Connecticut House Passes Reduced Zoning Reform Bill

The state House of Representatives on Thursday approved a package of state-wide zoning reform measures that supporters say is just a step towards addressing long-standing housing inequalities in Connecticut, an issue that has garnered intense attention since the police murder of George Floyd.

The bill, which passed 84-59 and is now awaiting a Senate decision, requires towns and villages to allow apartments unless they go through a withdrawal process.

It also requires regular training for local planning and zoning officials and defines the “character” of a district by physical standards – ideas drawn from many bills proposed in this session and incorporated into the final proposal. However, it does not include some of the more contentious ideas put forward earlier in the legislative session, such as eliminating certain public hearing requirements.

“Today’s bill is a step forward. But it really is a step on a long road that we have to take to meet the accessibility needs of our residents and … how we plan all land use in our future, ”said representative Cristin McCarthy Vahey, D -Fairfield, co-chair of the General Assembly Planning and Development Committee.

The compromise bill has drawn criticism from various sides of the housing issue. For example, the state coalition Desegregate Connecticut, formed after Floyd’s death and which proposed its own package of zoning reforms to help better integrate the state, opposes allowing communities to refuse to allow secondary suites. , or beautiful apartments, on a single accommodation. family properties. Meanwhile, some Republican lawmakers who represent smaller communities argued that the bill was still overbroad on the part of the state government, even though some of the more controversial concepts were scrapped over the course of the decade. committee process.

“While this may be a watered-down version, it’s a huge boot in the door for state control over our cities that would take away that uniqueness that makes Connecticut so special,” said Rep. Laura Devlin, R- Fairfield.

Devlin credited the citizens who organized rallies against the legislation and the cities who passed resolutions for some of the changes ultimately made to the legislation.

“They were loud. There were rallies. I heard someone say, “Oh, there’s just all these loud gatherings.” These are the voices of the people saying, ‘We don’t want this,’ ”Devlin said. Among other things, these groups argued that the local population and not the state government should make local zoning decisions.

But House Majority Leader Jason Rojas of D-East Hartford said that was why Connecticut still had racial and economic inequalities.

“There have been comments on the top-down approach, the bottom-up approach,” he said. “I would just say that the bottom-up approach got us to where we are today, which is a segregated state.”

Rojas admitted that the bill did not go as far as he wanted. But he urged his colleagues to continue supporting the legislation.

“It takes us in the right direction by balancing the goals of updating our zoning and land use statutes while recognizing the premium that I think we all place on local control and local decision-making.” He said, promising that housing and zoning policy would be debated again in the House.

Despite her disappointment with the bill, Sara Bronin, founder of Desegregate Connecticut, said the legislation “lays the foundation” for a more equitable state and more inclusive communities.

Ahead of Thursday’s debate, House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, called the bill a “tough bill” and admitted it does not go far enough for many people.

“But incrementalism is happening in this building,” he said. “I think we will continue to work on it over the years.”

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