Winter has turned to spring here in Darien, kids are back in school, activities are starting to resume and COVID vaccines are being delivered. This is happy and hopeful news! Each and every one of us has had personal and professional challenges brought on by SARS-CoV-2. The human spirit to persevere and rise above is very much alive here in Darien and I have no doubt that our community will be stronger for our collective experience of managing though the pandemic.
As we have been focused on caring for ourselves, our families and our community…worried about our children’s education, our jobs, the health of our parents, grandparents, friends and loved ones…. leadership in our state’s capital has used the time during the COVID shut down to draft legislation that will impact our quality of living in some very significant ways.
Few people are aware of two initiatives being championed by progressive leaders in Hartford.. .the imposition of a statewide property tax of up to 2 mills over and above what you already pay to your local city or town and sweeping changes to state zoning laws that would take zoning decisions (and accountability) away from your local elected officials and mandate “as of right” (code for “no public input allowed”) housing development in areas of town already densely developed.
To be more specific, Senate Bill 1024, one of a number of legislative proposals that would mandate zoning reform statewide, would have allowed developers to develop buildings with four or more multi-family housing units (and a minimum density of 15 units per acre) in 50% of the land area within a half mile of train stations and within a quarter mile of main street corridors, without regard to environmental impacts, traffic congestion, available sewer capacity but most important…without input from neighbors, local elected officials and the community at large.
Senate Bill 1024, was drafted and championed by Sara Bronin, head of DesegregateCT and wife of Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin. Mrs. Bronin and the DesegregateCT advocates believe that if towns build enough housing in areas already densely developed, it will reduce the cost of housing in general, making housing more “affordable” statewide. This bill also proposes to eliminate minimum parking requirements which will likely result in the need for residents of such developments to park on the street. Here in Darien, our residential streets cannot safely accommodate on-street parking of this magnitude without creating safety concerns for pedestrians and bicyclists.
The impacts to communities and the home values of neighbors subject to dense housing development right next door is an assault to personal property rights and a significant overreach of state government. In fact, government exists to do expressly the opposite… protect individual rights. There are much better, more sustainable ways to address the worthy goal of making Connecticut more affordable. I have recommended that the state form a blue ribbon commission to study ways to make Connecticut more affordable without picking developer winners and homeowner losers and pitting big cities against small towns like ours.
Darien has done an excellent job of recognizing the need for housing choice and is proud of the fact that since 2000, we’ve approved and constructed over 870 units of multifamily housing with 32% of those units being designated as “affordable” according to state standards. Darien’s efforts are a perfect example of how the free-market, not the force of government, is moving us organically in the desired direction of increasing affordable housing in Connecticut.
Jayme J. Stevenson is the First Selectman of Darien.