Bill Would Allow High-rise Developments In Transit Zones, Affordable Units Not Included


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To the Editor:

I would like to express my strong OPPOSITION to Transit Oriented Development, HB 5429.

This bill is extremely deceptive in how it is written. The provisions of this bill “shall allow, as of right, housing developments with a minimum overall average gross density of fifteen dwelling units per acre located within a half-mile radius of any passenger rail or commuter rail station or any bus rapid transit station.”  

Reading this language, it therefore would allow “as of right” development until the designated transit zone reaches a minimum of 15 units per acre.

Mathematically, there are approximately 500 total acres in the half-mile radius transit zone indicated in the bill. So, a total minimum of 7,500 units (15 x 500) without exempt areas would be needed before local zoning rules can apply. Applying an estimated 30% exemption for unusable land would result in 5,250 units. Clearly, this bill will create a “race” to develop the zone, including unfettered high-rise developments.

Now, let’s take a look at the proponents of this bill.

Desegregate CT is the major proponent of this bill. They are a very smart and highly organized group, and have enlisted lots of very bright young people to enthusiastically testify in favor of this Bill. Desegregate CT is, in turn, funded by the Regional Plan Association, a New York City based not-for-profit organization. The Regional Plan Association has as its Chairman, an individual who is also the Chairman & CEO of RXR Realty. Some of the biggest New York City real estate owners and developers are financial supporters of the Regional Plan Association. Big construction companies are also major financial supporters of the Regional Plan Association.

RXR is a major owner and developer of commercial and residential real estate developments, having a gross asset value of $20.5 Billion and 7,100 multi-family units. As part of its stated strategic plan, RXR 2.0, RXR states that its mission is to “create housing alternatives in urban environments through transit-oriented developments…”.  Interestingly also, RXR has also employed a senior executive of “emerging markets” to identify areas outside of New York City to diversify its development and investment base.

In 2016, a real estate industry publication noted the RXR business strategy on emerging markets, as follows:

One opportunity: suburban transit nodes. There are great places with efficient access to Manhattan, yet are surrounded by low density or surface parking; think places like New Rochelle, Yonkers, Hempstead, Huntington Station, Glen Cove, and Stamford, where RXR has projects in the pipeline.

“If you keep trying to cram more and more material into the same sized bag, eventually you’re going to reach capacity,” he continued. “So your only option is to increase the size of the bag, and we have the ability to do that with our transportation infrastructure.”

Finally, RXR has developed the Atlantic Station West project, a luxury high rise transit oriented commercial and residential development in Stamford. A development that, according to its glossy marketing material “exudes style, respect, and an enduring sense of excellence. With oversized windows, sophisticated finishes, and modern layouts, this is elegance realized, where quiet style lives large.”

However, at the Atlantic Station West luxury apartment tower, you will not find any “affordable“ apartments that would otherwise be required under Stamford’s inclusionary zoning rules. Instead, RXR opted to pay a “fee in lieu” of including affordable apartments, therefore ensuring that their housing development maintained only the highest quality luxury rental product possible. With this, then, begs the question: Is that not the ultimate definition of “segregation”? And if the developers that support Desegregate CT do not voluntarily desegregate their own developments, what are we to believe about this bill? 

Is it not very convenient and efficient to align a business mission with a not-for-profit mission, all under the label of “desegregation”; and also, in the course of doing so, very conveniently open up in Connecticut a large and very profitable opportunity for real estate developers and construction companies.  

Increasing the “size of the bag”, indeed.

Peter McGuinness