Wilton elected officials say latest housing bill will have little impact on town

WILTON — A controversial housing bill that would bring about changes to accessory dwelling units and provide local zoning board training specifications, among other provisions, was passed in the state House last week and is now on its way to the Senate.

But the bill — titled HB 6107 — won’t a big deal for Wilton residents, according to some of its elected officials.

Democratic state Sen. Will Haskell, who represents Wilton as well as other nearby towns in Fairfield County, recently called the bill “tame.” He said the housing bill that mostly focuses on accessory dwelling unit rights, planning and zoning commissioner training and model regulation outlines will have quite a “small impact” on the town, due to its current municipality standards and practices.

He also discouraged exasperated rhetoric over the passing of the bill by either side of the aisle.

“The rhetoric on both sides of the bill can be detached from the black-and-white reality that is on paper in legislation,” Haskell said.

Part of the bill that Haskell referred to is annual training for Planning and Zoning Commission members, and the fear that some detractors have speculated is who will incur the cost of these sessions.

First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice, a Republican, said that town board could “vote to require or not require that their membership attend training.”

Haskell stated that municipalities would not be left with the burden of this cost.

“The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and the Council of Small Towns has said that they want to participate and provide the training,” he explained. “Free training is also available from the Bar Association and UCONN. In short, individual communities will incur no cost.”

He added that training would not only be valuable to commissioners, but welcomed.

“In our district, our planning and zoning commissioners bring a wealth of knowledge,” Haskell said. “I haven’t heard from many of them that they wouldn’t want to partake to (acquire) more knowledge. I know many would not balk at this opportunity.”

He also alluded to a part of the bill which mandates that towns and cities allow accessory apartments, or accessory dwelling units, “as of right.”

This would allow a homeowner to build an accessory apartment that is designated separate from the main dwelling by going to Town Hall and getting the project approved. The accessory dwelling unit may still be attached to the home, or detached.

With “as of right” for accessory dwelling units in the town, public hearings with input from neighbors or the requiring of special permits would be eliminated, as long as the units are in accordance with local zoning regulations. The town still reserves the right to veto with a two-thirds vote of the local zoning board and voting board.

“This would make it so a family could rent out maybe a pool cottage to an in-law as a temporary apartment, unless the town decides by two-thirds,” Haskell said.

The bill also added language regarding adequate parking needed for studio or one-bedroom apartments built in town.

Vanderslice said this will not have a large effect on how the town operates.

“In its current form, the bill will have minimal impact in Wilton. Wilton already allows accessory dwellings and the Plan of Conservation and Development encourages their use,” Vanderslice said. “Apartment building developers know they need to provide adequate parking, as Wilton has minimal public transportation.”

Haskell said this version of the housing bill will provide very mild changes.

“It has the potential to modestly increase affordable housing available in the community without changing the look of the community,” he said. “Some folks wanted to see something bolder and more transformative, some wanted to see something even less involved. I think it’s fairly tame.”