To the Editor:
Imagine for a moment, after working very hard saving for that “perfect” home — a modest white shingled cape on a small lot, close to town on a quiet road — and even better, just a quarter mile walk to the train station. A place that you saved up for, and sacrificed for, although just barely enough to muster up a down payment, and all of it a huge and scary step in securing the biggest investment in your life.
It’s not an extravagant home, you think, but you’re proud of your accomplishment, full of hope, and happy to finally have a place to call your own.
Ponder though, what rights do you have that the homes around you will continue to be similar to your’s in size and scale? What would prevent your neighbor right next door on her half acre lot from demolishing her home and erecting a 30-unit apartment building? What would stop your neighbor across the street from turning his one family home into a three family home — renting out his basement and also the living area above his garage to tenants.
Usually, when we make an investment in a community, aren’t we expecting that what we bought and paid for is what we will actually receive; and if change in neighboring structures and density of homes do happen, that the changes will be done in a thoughtful and in a deliberative way?
Does any of this matter to you? Is there any “social contract” that the town and neighborhood you invested in will remain forever unchanged in terms of size, scale and density of the homes around you? How much increased development around you is rational or should even be allowed?
Who decides these things and how much does all this even matter to you?
Ever since 1926 when the U.S. Supreme Court, in its seminal case of Village of Euclid vs Ambler Realty Co. affirmed the power of local municipalities to effectuate land use regulation has zoning been regarded as an allowable and accepted use of local governmental authority; and zoning ordinances were deemed a reasonable extension of a municipality’s power — and thus were, indeed, not an arbitrary fiat, but are wholly legal and constitutional.
Connecticut, of course, has had significant case law following Euclid that affirmed the notion that local planning and zoning commissions have authority to regulate land use and to establish single family housing zones, provided that any zoning regulations are properly promulgated and that notions of fair and impartial due process are followed. This includes due process hearings where neighbors can be heard, and a means by which aggrieved parties can appeal to court if the decisions by those planning and zoning commissions are arbitrary, capacious, illegal or an abuse of discretion.
Adding to this very rational process, the vast majority of planning and zoning commissions in Connecticut are duly elected bodies of volunteers chosen from the local community — the very essence and byproduct of a truly participative, open and democratic process.
So while your investment in that white shingled cape is certainly not immune from change associated with housing development around it, there is a process and there are rules to ensure that any change in land use around your home is done in a thoughtful, considered and in a fair manner.
However, at the behest of paid lobbyists and “hive minded” salaried pro-development advocates, there is a strong and powerful effort to usurp the authority of your local planning and zoning commission. Several Bills under serious discussion in Hartford seek to destroy local decision-making and replace it with top down “as of right” development, thereby shredding any notion of local control.
Under these bills, living within close proximity to a bus stop or a train station may mean that developers can build at a minimum density of as much as 30 units per acre or even more if decided by a bureaucrat coordinator, unless your town forgoes critical state infrastructure funding; and a “fair share” bill seeks to override local planning and zoning rules unless your town facilitates as much as a 20% increase of homes in your town (deemed affordable).
Land use regulation is truly objective on its face. Anyone who buys a home should have a reasonable expectation that change in density of housing, size and scale of development in their community will come with due process, thought and deliberation; and not from some “top down” directives from an appointed statewide housing “coordinator” or through somewhat arbitrary edicts from a Hartford administrator who promulgates formulaic housing metrics and goals for your city or town. But yet, the latter is exactly what these bills under consideration would require.
The time is now to make your thoughts known to your elected representatives. Make it known that you oppose bills HB-6890 and HB-6633 which usurp your municipality’s local zoning control. Make it known now to your legislator that you strongly support your local planning and zoning commission and that you endorse local control when it comes to land use regulation and zoning.
It’s time to support local zoning decision-making as it clearly vests you (and your neighbors) with a democratic, rational and a fair process pertaining to land use matters.
Tell your legislators that local zoning control matters to you; we urge you to take action now and tell them before it’s too late.
Alexis P. Harrison
Harrison, McGuinness and Weingarten are members of CT169Strong