Wilton legislator raises zoning, affordable housing issues
WILTON — Although changes to existing zoning laws and affordable housing are not on the agenda for this month’s special session in the state legislature, the topic is gathering steam.
State Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-143, came before the Wilton Board of Selectmen on July 21 to discuss those issues.
“I thought it was important to give people the facts on what is out there,” she said.
A coalition called Desegregate CT, she said, has been formed to address housing disparities in the state and is pressing for changes to existing zoning laws they believe are creating segregation and inequality.
The coalition was formed by Sara Bronin, an architect and law professor at the University of Connecticut who is also the wife of the mayor of Hartford.
On its website, the group’s platform includes a number of changes it would like to see made to the state’s zoning regulations:
Enable ‘Accessory Apartments’ by providing that one accessory apartment be allowed as-of-right on a large, single-family lot, as long as an apartment is under a certain size (maximum 1,200 square feet), and it satisfies the building code.
Allow two-to-four-unit, small-scale development in 50 percent of the area within a half-mile radius of fixed transit stations and a quarter-mile radius of commercial corridors.
Provide that 10 percent of land in towns with 5,000-plus residents be zoned for two-to-four-unit, small-scale developments, multifamily housing, or mixed-use buildings.
Cap parking requirements at 1 space for a studio or one-bedroom unit and two spaces for a two-plus bedroom unit.
Require multi-family buildings to be treated the same as other residential buildings when it comes to special permit reviews or public hearings.
Require land use commissioners to complete four hours of training per year.
Eliminate the consideration of the “character” of an area in approving projects.
Convene a working group to create model zoning regulations that can be adopted locally.
Cap town fees for housing applications and consultants and ensure that multi-family application fees be commensurate with other residential application fees.
Modernize traffic and sewer standards by enabling alternative on-site sewage systems and changing traffic standards from the number of vehicles generated by a development to the more modern “vehicle-miles-traveled’ standard.”
There are two bills supported by Desegregate CT:
Under House Bill 5132, local zoning officials would not be allowed to consider the “character of a district” for particular zoning purposes.
A potential bill, LCO No. 3508, was sponsored by state Sen. Saud Anwar, D-3, co-chairman of the legislature’s Housing Committee. Under 3508, town officials would need to set aside land near train stations and their town center for developers interested in building townhouses, duplexes or other more reasonably priced homes (not single-family residences).
Lavielle also mentioned an editorial written by New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker on July 16, suggesting towns that have less than 10-percent affordable housing should be penalized and pay a tax.
Lavielle, a Wilton resident, said the town was a “leader in inclusionary zoning” in the 1980s and 1990s. “It was one of the first towns to create all-affordable districts for single-family and multi-family homes,” she said, noting Wilton also has several affordability set-asides for renters in multi-family districts.
Wilton has a range of housing options: single-family (including affordable,) townhouses, condos, accessory dwellings, rental apartments with affordable units and seniors and individuals with disabilities housing.
Lavielle commended the town for actively working on ways to increase and diversify its housing stock through the creation of the newly formed Wilton Housing Committee.
“Everyone is interested in this [affordable housing], we need this, and it is being worked on locally, which has a very different connotation than something that is imposed by the state, she said.
Lavielle said she has heard a number of comments about the zoning changes being proposed, such as:
Concern the state must intervene and legislate central control while instituting one-size-fits-all policies and taking away a town’s self-determination.
Someone who bought property with the assurance they would always know what the surrounding structures and densities would look like, would lose that assurance if certain things are eliminated.
The people making the decisions centrally are not accountable to the people locally who are affected by the decisions.
Residents with zoning concerns will need to speak to state officials rather than local town zoning officers.
“I hope this clarifies some of the things people have heard about this issue,” she said.
Zoning issues proposed by Desegregate CT may be brought up in the special September legislative session or in January after the presidential election. Or they may never make it to a vote, Lavielle said.
“I, too, worry about this all being discussed right now,” she said, “just when we are starting to become en vogue again for people who live in New York and big cities. I want to see that move. We have something to offer that people want.
“We have a great town that’s going to work on what it needs to stay a great town — increase its grand list a little and get things moving and make sure we have something to offer for people of all stages of life and backgrounds,” she said.