Alongside with about 150 of my fellow citizens, I recently had the privilege to testify against HB 5429, a proposed bill that would allow “as of right development” of housing developments with a minimum overall average gross density of 15 dwelling units per acre, located within a half-mile radius of any passenger rail or commuter rail station or any bus rapid transit station.
This could allow thousands more housing units near our train stations such as downtown Fairfield, Fairfield Metro and Southport stations. While transit-oriented development (TOD) is a good thing, it must be developed and ultimately approved by our local zoning boards who know our communities best.
HB 5429, which is pushed by development lobbyists, lacks a major affordability component and does more to line developers’ pockets and create more dense housing in our suburbs than offer nuanced solutions. It requires that only 10% of these new developments be set aside for affordable housing, which is less than the 30% required under our current 8-30g mandate. With an even less stringent requirement there is sure to be a flood of proposals under TOD, as these developments will be extremely profitable, all while adding effectively nothing to a town’s affordable housing stock. In fact, it is likely to disincentivize developers from creating affordable housing.
It is worth noting that in Fairfield we have been doing considerable work with TOD under the purview of our town plan and zoning commission. In fact, there are already three TOD projects completed and occupied, and a fourth one is nearing construction. I believe our legislators should be advocating for local control; not more mandates that burden our local towns. Silencing our local boards from making decisions doesn’t serve our communities well and it is disheartening that any legislator would consider that idea.
The “as of right” terminology in this bill means that the public, the most important voice, will no longer have an opportunity to speak at public hearings, which I consider to be undemocratic. Neighbors and residents often offer town plan and zoning commissions knowledge and information about an application that are worthy of consideration and helpful. If anyone should have a “right” it is the residents and tax payers of the municipality, whose schools will be impacted, whose traffic will become untenable, and whose property values may ultimately suffer.
We need to empower communities and towns to come up with common sense solutions to affordable housing needs. Our lawmakers should be lobbying for our local towns, not against them. Each city and town has different dynamics and these one-size-fits-all approaches are failing. We can start by allowing locally elected officials, who know their town’s characteristics, who understand local traffic patterns, and are aware of the school districts impacted by each new development, to engage their communities and collectively determine how to best meet the state’s affordable housing goals.
I encourage all of my fellow citizens to urge their legislator to vote against this bill should it move forward in the General Assembly. Our local communities are counting on your voice.
Michael Grant lives in Fairfield.