With the legislature’s failure to pass House Bill 6749: An Act to Reorganize the Zoning Enabling Act and to Promote Municipal Compliance, Connecticut missed a great opportunity to spur economic development and address glaring issues of housing affordability, diversity and accessibility.
In general, passage of HB 6749 would have made Connecticut a more accommodating place to live and do business. I encourage legislative leadership and the governor to consider bringing the bill back this summer when it’s expected that a special session on issues pertaining to economic development will take place.
This bill would have rewritten the Connecticut Zoning Enabling Act (CGS 8-2) which currently reads like a multi-page run-on sentence. The Act is very challenging to read and understand, even for experienced attorneys. Consequently, the statutory requirements and limitations of the Zoning Enabling Act are mostly lost on laypersons who typically makeup local zoning commissions which are charged with the act’s implementation.
This lack of clarity and understanding of the law leads to less predictability and creates a gray area in which the private sector does not excel. This murkiness in the law results in guess work by local planning and wetland commissions and, in turn, over-burdens the appeals process and increases the use of litigation to determine the success of a development application.
There’s a reason why Connecticut has more law firms that self-identify as land-use experts than any other state as reported by the Brookings Institution and highlighted in an excellent article recently published by the Connecticut Mirror, titled, Separated by Design: How Some of America’s Richest Towns Fight Affordable Housing.”.
HB 6749 would have also eliminated the ability of a local planning and zoning commission to reject an affordable housing application based on the current “character of the district.” The “character of a district” or community is entirely too subjective and vague a term upon which to base zoning decisions and lends itself to misuse by local planning and zoning commissions. This critically important change would have brought more certainty to the permit application process.
Current law requires cities and towns to complete affordable housing plans. However, the law gives little direction to municipalities as to how to complete these plans or what the plans should contain or how compliance is to be determined. The law, as it is currently written, sets our towns up for failure and as such, many towns are currently non-compliant. HB 6749 would have compelled the Department of Housing (DOH) in conjunction with a newly formed working group to develop a format and provide guidance to towns with the plan drafting process. This would have been particularly helpful to small towns with limited resources and staff to put together a plan of this sort.
Rarely does a piece of legislation receive such wide support from a diverse array of interest groups including the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Connecticut, The Connecticut Chapter of the American Planners Association, and housing advocacy groups including, but not limited to, the Partnership for Strong Communities, the Connecticut Fair Housing Center and the Connecticut Housing Coalition.
Passage of this bill is just sound public policy and the right thing to do. It will create private sector construction jobs and encourage economic growth in our state, but more importantly, it will afford more Connecticut residents the opportunity to work where they live by making it easier to address issues of housing diversity, affordability and accessibility.
Please contact the governor and your legislators and ask that they pass this bill in special session.
Jim Perras is CEO of Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Connecticut.
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