In Hartford on Wednesday, March 31, the General Assembly’s Planning and Development Committee voted on several bills related to affordable housing and zoning legislation. The idea of statewide measures superseding local authority over zoning matters has been something town officials have been warily eyeing for months.
While Wilton’s Planning and Zoning officials say the town is already several steps ahead of what some of the legislation aims to do in creating more diverse and affordable housing in town, First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice is going further with her criticism of Hartford’s proposals. She calls one, in particular, House Bill 6611 is “burdensome.”
Below is a summary of the bills that advanced out of the committee and will now be considered by the CT State House of Representatives and Senate. Whether the language will change further or even advance to a vote is still to be determined.
The summary was prepared by the CT Council of Small Towns (COST) for municipal leaders. COST is an organization that advocates on behalf of smaller municipalities and provides resources to help CT town officials comply with state laws and manage local operations.
The first five bills described below relate to affordable housing issues.
Legislation Advanced by CGA Planning and Development Committee
SB-1024: DesegregateCT Proposal
“A watered-down version of SB-1024 was approved by the committee as a ‘work in progress.’ The bill’s most controversial provisions, which would have mandated that towns allow multifamily housing and ‘middle’ housing as-of-right [without public hearings or outside of the local special permit process] near transit stations, main street corridors and other areas, were stripped out of the bill. The bill continues to mandate that towns allow accessory dwelling units (ADUs) as-of-right. Currently, 101 municipalities allow ADUs as-of-right and 55 allow them by special permit or exception.”
Editor’s Note: The language in the original bill was drafted by Desegregate CT, and would have permitted “as-of-right” development of higher-density housing within a half-mile of one transit station and one-quarter-mile of a main street in each town.
HB-6107: Reorganization of Zoning Enabling Act
“HB-6107 reorganizes the Zoning Enabling Act in an effort to provide greater clarity, something that housing advocates have pushed for in previous years. The bill also eliminates the term ‘character of a district,’ which housing advocates argue is too subjective. It also requires municipalities to demonstrate that their zoning regulations affirmatively further the purposes of the federal Fair Housing Act to provide varied housing development opportunities and promote housing choice and economic diversity. HB-6107 also requires OPM to convene a 13-member working group to study incentivizing and measuring compliance with (a) the affordable housing planning requirement and (b) zoning requirements related to housing choice.”
SB-1026: Zoning Board/Commission Training
“Beginning Jan. 1, 2023, SB-1026 requires volunteers serving on local planning, zoning boards and commissions to obtain a minimum of five hours of training within one year of their appointment or election. Under the bill, the training may be provided electronically by various organizations, including the CT Bar Association, the Department of Housing and CLEAR.”
HB-6611: Fair Share Housing Assessment
“Based on a New Jersey model, HB-6611 requires municipalities to undertake a rigorous needs assessment and determine how to meet their ‘fair share’ of affordable housing.” [This is the proposal Vanderslice calls “burdensome”; see below for her comments.
SB-961: Sewage Disposal Systems/Alternative Sewage Treatment Systems
SB-961 increases to 10,000 gallons per day the maximum capacity of certain subsurface sewage disposal systems and alternative on-site sewage treatment systems over which the Department of Public Health has jurisdiction. The bill also requires the department to develop regulations regarding the operation of such systems. Developers argue that such systems will help address concerns that some towns do not have the wastewater capacity to support higher density housing developments.
The committee also approved the following bills on other topics; the last proposal has been a topic of much focus in the discussion of local zoning control and housing reform:
HB-6646: AN ACT CONCERNING CRUMBLING CONCRETE FOUNDATIONS.
HB-6642: AN ACT CONCERNING A STUDY OF ACCESS TO MUNICIPAL-OWNED BEACHES AND PARKS ADJACENT TO MARINE OR TIDAL WATERS
HB-6570: Transit-Oriented Development
Last week, the legislature’s Transportation Committee approved substitute language for HB-6570, AAC Transit-Oriented Development, which strips the rigid as-of-right TOD provisions. Instead, the bill directs the state Departments of Transportation and Housing to identify five passenger-railroad stations or bus rapid transit stations with state-owned parking lots, and (B) issue a request for information for the construction of TOD on such parking lots, provided the same number of parking spaces will be maintained and at least 20% of the development will be affordable housing. In addition, DOT and DOH must identify five parcels owned by the state and located within a ½ mile radius of a passenger railroad station or bus rapid transit station, and (B) issue a request for information for the construction of TOD on such parcels, provided at least 20% of the development will be affordable housing.
Vanderslice said she was happy to see the changes to SB1024 that removed language encouraging as-of-right development near transportation centers and main streets.
“If you take a half-a-mile radius of Cannondale, that doesn’t make any sense there. It’s a historic district, it’s a single-family residential area, you have the Norwalk River and other wetlands, so it makes absolutely no sense there. And in Wilton Center, same thing. It makes a lot of sense to have multi-family [housing] right there at the Wilton Center train station. We already have it and it can certainly support more, but it doesn’t make sense to be putting multi-family developments in many of the residential neighborhoods that are within [that half-mile radius].”
More complicated, however, is HB6611. According to Vanderslice, “the legislation is burdensome and effectively will result in almost every CT suburban community being placed under land court supervision.”
The legislation allows the state Office of Policy and Management (OPM) and the Commissioner of Housing to tell each municipality how much affordable housing it needs to have–and dictates what qualifies as the required affordable housing units. The town must create a plan to deliver those housing units, and faces liability if the plan isn’t executed or even filed with the court. It’s up to the court to decide if the plan is realistic or if the town needs additional units.
“No matter the court decision, the municipality will remain under the supervision of the court,” Vanderslice explained. Moreover, she said, the legislation puts the municipality at risk.
“If the municipality doesn’t file with the court, a wide range of ‘aggrieved parties’ can file a court action against the municipality. The court can require the municipality to pay the costs of the suit filed by the aggrieved party. This invites the lawsuits,” Vanderslice said.
According to advocates opposing the legislation, it opens up the opportunity for lawsuits filed by nonprofit housing organizations, developers, individuals in low/moderate-income cohorts, and other regional municipalities–even if they have no direct interest or haven’t suffered an injury. It would also force towns to actively pursue and potentially subsidize development.
Vanderslice pointed out that the measures will simply add to the requirements towns already face from other legislative mandates, particularly 8-30g. “It begs the question, why isn’t CGS 8-30(g) being reconsidered during this legislative session?” she asked.
Until Wednesday, Vanderslice was optimistic that some of the proposals wouldn’t advance out of committee as she believed there is statewide opposition to a lot of these components, such as what ultimately eliminated mandates dealing with transit districts. Now, that optimism is a little bit dimmed.
“Now, anything that moves out of committee is going to get a lot more consideration. House Bill 6611 is the majority leader’s bill, that’s who sponsored it. The chairman of the Planning and Development Committee made that statement. So that’s a bill that everybody should be watching really closely because it is the majority leader’s bill,” Vanderslice said.