LETTER: Where are Wilton’s Legislators in Hartford’s Fight for Local Zoning Control?

To the Editor:

Local control is a time-tested and cherished tradition of our beloved state. During the last campaign season, the retention of local control was the most commonly articulated concern of Wilton residents. With the election long behind us, we now find ourselves deep in the Hartford legislative session, considering multiple bills aiming to take control away from our towns. Given Wilton’s clearly expressed stance on this issue, I am concerned about the lack of media coverage and effort to inform residents about the bills currently under debate.  Hearings are presently taking place, yet our state legislators have not made an adequate effort to inform residents that our united voices are critical to ensure that these bills do not pass.

There are many bills of concern, within the following two categories, being discussed in Hartford this week:

  1. state control of local zoning; and
  2. statewide property tax.

The Planning and Development Committee has just conducted hearings on a long list of bills, many that would give the state increased control over our local zoning. The bill getting the most attention is SB1024. This bill effectively gives developers the “as of right” ability to build dense housing without considering fresh air, water, or light requirements.  (Increasing density does not mean that these developments will be affordable, and there are no requirements to ensure that the units must be sold or rented under a certain rate.)

Some of the other proposals include the right to build multi-family units anywhere within a half-mile of a transit station, reduced parking requirements for developments, and granting nearby municipal housing authorities the ability to develop housing within a 15 miles radius outside of their city’s current jurisdiction. Passed as proposed, none of these scenarios would need to go through our local planning and zoning commissions.

These changes to the statutes will directly limit the zoning commission’s powers. Residents elect zoning commissions to represent their interests and wishes. The addition of this new requirement language directly limits local elected officials’ powers and speaks directly to the Home Rule Article of the State Constitution.

The statewide new property tax proposal would establish a one-mill tax on all commercial and residential property. (The first $300,000 of assessed value would be exempted from the tax for residential property. Commercial property, regardless of value, would be taxable.) The nickname “mansion tax” is a misnomer as the vast majority of southwestern Connecticut properties are valued at over $300,000 and are not mansions by anyone’s interpretation. The garnered revenue would be largely redistributed to urban districts.

A second “mansion tax” is proposed that would tie “affordable” housing to a property tax.  Thus, if Wilton does not meet certain “affordable” requirements, residential and commercial properties would be subject to a property tax (again, with the first $300,000 exempt for residential properties only).

Implementing another progressive tax will not solve urban poverty and will only speed the departure of people and businesses from the state, causing further overall decline. As suggested by the Fiscal Stability & Economic Growth Report, we have multiple opportunities to find efficiencies in state agencies rather than burdening our state’s hard-working people. Another tax will only deepen Connecticut’s challenging fiscal situation.

It’s worth noting that both of these highly controversial proposals are sponsored by urban Democrats who have controlled Hartford, New Haven, and Bridgeport for a combined 148 years (since 1953). The near-total financial dysfunction in these urban districts has occurred and escalated under their watch. Rather than perpetuating the past’s failed policies, lawmakers should focus on educational opportunities and bringing businesses back into these cities.

It’s not enough for our state legislators to simply vote ‘no’ on these bills, though many of them who supposedly represent our towns’ interests will still vote yet. It is their responsibility to educate and inform their constituents about how harmful these bills will be. During campaign season, they claimed they would oppose any efforts to strip towns of their local control. With the exception of Tom O’Dea, who has confirmed he will oppose them, our representatives’ silence leaves us guessing at their positions and wondering whether they will support these bills!

It’s disappointing not to see them proactively and assertively helping us fight against bad legislation.

Kim Healy

3 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you Kim! These proposals need to be stopped and our elected leaders need to step up and present the will of their constituents.

  2. Kim:

    Thank you for bringing this important issue to the table. I am however concerned about how you have framed the issue. Rather than seeing this as a local vs state control issue I think it is much more important and productive to see this as an issue of how we solve the issues of segregation and inequality in our state. If you believe as you wrote “Local control is a time-tested and cherished tradition of our beloved state.” then you must also own up to how this “cherished tradition” has contributed to and reinforced the high level of segregation and inequality we have in the state of Connecticut and offer us a vision of how maintaining local control could be used to ameliorate these issues.

    I would love to hear more of your thoughts on this issue.

  3. Kim, Your letter reads more like a campaign speech than a solution to inequality and segregation in CT and in Wilton. You’ve raised some issues but I don’t see anything close to a proposed solution.

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