, I feel a unique responsibility to preserve what makes my hometown so special. That entails a duty to speak out in favor of legislation that would actively enhance the quality of my town. With this responsibility in mind, I would like to applaud Governor Ned Lamont for signing HB 6107 into law. HB 6107, the so-called Desegregate CT bill, will increase the architectural beauty and inclusivity of my town, as well as our state as a whole.
What makes this bill unique is its recognition that promoting multifamily housing is compatible with promoting Connecticut’s historic architecture. Just take my neighborhood of historic homes. The former single-family structure with attached apartments up the street has been able to be preserved because the owners were able to convert it into a few smaller units of housing. Just up the street there is a structure, which is two houses that were attached sometime in the 19th century, effectively creating a duplex. Two doors from the duplex is another beautiful Victorian. It is now a single-family home. In my youth it was a duplex, enabling the older owners to stay in their house that much longer. Guilford is a perfect example of how multifamily housing can add to our town’s history, or even preserve it.
Now that the bill has been signed, some ill-informed opponents of zoning reform continue to monger fear by saying that this law will threaten the “character” of our New England towns. Senator Tony Hwang is among those who have spoken out against zoning reform that enables more diverse housing. The truth is that current zoning rules are actually leading to destruction of historic places. Zoning codes often have costly parking mandates that require people to pave over their lots for parking, even if they don’t need it or want to. These outdated requirements have led to historic buildings all over Connecticut being torn down. The zoning reform legislation puts sensible caps on these excessive regulations and helps protect our treasured history.
In addition, we have seen a demolition crisis in our state – particularly over the last year – because historic homes tend to be large and costly to maintain, and zoning constrains them to just one type of use. The new zoning reform law offers owners of historic homes the avenue of accessory dwelling units (ADUs), whether in the house or an outbuilding, such as a garage or a barn. Those ADUs can allow a homeowner to realize some income to pay for their property taxes and bring younger people into the community by offering them an affordable place to live. Fully legalizing these units gives residents like me the ability to create new housing while preserving our historic homes.
Under HB 6107, ADUs will be zoned “as of right” which means ADUs must conform to local zoning regulations and local environmental regulations regarding water and sewer/septic, but it would not have to undergo a public hearing. A few commentators, including Senator Hwang, have falsely claimed that “as of right” threatens local control. Anyone saying that hasn’t read the bill. HB 6107 defines “as of right” to mean that “able to be approved in accordance with the terms of a zoning regulation or regulations and without requiring that a public hearing be held, a variance, special permit or special exception be granted or some other discretionary zoning action be taken.” The municipality regulates the particulars, Public input still happens, but at a different time: it occurs when the town adopts its rules, rather than for each individual proposal. This change is welcome, as it is more conducive to a bias-free zoning process.
HB 6107 is an opportunity to grow and maintain our historic communities into the next century. Thanks to the advocates and legislators who tirelessly fought for zoning reform, we can preserve what we love about the state while making it more equitable, too.