Monday morning, Mar. 14, the CT state legislature’s Joint Committee on Planning and Development will hold a public hearing on HB 5429, An Act Concerning Transit-Oriented Development.
The bill allows for “as of right development” of housing developments with a minimum overall average gross density of 15 dwelling units per acre located within a half-mile radius of any passenger rail or commuter rail station or any bus rapid transit station, with some limited exceptions.
The bill also requires at least 10% of the units to meet accessible or affordable requirements as defined in Connecticut’s 8-30g legislation.
Wilton has two train stations that the bill could impact — Wilton and Cannondale train stations. As of right means any proposed developments would not need to file a special permit application with Wilton’s Planning and Zoning Commission, as is currently required.
Wilton’s First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice emailed GOOD Morning Wilton the testimony she submitted to the legislative committee in advance of the public hearing. Her testimony follows the update she provided Wilton residents at the beginning of March, which called the bill, drafted by Desegregate CT, a “one-size fits all solution” that doesn’t take into account differences between stations with infrequent train service and no adjacent amenities or services — like Wilton’s Cannondale Station — compared to train stations along the Metro-North‘s main New Haven line with frequent train service and adjacent services.
In her submitted testimony, Vanderslice called the proposed bill “anti-resident” and “pro-developer”.
According to Vanderslice, town officials understand the language of the bill regarding “minimum overall average gross density of 15 units per acre located with a half-mile radius of a commuter rail system” doesn’t limit a developer to only 15 units as of right. Instead it only limits the density of the project if the entire area within a half-mile of a train station, less certain exceptions as defined in the bill, has a density of greater than 15 units per acre.
Vanderslice explained that a half-mile from the Wilton train center does not extend to include the higher density condos and apartments at the south end of Wilton Center. As such the gross area within a half-mile radius of the Wilton train station appears to be less than 15 units per acre. As a result, she said, a developer would be legally empowered to develop at a much higher density and essentially follow the process required of a builder of a single-family house — without undergoing the special permit process.
Last year, Desegregate CT advocated for legislation that would allow as of right density of four units per acre. But now, according to Vanderslice, the current bill has been modeled after a bill proposed and enacted by the Massachusetts Legislature for communities on the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) rail lines — a system that Vanderslice suggested “is much more robust and conducive to high-density [transit-oriented development]” than Connecticut’s transit system is, particularly in “transit deficient Fairfield County.”
In her testimony, Vanderslice argues that Wilton has been actively working to address affordable housing development, especially in the most recent development of the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development. She notes that the town has initiated a Master Planning project but that the town’s infrastructure wouldn’t support the type of housing density the bill would require.
She adds that the town “understands the value of TOD” and that the town is working toward developing such projects — just at a scale and density that would suit what Wilton could support and that would be appropriate for the services and infrastructure Wilton could provide.
Vanderslice’s testimony as submitted is below:
Re: HB 5429-Opposition
Honorable Senate Chair Cassano, House Chair McCarthy-Vahey, Vice Chair Norman Needleman, Vice Chair Christine Goupil, Ranking Member Senator Hwang, and Ranking House Member Zullo and Members of the Planning and Development Committee,
I am the First Selectwoman of the Town of Wilton. Thank you for the opportunity to share my comments in opposition to HB 5429. The Town of Wilton, as documented in our Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) adopted in late 2019, supports and encourages an expansion of housing diversity, including affordable housing. Consistent with our POCD, we have locally funded and begun master planning for Wilton Center, including transit-orientated development surrounding the Wilton train station. Additional funding for master planning of the area around our Cannondale train station is in our 5-year budget plan. HB 5429 threatens the progress we have and are making towards our goals of more diverse and affordable housing. This state-mandated one-size fits all approach does not reflect an understanding of the nuance within each community. An understanding of which is critical if communities, such as Wilton, are to reach the goals of housing diversity and affordability.
Advocates for this bill envision a dense transit-orientated district with multiple services within walking distance and a transit system that deliver[s] residents to other services and their workplace. The underlying infrastructure within Wilton, starting with the Metro-North Danbury line, doesn’t support this vision. Most roads leading to Wilton train stations don’t have sidewalks and don’t have the required road/land width to build sidewalks, including the state-owned RT 33. There is no evidence that the State is willing or able to make the required investments to the Metro-North Danbury line or state-owned roads to create the infrastructure to support this bill. As such, in Wilton this bill is pro-developer, antiresident.
As demonstrated by our Plan of Conservation and Development, we understand the nuances within Wilton. Our elected planners with the assistance of professionals are developing a master plan and related zoning changes that reflect Wilton’s actual infrastructure.
We understand the value of transit-orientated development. During the last 10-years, the Town facilitated the development of two multi-family projects and approved plans for a third project within walking distance to the Wilton train station. One of the facilitated multi-family projects is on land the Town sold to the developer and is 30% affordable. The other, which is 100% affordable, is on town-owned land leased for $1 and for which over $1.5 million of initial funding was donated by Wilton residents and businesses.
The Town was awarded a grant to build a pedestrian bridge to connect the isolated Wilton train station and the two facilitated multi-family projects to Wilton Center where there are services. After a long delay, we just received permission from the State to bid the bridge. Please allow us to continue to make progress towards shared goals through logical and careful planning without the disruption this bill will cause.
Local residents working with their local government know best how to achieve the goals of diverse and affordable housing within their community.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Lynne A Vanderslice
Town of Wilton