“Sweeping zoning and land use reform agenda” — op/ed by First Selectman Jayme Stevenson
On March 12, the Connecticut General Assembly suspended its regular session in response to the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. Governor Lamont has since announced that at least one special session will be called to address, among other things, police accountability in response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
Mr. Floyd’s death on May 25 ignited a national debate on the topics of systemic racism and racial injustice in America today. Here in Connecticut, there is growing support for the idea that racial segregation and inequities are rooted in and perpetuated by discriminatory land use laws and zoning regulations that discourage the development of affordable and higher density housing.
Sweeping zoning reforms are now being proposed by various legislative caucuses (see SenateDems.CT.gov - Juneteenth agenda) and advocacy groups (see DesegregateCT.org), and pressure is mounting to add consideration of the legislation to an upcoming special session agenda.
Notable proposals include:
o Elimination of single-family zoning laws
o Modifications to the property tax structure to raise taxes on land while lowering taxes on developments
o Increased access to and availability of housing subsidies
o Expansion of “no strings attached” home ownership
o Laws to hold cities and towns accountable if they enact or enforce land use policies considered to be segregationist
o Allowing as of right, accessory dwelling units in single family zones
o Allowing as of right, 2-4 family housing units on half the land area within ½ mile radius of fixed transit stations and ¼ mile radius of commercial centers
o Requiring 10% of all land area in cities and towns with 5,000+ residents to be zoned to allow for 2-4 family homes
o Reduced parking requirements for housing developments
o Elimination of public hearings and special permits for multi-family housing applications
o Mandated training for zoning commissioners and staff
o Elimination of the word “character” from local zoning laws
o Capping of consultant fees passed through from municipalities to housing developers
o Modernized traffic and sewer standards
o Formation of a legislative working group to draft model zoning regulations
Improving the quality of life for all Connecticut residents is a critical objective for municipal and state leaders. Housing proponents believe passionately that more integrated communities, greater income equality and improved educational outcomes can only be achieved through substantive changes in Connecticut zoning law to facilitate the development of more affordable, higher-density housing in suburban communities.
New Haven Mayor, Justin Elicker, wrote in a July 16 CT Mirror opinion piece titled “Let’s Tax Connecticut’s Segregation,” that the state should impose a tax on communities that use exclusionary zoning regulations to perpetuate racial segregation. Mayor Elicker wrongfully incriminates the Town of Darien and others in his article. He is clearly unaware that Darien adopted inclusionary zoning regulations in 2009 that have been very useful in our mission to add affordable housing choice in our community. Since 2000, of the 852 multi-family housing units constructed and approved for construction, 31.7% are affordable units.
While many issues are understandably demanding your attention right now, I encourage you to stay informed on this important topic and to reach out to your state representatives so you can ask questions and know how they will be voting on these proposals.
Town of Darien, First Selectman