[OPINION] Dobin: Consensus Housing Bill Will Move Westport Forward

Westport Planning & Zoning chair Danielle Dobin says:

Yesterday, the Connecticut House passed HB 6107. I’m delighted to report that the bill will have only a positive impact in Westport. Here’s a link: https://www.cga.ct.gov/2021/amd/H/pdf/2021HB-06107-R00HA-AMD.pdf

Highlights

The bill contains language specifically requiring towns to consider the impact of development on the Long Island Sound. This provides additional protection against overdevelopment in Saugatuck and around Main Street.

The bill contains language requiring towns to permit a diversity of housing types, which Westport already does in our zoning code. This will have a real impact in towns across Connecticut that still don’t allow anything other than single family homes.

Westport has added diverse housing in areas like 793 Post Road East. Homes are set back from the Post Road, between residential and retail areas.

I was thrilled to see that the bill creates a blue ribbon commission to look at affordable housing and zoning that’s mostly made up of legislators and various state level commissioners (e.g., Housing, DEEP, Transportation, etc.), as well as representatives from the COGs. Let’s work hard as a community to ensure this group creates something better than 8-30g.

Finally, we have an opportunity to replace 8-30g with a better bill that will incentivize a diversity of housing but not push only one type of housing – oversized apartment complexes – in areas that lack infrastructure, have huge traffic issues or are zoned for single family homes. This is the chance for statewide reform that we’ve been waiting for. I’ll keep everyone posted as opportunities to weigh in on this commission’s work arise.

One important provision of the bill exempts new accessory dwelling units and accessory apartments from counting as part of overall dwelling units for 8-30(g), meaning that permitting ADUs won’t count against Westport’s compliance with the statute.

The bill requires towns to permit ADUs but also provides an opt-out mechanism for towns where these units aren’t the right fit for infrastructure, soils, et.. In Westport, we already permit ADUs in every single family zone so this provision doesn’t impact us.

The bill limits parking requirements to 1 space/studio or one-bedroom or 2 spaces/2-bedroom or above but provides an opt-out.

There’s a requirement for 4 hours of commissioner training per year. There’s no draconian penalty for non-compliance.

More excellent news is that the harmful provisions requiring every town in Connecticut to have the same as of right multifamily zoning without parking around train stations and main streets stayed out of the bill. 

Danielle Dobin, Westport Planning & Zoning Commission chair.

In my opinion this is a 180 degree improvement from the original SB 1024 bill. I’m relieved that Westport can now focus on drafting a strong affordability plan in keeping with our infrastructure, soils, traffic concerns and plans for sustainable development.

Many, many thanks to all of you who have reached out since last summer with your thoughts and especially to those of you (shoutout to Matt Mandell, Jim Marpe and Representative Stephanie Thomas) who testified with me in front of the P&D Committee. Thank you so much Representative Steinberg for ceding me your time to testify against SB 1024. It’s been a long road but common sense prevailed.

I hope you’ll all join me in thanking Representatives Steinberg and Thomas, and Senators Hwang and Haskell for advocating so strongly for thoughtful reform. This is a consensus bill that will move CT forward.

6 responses to “[OPINION] Dobin: Consensus Housing Bill Will Move Westport Forward

  1. Elizabeth Thibault

    I’m trying to get my arms around these new changes, so I appreciate clarifications anyone can make for me. Is this new law a “done deal,” or does it need to go through more legislative bodies and get signed, and what kind of timeline does it lay out for towns to move from the old regs to the new ones?

    Does this new bill actually repeal or mitigate the horrible (unintended) impacts of 8-30g? (Which pretty much gave predatory developers carte blanche, without really providing any meaningful improvement in creating needed affordable housing.) Did we do the work for the moratorium, and now it’s moot? What would be kept from that one, and what would be eliminated? Does it prevent some of the egregious proposals, like the one for Lincoln?

    I know as a town, we are dedicated to finding ways to increase our affordable housing stock in a smart and non-destructive way – is the effort to create the new development in the DOT property still an option? Are there other areas along the Post road that could possibly house a smaller town-operated complex, similar in size to the one SIR is building at 1480 PRE?

    • Danielle Dobin

      Great questions, Elizabeth.

      Process: HB 6107 was adopted by the CT House. It still needs to pass the Senate. Passage is likely. It’s unlikely that the Governor will veto it if it passes the Senate.

      Timeline: There are various timelines set forth in the bill for compliance. For example, towns must certify that zoning officials and P&Z Commissioners have been trained by March, 2024. The ADU compliance for either adopting a new regulation or opting out, is a bit sooner. Westport’s regulations are already compliant with most of this law so there won’t be a lot of changes to Westport’s zoning regulations.

      Impact on 8-30g: No, this bill does not repeal 8-30g or in any way ameliorate issues associated with 8-30g (i.e. ability of developers to build oversized projects, even in areas zoned for single family homes, regardless of location, traffic considerations, infrastructure issues, etc) however it does open the door for real change in the future. The new blue ribbon commission will look at affordable housing in CT globally and I know that many of the legislators involved recognize that 8-30g is flawed and will look to repeal or amend it. This new commission’s work will take time. No, this bill will have no impact on the Lincoln street 8-30g project. That application was denied by the P&Z but the P&Z denial was overturned in court.

      Proactively Creating Housing: Yes – this P&Z Commission is actively working to find “ways to increase our affordable housing stock in a smart and non-destructive way” as you noted. The effort to develop the DOT property is moving forward with negotiations regarding the land transfer taking place between the DOT and the Westport Housing Authority. The smaller mixed income developments around town all have associated affordable units as well. The P&Z also just approved the restoration and adaptive re-use of the town-owned house at 136 Riverside to create deed restricted, mini-apartments for low income adults with special needs and disabilities.

      Please feel free to reach out to me directly with any other questions. Dan can provide you with my email.

  2. Marc Levey

    This all sounds positive as replacing 8-30g is imperative. But what does this mean for the Hiawatha project that P&Z approved but is now referred to the RPM. Also I would note the 8-30g appears to be in non conformance with the CT Administrative Procedure Act. I would very much appreciate a response or an opportunity to speak with you about this. Thank you

    • Danielle Dobin

      8-30g was adopted in 1989. As I was only a child when the statute became law, I can’t speak to what legal challenges were made at that time. However, there is quite a bit of related caselaw from the last three decades that you can find online. Certainly, it is settled law until the legislature chooses to change it. HB 6107 will have no impact on Summit Saugatuck’s application at Hiawatha since (1) 8-30g hasn’t been repealed by this bill and (2) that application was filed years ago and is the subject of multiple ongoing court cases. Applications are reviewed subject to the law at the time they were filed and the legislature doesn’t have the power to intervene in ongoing litigation, nor would they choose to intervene here. As 8-30g is currently written, this is exactly the type of project purposefully promoted by the statute.

      HB 6107 does open the door for the statute to be amended or repealed in the future but only if people care enough to engage with the new legislative commission to share how 8-30g is flawed. Feel free to email me with any other questions.

  3. Stephanie Mastocciolo

    Thank you Dan for sharing this information and thank you Danielle for highlighting all the positive points of the new bill. It sounds like a very large task at hand.