With Republican support, Southbury resolution backs zoning 'home rule'

There are more than 10 controversial bills in the state House and Senate that involve changing statewide municipal planning and zoning laws, and according to some local Southbury officials, it would ultimately take away local “home rule” zoning authority.

Concerned about losing local control over zoning, the Southbury Board of Selectmen passed a resolution earlier this month opposing the bills. The selectmen said they are worried some of the bills could mandate the construction of affordable housing.

The resolution — passed 4-2 on April 7 strictly across party lines with four Republicans voting in favor and two Democrats voting no — will be sent to state legislators and Gov. Ned Lamont.

“We know that many politicians and bureaucrats in Hartford aggressively pursue a takeover of local land use regulations and zoning controls,” said Selectman George Bertram, who introduced the resolution. “This resolution is in opposition to the dozen or so proposed state laws calculated to accomplish that goal. The resolution is intended to encourage state legislators to oppose the proposals in question.”

Democratic Selectmen Justin Bette and Mike Rosen voted against the resolution. Republicans Jeff Manville, first selectman, Jason Buchsbaum, Emily Harrison and Bertram voted in favor.

“I voted no because it was a ‘cut and paste’ resolution, which was clumsily crafted and based upon fear of change, but with no grounding in actual facts,” Rosen said. “To my knowledge, none of the bills being discussed and debated in Hartford would require Southbury or any town to construct a single unit of housing. It was a resolution in search of a problem that doesn’t exist.

The town’s strategic plan commission has found a significant need for more affordable housing in Southbury, and building more affordable housing “presents a tremendous economic opportunity that will benefit all of our residents,” he said.

“We should be focused on working with the state to develop solutions to our town’s — and the state’s — affordable housing crisis,” Rosen said.

Manville said it is important to produce affordable housing, but he doesn’t agree with the “cookie-cutter” option being offered by the bills introduced by Democratic legislators.

“The state is trying to create a cookie-cutter response to affordable housing, a situation that they believe fits all municipalities and that just doesn’t work,” Manville said. “We actually have people living in our community where there is housing that is affordable. It’s just technically not permanent affordable housing the way the state looks at it.

The town plans to create an affordable housing plan when it updates its Plan Conservation and Development, he said.

“I’m in favor of affordabe housing,” Manville said. “But the cost of construction is so high now, my concern is how do you build affordable housing and still make it work?”

Bette said he voted against the resolution because he believes Southbury could have produced something better.

“Affordable housing is incredibly complex,” he said. “It is a huge economic development issue and also a moral issue.”

Bette said Southbury has two affordable housing developments in town, with a third and fourth working on approvals. One is Grace Meadows, a 51-unit subsidized senior housing development that has a six-year waiting list, he said. The other is a 14-unit apartment building that was approved via the state’s affordable housing statute.

They are within 100 yards of each other since both are tied to the sewer and water lines servicing Heritage Village, a community for residents 55 and over, Bette said.

Another 180 “desperately-needed” homes for seniors Pierce Hollow Village will soon be built, he said.

“We missed a great opportunity to reach out to the state for our need for funds to move the project forward,” Bette said. “We stuck our finger in their eye when we should have had our hand out.”

There have been concerns, especially among the state’s Republicans, that one proposed bill would increase population, but not affordability, in towns.

Bette added that affordable housing isn’t about moving city folks into the country.

“It’s about having places for our younger professionals, our cops, our nurses and others,” Bette said. “Most folks starting out can’t afford to buy, especially when the market is this competitive. I think we missed a great opportunity to engage with the state and settled for a sound bite (with the resolution). That’s a shame.”