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Two bills now making their way through the Connecticut legislature could dramatically change the shape of our towns.
HB 5429, An Act Concerning Transit-Oriented Development, would silence our locally elected Planning and Zoning Commission when it comes to almost any development of housing within a half-mile of our train stations. Any housing development (if six units or more, 10% of the units must be deemed affordable) would be “as-of-right,” which means it wouldn’t require local zoning approvals. There’s still time to let the legislature’s Planning and Development Committee know what you think about this bill.
On Mar. 14, starting at 10 a.m. and running until well after midnight, CT residents, lobbyists, and stakeholders voiced their opinions on HB 5429, and I joined them in expressing my opposition. This bill would ultimately give developers the right to build dwelling units within a half-mile of train or bus stations in about 40 towns [see map below] with very few restrictions. There is no incentive offered or requirement imposed for any more than 10% of the units to be considered affordable.
You can still weigh in on HB 5429 by submitting written testimony to the Planning & Development Committee via email. Please include “Testimony on HB 5429” in the subject line of your email, and your name and town in the body of the text.
[UPDATE, 11:30 A.M. — Today [Friday, Mar. 25] is the deadline for the CT Planning & Development Committee to vote on its bills. It is clear from the Committee’s agenda for today’s meeting that Committee leadership has decided, in light of comments from Governor Lamont and strong opposition from the public, not to call this bill for a vote. This does not mean that the bill is completely dead as the concept or the language can still be revived through an amendment or another process before the end of the session. It is still worth it to let your local representatives know how you feel about the content of HB 5429, in case it is taken up later in the session.]
A second and possibly even more harmful bill is HB 5204, An Act Concerning A Needs Assessment and Fair Share Plans for Municipalities to Increase Affordable Housing. This “Fair Share” bill would arbitrarily force an allocated number of affordable housing units on each town, and the bill is silent on the methodology for the allocation. The text is intentionally vague, leaving unelected bureaucrats and housing advocates to decide on highly correlated factors, the same factors used in a draft of an unsuccessful bill from last year to calculate the allocation. Further troubling, HB 5204 again seeks to bypass local planning and zoning authority to regulate land use in a “one-size-mandated-for-all approach.” The “Fair Share” concept has been implemented in only one other state, New Jersey, and it has failed in its objectives.
HB 5204 was passed out of the Housing Committee by majority legislators along party lines and is now awaiting consideration by the House. This can happen at any time before the end of the session. You can email your local state legislators now and let them know how you want them to vote when the time comes.
Needless to say, if these bills pass, our small towns, especially in Fairfield County, will be changed forever. This legislation gives people who have no stake in our towns, who have no interest in preserving their architectural character, the right to make decisions that will affect how we live in suburban Connecticut.
These bills raise many alarming questions about the state’s role in our local government. I believe we must retain local control. If you agree with me, that our towns should have the authority to shape their own architectural and physical characteristics, please let your voice be heard and email those elected to represent our interests.
Kim Healy is a member of the Wilton Board of Selectmen. She wrote this op-ed as a private citizen and it reflects only her personal views. She is currently the 2022 Republican Candidate for State Representative in the newly-formed 42nd District, which will include all of Wilton, and parts of New Canaan and Ridgefield.
Editor’s Note: Healy emailed a paragraph update at 11:23 a.m., and it was added at 11:30 a.m.