As chair of Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission, Danielle Dobin keeps an eye on Connecticut’s state legislature.
There’s a lot going on in Hartford. Here — writing as a private citizen — is what Danielle sees and hears:
HB 6890 — “Live Work Ride: An Act Concerning Qualifying Transit-Oriented Communities” — proposes withholding, withdrawing, and even potentially clawing back discretionary state infrastructure funding from communities that fail to adopt regulations permitting greater density, with limited parking and a prescribed affordability component, around transit.
In simplest terms, for Westport to continue to receive discretionary state infrastructure funding (for example, millions of dollars for sidewalks and bridge replacement), our town would be required to adopt a “reasonably sized” 20-unit/acre zoning transit-oriented district that meets the approval of a newly appointed State Responsible Growth Coordinator.
My take: What’s interesting is that Westport already has 4 non-residential zoning districts surrounding the Saugatuck train station permitting multi-family across 30.92 acres at 18 units/acre, with a minimum of 20% affordability component.
The newly adopted GBD/Saugatuck Marina zone directly adjacent to the train has an even greater 25% affordability component for off-site affordable units within ¼ mile of the train station.
Applying the Live-Work-Ride requirement of 20 units/acre in Westport would result in an increase of only 63 units permitted over the entire district of 30+ acres. This analysis does not include the Summit Saugatuck/Hiawatha parcels, which are actually zoned at an even far greater density.
Two issues stand out locally:
Special Permit Oversight. Westport must retain our special permit review process which provides critical oversight of each proposed development, given the massive traffic issues in this area and environmental issues related to developing adjacent to the river and in the flood zone.
Our town must be permitted to require that developers – who will sell or rent the vast majority of units for sky-high luxury pricing – provide adequate parking for residents, especially those in affordable units who can’t afford to “buy” spaces in private lots. Residents of multi-family units deserve the same consideration regarding parking as residents in single family homes.
People in most Connecticut towns, including Westport, require cars to get to work, preschool, after-school activities, medical appointments and food shopping.
A staffer for a group advocating for the adoption of this legislation spoke at a recent subcommittee meeting, and suggested students could walk to and from the train station area to school. That would take an hour and a half to our middle school or high school.
Leaving the subjective approval of each transit district to an as-to-be-appointed “coordinator,” the identity of whom will change over time, is deeply problematic.
Any statewide proposal must make clear that towns may continue to require special permits, that parking can be reasonably required given real world conditions, that there be a minimum reasonable size (for example, 10 acres) for the transit-district, and that communities that have already zoned for multi-family with a healthy affordable component be rewarded, not penalized.
Westport has added, and continues to add, hundreds of multi-family units. It is absurd to suggest that the state should withdraw or claw back funding for sidewalks, bridges and other infrastructure funding that encourage residents in multi-family and single-family homes to walk and bike to school and work.
A pro-transit legislature should not adopt legislation making it harder for people to go green. There is also no imaginable justification to limit funding for brownfield cleanup in Westport — certainly not next to a tidal river flowing to Long Island Sound.
Our ecosystems are interconnected, and the remediation of toxic pollutants should be prioritized statewide.
Readers should note that as currently drafted, the bill’s language is contradictory, with one section (12[b]) stating that non-compliant towns will simply receive less priority for transportation and brownfield remediation funding, but a different section (12[f]) stating that a municipality will be required to return any discretionary infrastructure funding unless that municipality enacts qualifying zoning reforms.
I urge all residents to share their thoughts with the Legislature. Of all the proposals put forth this legislative session, this seems most likely to be adopted, as Governor Lamont provided for implementation funding in his proposed budget.
(To view the full bill, click here. For background information, click here. To testify in person or remotely at a March 15 hearing on the bill, click here. To submit written testimony, click here.)
(“06880” roams to Hartford — when it affects Westport. Please click here to support our work. Thank you!)
Danielle’s analysis is dead on here and people should at the very least send in written testimony. I will be speaking at a press conference on Wednesday at the capitol set up by CT169strong to oppose not just Live Work Ride but 2 other TOD bills which set standards that would not work for Westport nor most of the communities around us.
One thing to add to this piece. This bill does not create affordable housing per se, especially not in Westport or other towns with high property values. While Westport requires 20% affordable from the start, for any multi-family project, this bill only has a requirement when building 10 units or more. Developers would buy acre after acre and build 9 high end market units as of right then cut and run. This was pointed out at the meeting Danielle alludes to and the representative said, yeah I see what you mean. Yet, the bill moves forward.
How is the bus service in and around Fairfield County?
Although I favor incentives to create affordable housing and can understand the argument that a state-wide solution is required to what is, after all, a state-wide problem which has not been adequately addressed by local action over many years. in many communities, this bill is not the answer and should be vigorously opposed.
Danielle is correct in saying that a state-wide mandate must be imposed in such a way as to preserve the right of municipalities to require special permit review; that the “claw back” provision is unfair and unnecessary; and that in a state with inadequate public transportation options for suburban communities, it makes no sense to provide for “as of right” housing without required adequate parking.
The legislature should go back to the drawing board and explore ways to address the issue of affordable housing in a more equitable and thoughtful way which does not punish towns such as Westport who have made and continue to make good faith efforts to address the need for more and more varied housing options.
Of course, Danielle’s pointing to the bill’s absence of “special permit” review is, correct; but with a recent state mandate, “special permit” review is an ever so weak tool since the word “character” is no longer allowed to be used in describing just what a project would in a ruin a neighborhood.
Danielle and Matt are 100% correct and every resident of Westport should send in written testimony opposing this bill, in my opinion. Legislators should know if they vote for this, we won’t vote for them. (At least I won’t!)