Front page news on Saturday, April 9, bemoaned our state’s unsuccessful attempt to preserve 21% of our land as open space by 2023. Luckily, this failure has not deterred the efforts of land trusts and environmental agencies.
However, it really should be stressed that this is not merely a fight to conserve “rolling hills and river valleys.” This is an issue of resource management and our state’s clean water is at stake; a point only minimally referenced by Ginny Monk in an article that calls out a dozen towns for having major roadblocks towards affordable housing.
Lost between John Moritz’s cover story and Monk’s article is the fact that the current state demands for a set percentage of affordable housing stock in every single town is a one-sized-fits-all approach that can jeopardize clean water for all state residents.
The small rural communities that exist today as reservoir towns had their water and land subjugated by the needs of growing cities decades ago. Their history is filled with restrictions and hardships that in many cases, still exist today as they were left with limited economic resources.
Lands were bought up by municipal water authorities and private companies who prohibited public access and flooded farm valleys. Homes were burned and livelihoods lost. And yet somehow, today, this history is frequently dismissed as many of the descendants of those same disenfranchised families are now stigmatized as having exclusionary housing practices.
There seems to be little appreciation that these communities have borne the responsibility of protecting much of the water resources for our state’s population for over a hundred years.
If you take the time to look up the P&Z reports and affordable housing plans for many of these towns available online, I don’t think you’ll find the Open Community Alliance’s analysis very helpful. What you will see are towns striving to provide a more diverse housing stock within their environmental limits.
With hardly any public water supply of their own and little access to sewer systems, they must find ways to build safely near wetlands and water courses while protecting reservoirs and their own local water supply. It is a difficult and costly balancing act that is made more challenging the more land is developed.
There are some ways I think your periodical can help provide better clarity on these issues. For a start, educating your readers about local reservoir history might help our greater Connecticut community appreciate the sacrifices made in these regions. Highlighting the work of individual planning and zoning commissions might also help all of our residents understand that good-faith efforts are being made on a local level.
Most of all, it is important to stress that water districts are not exempt from current housing requirements and we should all call upon our state leaders to focus preservation efforts on lands in and around reservoirs. Rather than being antithetical to diversity and equity initiatives, preserving these lands from development is critical to providing a sustainable future for each and every person in our state.
Elizabeth Boyce is the Curator of the Historical Society of Easton.