[OPINION] Multi-Family Housing Bill: Many Questions, Few Answers

As chair of Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission, Danielle Dobin keeps her eye on Hartford. The state legislature’s votes have a huge impact — sometimes unintended, sometimes very intendent — on our town.

A bill circulated yesterday — and voted on perhaps tomorrow — caught her eye. She writes here as a Westport citizen; she is not speaking for the P&Z. 

A complex 87-page housing bill (House Bill 6781) was circulated late yesterday and could be voted on as early as tomorrow. If adopted, this bill would overhaul multi-family zoning in our state entirely, with the specific intent of spurring the development of substantially more apartment buildings — including in areas without sewers, like Coleytown, Red Coat and Long Lots.

Although Westport’s regulations have changed to thoughtfully encourage a diversity of housing types, many Connecticut towns have failed to do the same. However, legislation like this is not an appropriate response.

In the simplest terms, here are my concerns:

1) HB 6781 was drafted in a rush, and it shows. Portions are entirely nonsensical while others clearly have entire sections missing. I’ve been told a revised version may be released today.

2) By design, it is impossible to understand the exact scale of development required by this bill, so legislators will not know what they’ll be voting for exactly. The language demands that CT towns zone to address “the need” for affordable and extremely affordable housing without specifying any numbers.

Instead, all details are left entirely up to appointed bureaucrats who are to be advised by housing advocates and builders. Towns and cities will be forced to draft zoning codes to affirmatively incentivize the housing units allocated to their town.

1177 Post Road East includes affordable housing units. HB6781 could lead to more such construction.

How many affordable units will each town be required to deliver? No one knows. How many units overall state-wide? No one knows. What increase in overall density in market rate units will likely result from the allocation of affordable units to each town?  No one knows.

Will towns like Westport, Simsbury and Ridgefield be required to double in size?  No one knows. No legislator should vote for a bill that punts the actual ask of each town to an appointed bureaucrat to determine at a later date.

3) Instead of focusing on incentivizing proper planning including review of infrastructure constraints, major traffic issues, environmental concerns, historic preservation, wetlands and access to public transportation, the bill specifically requires that towns and cities zone for affordable housing in all areas equitably.

With language that purposefully liberalizes oversight over community septic systems, the intent of the bill is to ensure more intense development in more rural feeling areas like Coleytown, Long Lots and Red Coat.

Fairfield will need to zone for apartments in Greenfield Hill. Norwalk will be required to zone for multi-family in Silvermine. Stamford will need to do the same in North Stamford. Can you imagine multiple 2-acre lots in Coleytown with 40-units? This makes no sense from a planning perspective.

4) The proposed bill essentially requires towns like Westport to create areas around train stations allowing for the unfettered development of quadraplexes and townhomes, with no parking. Although our train station, like many along the New Haven line, is located adjacent to the flood zone, Conservation Commission review is expressly prohibited by the bill’s language. Failure to adhere to these standards likely results in adverse financial consequences for our town including the loss of state funds for bridge repairs and sidewalks.

The proposed bill could lead to multi-family housing near the train station. (Drone photo/Patrick Sykes)

5) If adopted, this proposal will set off a cascade of negative economic consequences for our state. New York is currently suffering through a budget crisis resulting from a net loss of high earning residents to other states. Many of those high earners moved to Fairfield County for our bucolic neighborhoods. These newcomers not only purchase homes here, but they have also moved their businesses here.

Westporters have been highly supportive of creating more multi-family where it makes sense in Westport. However, it requires no stretch of the imagination to recognize that folks will not remain living in a town where it takes 35 minutes to drive their child 3 miles to school or 45 minutes to get to the train to park their car for their lengthy commute to NYC.

The state income tax generated from high earners in Fairfield County, and our businesses here, is critically important for the fiscal health of our state. The state legislature needs to take this very seriously.

6) Like in New Jersey, where a similar proposal was adopted, this bill will result in massive waves of litigation against the state, towns and between residents. Why invite this colossal waste of time and money for all involved?

7) This entire process feels undemocratic. I’d expect this approach from Kevin McCarthy, but I’m deeply disappointed to see this type of gamesmanship from the Connecticut legislature. It is wrong to circulate 87 pages of complex text and then call for a vote only 2 days later. The right thing to do is to allow comments and feedback and then revive this conversation in the next legislative session.

This bill includes some smart changes to tenant rental protections and housing authority oversight, but it’s too much of a hodgepodge of concepts for even the most conscientious legislators to carefully review in such a short time. The updated bill text has not even been posted online as of this morning which is why I can’t link to it.

Our state senator Ceci Maher and state representatitves Jonathan Steinberg and Dominique Johnson have stated that they will vote against the bill, but Westport residents should reach out to friends and colleagues elsewhere in the state to ensure all members of the legislature truly appreciate the implications voting for this proposal.

Our legislative delegation can’t stop this bill on their own. Major changes like this should never be rushed.

Please share with your friends across the state and tell them to find their legislators here: https://www.cga.ct.gov/asp/menu/cgafindleg.asp,

14 responses to “[OPINION] Multi-Family Housing Bill: Many Questions, Few Answers

  1. brian foreman

    This is a total lack of consideration for not only the town but the environment. As a retired real estate executive with a thesis in planning and zoning, it is incredible that thought has been given to the development without first, having the infrastructure in place. Westport is already overrun with lack of traffic management, sewage, and absorption of land without any reference to rationality and main stream development theory. The overall development of Westport, let alone, subsidized housing, will result in. counter productivity for the region.

    It is time for some common sense and productive decisions.

  2. Gianni Lorenzato

    This is what you get when your politicians push for equal outcomes over equal opportunities.

    • John D McCarthy

      Pithy comment. By Equal Opportunity, I assume you mean every child should get the same educational opportunities, regardless of where they live or how much their parents can afford in housing costs. That is quite a progressive stance.

  3. Good summary except for the “Kevin McCarthy” ding. I’m no KM fan but CT is a prime example of what happens when one party (regardless of which one) is in power for too long – lopsided, ambiguous, ineffective legislation. Not sure whether the NY movement to Fairfield County claim is rooted in fact since that’s nearly impossible to confirm with existing data, but losing wealthy individuals and their businesses IS a real threat to CT. CT pols continue to believe CT’s very high tax environment is sustainable whereas wealthy people have mobility and the data clearly shows a steady exodus of taxpayers from CT over the past 10 years. Creating legislation that creates more financial burden, and perhaps less desirable living arrangements for current residents, will only continue the exodus. Unlikely to change in our current state political climate.

  4. Gloria Gouveia

    Section 8-30g has been a seriously flawed, legislative response to a need for affordable housing that has wrought havoc in Connecticut communities and allowed to fester undeterred for more than two decades.

    This is what happens when special interest groups hold more sway over land use decisions than a century of best practices in PLANNING: or, assuring that infrastructure comports with: ZONING: or, the rules for land use and development.
    8-30g enabled developments fly in the face accepted standards for prudent and orderly development.

    If allowed to continue, or worse, proliferate, such developments will also continue to bloat our towns to bursting with the unaddressed consequences of 100’s of new market rate units and the associated increase in population which will stress every aspect of municipal infrastructure: education, recreation, traffic & road systems, utilities, transportation, waste management, flood control and increase exponentially, the negative impacts on our water and air quality, wetlands, watercourses, waterways and vulnerable ecosystems.

    Multiply these unavoidable effects by 169 Connecticut communities and then ask yourselves how we can allow our leadership to speed our way to an inevitable Armageddon of even greater magnitude with more hastily and ill-conceived laws put forth in the last minutes of the legislative session.

    It is often said that we, the people, get the government we deserve.

    Do we deserve to be force-fed gargantuan developments without local safeguards, reductions in transit services but overcrowded transit hubs, more uncalled for government interference in the form of additional housing mandates and Fair Rent Commissions, and the expectation that we will shoulder the related and resultant fiscal burden?

    All it will take for this madness to prevail is for good people —people of conscience — to remain silent.

    “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Pogo

  5. Jill Totenberg

    Subject: Objection to Proposed Property Developments

    I am writing to express my strong objection to the proposed property developments in our neighborhood. I am deeply concerned about the further potential negative impact that development could have on our community.

    These developments are not in line with the existing character of our neighborhood.
    The size and scale of the developments are far too large and will significantly alter the landscape of our community.

    Second, the proposed developments will lead to an increase in traffic congestion and noise pollution – already at un-manageable proportions. Our neighborhoods are already struggling with traffic issues, and development will only exacerbate the problem. The increased traffic will also pose a safety risk to pedestrians and cyclists in the area.

    Third, this will have a detrimental effect on the environment. The construction process will lead to the destruction of natural habitats and green space, which are essential for the well-being of our community.

    Considering these concerns, I urge the state house reconsider the proposed developments and take into account the views of the local residents. I believe that there are alternative solutions that can be explored that will serve the needs and desires of those wishing to move here and our community.

    Thank you for your attention to this matter.

    • Lindsey Burke

      Jill, what are some of the alternative solutions you’d explored? And what neighborhood are you referencing?

  6. A thoughtful commentary overall, but I agree with Mark Post on the “Kevin McCarthy” ding. It’s sad that everything has to be politicized these days.

  7. I will say it again and again until maybe it starts sinking in. Westport can help itself and enact a town ordinance that declares Westport is experiencing a “Traffic Emergency condition” This emergency condition is large increases in traffic quantity and is brought about by a major population increase which is accelerated by increased densities created with increased multi-family projects versus single family creation. This ordinance should require that prior to multi family whether affordable or regular must provide that a project proposed must provide for actual traffic improvements within Westport before such projects receive approvals and permits. Towns in Connecticut must use things such as this against the vote consous political hacks in Hartford especially where measures like this will further cripple transportation health and efficiency.

  8. It’s really amazing that the Democrats in Hartford don’t realize that bills such as HB 6781, even if it fails to pass, will, eventually, turn our “Blue” state “Red;” and then we are well and truly f….d.

  9. Ray Broady

    Dan Katz
    This state is already FUBAR so using the the same old stale reasoning that party affiliation or party control is what keeps Connecticut well governed is almost a joke as this state is so “blue” you can’t tell the sky from the water. Put this or any government back in the hands of smart, honest, hard working, unbiased, public servants and you will have a proper way to preserve and support our democracy!

  10. Do you have the current text? My understanding its some amalgam of some various proposals.

  11. joshua stein

    people keep voting for idiots