How new zoning rules could increase affordable housing in Darien

Photo of Brian Gioiele
Darien officials say changes to local zoning regulations will provide more flexibility to developers while potentially increasing the town's affordable housing stock.

Darien officials say changes to local zoning regulations will provide more flexibility to developers while potentially increasing the town’s affordable housing stock.

Susan Shultz

DARIEN — Changes in local zoning regulations will offer more flexibility to developers while potentially increasing affordable housing stock, town officials said.

The Planning and Zoning Commission amended three regulations — eliminating the minimum apartment size; amending inclusionary zoning rules to allow for a higher percentage of affordable housing units in certain developments; and lessening some multi-family housing parking requirements.

The moves came as the Desegregate CT group pushed for legislation to make construction of affordable housing easier statewide. Several legislative changes were approved and signed into law by Gov. Ned Lamont earlier this summer.

“Each one chips away at restrictions … creating more flexibility for builders,” Town Planner Jeremy Ginsberg said about the recent regulation amendments. “It means more units, and in the end, more affordable units.”

First Selectman Jayme Stevenson and other Darien officials had testified against the state’s new housing regulations, calling them a “one-size-fits-all” approach that would not work in town.

“I’m very pleased at the proactive approach taken by Darien’s Planning and Zoning Commission to making changes to Darien’s zoning regulations that will result in the development of additional housing opportunities that work best for our town,” Stevenson said.

The first Darien regulation change was the elimination of the minimum apartment size — the minimum had been 600 feet in certain zoning districts.

For inclusionary zoning, the new regulations call for developments with four or more additional multi-family units to designate at least 14 percent — a 2 percent increase from the previous rules — of the total number of units as affordable housing as defined by state statute.

Ginsberg said this affordable housing requirement can be handled by the developer providing below market rate affordable housing units on the property; providing below market rate affordable housing units on another site in the town; or paying a fee-in-lieu.

Households earning 80 percent or less than the state median income would be eligible for the affordable units.

For parking, the commission amended the regulations to one parking space for studios; 1.5 parking spaces for one bedrooms; two spaces for two bedrooms; while maintaining 2.5 spaces for three-or-more bedroom units. The previous parking regulations for multi-family housing varied by district in town.

Ginsberg said the town’s parking regulations do not match the recently approved state legislation, but the law allows a Planning and Zoning Commission to opt-out of that new standard if the commission and legislative body vote to do so by a two-thirds majority. In Darien’s case, the Representative Town Meeting would be the legislative body involved.

“The commission acknowledges its intention to opt-out of the parking standards,” Ginsberg said, adding the opt-out process will begin soon.

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com