Zoning Reform Bills: Forum On Westport Set For Tuesday

One of Connecticut’s hottest topics is zoning reform. Action in Hartford will have a direct impact on Westport.

It’s not easy making sense of the fast-moving legislative action. A number of bills are moving toward votes.

“06880” is here to help.

This Tuesday (April 6, 6:30 p.m. Zoom), Westport Planning & Zoning Commission chair Danielle Dobin hosts an in-depth discussion of the bills that have advanced to the full legislature. The focus will be on what they mean for our town.

Danielle will be joined by Westport’s 4 legislators: State Senators Will Haskell and Tony Hwang, and Representatives Jonathan Steinberg and Stephanie Thomas.

And I’ll be the moderator. Click here to register.

Meanwhile, Danielle Dobin sends this report, on the status of several bills:

Senate Bill 1024: As-of-Right Multifamily With No Parking

The original proposed language of this bill rezoned all towns (with a population of over 7,500) in Connecticut to permit as-of-right market rate fourplexes within .5 miles of that town’s primary train station, and triplexes around Main Street corridors. Density of 15 units per acre would be permitted.

“As-of-right” means there would be no public hearings or comment around these new developments. Towns would be explicitly prohibited from requiring any off-street parking for the new units. The P&Z would have been required to conserve sewer capacity for the new as-of-right development instead of utilizing it for larger mixed use, mixed income projects (like Belden Place and Saugatuck Center) with affordable units included.

The Belden Place apartments by the Saugatuck River, off Main Street near Parker Harding Plaza.

Examples of streets that would have been impacted with new as-of-right multifamily – up to 15 units per acre with no parking for the new residents — include St. John’s Place, Evergreen and Myrtle near Main Street, and Stony Point, Davenport, Eno Lane and Burritt’s Landing near Saugatuck.

The original bill also included a litigation-enabling statute that invited constant lawsuits from anyone, regardless of whether they have filed an application for development, against towns regarding inadequacies in a town’s zoning code.

This bill was advanced out of committee without the very harmful provisions that would have limited future opportunity for the development of mixed income multifamily and supportive housing in Westport. The mandate to permit as-of-right multifamily without parking in single family neighborhoods has been removed.

Danielle Dobin, Westport Planning & Zoning Commission chair.

There is language requiring some changes to Westport’s zoning code, and language permitting freely rentable Accessory Dwelling Units) by administrative approval.

Westport is revising its own ADU regulations with a proposal for a text amendment scheduled for April 8 that has already unanimously approved by the P&Z Affordable Subcommittee.

Also included is language exempting ADUs from the overall unit count for 8-30g calculations. This means permitting ADUs will not set back Westport’s compliance with 8-30g.

There is also language setting out a working group to design an optional model zoning code for the state. Right now, the proposed working group has no representatives from suburban towns.

NOTE: Yesterday Sara Bronin, the main proponent behind SB 1024, said that she and her team are working to have the as-of-right multifamily without parking inserted back into the bill before it is voted on by the full legislature.

House Bill 6107: Zoning Enabling Act Changes 

This bill, part of the Partnership for Strong Communities legislative agenda, prohibits consideration of the word “character” in zoning decisions. The Westport P&Z does not utilize “character of the community” in their decision-making. Westport’s special permit standards look at height, massing, etc., and the as-built aesthetics of streets.

This bill creates a working group to examine affordable housing statewide. A modernization of 8-30g (now 30 years old) could come out of this.

This bill has some of the same language as SB1024 requiring changes to Westport’s zoning code, but never included a litigation enabling provision.

NOTE: It’s critical to ensure the as-of-right multifamily without parking isn’t tacked onto this bill before it is voted on by the full legislature.

House Bill 6611: The Fair Share Plan

Unlike SB 1024, this focused on creating more affordable housing across Connecticut. It proposes a completely different process than 8-30(g) (though as drafted now it does not replace 8-30g) to determine the amount of affordable housing each municipality should create, and leaves it to each town to create a 10-year plan for achieving this “Fair Share” goal.

I have a call scheduled with staff from the Open Community Alliance, who proposed this bill, to better understand the requirements and impact to share at Tuesday’s session. SB 1024 garnered so much attention, it’s important that this bill – proposed by longtime advocates for affordability in Connecticut – finally receives a fair hearing.

Among Westport’s affordable housing options: Sasco Creek Village.

Senate Bill 6570: Transportation

The Transportation Committee, under Senator Will Haskell’s leadership, has advanced a bill that requires towns to look at state-owned land near transit stations in their 8-30j affordability plans, and empowers the Department of Transportation to utilize 5 lots from across the state to plan for mixed income housing, while retaining all existing parking spaces.

This bill initially contained the similar as-of-right multifamily language as SB 1024, but it was removed. This language is designed to help fully built-out towns (like Westport) leverage state-owned property for housing, including cottage clusters and townhomes (much like the Westport Housing Authority is working to create on the DOT land off Post Road East and West Parish. Westport’s innovative approach has created a template for towns across the state.

A number of other bills advanced as well. They will be reviewed during  Tuesday’s discussion. But these are the big ones to watch.

5 responses to “Zoning Reform Bills: Forum On Westport Set For Tuesday

  1. Amazing; if the Democrats up in Hartford work hard enough and get all these home town demolishing bills enacted, they can pat each other on the back when they’ve successfully handed the State House over to the Republicans.
    God help us all.

  2. Doesn’t the bill impact property along the Post Road as well instead of just Main Street?

    • Danielle Dobin

      It could, Art. The original language of SB 1024 re “commercial corridors” can also be read to mean the Post Road instead of Main Street with the result that streets like Hillandale, Old Road, Colonial Road, etc. would potentially be rezoned for triplexes with no parking spaces.

  3. Hmmm. This Zoning item should be read in conjunction with Dan’s first entry on the stations of the cross