Stephens, Steinberg Snipe Over Affordable Housing

Recently, the Connecticut General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to loosen the restrictions of 8-30g — the state’s affordable housing standards, which incentivize municipalities to make 10 percent of their housing stock be “affordable.”

(Westport has a long history with 8-30g. Some affordable housing units here were built before the 1990 date on which state standards are based. Developers have proposed large buildings on small lots, marking a few units as “affordable.” Some observers have called those proposals “blackmail.” Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission has denied several such proposals already. They approved one, on Post Road East.)

A proposed 4-story rental property at 1177 Post Road East.

The vote — 30-6 in the Senate, 116-33 in the House — makes it easier for towns and cities to reach “moratoriums,” and in some cases increases those moratoriums beyond the previous 4 years. (For an in-depth analysis of the measure from CTMirror, via WestportNow, click here.)

Governor Dannel Malloy vetoed the bill. The Senate overrode the veto by the closest 2/3 margin possible — 24-12. The House overrode it 101-47.

Local reaction was swift.

Westport Representative Jonathan Steinberg said: “I’m going to tell people in my town, ‘Put up or shut up.’ Build the units. Get to the moratorium. Stay on that path.”

That infuriated P&Z member Chip Stephens.

He emailed an “open letter” to Steinberg:

We got your message.

How dare you grandstand and throw your fellow town officials and residents under the bus last night:

“Steinberg said he plans to take an unwavering message to his town’s leaders — act.

“As far as I’m concerned, I’m going to tell people in my town, ‘Put up or shut up. Build the units. Get to the moratorium. Stay on that path,’” Steinberg said. Only after they have been given that chance, he said, can leaders “talk about whether or not 8-30g is working.””

I suggest you consider that your town officials have worked long and hard on affordable housing, both 8-30g qualifying, and more importantly quality affordable housing as Hales Court, Sasco Creek, Canal Park and other IHZ and multifamily components.

Canal Park offers affordable housing for seniors, near downtown. Because it was built before 1990, it does not count for points under 8-30g standards.

In passing the newest 8-30g complex on Post Road East we will have our first moratorium application ready as soon as the developer completes the project and gets his CO.

Next time you crawl up on that stump and blow hot air directed at your town, think hard before letting your common sense filter down hurling inflammatory and demeaning comments at Westport. We hear and we will remember.

Steinberg fired back:

I have fought for 7 years to amend 8-30g to make it easier for Westport to achieve a moratorium, while you have done very little.

How dare you lecture me on this statute when all I stated that it’s now on towns to take advantage of this new opportunity to get to a moratorium and avoid developer predation.

You have real gall calling me out, given your abject failure as a Commissioner representing Westport’s interests.

I’m responsible for giving you a tool to protect our town. Shut up and get it done.

Like the 8-30 g/affordable housing debate, this political dialogue will continue.

State Representative Jonathan Steinberg (left) and Westport Planning & Zoning commissioner Chip Stephens.

21 responses to “Stephens, Steinberg Snipe Over Affordable Housing

  1. Rozanne Gates

    Go, Jonathan!!!!

  2. Cornelia Fortier

    Quite a while ago, at a discussion about affordable housing as a way to add more diversity to Westport, when pressed, Mr. Marpe’s only response was, “We’ll get to it.”

  3. So it’s okay for a developer to hold a gun to local towns like Westport because they know all the loopholes in a flawed law? The concept of the law wonderful on paper. When the law allows for local zone breaking, and threats of litigation, it’s time to amend the flaw.

    • The author of the law, recalling it’s drafting on it’s 10 year anniversary, was very clear that allowing the developers to hold a gun to the head of towns was the key ingredient. It was seen as the only way the towns could be held accountable. After the law was passed, towns were given 10 years to come up with solutions. The law, nor the motivating mechanisms, are anything new.

  4. This is a needed law that many other towns have figured out how to deal with. We NEED teachers, police, municipal workers, elderly and young families to live here. The law is 30 years old and Westport has “whistled past the graveyard” thinking it would go away.

    Why hasn’t our town leadership done something about it? Why, over 30 years, didn’t we buy available, appropriate properties and just build out a few full complexes to satisfy what’s right and what’s legally required, like other towns? There have been plenty of opportunities (and probably still are). Instead we are letting developers take advantage of the tax breaks for minimal affordability that do not get us any closer to the requirements.

    The law, the community value and the math is simple. s

    • Bart Shuldman

      Chris–the law is wrong and is hurting Westport. First, lets start that Westport cannot count any affordable homes before 1990. If Westport was able to count affordable homes built before 1990 (I believe that is the date), Westport would EXCEED the required percentage. The law is flawed and punishes a town like Westport that was early in our thinking.

      Second, developers have taken advantage of the law that lets them skirt the P&Z regulations and build affordable home properties that hurt other property owners. I point to the development that was proposed for the Westport Inn property, which was going to be so massive and tall, our own fire department could not supply the service that would be needed if a fire broke out.

      I am sure those property owners that fought this development are very happy that Jim Marpe came to help. The eventual outcome was great for Westport.

      Westport is not responsible for buying land to build affordable homes. That is not what our town should be doing, if there was any land to buy. Any developer that wants to build affordable homes within the guidelines of both Westport and CT have the right to do so. Unfortunately, we have watched over the decades how these developers just use the threat of building something that again, skirts our P&Z regulations, to get money from Westport.

      The 8-30g regulation was a ‘license to steal’. While many comment over the years on 06880 about their concern to keep Westport looking like a small town, any developer could come in and build a 4 story monstrousity and end the beauty we all so enjoy.

      Rep Steinberg’s comments were totally out of line and he owes the P&Z commissioners and Westport leaders, over the many years, an apology.

  5. Wow, you guys both need to relax. Dial it back…..

  6. Bart Shuldman

    Just think–right after that vote yesterday, Rep Steinberg voted to approve the new state employee SEBAC agreement that will extend the contract till 2027—10 more years!! Guarantees no layoffs for 4 years, guarantees eventual pay increases of 3.5%, and other benefits, despite the ongoing fiscal crisis in CT. The state workers said their benefits will be the best in the US!! The Financial Death Spiral in CT continues!!!!

  7. Chris- 8-30g is not going to keep our seniors here. The Westport many of us grew up in where our civil servants, seniors, etc all lived in town is gone. The Majority Party which has basically run our state over the past 25 plus years has basically used Fairfield county as an ATM machine. In case people haven’t noticed, the ATM Machines are vanishing everyday. The vote last night by the CT Democrat controlled-House of Representatives 78-72 to approve a 10 year union concession deal should be as much of a concern to us as 8-30g. Local towns and taxpayers will now more then ever have to come up with more tax dollars to fund these unsustainable promises. Perhaps some of these 8,000 sq foot homes that are not selling can be converted into senior housing in the future?

  8. Jonathan Steinberg

    Since Chip chose to share my response directly to him, which I admit was impolitic, I’ll give you my fuller response to the people on his “open letter” list, which he used to “call me out.” Fairly typical behavior for him.

    Yes, he’s got me a bit heated up because I feel particularly aggrieved, given that it was my speech that clearly carried the day, achieving a decisive, one-vote advantage in the 2/3 required majority vote. BTW: The Chair of the Housing Committee and the proponent of the bill personally thanked me for making the case for override of a bill that the Governor was intent on scuttling. I was gratified to have made it possible.

    I am amazed that Chip could be quite that obtuse. Anyway, here is what I sent to the list, unfiltered umbrage and all…

    _______________________________________________________

    I have to say I’m surprised you could be so clueless, Chip, but perhaps I shouldn’t be, given your abysmal track record as a Commissioner.

    I made that speech to convince wavering colleagues to support the override and, I must say, it was critically successful. I doubt we would have this new law without it.

    I’ve been fighting to amend 8-30g for seven years, working with Democrats and Republicans, city Representatives and suburban ones, to overcome entrenched, unyielding opposition to any change. I’ve played a role in moving this legislation forward.

    The best way for me to convince colleagues was to assert that, given the opportunity to achieve a moratorium more easily, towns like Westport would step up, facilitate getting units built in the right locations, and reach the moratorium. I convinced them that we were sincere about creating more housing diversity based on a reasonable zoning plan.

    The thanks for my years-long efforts on Westport’s behalf? A blistering diatribe from a thoughtless individual who has done precious little to protect our town in the long term. Chip, your arrogant rhetoric opposing even the concept of affordable housing has provided fuel for the fire which lawyers are using to appeal your commission’s denials to the 8-30g judge. It’s the kind of rigid ideology which makes it hard for me to convince others that Westport will pursue affordable housing.

    Yesterday was a victory for Westport. Thanks for tarnishing that victory with your ignorant grandstanding.

    • Rep Steinberg: this expanded ad hominem screed against Mr. Stephens does little to advance your well intentioned position. It does not reflect very well on you. When you find yourself in a hole best to stop digging…

    • Yikes! Jonathan, did you just call Chip obtuse? May I suggest a nice trip to Zihuatanejo to relax a bit.

  9. Cathy Walsh, Chair P&Z Commission

    P&Z and Affordable Housing in Westport Facts:
    1) Ellie Lowenstein Chaired the first Affordable Housing sub committee 2009/2010- end result was the Inclusionary Housing Zone-20% affordable requirement for multi family.

    2) P&Z and the Town worked with WHA in rebuilding Sasco Creek and Hales Court to replace and increase the affordable units in town.

    3) 2013/2016 were years in which we approved multiple projects with affordable units with about 150 additional points- it takes 4-5 years from conception to completion of projects. Only when the CO’s for 200 points have been issued can we apply to the state for moratorium points. If all approved projects get built , we’ll have 268 points and can be on our way to the second moratorium.(always a moving target)

    4) In 2017 the P&Z Commission decided to re activate Affordable Housing sub- committee to take another look at affordable housing. First result-a new system of reporting affordable units to the P&Z has been developed. This sub committee is still active and is evaluating other possibilities. We intend to try and work with our legislators to have some units / beds be classified as affordable which currently are not but we feel should be. 2018/2019 goal.

    5) P&Z decided earlier this year to look at a 5 year plan for affordable housing and has included it in the POCD as a goal.

    6) P&Z is re examining what the loosing of 8 30 G means to Westport—I’ll let you know when we’re finished with our analysis.

    Personally, I think we may have a achieved a little breathing room because some of the units may be counted differently.

  10. Cathy Walsh, Chair P&Z Commission

    ps…not all of the new units at both Sasco Creek and Halls Court are counted toward the moratorium points because of the way 8 30 G is written. Westport decided built them anyway to provide housing that was needed.

    • Cathy,

      Thank you for calmly and correctly stating the facts and showing that there is progress being made and that Westport P&Z is doing this in a way which is also beneficial to Westport as a community.

  11. Bart Shuldman

    I am a known critic of Rep Steinberg as I truly believe he does not REPRESENT his Westport constituents in Hartford.

    Now he publicly exposes a letter he wrote to Chip stephens which helps to prove my point. Here is a part of the letter:

    “I’m responsible for giving you a tool to protect our town. Shut up and get it done.”

    Is Rep steinberg going to Hartford to represent our interests or is he going to Hartford to do what he feels is necessary and then tell us what to do. I think this one sentence in his ‘ugly’ letter to Chip gives us a clear understanding of how Rep Steinberg views his role.

    It helps me understand why he just voted to extend the state employee SEBAC agreement for 10 more years to 2027 while giving away new benefits that will continue CT budget deficits for years and years.

    He gave us the ‘tool’ and now shut up Westporters….

  12. Mark Yurkiw

    What a missed opportunity to work together for what you both believe and work so hard for; the best for Westport. Having watched each of you fight hard against what is wrong with 8-30G I believe you don’t “disagree” but “misunderstand” each other, (words and sound bites get in the way) after all your immediate respective “jobs” are different but your goals are the same. To resolve that would take doing whats right; working together as “civil” servants. Please don’t accuse each other its painful to watch, help each other get what we all want- to live in harmony in this amazing town. Thank you both for your service, and keep up the good work…together.

  13. John Siddell

    To Rep Steinberg…it is absolutely sickening listening to you pat yourself on the back for doing your job. This is why so many people are disillusioned with politicians today. BTW – keep kicking the can down the road w/ state employees, we all know you do it for the votes!!!

    • Bart Shuldman

      John-soemthing I wrote to Rep Steinberg–(shut up Westport, I will tell you what to do):

      Rep Steinberg, I just found out more information regarding the SEBAC agreement and how your vote just hurt every CT taxpayer, including your constituents in Westport.

      First let me formally request that you tell every Westport resident what document you had or have that helped you decide to vote for the SEBAC Agreement based on your fear of a lawsuit. Since this was such a major vote did you get any documents or opinion written by the Attorney General in CT that gave an opinion as to whether the state would win or lose any lawsuit? What documents did you rely upon that drove you to vote for the SEBAC agreement (based on your fear of a lawsuit) that will now extend this contact till 2027–10 more years? Please tell us all what document did you rely upon to make your decision?

      There was no reason for the SEBAC Agreement to be changed and extended as it was only going to provide $186 million in costs savings.
      Rep Steinberg, the cost savings that you voted to approve regarding the SEBAC agreement was only $186 million. All the other cost savings come from the 33 different union contracts that had already expired. The additional $1.3 BILLION in savings came from wage and time allocation tied to the 33 individual contracts that did not need a SEBAC Agreement to implement.
      Based on proposals made by both the House and Senate Republicans (that you knew about) more savings could have been derived from the expired contracts and NO lawsuit would have happened. The 33 union contracts already expired (and you knew it) and the legislators had every right to make the necessary adjustments to drive the labor savings the state needs to help balance the budget. The SEBAC Extension Agreement was never needed to gain over $1.5 BILLION in savings, yet you voted to approve the extension till 2027 (tying the hands of the next Governor (s) and legislators for 10 years!!)
      Representative Steinberg, your vote did nothing other than to extend the pension and medical plans for state workers till 2027. And all you got for your vote was a miserable $186 million savings for all that!!

      Westporters–Rep Steinberg–who wanted to run for First Selectman but realized he could not win–had to gain his position back with his caucus leaders in Hartford. Rep Steinberg’s vote was wrong and shameful and he sold us out!!!!.

      Sadly, the CT budget deficit is $5.2 BILLION. With Rep Steinberg’s vote, there needs to be an additional $3.7 BILLION in either savings or higher taxes to balance the state budget over the next 2 years. With state social services already cut, with state education grants to towns and cities already cut, guess where that additional money will come from—HIGHER TAXES!!

      Higher taxes that Rep Steinberg just tacitly approved. And he knows it!! Now shut up Westport and do as I say.

      • The 8-30g legislation is an attempt to distract voters from the looming financial calamity fashioned by Steinberg and his fellow Democrats in Hartford. The Democrats are doing their best to create affordable housing by driving residents from the state, and thereby lowering demand. Will the people who remain be able to fund the Democrats’ deficits?