Gov. Ned Lamont spoke Wednesday about his support for transit-oriented development, but hedged when asked about his thoughts on another zoning reform bill that would require towns to plan and zone for a set number of units based on the regional need.
The mid-week press conference in Newington highlighted a new, 108-unit development that’s composed of mostly affordable housing. The development is close to a CTfastrak station and would be close enough to be part of a transit-oriented community through a bill under consideration this session.
With the weeks waning in the legislative session, lawmakers are reaching a crucial point of negotiation to get any zoning reforms through. As the session draws close to its June 7 end, it’s easier for legislators who oppose bills to filibuster.
“We’ve got two and a half weeks left in the legislature,” Lamont said Wednesday. “We’re going to get something done.”
This legislative session has been marked by a heightened focus on housing issues. The state is in a housing crisis and lacks tens of thousands of units of housing that are affordable and available to its lowest income renters. Rents have risen, thousands of families have faced eviction, and homelessness is up.
Housing experts have tied the state’s lack of housing to underproduction of multi-family housing that is worsened by restrictive local zoning ordinances. These zoning codes make it hard to develop apartments that tend to be more affordable to people with low incomes.
Statewide zoning reform has been on the table the past few legislative sessions. This session, two major concepts are up for debate: fair share and transit-oriented development.
Fair share is a concept that’s been used in New Jersey to build thousands of units of housing over the past few years. Connecticut’s proposal would have the state analyze regional housing needs, which would then be divided up between towns. It’s being pushed by Growing Together CT, a group of faith organizations, housing advocates and experts.
The transit-oriented development bill, also known as Work, Live, Ride, would use certain infrastructure grants to encourage towns to increase residential density near train and bus stations. It aims to create walkable neighborhoods that have easy access to public transit.
Transit-oriented development is a long-standing land use policy that’s been used throughout the United States and often in Europe. It’s pushed by Desegregate Connecticut, a program of the Regional Plan Association.
Local leaders and lawmakers have heavily criticized both ideas, saying that they are burdensome to towns, ignore communities’ individual needs and dilute local control. They’ve also said they fear the transit-oriented development approach will make it harder for towns that don’t participate to access needed infrastructure funding.
Lamont has said he supports incentive-based methods of increasing housing, and included funding for the Work, Live, Ride bill in his initial budget proposal. Lawmakers in early drafts of their budgets instead said state agencies should use existing staff positions to implement the proposal. The budget is in ongoing negotiations.
“I want less people in automobiles, more people will be able to walk to work,” Lamont said Wednesday. “If you work somewhere near here, and have housing like this, it makes it more easy for you to get to work. So I think that’s a big part of our future.”
Meanwhile, lawmakers are still negotiating on the fair share bill, said Housing Committee co-chair Rep. Geoff Luxenberg, D-Manchester, in a text message on Wednesday.
“We are making progress,” Luxenburg wrote. “A lot of hard work and compromise is going into it.”
Asked about the fair share bill, Lamont reiterated the need for more development in downtowns, transit-oriented development and incentive-based approaches.
“Well, let’s look at it first,” Lamont said, of the fair share bill. “I sort of explained what our thoughts are and how we can incent communities to do the right thing and get more all different types of housing in their downtown areas. That’s my biggest priority.”
The governor has also repeatedly said he wants to see towns create their own plans to get more affordable housing. He’s also pointed to the economic boon that more housing would grant to the state.
“Every single business leader I talked to says ‘It’s great, you’ve got workforce training, and we’ve got work skills out there,’” Lamont said. “‘We have jobs to fill. Where are they going to live?’ It’s an absolute necessity in terms of the workforce.”
The Newington project is set to be finished by September, and all but a handful of apartments are designated affordable. This means that the units will count toward the 10% affordable housing that would exempt the town from lawsuits under the 8-30g state statute. The law offers court remedies to developers whose proposals for affordable housing are denied in towns that have less than 10% affordable housing.
Acting Town Manager James Krupienski spoke about the town’s support for more housing and their work to reach out to state agencies to ensure developers have support as they build more affordable housing.
“The town of Newington, we — not just in this development, but in others — are seeing a large increase in our housing stock,” Krupienski said. “And we are excited to see the growth happening within our town.”
The development at the site of the press conference broke ground after a court order to create certain zones that would allow for the project. The Plan and Zoning Commission initially denied the application for the development, citing safety concerns, among other problems.
The development — known as Cedar Pointe — got zoning approval because of 8-30g. About 8.5% of Newington’s housing stock is designated affordable, according to 2022 Department of Housing data.
“Well, actually based upon the numbers that we’re looking at overall and the increase that we see coming forward on our normal market rate housing, this assists us in our goals,” Krupienski said when asked about how his statements of support fit with the town’s previous opposition to the development. “We’ve always been trying to reach that 10%.”
The 8-30g statute has drawn ire from town officials who say it’s burdensome to municipalities. Republicans proposed a plan to change the law this session, but it didn’t move forward in the committee process.
Paul Dickson, Newington town planner, pointed out that there is at least one other affordable development going up in the town.
“Again, we’re going to continue to work with developers as they come in,” Dickson said.
Under a 2017 law, towns were required to submit affordable housing plans last summer. Less than half made the deadline, but Newington was among those that did. Although more than 30 towns still have not submitted their plans to the state, Department of Housing Commissioner Seila Mosquera-Bruno said she’s hopeful.
“I’m very optimistic that towns do want to do the right thing,” she said.
Housing experts and advocates have said that towns have had enough time to zone and plan for affordable housing and that those that continue to drag their feet or continually deny applications for affordable housing need the state to step in.
Lamont on Wednesday reiterated that he wants to see the towns’ individual plans, and emphasized that developers want to build in Connecticut towns.
“What the towns I talked to say: ‘We want more housing, we want more affordable housing. Don’t tell us how to do it. We’re gonna do it ourselves.
“If there are a few towns that say ‘We refuse to participate in a plan like that,’ there is 8-30g as a backdrop.”