Connecticut has taken the first step in rolling back the exclusionary zoning laws that have made our state segregated and unaffordable by seeing HB 6107 become law. Soon, residents will be freed from regulations like costly parking mandates and arbitrary caps on multifamily housing that make Connecticut segregated and push young people out.
The Connecticut Republican Party opposed this bill, failing their constituents who suffer from the high cost of housing in our state. Now, they are misleading our town and district on the impacts of this new law, saying that it usurps local control despite the opt-out provisions that maintain municipal independence.
As a 22-year-old, I know that this update to zoning reform law will be a positive change for my generation as well as for the environment. I have been volunteering with the organization Desegregate Connecticut for just this reason, encouraging voters to voice their support for common-sense zoning reform. Every supporter I’ve talked to approaches zoning reform from a different perspective, but for me personally it comes down to building accessible communities that provide a high quality of life for residents of all ages.
I grew up in a single-family home overlooking tree-covered hills and valleys in Newtown. I loved my home and appreciated that proximity to nature, even as I found it a little isolating to be one of the only kids on a block of spaced-out houses, unable to visit friends or get to the center of town without a driver’s license and car of my own. Newtown’s zoning rules ensure that most residents live in homes like mine – only single-family homes on at least an acre of property can be built without a public hearing on most of the land in town, and homeowners have to undergo such a hearing even to add an attached or detached accessory dwelling unit to their own land. In contrast, two-family homes are only zoned ‘as of right’ on 1.9% of Newtown’s land.
Growing up in a detached home far from the center of town can be a great experience, but it’s not right for everyone, as I learned this year. My parents, newly empty-nesters, decided to sell the family home. They wanted to stay in Newtown, but found the few rentals available overpriced for what they offered. They – and their tax dollars – moved out of town. Residents older than my parents may also find it difficult to stay in place, given the lack of apartments and walkable neighborhoods.
On the other end of the spectrum, as a recent college graduate, I’m trying to figure out if building a career in Connecticut and living in a town like Newtown is right for me. I’m one of many recent graduates who love where we grew up but aren’t ready to buy a home any time soon, and are looking for walkable communities in the long-term. HB 6107’s proposals, from fully legalizing accessory dwelling units to creating the state’s first ever model form-based code, will do much to expand housing options. This new law will help my generation come back to the communities where we grew up, without burdening us with exorbitant housing costs.
The policies included in the zoning reform law aren’t drastic. In fact, they are just a few of many changes Connecticut will need to adopt in order to meet the social, economic, and environmental challenges we’re facing. But fully legalizing accessory dwelling units, redefining community “character,” and training land use commissioners are all steps in the right direction, no matter what right-wing detractors say. This new law is just the first step that the state legislature should take in making Connecticut a more welcoming place for America’s next generation of leaders.
Kathryn Blanco is a Desegregate Connecticut volunteer.