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,