The longtime Westporter was delivering Uber Eats last winter, to supplement her income. She was assaulted picking up an order, and suffered a head injury. Residents donated $33,000 to help defray medical and rehabilitation bills.
This month, Katherine wanted to pay it forward.
In 2020, she had written a book. “Help Santa!!!” is a clever, light-hearted and rhythmic story about kindness, in which children get a chance to help St. Nick with a chimney problem.
Each book includes a “Magic Key” that — when young readers hold it in their hands and think “magical thoughts,” then hang on their door on Christmas Eve — can help them “help Santa.” She offered them at $12.99 each (far below the price on Amazon, and her website) — with every sale a donation to Bridgeport elementary schools.
“06880” readers responded at warp speed. This week, Miller and Trammi Nguyen — a Westporter who coordinates volunteers in Bridgeport — delivered scores of books to the Bryant and Luis Muñoz Marín Schools.
Miller visited pre-K, and 2nd and 4th grade students. “They were over the moon with happiness and joy,” she reports. They adored her necklace — the same “magic key” that every child received with the book.
Excited students with Katherine Miller — and their “magic keys.”
The book was read to the pre-K and 2nd grade students.
Younger kids were read to …
The 4th graders took turns reading out loud, with great enthusiasm.
… while older youngsters read “Help Santa!” themselves.
For all, the chance to get a new book was special. Nearly always, schools in need receive donations that are “pre-owned.”
A second grade boy told his teacher it was the best day of his life.
“There is so much love in this world,” Miller says. “I honestly feel so blessed. My heart is so full, being given such an amazing flow of kindness from our community.
“This experience has completely changed my life. It made me realize my bad experience was not a tragedy. It was a window to see a whole new beautiful world.”
Thanks to Katherine Miller, and all those in Westport and beyond who helped open that window — with “magical” books — for all those Bridgeport boys and girls.
(A special hat tip too to Danielle Dobin. She created the original GoFundMe for Katherine, then helped make the book drive a reality.)
In the past few days, 2 major news outlets shined a harsh spotlight on Connecticut’s housing crisis.
The New York Times and Connecticut Magazine focused on major battles over affordable apartments in Fairfield, New Canaan and Greenwich. Westport was spared media scrutiny — unlike 3 years ago, when Pro Publica zeroed in on our town.
It may not be entirely luck.
Housing — who lives and builds where, and what it costs to do so — is an American problem. It’s particularly thorny in a state like Connecticut, where a centuries-old tradition of municipal autonomy (and exclusion) smacks up against changing demographics, diverging economics, and polarizing politics.
Westport officials — particularly the Planning & Zoning Commission — are often in the crosshairs of debates over affordable housing (a squishy term, for sure).
But in many ways, zoning decisions are no longer in local hands. To understand the current debates, it’s important to know who controls what.
At the heart of the issue lies “8-30g.” The innocuous-sounding state statute allows developers to override local zoning regulations if less than 10% of a town’s housing stock is “affordable.” For new construction, at least 30 percent of the units must be “affordable” to households earning 60 to 80 percent of state or area median income (whichever is less),” and deed restricted for 40 years.
Towns can apply for a 4-year moratorium if they can show “affordable housing equivalency points” equal to 2 percent of their housing stock. During the moratorium, towns can rezone, encourage mixed-income housing, or work with developers to build projects together.
Significantly, 8-30g applies only to housing built after the year it was enacted: 1990. Towns like Westport and Fairfield do not get credit for affordable housing units built before that date. Currently, only 31 of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities meet the 8-30g threshold.
Just as significantly, 8-30g overrides virtually all local regulations — height, density, location, anything really except public safety or environmental concerns.
Westport has had several 8-30g battles, including Summit Saugatuck’s current 157-unit development on Hiawatha Lane Extension (settled after 20 years of litigation), and a proposed 7-story, 48-unit project at the Wilton Road/Kings Highway North intersection (later scaled down, and defeated in court).
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. New Canaan is currently grappling with a plan to build a 5-story, 102-unit development — 30% affordable — that would replace one 10,000-square foot home on a 3-acre lot. The area is currently zoned for single-family homes.
A proposed 5-story, 102-unit project in New Canaan … (Artist rendering courtesy of Arnold Karp_
… would be built at 751 Weed Avenue, on the site shown in orange. (Tyler Sizemore, courtesy of Hearst Connecticut Media)
Westport Planning & Zoning Commission chair Danielle Dobin warns that a similar project could be proposed here.
“Do we want to plan for mixed-income housing?” she asks. “Or do we want developers to do it on any lot in town? And I mean any lot.”
She says that while residents in the Cavalry Road neighborhood have been upset about the aesthetics of a new bridge, they should realize that a developer could purchase a couple of adjoining 2-acre lots, and propose an intensive project there.
Under 8-30g, he would have every right to do so.
“There is a housing crisis in Connecticut,” Dobin notes. “Skyrocketing prices help sellers. But they make it more expensive to live anywhere — not just Westport, but everywhere.” Home buyers and renters in many occupations — teachers, police officers, firefighters, CVS and Stop & Shop workers, and plenty more — find it increasingly difficult to live any place.
“Westporters should understand that because of state law, local zoning is a suggestion. It’s not a promise,” Dobin says.
“When we bought our first house in Coleytown, we thought intense development would be impossible. Well, it is possible.”
Local zoning laws may not protect development, even in areas zoned for single-family homes.
Just how possible depends on many factors. Dobin says the P&Z is working to manage as many of them as they can.
One of the biggest fears of new development is increased traffic. Under 8-30g, that’s not an area of discussion.
To Westporters, who know that a 10-minute trip can now stretch to 30, it is a quality of life issue. To affordable housing advocates, it’s inconsequential.
Some residents blame new apartment buildings for increasing traffic woes. Dobin is not sure.
She cites apps like Waze, which reroutes cars from highways onto local roads; the change in school start times, which forces parents to pick children up themselves to drive them to after-school activities, and more people working from home, which puts more cars on the streets throughout the day.
There are many reasons for increased traffic in town. (Photo/David Waldman)
In the long debate over the Hiawatha Lane project, increased traffic in an already clogged area loomed large for locals. But 8-30g rendered discussions moot.
That Summit Saugatuck development changed forms many times. Originally 40 units, it ballooned to 187 when it became an 8-30g proposal. Eventually, the town and developer settled on 157.
“I see that as a lesson: Litigating doesn’t always leave us in a better place,” Dobin says.
She favors a collaborative approach, in which “developers work with the town, to plan right-sized projects.” That means, she says, “2- or 3-story buildings, with a mix of studios, and 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom apartments.”
Collaboration has resulted in such buildings as 1177 Post Road East, where 30% of the units are affordable and whose renters include older Westporters who downsized, a school principal and state senator; the Westporter, at foot of Long Lots Road, and Belden Place, a “beautiful” downtown apartment with 20% affordable units.
Belden Place is the site of new apartments.
Dobin says that beyond “affordable” units, market-rate apartments are still less expensive than single-family homes.
“These are our neighbors,” she says, citing a recent divorced mother who can afford to remain here only because of the new apartments.
Dobin notes that 1480 Post Road East, at the former site of a septic tank company, enjoyed the support of neighbors living on the private road directly behind. Neighbors also supported the current renovation of the Men’s Wearhouse property, near Colonial Road.
“Residents come in with concerns about height and traffic,” Dobin says. “If it’s within our purview, we can have a real say. Sometimes though, it isn’t.”
There can be tradeoffs. Developers can propose off-site affordable housing, as was done with The Mill on Richmondville Avenue (which included the renovation of a historic home on Riverside Avenue, where all the units are affordable for adults with disabilities, and most are deed restricted to asssist people at the 40% state median income level), and Bankside on Wilton Road (with off-side affordable housing on Church Lane).
136 Riverside Avenue. now housing adults with disabilities. Off-site affordable housing is part of the new Mill project.
The P&Z is approving projects like these for 2 reasons, Dobin says: “Because it is the right thing to do, and because in the state of Connecticut we have no option not to. The question is this: Who do you want to be in charge of the process, the P&Z or an outside developer?
“We understand reality. We’ll do our best to plan appropriate housing, in a bipartisan way that works for neighbors and doesn’t make traffic too much worse.”
Westport’s new apartments “are not massive developments,” Dobin says. “This is not Stamford. But if we don’t do this, there will be 8-30g proposals like Harbor Point, or Metro Center in Fairfield. Those are 10 or 12 stories. That’s massive.”
She adds, “If we don’t plan proactively for diverse housing, developers will do it for us. And they’ll do it with much larger buildings, in areas not designed for it and with no public transportation.
Dobin has heard complaints from residents who hate Westport’s new apartments. But, she says, “many more people tell me they understand what the P&Z is trying to accomplish. They’re happy to live in a community that wants to create diverse opportunities, that’s welcoming and inclusive. Most people I meet are delighted to be in a town that rolls out the welcome mat to newcomers.”
The national spotlight will continue to shine on Connecticut’s housing crisis. Whether the focus is on Westport or not is, in many ways, up to us.
(For more information, click here for the Connecticut Magazine story; click here for the New York Times piece.)
(“06880 shines a light on many issues, including housing and real estate. To support our mission, please click here.)
Nearly every Westport issue — affordable housing, traffic, a changing retail environment, trees — involves development, and the changes Westport undergoes, embraces, accepts, rejects or otherwise undergoes.
Which means they all involve, in some way and at some point, the Planning & Zoning Commission.
Chair Danielle Dobin sees it all. The other day, I chatted with her in the Westport Library’s Verso Studios for the latest “06880” podcast. She spoke candidly and insightfully about the pieces of the P&Z puzzle we all see — and those most of us never think about.
Everyone in Westport has a stake in affordable housing.
For the first time, all 4 political parties — including the 2 formed around land-use issues — have joined to co-sponsor a forum.
Tomorrow (Tuesday, April 12, 7 p.m., Town Hall and Zoom at www.westportct.gov), 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker and Planning & Zoning Commission chair Danielle Dobin host a community conversation about Westport’s “5-Year Affordability Plan.” It’s a joint effort of the Republican and Democratic Town Committees, Save Westport Now and the Coalition for Westport.
Among Westport’s affordable housing options: Sasco Creek Village.
Six weeks after Russia invade Ukraine, Tyler Hicks continues to show the carnage to the world.
The 1988 Staples High School graduate — a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times photographer — is now in Kramatorsk, where more than 50 civilians trying to flee the region were killed in a train station missile attack.
This is one of several striking images posted yesterday by the Times. Click here for more.
A worker cleans debris outside the Kramatorsk train station. (Photo/Tyler Hicks for the New York Times)
A large crowd Saturday night helped launch what is believed to be the public library record label in the world.
The first vinyl on that first label is “Verso Records: Volume 1.” It’s a 500-copy compilation of emerging and established musicians in the tri-state region.
They play a variety of genres, including jazz, rock, folk, indie and hip hop. All tracks were recorded at the Library’s Verso Studios, a state-of-the-art, hybrid-analog SSL facility.
Chris Frantz — a founding member of Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club, and a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee — calls himself “a major fan of the Westport Library, and the creativity they’re cultivating in artists throughout the region.”
Tracks available for download include Daniprobably (indie pop band), Alexandra Burnet and the Stable Six (ethereal singer-songwriter and band), Ports of Spain, (indie rock) and the Zambonis (“hockey rock”).
The album also includes hip hop artists MIGHTYMOONCHEW and Dooley-O; post punk artists Lulu Lewis; new wave musician Nicki Butane; singer-songwriter Terri Lynn; the John Collinge Jazz Quartet; indie rockers Tiny Ocean; garage punk band The Problem with Kids Today, and roots Americana rock The Split Coils.
Two folks with longtime Westport roots have joined the board of the Remarkable Theater.
David Waldman will serve as co-president. Angela Wormser is the director of workforce.
Waldman and his wife Yvette have supported the the Remarkable Theater since its inception. Since founding David Adam Realty in 1991, he has developed some of the area’s most important commercial properties, including Bedford Square and the west bank of the Saugatuck River. Waldman is also a past president of the Westport Downtown Association, and has sat on its board for almost 2 decades. He was also a board member of the Downtown Plan Implementation Committee.
Wormser, an educator with a strong background in special educaiton, will help expand the Remarkable’s mission of creating opportunities for people with disabilities.
Angela’s role will focus on helping expand The Remarkable’s mission of creating opportunities for individuals with disabilities.
The current board includes State Representative Jonathan Steinberg and filmmaker Douglas Tirola. Both have been members since the beginning of the Westport Cinema Initiative. Stacie Curran continues as vice president and secretary.
When Pastor Alison Patton embarks on a sabbatical in June, Saugatuck Congregational Church welcomes a “theologian in residence.”
Jim Antal — a nationally recognized climate expert, and author of “Climate Church, Climate World,” will share his expertise with the congregation and greater community through conversations, discussions, lectures and sermons.
The church seeks housing for Antal and his wife for their 3-week stay in June (June 1-22). A donation of living space, bedroom and kitchen is ideal; an inexpensive rental is the second option.
Anyone offering either possibility should email Priscilla Long: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Saugatuck Congregational Church seeks housing for a guest pastor.
Dr. Stephen Rubin, a Westport resident for over 55 years, died last week after a battle with cancer. The educational philosopher and innovator was 83.
After graduating from Samuel J. Tilden High School in Brooklyn, he studied education and general systems theory at Brooklyn College and New York University. where he earned his (first) Ph.D. in 1965.
At 23 Dr. Rubin, became the principal of Center School in New Canaan. He made an indelible mark on education, student success and the hearts and minds of multiple generations of students, faculty and other staff from 1965 until 1983, when it closed.
Under his direction, and with a strong staff of teachers and administrators, Center School became a social-educational experiment featured in national publications like Newsweek and the New York Times for its extraordinary atmosphere and remarkable outcomes.
After closing Center School, Rubin served as assistant superintendent of schools in New Canaan until his first retirement in 2003.
As founder and president of the Institute for General Systems Management, He brought his vision about elementary education to a national audience. He was a frequent speaker at The Aspen Institute. Rubin also authored the book Public Schools Should Learn to Ski: A Systems Based Approach to Education; it is still considered seminal reading at the Harvard School of Education.
In 1994 Rubin joined the administrative faculty at Sacred Heart University, where he was founder and director of Educational Leadership and Management. He retired in 2014.
He met Adrienne Jurow in 1959, when they both taught at the same school in Brooklyn. They married in 1961.
Rubin and his wife had homes in Ridgefield; Boynton Beach, Florida, and Truro, Massachusetts. He is survived by son Jason (Louise) and daughter Tory Miller (Robert), plus grandchildren Damon, Madison, Olivia, Alexandria and Trevor, and nephew Seth.
Last night, Danielle Dobin was re-elected chair of the Planning & Zoning Commission. That means that the 3 major boards in town — P&Z, Education and Finance — are led by women (Dobin, Lee Goldstein and Sheri Gordon, respectively).
Of course, the Board of Selectmen is composed of 3 females too: Jen Tooker, Andrea Moore and Candice Savin. So it’s now — officially, and wonderfully — the Board of Selectwomen.
Westport’s female leaders are both Democrats and Republicans.
This is a first in Westport’s 186-year-old history. Is it also a first in the 233-year history of our state?
As of July 1, possession of cannabis is legal in Connecticut. Adults 21 and over can have up to 1.5 ounces on their person, and up to 5 ounces in their homes, or locked in their vehicle. Retail sales can begin by the end of 2022.
Recreational cannabis will be at least as controversial as medical marijuana.
Last month, the P&Z held a televised work session to address possible questions.
Next month, the commission will sponsor a text amendment that prohibits the growth, sale, storage and manufacture of cannabis products in Westport.
It includes a sunset provision — probably 18 or 24 months — during which the P&Z or Representative Town Meeting could explore what, if anything, should be permitted in Westport, permanently.
“Connecticut guidelines don’t give us a lot of time to decide right now,” explains P&Z chair Danielle Dobin.
“We don’t want to rush the conversation. We want to hear what residents say, and see what our peer towns do.
“However, the unintended consequence of doing nothing right now could potentially be recreational sales, storage or growing facilities opening outside our control.
“Whatever happens with recreational cannabis, we want it to be intentional. That is why we will likely move quickly with a P&Z-sponsored text amendment, with a sunset provision. This will provide the necessary time for a true town-wide conversation, before a permanent regulation is adopted.
A lack of clear direction could also lead to lawsuits.
A variety of edibles.
Many Westporters — including some who use marijuana — do not want a recreational dispensary in town. Others see economic benefits, similar to liquor stores.
The Connecticut door has opened. Whether Westport wants to walk through will be a big question, in the months ahead.
The P&Z will seek input, at public hearings and by email (PandZ@westportct.gov). You can make your opinions known too right here; click “Comments” below.
One of Westport’s thorniest housing controversies has been solved.
A proposed 6-story, 81-unit apartment complex between Lincoln and Cross Streets, off Post Road West will be scaled back to 68 units. It’s been redesigned almost completely, eliminating a section that would tower over homes on Riverside Avenue. Fire safety and parking concerns have been addressed to the satisfaction of Westport’s fire marshal.
And the developer includes 30% affordable housing.
Tonight, after weeks of negotiations between the Planning & Zoning Commission, the developer Cross Street LLC and neighbors,the P&Z voted 5-0 in favor of the settlement. Newly appointed commissioner Patrizia Zucaro abstained.
The settlement substantially lessens the impact on Lincoln Street, just south of Cross Street.
In October 2018, the P&Z unanimously rejected the 81-unit plan. Their concerns included fire access, traffic and historic preservation.
Cross Street LLC appealed. Last July, a Superior Court judge sustained the appeal.
However, discussions between the P&Z, the developer and neighbors — many of whom live in historic properties that are some of the most naturally occurring affordable homes in town, with on-street parking that would have been lost — bore fruit.
The Fire Department is now confident they could access and fight any fires there. The new version eliminates the looming design that would have altered the look of the neighborhood. On-street parking has been saved.
And the 30% affordable units will help Westport toward the state’s 8-30g mandate for increasing that housing stock.
“With this settlement, Westport has not just turned the page but closed the book on all outstanding 8-30g related litigation,” says P&Z chair Danielle Dobin.
“I want to compliment the Lincoln Street and Riverside Avenue neighbors for working collaboratively with the Commission under the most challenging of circumstances; the developer for choosing to redesign this project to be both fire safe and less physically imposing, and my fellow P&Z commissioners who worked together as a team to negotiate an amicable resolution to this litigation.
“The redesigned project will provide mixed income rental apartments within walking distance of schools and downtown, further diversifying housing in a central Westport location.”
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.
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.
The state clinics note which vaccine is being offered at each location.
Appointment availability is updated throughout the day. New clinic sites and appointments are added regularly.
A few days ago, “06880” posted a comprehensive list of Connecticut vaccine options, thanks to Sarathi’s HR department. Click here for information on CVS, Walgreens, Yale New Haven Health, Stamford Health and VAMS sign-ups.
In addition to that list, Sarathi adds:
Check your town’s website for information and clinics available only to residents. You may be able to register in advance or receive a call for available appointments or excess doses.
Connecticut’s Vaccine Assist Line (877-918-2224) operates 7 days a week, from 8am-8pm. Agents can schedule appointments at state-run clinics. If you call early and are given the chance to leave a message, you should. They accept a certain number of messages each day, then call those people back throughout the day to assist in booking appointments. Once the maximum number of calls for the day has been reached the message option is turned off.
You can now search additional locations, including supermarkets and local pharmacies. A great tool to see who is administering the vaccine in your area is Vaccinefinder.org. Search a zip code, make note of the providers nearby, then search for booking websites.
Did you miss last night’s webinar on the many housing bills making their way through the state’s General Assembly, and their possible impact on Westport?
Planning and Zoning chair Danielle Dobin gave a comprehensive overview. Our 4 local legislators — Senators Will Haskell and Tony Hwang, and Representatives Jonathan Steinberg and Stephanie Thomas — tackled the pros and cons. Viewers asked questions. It was a wide-ranging, engaging 80 minutes. (And I would say that even if I had not served as moderator.)
It’s now available to watch — or re-watch — at your leisure. Click here for the link.
Everything you wanted to know about zoning — including sewers — and more.
One of the few positive parts of the pandemic: Many more Westporters have had time to walk.
Because we practice social distancing, we’re not always on the sidewalk. And — as Tammy Barry’s photo of Hillspoint Road at Schlaet’s Point shows — the result is some barren patches where grass once grew.
I’m sure saltwater flooding had something to do with t too.
Here’s hoping the town can find some resources to bring this beautiful stretch of waterfront back to what it once was.
Today’s osprey report comes courtesy of Chris Swan.
He wants Westporters to know that there are 3 platforms near Sherwood Island State Park.
One is in the saltmarsh behind the Nature Center, midway to the last house off Beachside Common.
The second is in the saltmarsh on the eastern shore of Sherwood Mill Pond, several hundred feet above the Compo Cove homes. It’s visible from the path on Sherwood Island’s western edge, above the fire gate to Compo Cove.
Both platforms are occupied by returning osprey pairs.
A 3rd location can be seen from the saltmarsh shore of the northeastern corner of the Mill Pond, looking west. This was erected last fall. No osprey pair has yet staked their claim.
A 4th platform is at the entrance to Burying Hill Beach, in the marsh across New Creek. Chris has watched it for 10 years, but has never seen it occupied.
He thinks it’s too low. He believes old utility poles make the best platforms — citing the ones at Fresh Market, Longshore’s E,R. Strait Marina, and Gray’s Creek.
Chris should know: He spent his professional career with Eversource.
The newest osprey platform in Sherwood Island Mill Pond. A house on Grove Point is visible behind it. (Photo/Chris Swan)
Congressman Jim Himes holds a Facebook Live session today (Wednesday, April 7) at 3 p.m. He’ll discuss how constituents can benefit from the American Rescue Plan. Click here to watch live. To watch later, click here.
And finally … on this day in 1940, Booker T. Washington became the first African-American depicted on a US postage stamp.
In November 1944, Booker T. Jones Jr. was born in Memphis. He was named after his father, Booker T. Jones Sr., a high school science teacher — who himself was named in honor of Booker T. Washington, the educator.
NOTE: A technical glitch prevented some readers from receiving today’s first “06880” post. Here it is. Apologies if you already got this.
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.
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.
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