Last week, I sat with dozens of citizens at a public hearing of Fairfield’s TPZ Commission reviewing yet another 8-30g development that will forever change the landscape of our town. This time, the application calls for a 6-story apartment building on Unquowa Road sandwiched between the historic community theater and Donnelly walk, in the heart of our historic downtown area. If approved it will displace a number of small businesses and tower over the 2-story theater. It has 63 apartments containing 106 bedrooms, and no commercial space on the ground floor as the other downtown buildings have.
In recent months, we’ve seen 8-30g applications get approved on Castle Avenue and lower Black Rock Turnpike. During a hearing on the Castle Avenue application, neighbors decried well-documented traffic and safety issues. Neighbors near Beach Road, abutting our historical Old Post Road area, are currently fighting an 8-30g development in court, forced to raise thousands of dollars to pay for costly court fees.
In towns where 10% of the total housing stock is not defined as affordable, like in Fairfield, developers can ignore local zoning rules governing height, lot coverage, setbacks, traffic congestion, impact on neighboring properties, and more, as long as 30% of the developer’s units are to be government subsidized or deed-restricted, thanks to a statute known as the Affordable Housing Land Use Appeals Act or 8-30g. Despite its worthy goal of adding affordable housing statewide, 8-30g has woefully failed. In its 30+ year existence, 8-30g has produced very few affordable units in Fairfield and the arbitrary 10 percent target is almost unattainable. Because 8-30g enables dense new housing development with only 30% being affordable, that means 70% is at full rental value. So even if all new development in town is 8-30g, the ratio would go up very slowly because total non-affordable units go up much more than the affordable ones.
8-30g developments are often proposed on properties purchased in modest neighborhoods (cheaper land), where they tend to replace smaller homes and duplexes and even triplexes (called “middle housing”) with massive, out of scale monoliths. This happened recently on Beacon Square where duplexes are now being demolished in favor of larger, out-of-scale apartment buildings and we can expect more in the less affluent part of town, specifically, in Fairfield’s 133rd Assembly District. These new structures are “rentals only”, further reducing for-sale housing stock available, thereby reducing opportunity for actual home ownership and the creation of generational wealth and equity.
In addition, large eyesores like the building now situated on Unquowa Place (another 8-30g development) are creating urban sprawl and causing Fairfield to lose its quaint beauty and charm. Fairfield, a community settled in 1639, has grown organically over the centuries, but now risks losing its desirable characteristics due to 8-30g and other zoning laws that are being continually pushed in Hartford. To add insult to injury, all of the 8-30g development’s affordable housing units are deed restricted for 40 years so once that deed sunsets, we are left with density without the affordability and any progress we’ve made towards that ten percent target, disappears.
One of the reasons I decided to run for the General Assembly is because over and over again, our town has come under siege by developers who use a bad law to maximize profit. This is personal for me. Growing up in a small section of Stamford called Springdale, which was similar to the Stratfield area of Fairfield where I now reside with my family, I have seen the cost of overdevelopment and out-of-scale growth firsthand. Springdale’s main road, Hope Street, is now dotted with four-story-plus apartment buildings and nearly unrecognizable as the kid-friendly little village it once was.
Simply speaking, if a law isn’t working or if it isn’t achieving its goal and is actually creating negative consequences, lawmakers should address its shortcomings. Yet even as multiple zoning-focused bills were proposed over the past couple of years, the problems with 8-30g have been ignored. Even a proposed bill to study the effects of 8-30g never made it to a vote in the General Assembly.
The time is now to finally address the obvious issues with 8-30g and commit to pass only those commonsense zoning laws that take into account the uniqueness and capacity of individual towns and cities in Connecticut. All stakeholders should be considered including town zoning officials, open space advocates, historic advocates and homeowners. If I am elected in the 133rd district, I will work in earnest to reform or repeal 8-30g so it’s a fair and equitable law for all stakeholders.
Our elected leaders need to understand that creating a more ‘affordable’ Connecticut doesn’t just mean creating special laws, but it also means creating jobs and a climate where businesses of all sizes can thrive. Connecticut, it’s time for honest conversations.
Grant is a candidate for state representative, 133rd District, Fairfield & Bridgeport