Darien seeks zoning changes to boost affordable housing

The current zoning map of Darien, divided into districts by a color guide. For a closer look, visit Darienct.gov.

The current zoning map of Darien, divided into districts by a color guide. For a closer look, visit Darienct.gov.

Town of Darien / Contributed

DARIEN — The Planning & Zoning Commission is holding a public hearing next month on several changes proposed to the town’s zoning regulations that could make building affordable housing easier in Darien.

The hearing will take place on May 4 at 7:30 p.m., and the details of the amendments can be viewed in their entirety on the town’s Planning & Zoning tab at darienct.gov.

The proposed changes have been put forward as state legislators discuss several bills that would make changes to zoning practices on the state level. Many Darien leaders and residents have publicly spoken out against the bills, saying zoning decisions belong in the hands of those who know the town best. Others have said the zoning bills address economic growth and equity among the state’s municipalities, and decry what they call opponents’ fear-mongering and scare tactics.

The amendments proposed are a result of research and discussions with Darien’s peer towns, according to Planning & Zoning Chairman Steve Olvany.

They include reducing the amount of required parking for multi-family housing; clarifying that the inclusionary zoning standards, which require a percentage of affordable housing to be built per market rate units, apply to both multi-family and single-family uses, and that the standards would be triggered via four or more units or building lots (for subdivisions); increasing the amount of deed-restricted, below market rate units required as part of an inclusionary project from 12 percent to 14 percent, which would mean that developer proposing market rate housing must also build 14 percent of those as affordable; changing the terms “affordable units” or “affordable housing units” to “below-market rate units;” and eliminating reference to required minimum square footage or floor area of residential dwelling units in the designed business and residential, designed multifamily residential, and 3.7 acre Hollow Tree Ridge Road affordable housing zones.

As per state statute, Darien, along with the rest of the towns and cities in the state, must create an affordable housing plan which is due next year.

During a public hearing on the state bills, First Selectman Jayme Stevenson suggested that state legislators allow the municipalities to put these plans together first before making statewide zoning changes.

“Why not let us have the chance to do that work, come back to this at that time,” she said.

One state representative responded by saying the state’s 8-30g statute doesn’t include any enforcement aspect and towns can create a plan and “put it on a shelf,” like a Plan of Conservation and Development.

The Planning & Zoning Commission uses GoToMeeting for live meeting participation. Instructions will be released closer to the public hearing.