To the Editor:
I am a member of the Fairfield Town Plan & Zoning Commission and long-time advocate for neighborhoods and land. I object to HB 5429 which is backed by development lobbyists and not constructed with input from all stakeholders. As a member of the TPZ, we make decisions based on our knowledge of our community, infrastructure, environment, historical preservation, traffic and more, and this bill downgrades a commission’s important role in planning and zoning.
In Fairfield, we have three train stations – one in our downtown district; another located in a more commercial area of town and a smaller one in the Southport area which is located in a very historical area of our community. In our town, Transit Oriented Development (TOD) has been long underway and remains a critical point in our planning. We do not need a mandate to encourage this type of dense housing. In recent years the town has approved four TOD projects near train stations – three of these projects are built and occupied and a fourth approved project is nearing construction. We are doing the work under the purview of our commission and commensurate with our infrastructure.
We also have to realize the land is one of the most finite of resources and once we change it and pave over it, there is no turning back.
Flaws of the HB 5429:
Waters Down the Role of Local Planning & Zoning Commissions: Language in the bill “as of right” means that planning and zoning bodies will be diluted, and the elected and appointed public officials with knowledge of towns needs and restrictions, infrastructure, historical preservation and the environmental concerns will be muted, and the voice of the public will be silenced.
Creates Density, not Affordable Housing: The bill doesn’t require ANY affordable housing on projects under 6 units, so you may expect existing actually affordable ‘middle housing’ to be replaced by luxury townhouses, thus squeezing the housing disadvantaged even more. With climate change impacting coastal communities like Fairfield, areas near train stations will likely experience issues such as flooding.
Bill Omits Specifics: HB 5429 does not offer the people of Connecticut specifics and is vague. Given its vagueness, however, our TPZ director calculated that the TOD bill would require as much as a 25-30% increase in dwelling units in Fairfield, and 14-17% increase in population in our Town. Our town historic districts are near 2 of our 3 train stations so would be encompassed by the new development density mandates. The older infrastructure in these areas is likely inadequate for the massive influx of density, so presumably the Town would have to fund massive public projects to support the new development. Why would we burden our towns with more costly mandates?
Competing Affordable Housing Laws: The TOD bill would compete with CGS 8-30g, and make the already virtually impossible 10% ratio even more impossible. It would siphon away from affordable housing, reduce existing middle housing and cause luxury housing to replace duplexes in downtown areas. Further consequences include more litigation in part due to the vague definitions in the proposed bill regarding exempt lands and the calculation, but also due to the ongoing failure to reform the deeply flawed 8-30g. The bill would expand housing stock significantly while only requiring up to 10% to be affordable- the mandated added density without affordability, ultimately makes the 8-30g target even more elusive.
Fairfield continues to be committed to creating a diverse housing stock – we are very proud of our work and look forward to the work that lies ahead. At the end of the day, no one knows the needs and uniqueness of a community like those who live here, work and volunteer here.