The following is an op-ed submitted by Wilton resident, Bill Lalor.
Now that summer vacations are almost over, so is Wilton’s vacation from Patrick Downend and his lawyers. Downend is the developer who, in his magnanimity, is readying his trusty bulldozer to tear down the historic old house at 44 Westport Rd. so he can build another 20-unit McCondoplex. Downend is no dummy, so his legal team preemptively countered the project’s traffic, congestion, tackiness and other problems with the ultimate weapon of any developer of McCondos in ex-urban Connecticut: the “affordable housing” provisions in Section 8-30g of the Connecticut General Statutes.
“But wait!” you may say. “If Downend gets his way, my 15 minute, 1-mile rush hour drive down Route 33 will be even longer, and the already higher-than-usual rate of accidents around there will probably get higher. Kids will have nowhere to play outside. That house has historical significance, too, and every last one of my neighbors thinks it’s a lousy idea and a bad spot for a 20-unit complex.”
Don’t be silly. As Team Downend knows, none of this really matters under the statute as long as he throws in a few designated affordable housing units. Downend doesn’t have to worry himself over the usual carrots or sticks of negotiations with town governments as long as “Affordable Housing” [here, genuflect] is concerned. Forgets carrots and sticks! The statute is a tire iron. Even if 44 Westport Rd. were the wetlands nesting location of numerous exotic native and endangered water foul, the neighbors would stand no chance.
That’s an exaggeration, but not much of one.
The list of things that mostly don’t matter to the State of Connecticut where Affordable Housing [here, genuflect] is long: too much traffic and congestion, historical significance, what the neighbors think, what the police department thinks, kids on bikes, kids on foot, grown ups, water foul, etc. In fact, nothing really matters unless it’s shown (by the town) to be “necessary to protect substantial interests in health, safety, or other matters” that the town “legally may consider.” In other words, unless the admirable efforts of Save 44 Westport Rd. can muster a “substantial” showing, they have little chance under the statute at stopping Traffic McTacky.
Section 8-30g is another one of those matters of conventional government wisdom that no one seems to agree with.
Why is that? It’s an election year, so a few weeks back I sent a message on Twitter to Keith Rodgerson, the [self-described] local “Economic Developer” and “Urban Planner” who is also the Democratic candidate to represent Wilton in the House Assembly, 143rd district. “We need to elect legislators who are able to influence 8-30g,” he responded a few days later, “We also need to stay ahead of developers as a town.”
Rodgerson may have wanted to say he would “influence 8-30g” or explain what he means by “influence.” Regardless, he was careful to avoid saying he’d vote to “modify” or “repeal” it (which, in addition to “not change it,” is really the role of a legislator). Perhaps this is because advocating actual change or repeal would have put Rodgerson out of line with Governor Malloy and jeopardized Rodgerson’s shot at standing next to Malloy while he meandered around the Village Market in a photo-op a few weeks ago. So Rodgerson is focused instead on the real scourge facing Wilton: getting the !!!!evil Koch Brothers!!!!!!!! and their money out of politics, according to his Facebook ads.
Anyway, what about the current leadership? I haven’t caught up on the legislative history lately, but something tells me any efforts to “influence 8-30g” ended in committee. It’s tougher yet to repeal or fix even the most flawed laws when they tend to favor “Affordable Housing” [here, genuflect] since they seem so big-hearted and “inclusive.” Then again I’m not aware of any recent push to modify or repeal 8-30g.
I’m not running for office, so I’m not afraid to say that Section 8-30g ought to be repealed or modified. It’s fair enough to say, as Rodgerson the Urban Planner added, that Wilton “needs to stay ahead of developers as a town.” But, especially for a candidate for the state assembly, Rodgerson misses the point, which is that 8-30g is lousy, destructive policy. It’s also the quintessence of Hartford central planning run amok: Good, happy concept (“Connecticut needs more Affordable Housing” and “Protect our Seniors”) – and if you’re opposed, you might as well oppose clouds made out of cotton candy and three-day workweeks. But the execution of well-intended but bad laws is frequently un-American and wrong. 8-30g is no different, though some of its unintended consequences are predictable: developers cynically target towns like Wilton that are under the 10-percent Threshold of Justness to make big money at the expense of neighborhoods, historic places, and people who actually live there.
If Wilton wanted to save 44 Westport Rd., it may have missed the chance for years as it helped elect and re-elect politicians who pass and then don’t fix bad laws that sounded okay when the fair housing machinery was churning out its bullet points but are actually unjust. Most likely, 44 Westport’s neighbors will be standing there one morning by the din and whirl of the bulldozer crew, wondering how on earth this could have happened. But apathy has its price. New Yorkers had those same thoughts in 1963 once the old Penn Station was torn down. The wrecking balls were in their backswing and it was too late when the New York Times chimed in, remorsefully, that, “We will probably be judged not by the monuments we build but by those we have destroyed.”
The New York Times was too late, and so too may be Save 44 Westport Rd. But will Wilton, in particular this election cycle, be remorseful enough to hold candidates to account? There are plenty of coalitions up in Hartford bending politicians’ ears for developers, “fair housing” advocates, etc., and we can see the results. But where’s the coalition for taxpayers and neighborhoods who get steamrolled by the unholy, unctuous mess of politics and greed that gave us (and kept) Section 8-30g?
Like most of my neighbors, I wish the folks at Save 44 Westport Road the best of luck.
Bill Lalor is an attorney living in Wilton with his wife, Jennifer, and two children, Katelyn and Evan. He can be found on Twitter at @bill_lalor.
I think you are spot on with this and you bring up a lot of great points. 8-30g is a perfect example of well-intentioned legislation and the unintended consequences that always come with it. I think it is also reflective of what happens when, as a town we subjugate decisions directly impacting our town to Hartford. Affordable housing and regulation 8-30g is one example of allowing the state to determine what is best for us.
I do think it is important to recognize that some of our elected officials actually ARE trying to fix 8-30g (among other issues). Both Gail Lavielle and Toni Boucher were at the June meeting and commented on their thoughts.
Aside from talking the talk, both Gail and Toni along with others in the State Legislature have been walking the walk to fix 8-30g.
Unfortunately, as you pointed out, their efforts never make it out of committee which has control over which bills make it to the floor.
To be sure, there are people on both sides of the isle that would love to get this fixed. Unfortunately, with Malloy at the helm and obviously in support of 8-30g with no interest in changing it, it is difficult to get much support from the Democrats who control the committee and support Malloy.
In case there is any doubt about where Malloy stands, here is an excerpt from an article I found earlier (link below) that pretty much sums it up;
Asked about the current landscape of a developers ability to build in certain communities, Malloy said he believes communities are starting to open their doors.
“There has always been those border skirmishes, but I think there is a much larger consensus around this issue than existed just a few years ago,” he said. “People are starting to get this.”
Malloy points wealthy town of Darien as proof it can happen. The Department of Economic and Community Development reports that in 2011, 2.6 percent of housing in Darien was affordable — an increase from previous years.
If we have any hope of seeing this get fixed, we need to support Gail Lavielle and Toni Boucher who have been working together with legislators from both sides to effect the much needed change. We also need to change the leadership in the Governor’s office by electing Tom Foley.
For the sake of Wilton, and especially for the people on Dudley who will be most directly impacted by this, I hope we can do just that.
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