PO Box 163, Fairfield CT 06824

State Control of Local Zoning

In recent polling, Connecticut scores high on quality of life and low on affordability. As our state economy continues to struggle, the latest “fix” coming out of Hartford is state control of local zoning. This is purportedly to address issues of housing affordability and opportunity. Yes, Hartford would be in charge of making decisions on zoning in Norwalk and Darien and every other city in Connecticut, not your locally elected zoning officials.

Highlights of this proposed legislation include:

  • Eliminating single-family zoning throughout the state.
  • Allocating 10% of the land in every town with 5,000 or more residents to multifamily housing and mixed-use properties
  • Financially penalizing towns with zoning codes considered segregationist or exclusionary.
  • Allowing local public housing authorities to expand their areas of operation by 15 miles to “high opportunity” areas, including those outside their town boundaries.
  • Requiring 50% as-of-right multifamily zoning within a half-mile radius of transit stations and a quarter-mile radius of major corridors, downtowns, and other commercial areas.

Many of you are concerned about this one-size-fits-all top-down government and lack of local control and uncertainty. Understandably so. This is reminiscent of the recent Democrat proposal to regionalize our schools.

With any legislation, it’s important to ask “what problem does this solve”?

Everyone has the right to live anywhere in our state. Segregation based zoning has been illegal for more than five decades. So, demanding affordability to live in any community is an oversimplified ask that can be confused and misleading. It is an assumption that local zoning controls are exclusionary. These accusations are made to inflame and suppress meaningful dialogue.

Darien has been a leader in developing affordable housing, starting with former First Selectman Ann Mandel’s affordable housing initiatives in the late 1980’s to First Selectman Jayme Stevenson’s achieving a record second moratorium under the state affordable housing statute, 8-30g. In addition to the second moratorium, Darien has embraced historic approval of three mixed use developments adding housing diversity to our town. In the past twenty years, we’ve added hundreds of multi-family apartments /condominiums balancing our housing portfolio to include affordable options. Thoughtful incremental change to our housing options is an ongoing challenge as Darien is the most densely developed small town in the state.

It’s also arrogant and misguided to assume that Hartford would know best how each community should be developed. Connecticut’s 169 towns are a rich tapestry of unique qualities. Derby, Deep River, Danbury and Darien all have varied needs and characteristics. The people of each of these towns should decide how they should be developed in the future. Local control represents the true voice of the people and is more transparent and accountable.

The private sector at the local level has been and should be an important partner in this work — where it’s easier to manage, measure and actually solve problems. The private sector has and should continue to be an important partner in the development of affordable housing.

Without proper vetting and understanding of the crucial problems we are trying to solve, this legislation could be another fix based on fantasy thinking and not practical reality. Democrats are the party that believe a bigger government is a better government. They’ve had total control of the legislature for over forty years. By any metric, One Party Rule has not worked well in Connecticut.

Constituents are exhausted by a pandemic, economic contraction and cultural upheaval all at once. Overwhelming, people want politicians to change the paradigm – work together; build consensus on key issues; and come up with real solutions to the extraordinary challenges we are facing now.