Proposed Statewide Zoning Changes Would Mean Loss of Local Control
A proposal to move control of zoning decisions from local communities and replace it with a state-run system focused on moving control to urban centers is making its way through the Connecticut Legislature.
A working version of the legislation, LCO 3508 would override local zoning and require communities to allow multistory, multifamily dwellings and clustered developments across their communities. The legislation is part of a program called Desegregate Connecticut that seeks to give access to suburban schools and other amenities to urban homeless and disadvantaged by eliminating single family zoning in those communities and forcing them to alter their landscapes to accommodate an influx of urban homesteaders to these new clustered housing developments.
Desegregate Connecticut states its objectives on their website. "To desegregate Connecticut, we must overhaul our land use laws to be more inclusive by design. We must expand housing diversity. We must increase housing supply. And we must improve processes that thwart good development. We are focused on land use reforms – not property tax reform or housing finance reform – because we believe that land use is low-hanging fruit: we already know what we need to do, and it can be done at no cost to the State."
They then provide a 10 point plan for eliminating local zoning control and replacing it with a regionalized, state controlled set of zoning criteria that each community must conform to, or pay massive penalties. These 10 points include:
#1: Enable "Accessory Apartments"
Accessory apartments are an affordable, easy way to create housing diversity within cities and to integrate high-cost towns.
We propose that one accessory apartment be allowed as-of-right on a large, single-family lot, as long as an apartment is under a certain size (maximum 1,200 SF), and it satisfies the building code. Legislators could save towns headaches and cut red tape for property owners by taking this recommendation.
#2: Create "Gentle Density"
Two-to-four-unit, small-scale development in common-sense places can ensure housing diversity, without overwhelming towns.
We propose that "middle housing" be allowed in 50% of the area within a 1/2-mile radius of fixed transit stations and a 1/4-mile radius of commercial corridors. Legislators could generate real estate activity on taxable property, while giving towns autonomy to identify the lots best suited for this housing.
#3: Zone 10% for New Housing Types
Connecticut must allow more than single-family zoning. We propose that 10% of land in towns with 5,000+ residents be zoned for "middle housing" (see above), multifamily housing, or mixed-use buildings. Towns could choose the best areas for this development, and more families would have opportunities to live in more towns as development occurs.
#4: Reduce Parking Requirements
Our data has shown that the wealthiest towns impose the highest minimum parking requirements â€" which has an exclusionary effect. Our proposal would cap parking requirements at 1 space for a studio or 1-bedroom unit and 2 spaces for a 2+-bedroom unit. In doing so, legislators could make it easier to develop housing, while recognizing towns' ability to set reasonable parking standards.
#5: Standardize Permitting and Hearing Procedures
Ensuring that all housing is treated the same way could lead to dramatic process improvement.
We've heard dozens of stories about permits being delayed and public hearings degenerating into chaos, and sometimes racism. We propose that multifamily buildings be treated the same as other residential buildings, when it comes to special permit reviews or public hearings. We think this will lead to more objective, less emotional decisions based on clear standards.
#6: Train Land Use Commissioners
Land use commissioners, in many cases volunteers with no formal training in planning, zoning or land use, make very important decisions cumulatively involving millions of dollars each year. We propose a modest training requirement of 4 hours per year, including training in fair housing. Training decision makers is important, given their vast power to determine what the rest of us can do with our property.
#7: Eliminate Non-Architectural "Character" Criteria
Swapping out "character" for architectural standards (see #8) will curb abusive denials based on applicant identity and increase housing supply.
State law has allowed zoning commissions to consider "character" before approving a project â€" but we've learned that "inconsistency with community character" has sometimes become a code for racism and classism. We propose striking this word from state law and replacing it with clearer architectural standards. Eliminating it will require commissions to think more carefully â€" or work harder â€" before blocking a housing development that benefits the community.
#8: Develop Model Zoning Guidelines
A common set of zoning guidelines could help towns more quickly improve their processes and make communities more equitable.
We have to make it easier for towns to adopt great zoning codes themselves. We propose that a working group convene to create model regulations that can be adopted locally. If model regulations are adopted by individual towns, application reviews could be seamless and quick, with few surprises on either side.
#9: Cap Town Fees
Ensuring that towns don't overcharge housing developers will reduce costs of development and achieve process improvement.
A handful of towns hire high-priced consultants to review run-of-the-mill land use applications. We propose that towns' application fees be reasonable, and that multifamily fees be commensurate with other residential application fees. We also propose caps on the large consulting fees that towns try to pass on to housing developers.
#10: Modernize Traffic and Sewer Standards
Technical changes to traffic and sewer rules will streamline reviews and approvals, and generate housing supply.
Two frequent â€" and sometimes bogus â€" excuses used to stop housing developments are traffic generation and sewer requirements. We propose technical changes that would stop these excuses from being used, including enabling alternative on-site sewage systems and changing traffic standards from number of vehicles generated by a development to the more modern "vehicle-miles-traveled" standard.
Opposition To Plan
Not surprisingly, this plan has met fierce opposition from many in the communities seen as "low lying fruit" by the plan sponsors. It is also seen as not going far enough by some of its sponsors. The Open Communities Alliance published a critique of the plan that ends with this statement "In sum, gentle density is not a replacement for multifamily housing, including, frankly and as much as suburban communities may resist it, apartment buildings."
State Senate candidate Kim Healy is by no means the only candidate opposed to these proposals, but she has been both vocal and specific in her opposition to the plan. "Legislators in Hartford want to override our towns' authority, and they are explicit about their plans." She explains "I do not believe they have any business or justifiable reason to dictate how our towns operate, and neither did every generation that came before ours. Connecticut's planning and zoning decisions have always been made at a local level. We should keep it that way." Regarding alternatives to achieve more housing opportunities, she states "None of these towns are the same, and no single policy could address the needs of every town here, let alone the entire state.
Similarly, no policy will address the social concerns that Hartford's Democrat proponents contend it will. What will actually address disparate racial outcomes is bringing businesses back to Connecticut and ensuring more people are working and receiving better pay. When people make more money, new opportunities will become available to them and their families."