Zoning Remains on the 2022 Ballot in Connecticut

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To the Editor:

Recently, on a late summer day, Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Bob Stefanowski and his running mate, State Rep. Laura Devlin, held a press conference in Fairfield on the need to repeal 8-30g, our State’s so-called affordable housing law. He cited the law’s deficiencies and how the 32-year-old law has largely failed the individuals it set out to help. Mr. Stefanowski has pledged to reform 8-30g and work with the General Assembly to create policies that truly work. As a group committed to our 169 towns and local zoning, we need a governor who will stand up for our communities and stand up to the special interests who are trying to hammer through regulations that do not properly address the affordability issues we face in Connecticut. 

“Affordable” housing is a euphemism for low-income restricted housing, for which only a small portion of local residents in suburbs would qualify and which would exclude most police and teachers who are often erroneously cited as beneficiaries. It does not make a town more affordable or reduce the incidence of cost-burdened households.

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Instead, 8-30g enables housing developers to largely ignore zoning regulations governing height, lot coverage and setbacks if they deed-restrict 30% of the units to be affordable. With 8-30g, every town in Connecticut, no matter its size or natural environment, needs to have 10 percent of its housing deemed affordable or its Planning and Zoning Commission is at the mercy of developers. 

Unfortunately, while 8-30g was enacted with a laudable mission of incentivizing the construction of housing for the disadvantaged, the law is deeply flawed with unintended consequences. For starters, most of the deed restrictions last about 40 years, and with 8-30g being in existence for over 30 years, we’ll soon see some of the affordable units ‘sunset.’ Once this happens many communities throughout Connecticut will have a high-density of apartment buildings and high rise condos, but no longer have the “affordable” units it has counted on to help people. And residents who qualified, will be required to move unless they pay current market rents.

8-30g is a great deal for developers and home builders, creating generational wealth for them, but a bad deal for most residential neighborhoods where higher densities are incompatible, depress property values, stress infrastructure, ravish the environment and encroach on or destroy historic resources.

As a grassroots group focused on local zoning, CT169Strong applauds a candidate running for governor like Mr. Stefanowski who speaks about the deficiencies of a law that was intended to do good things for disadvantaged people, but has in fact, failed all the people of Connecticut. It is a relief to hear a political leader clearly point out what many of us have been saying for years, that 8-30g is very limited, and it punishes towns that can’t meet the arbitrary 10 percent goal and destroys neighborhoods. Many Fairfield County towns are already 98% developed and meeting this arbitrary goal is next to impossible.

A profusion of bad housing policies have been proposed in the Connecticut General Assembly. In recent years housing development advocates and a majority of the Connecticut General Assembly have focused on weakening local control over land use decisions, unjustly blaming zoning for economic and racial disparities. Ignored is a responsible discussion of just what zoning does and doesn’t do and how it benefits communities. 

First, zoning only applies to the use of land, not who uses it.  When applicants seek zoning approval to develop land, zoning commissions look at the merits of the proposed development based on the facts and the governing law, and do not consider the identity of the applicants. 

Second, Zoning benefits communities by ensuring consistency of land uses, types of development in different zoning districts, and the pace of change, all of which preserves property values, enhances a town’s economic stability, and protects historic and environmental resources. 

All these are uniquely local benefits best suited to be fostered by the decisions of locally-elected officials, who are held accountable for establishing regulations that are faithful to the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development and who transparently apply those regulations without any favor or bias. Zoning is truly color blind.

In the last two sessions of the General Assembly, we have seen proposal after proposal come before various committees, including bills backed by housing advocacy groups like DesegregateCT, the Regional Plan Association and Open Communities Alliance, generally promoting centralized state-wide planning and zoning for Connecticut’s 169 municipalities. The bills have tended to mandate or incentivize density without regard for local capacity, and without requiring much affordability. 

Last year’s bills, if they had been enacted, would have turned every suburban downtown into a small city, regardless of inadequate infrastructure, environment, historical areas, transportation and availability of jobs. There was no consideration of what doubling the entire housing stock with high rise apartments in downtowns would do, potentially creating greater congestion, stormwater runoff and pollution.  The incentives within these laws would result in the gradual conversion of local commercial bases into residential development, and the parking required would cause inadequate parking for both residents and small local businesses. Coastal flooding and climate change resiliency and sustainability planning were largely ignored, as the bills would pack dense populations into areas that are most exposed to climate change.

Completely ignored in these anti-zoning bills, has been the much maligned 8-30g, which seems to generate as much litigation as it does affordable housing.  These initiatives would have adversely impacted the goals of 8-30g, while also reducing the ability of towns to get out from under the draconian burden of 8-30g.  Our legislature, in its zeal to push anti-zoning bills through, couldn’t even get a bill out of committee that would have studied 8-30g. In 2021, Gov. Lamont signed HB 6107 into law which removed the word ‘character’ from our zoning regulations, limited off-street parking requirements and mandated Accessory Apartments (subject to procedures allowing supermajority local override), and continued an effort by proponents to “chip away” at local zoning control.  We expect more anti-local zoning bills to be introduced in the next session.

Among all the types of government regulation, land use is uniquely local, because land itself is local and is also greatly impacted by nearby development.  Local residents are best suited to make those decisions on permanent changes to land use. The combination of 8-30g and the onslaught of anti-zoning bills has led to passionate local activism by neighbors whose quality of life and home values appear to be under attack. 

Rather than demonizing zoning and seeking to dismantle local zoning regulation, Connecticut’s leaders should adopt a holistic, pragmatic approach to resolving housing issues and creating more opportunity for economic growth, higher paying jobs and home ownership, rather than creating an overabundance of high density market value rental units. It’s time to demand more.

Alexis Harrison, Fairfield, CT
Peter McGuiness, Darien, CT
Tara Restieri, Greenwich, CT
Maria Weingarten, New Canaan, CT
Kirk Carr, Ridgefield, CT
Members, CT 169 Strong