In March, we were among dozens of citizens from around Connecticut who testified in front of the legislature’s Housing Committee relating to a proposed bill that would study the effects of our state’s affordable housing law known as the “Affordable Housing Land Use Appeal” or 8-30g. On that day, like many others speaking, we felt optimistic that the impact of this bill would finally be explored and perhaps, open the door for change. At least a conversation, a dialogue.
For background, the 8-30g statute applies to all towns with less than 10 percent of total housing units deemed affordable. It enables housing developers and builders to largely ignore zoning regulations governing height, lot coverage and setbacks if they deed-restrict 30% of the proposed units to be affordable. Most deed restrictions will end in 40 years, eventually leaving most towns with dense developments and no affordability when those deeds sunset and then we will be starting from scratch.
On that March day, we were hopeful that legislators would at last review the law which has been in effect for the last 30-plus years yet has done very little to create affordability in our 169 towns and cities.
With climate change being the most important issue of our time, creating density and not preserving open space or depressed areas, we are unintentionally creating more barriers to being good stewards of our environment.
Under 8-30g, the burden shifts from the applicant justifying the development, to the local planning and zoning commission on their modification or denial. There needs to be evidence of substantial harm to health or safety issues in order to deny the application.
When they have the means, neighbors who can afford to hire an attorney to fight 8-30g applications do so (some successfully) but oftentimes, they impact very modest neighbors where residents don’t have the financial means to intervene. We have seen it happen numerous times in many towns.
In Darien recently, a developer told an architectural review board that he would increase the size of the development, bring in protestors and invoke 8-30g in the face of suggestions made by the review board on the size and features of the building plan that was presented.
One of the beautiful things about our system and democracy is that laws can be amended and changed. Some laws remain relevant even after decades while after some time, we see that they don’t work, or the results of the law do not meet the needs of the purposes that were set forth. Statute 8-30g is one that simply does not work. As land-use advocates, we have seen first-hand the effects of 8-30g.
We can all agree that creating affordability in our towns is a good and laudable objective, but laws that benefit one segment of the population, in this case, largely developers, are failing the intended purpose and the residents of Connecticut. In this case, 8-30g benefits developers (imagine, not having to abide by zoning regulations that most of us have to follow when changing the use of land!?).
In 1990, 8-30g may have been a very good option when the General Assembly adopted it but over three decades later, critical changes in our natural environment, and seeing how many towns cannot meet the 10 percent target (currently 138 towns do not meet the 10%), our lawmakers are required to adjust and change laws based on learnings and outcomes. Our legislators come from many walks of life and professions, and it is unclear to us why they do not do the simple math of 8-30g and see that the equation will never meet that 10 percent threshold for the vast majority of our towns.
Remember, our elected officials work at the pleasure of us, we the people, and their positions as our representatives do not have to be renewed if they are not advocating for us. As we enter the election season, it is imperative that every citizen and voter ask their legislator what their views are of our current zoning.
Would they make amendments to 8-30g and be leaders on monumental change for a law that works? Do they support local decision making by the locally appointed or elected planning and zoning boards? What has been their stance on other recent onerous zoning bills proposed in the state legislature that would just compound problems rather than first addressing the shortcomings of existing legislation? How did they vote on those bills in committees during the last two legislative sessions?
If you would like to join our revolution of change and demand more from our legislators, please go to CT169Strong.org and join our coalition of residents looking who are expecting better.
Alexis Harrison lives in Fairfield. Maria Weingarten lives in New Canaan and Tara Restieri lives in Greenwich.