Embrace Lamont’s Position to Expand Transit-Oriented Development With Local Planning and Control

Alexis Harrison

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To the Editor:

As a non-partisan group dedicated to local decision-making relative to zoning and land-use, CT169Strong applauds Gov. Ned Lamont’s call for municipalities to embrace transit-oriented development (TOD) amid recent investments in housing and transit infrastructure — but on a voluntary basis, which he underscored in his comments.

Notably, Gov. Lamont recently stressed that it’s important for towns to do this on their own, without punitive implications such as the denial of state grants if they do not “opt in” to a State run TOD program, or the mandatory imposition of new dense market value housing units in geographic areas. These punitive measures are counterproductive and do not inspire more TOD in our communities, and tend to serve the interests of developer-supported professional lobbying groups more than the local community. Offering carrots instead of sticks is the better way to legislate and govern, and we applaud Gov. Lamont for his pragmatic support and vision.  The governor’s goal of tapping into the recently funded Municipal Redevelopment Authority (MRDA) to provide optional planning assistance and funding to municipalities for TOD will work best if it provides this assistance not only to initiate new TOD but to support municipalities expanding existing TOD, while leaving the final planning decisions local.  “It says, ‘Look, I believe in local control, but now locals have to take control,’” Lamont said of the MRDA proposal. 

For decades, TOD has been a success story in Connecticut – created by the vision of scores of local towns and zoning commissions to attract new generations to move or stay in our great State. By definition, TOD creates compact, mixed-use communities near transit where people enjoy easy, non-automobile dependent access to jobs and services. Often, this type of development is spurred by local inclusionary zoning passed by towns as transit overlay districts. 

In Fairfield for example, TOD has been long underway and remains an important component in the town’s long and short term planning. This town has implemented TOD by passing regulations incentivizing dense housing and infrastructure in transit areas. And miles away, the City of Meriden, where Gov. Lamont recently toured, has reconfigured its zoning to allow more density and mixed-use development near the train station and has built hundreds of units of housing nearby. These municipalities and many others in Connecticut have taken the initiative and continue to develop and build upon TOD areas without needing State “one-size fits all” mandates or punitive measures, which have been included in much recent proposed legislation.

CT169Strong are proponents of locally-driven inclusionary zoning for TOD and the promise it affords residents and businesses alike; we reaffirm our belief in the expertise of local towns and cities to create their own diversity of housing including TOD and affordable housing. Locally elected and appointed land use commissions know best the possibilities and also the limitations of their natural and built environments.  They, rather than central planners, know best what will work locally, when taking into account projected climate change impacts, economic and market conditions, infrastructure availability, sewerage capacity, natural resources, and much more.  Simply put, all land is local and land use decisions including those involving TOD, are best made by local officials accountable to their municipality, and who are knowledgeable of the unique opportunities, challenges, capacities and constraints of the municipality’s built and natural environment.

CT169Stong trusts locally elected and appointed land use commissions and housing authorities to address local low-income and workforce housing needs and to implement TOD that is in scale with local infrastructure and sensible development. We hope that our state legislators do too.

Alexis Harrison 
Fairfield, CT

Harrison has a seat on the Fairfield Planning and Zoning Commission, and is a member of CT169Strong