DARIEN — The Planning & Zoning Commission has appointed a subcommittee to study housing bills proposed on the state level.

Commission Chairman Steve Olvany circulated a letter written to Ridgefield state representatives regarding HB 5132, HB 5303, SB 110 and Desegregate CT initiatives from that town’s Planning & Zoning chairman.

In her letter, Rebecca Mucchetti says while the commission supports some parts of the bill, like annual training for P&Z members and administrative approval for accessory apartments and middle housing, other changes do so “at the expense of small towns, which pride themselves on their individuality.”

“Specifically, community character, an essential component of what makes a town unique, is to be removed as a consideration in zoning decisions,” she wrote.

“Desegregate CT proposes initiatives to eliminate single-family zoning and to remove decisions for affordable housing from local zoning control and delegate them to regional authority. It also advocates administrative review rather than PZC approval for affordable housing applications, thus eliminating comment on projects that may be of public interest,” she wrote.

Olvany said he wanted his commission to create a subcommittee to examine the bills and present a list of the pros and cons of them.

Olvany said the commission could then consider reaching out to state representatives with an informed opinion on the bills.

SB 110 is “An Act Concerning Housing Authority Jurisdiction.” HB 5132 is “An Act Concerning The Reorganization Of The Zoning Enabling Act And The Promotion Of Municipal Compliance.” HB 5303 is “An Act Concerning Training For Certain Planning And Zoning Officials.”

Desegregate CT’s platform includes suggesting Connecticut empower its regional planning bodies to make land-use decisions.

“Our municipal constraints prevent us from ensuring that everyone has an opportunity to thrive. This is especially the case when it comes to providing housing choice in towns that lack opportunities for people of all incomes. Sometimes, in these towns, ‘coded’ words used at public hearings feel discriminatory. Too often, parochial concerns, or even at times unfounded fears, have derailed good projects that would benefit everyone,” the platform says.

Included in the ideas for a special session to help achieve Desegregate CT’s goals are enabling accessory apartments, allowing for two to four unit small-scale developments within a half-mile of fixed transit station (Darien has two train stations), reducing parking caps on building projects, and eliminating “character consideration” from zoning laws. According to Desegregate CT, zoning commissions considering “character” has “sometimes become a code for racism and classism.”

Darien has its second moratorium from state statute 8-30g, which allows developers to overstep local zoning laws if 10 percent of its housing stock is not classified as affordable. Moratoriums must be applied for and earned with points, which are given based on the amount and type of affordable housing is built.

The moratorium expires Oct. 17, 2020 and Olvany said the town does not have the points to apply for a third. Other towns with active moratoriums include New Canaan, Brookfield, Westport, Farmington and Suffield. Darien is among only three towns in the state that have been granted two moratoriums. The others are Trumbull and Berlin.

Olvany said he believes the housing bills will not be taken up in next week’s special section, but instead will be revisited in January. The three members of the subcommittee, Jennifer Leahy, Jim Rand, and Larry Warble, will have about a month to bring their recommendations back to the full commission.

Leahy asked if they might be able to present their findings in a public hearing format, and Olvany agreed that was possible.

“You have the wherewithal to do that. If the subcommitee wants to do this in a public meeting, you can. It is just too big and important of an issue,” he said.

Watch the full meeting on Darien TV79’s Vimeo channel here.